Why not make authors pay to submit papers to conferences?
Serving on a program committee takes a tremendous amount of time. So, one of the frequent complaints that TPC members make is when authors submit half-baked, clearly below-threshold papers a conference just to get some reviews back on their work. Personally, I feel little responsibility to write detailed reviews on papers that are clearly in the "Hail Mary" category, but I still have to read them, and that takes time. Not to mention the long-term psychological damage incurred by having to read a slew of crappy papers one after the other... I'm still in therapy after IPSN 2007 :-)
The problem is that submitting a paper to a conference is free: all it takes is a few clicks of the mouse to upload your PDF file. (Of course, I'm not accounting for the cost of doing the research and writing the paper itself.)
Let's estimate the costs associated with serving on a program committee and reviewing a stack of papers. I spend about an hour reading and writing a review for each paper that I am assigned. A highly competitive conference will assign 25 papers (or so) across one or more reviewing rounds to each TPC member, equating to roughly 25 hours of my time. At my current salary, that is worth around $1900 (give or take). Then there is the PC meeting itself. This will typically involve two days' worth of work plus travel -- let's estimate 3 full days of labor, plus airfare and hotel, adding up to another $2500.
So, with a program committee of 18 people, that works out to around $79,000 to review something like 150 paper submissions. In other words, to recoup its costs, the conference should charge authors $500 just to submit a paper. This seems to make a lot of sense.
Of course, imposing this kind of a fee would no doubt drastically reduce the number of papers that are submitted. But this seems like a good thing: it would reduce the workload for TPC members, allow conferences to operate with smaller, more focused program committees, and vastly improve the quality of the submitted papers. It would potentially also improve the quality of the reviews, since TPC members would now be paid for their time. Although the financial incentive is not that great (e.g., my hourly rate for consulting is something like 5 times my regular salary), getting paid should encourage TPC members to take the process more seriously.
The only downside I can see is people who sign up for a slew of program committees and become "professional paper reviewers", but TPC chairs would clearly have to balance this against the research credentials of the people being asked to serve. Note that many journals impose author fees for publication of the paper, but presumably you are willing to pay once you have done all the work to get the paper accepted. And conferences expect authors to show up at the conference to present the paper, which can get to be pretty expensive as well. But it seems crazy to me that the research community provides this free paper reviewing service with no negative ramifications for submitting totally unpolished work.
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