February 27, 2002
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Hypertext 2002

This weekend, I'll be in Maryland for the Hypertext 2002 Program Committee meetings. I've been on every Hypertext Program Committee except for the first one (1987), and I've been co-chair twice. It's always an interesting conference, usually the most interesting conference I attend each year.

Hypertext '99 PC Meeting, Darmstadt. Hugh Davis, Uffe Wiil, and Joerg Haake

The program committee's work begins with the paper submissions. Most papers are already carefully vetted by the author's frienda and colleagues even before the paper is submitted, and every submission is read by at least three (and often by five or six) expert reviewers. The readers are looking, first of all, for original ideas and for outright mistakes -- errors in fact or methodology that could mislead future researchers. Finding mistakes in cutting-edge research can be incredibly difficult; that's why so many reviewers are needed.

Each year, a handful of papers breeze to general acclaim, and a somehwat larger number are quickly dismissed as inappropriate for the conference, fundamentally unsound, or otherwise unsuitable. The rest are examined by the committee, paper by paper, hour after hour. The views of the readers are scrutinized, and often still more readers are recruited to resolve thorny questions. Calls may be placed to authorities who live half way 'round the world, just to make sure that a paper's claims are sound. (One year, wanting to make an argument within the research community, I planted some in-jokes and barbs in the footnotes. I knew that they might not be accepted, but calculated that everyone I wanted to see them would wind up reading them during the reviews)

What surprises most people is how easy it is to have a paper rejected. My first year on the committee, I was astonished by the carnage: major papers from big labs, leading universities, acclaimed projects were studied, scrutinized, and judged not quite good enough. Nobody cares that the paper comes from a big company. Nobody cares that is comes from an ancient university. It's got to be right.