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I have had a paper accepted for a conference this summer, which presents the preliminary results of my PhD research. However, I'd like to present my final results at another conference in the fall, the deadline for which is in a few weeks, and which requires a full paper submission. My question is: would it be unethical to submit the first paper (in a re-structured form) in the hope that it will get accepted for the later conference, and then subsequently update the results before the final deadline?

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For most conferences with formal proceedings, it's unethical to submit a paper that is currently under submission or which has been accepted for publication elsewhere. –  Charles Morisset Mar 24 at 16:03

4 Answers 4

up vote 26 down vote accepted

"May I submit a paper to another conference that is essentially the same as a paper that is already published or accepted for publication?"

NO *

"May I substantially change the content of an accepted conference paper after peer review?"

NO *

* Unless it is disclosed to, and permitted by, the PC/editor.

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Is the first "NO" true in this absoluteness? For instance, preprints on arXiv seem to be okay for many venues, also workshop participations, and maybe even recent/not yet released journal publications (of longer versions). Should not the reviewers/editors decide this? (Obviously, you have to state clearly where your work has appeared or is going to appear.) –  Raphael Mar 25 at 7:34
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@Raphael In my area (computer science), putting something on ArXiv isn't "publishing" but just "making public". Indeed, FOCS actively encourages authors to put the full version on ArXiv. Conferences might be OK with material that has been submitted to a journal or even accepted and not yet published; but it's safest to submit the journal version only after the conference paper has been accepted. –  David Richerby Mar 25 at 9:08
    
@DavidRicherby By the very definition of the word "publish" is "to make publically availble" (although ODAL suggests a "sell" component). Maybe (some) academics have other connotations because only certain publications give credit. I have heard of conferences (and journals) that do not accept work published (or uploaded, if you insist) to arXiv, so apparently both views exist. In any case, I think we can agree that a simple, unequivocal "NO" does not even begin to answer the question. –  Raphael Mar 25 at 10:13
    
@Raphael Neither "NO" is true in absoluteness, I added a caveat to both. –  ff524 Mar 25 at 12:51
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@Raphael I know that "publish" means, literally, to make public. However, when journals say they won't consider material that has already been published, they do not mean "made public on ArXiv" (at least in my field); they mean "published by another journal or similar thing." –  David Richerby Mar 25 at 13:54

To add to @ff524's absolutely correct answer, you can still submit to that second conference. All you need to do is cite your first paper, state that this paper only adds results A,B,C. It is possible that the modest additions to your first paper are enough to merit publication on their own; however you must be honest and let the editors/referees decide this.

In short, you may submit your updated paper, provided you are completely honest about its differences with the previously published work. If indeed those differences are trivial (as suggested by the title of the question), then obviously this is pointless.

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provided you are completely honest about its differences with the previously published work AND provided you submit the fully updated work with all the new content for review, rather than adding it later after peer review. –  ff524 Mar 24 at 17:08

ff524's answer is true for the general case. There are two exceptional cases where you will be allowed, or actually required, to make substantial changes to the content. Note that none of them will happen because you want to add a bit more.

First, your paper might be put into a gatekeeping process. In this case, the acceptance is conditional on making certain changes and the reviewers being happy about these changes at a later reviewing stage.

Gatekeeping only occurs when the program committee requests it; you can't trigger it (and don't want to). It only allows you to make the changes the reviewers requested from you (normally to provide better argumentation for your conclusions, or to describe your empirical methods in your detail), not to include any results you forgot about or didn't have at the beginning.

The second case is if you find an error in your research which renders your paper wrong. In this case, you should contact the program committee, inform them of the error, and offer to retract the paper. If you have the improved results, and they are not completely changing the main statement of the paper, the program committee may allow you to keep the paper in the running, but will require you to rewrite the parts based on the mistaken results.

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It is completely unethical to substantially change a conference paper after acceptance, just as it would be completely unethical for a used car salesman to substitute a different car after you'd agreed to buy. The programme committee accepted the first version, based on the advice of the reviewers; they did not even see the second version. If the same thing happened in a journal version, the second version would be sent back to the referees but there is no second round of reviewing for conferences.

Honestly, I'm worried that you're even asking this. It suggests that, in your mind, the primary goal has become publication, rather than doing good research.

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Ad first paragraph: is it not the editor's job to catch such cases? Making changes to the accepted version is often prudent (if only to incorporate the reviewers' feedback) so the editor has to roughly check whether reviewed and final version match or, if not, decide if they'll accept the updated version anyway. I'll say that authors should be a) completely open and forward about this and b) very careful. –  Raphael Mar 25 at 10:18
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Ad second paragraph: that's obviously an opinion, but one I share. But then, in some fields pleasing The Reviewers seems to be somewhat orthogonal to doing good research, too, so maybe there is some selective pressure which is detrimental to professional ethics. –  Raphael Mar 25 at 10:18
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I like the used car salesman analogy! –  ff524 Mar 25 at 13:00
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@Raphael "is it not the editor's job to catch such cases?" Sure, just like it's the police's job to catch murderers. But my advice to people would be "Don't commit murder", not "Murder people if you want; the police will sort out the mess." Here, my advice is "Don't substantially change the paper after acceptance" not "Change it if you want; the editors will sort out the mess." –  David Richerby Mar 25 at 13:52
    
@DavidRicherby "It suggests that, in your mind, the primary goal has become publication, rather than doing good research." I am aware that this is how it appears. However, my motivation comes from my desire to present (and receive feedback on) what will be the main outcomes of my PhD thesis. But the time frame involved means that I don't yet have those results. Judging from the response, honesty (and transparency) appears to be the best policy. Such is life! –  JustRay Mar 26 at 11:28

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