July 17, 2008
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On Rejection

Jason Jones (author of Lost Causes ) submitted a paper to WikiSym. The paper was rejected, but he’s not entirely dismayed.

I will say, though, that it was rejected in a really classy and useful way.  Mark Bernstein, from Eastgate, is program chair for WikiSym 2008, and he’s developed a full series of guidelines for how to vet conference proposals.  You can read it here.  Rather than just a flat rejection, I got comments from 4 or 5 members of the program committee, explaining *exactly* why it was rejected.  (In part, it was the fit issue described above; others pointed out, correctly, that as yet there’s not a mechanism for comparing its effectiveness to other approaches.  One or two also pointed me to useful references in other disciplines.)  What that actually left me with was a clear revision plan for sending the paper out to a different venue (e.g., one orientated toward teaching, especially English) for publication.  It was certainly the most productive rejection I’ve ever received.

Disciplines and conferences advance through excellent handling of papers that are not yet excellent.

Through extensive discussion among paper reviewers, through really thorough paper reviews, and through providing good reports to authors, we express a consensus. What might be seen as a cabal of the fortunate and connected instead becomes a discussion of ideas and methods.

It may be simpler to simply dismiss the papers you don’t select with praise and apologies and a brief, bland note. This does no one much good. Wrestling with ideas is what we do.