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I just received a paper for review that does not have a single citation (in the text) of its references.

I wonder if this is common in other areas non-CS related.

Since it is a conference, I don't think I should contact the editor, but I do think it should lose many points in its evaluation.

Overall the paper is well written, and they do not seem amateurish people writing their first paper.

What would you do in this case?

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does the conference review process allow author response and revision? –  Memming Feb 22 '13 at 17:35
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I don't think it allows author's response, only revision –  Leon palafox Feb 22 '13 at 18:32
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So did you look at the other papers? Do they have anything to do with the content of the paper? Just curious. –  Alexander Gruber Feb 23 '13 at 0:50
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@Leonpalafox If these authors are reading this forum you may have revealed your identity as a reviewer. –  Marc van Dongen Feb 23 '13 at 3:30
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@AlexanderGruber That shouldn't really be the job of the reviewer. It's up to the authors to provide the context. As a matter of fact, determining the relevance of the references on its own can be a major task. –  Marc van Dongen Feb 23 '13 at 14:04
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3 Answers

up vote 21 down vote accepted

Reject.

No work exists in isolation. The authors need to position their work in relation to existing work, and this requires more than just putting a bunch of papers in the bibliography section: it requires a detailed comparison. The authors failed to do this.

In any case, there will always be another conference for them to resubmit to.

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This is true in non-CS related fields as well (e.g., business). –  earthling Feb 23 '13 at 0:13
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I know of exactly one published paper in my field (computational geometry) that was published with no references. The references section reads, in toto, "No references on this topic seem to exist and no useful results could be found." –  JeffE Feb 23 '13 at 0:44
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@JeffE: But that was back in 1985 when no useful results could be found. –  Dave Clarke Feb 23 '13 at 7:00
    
@JeffE: Let me guess: a full day workshop with 5 submissions and one was an abstract where the full thing never got submitted? –  user1129682 Feb 25 '13 at 22:35
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My initial reaction is that they merely have encountered a set of issues for which there are no relevant papers they could cite. For example, where would you expect citations in there? Citations for the sake of citations are a Bad Thing. Citations should advance the position of the paper in a meaningful, shoulders-of-giants kind of way.

And initial reactions are often the right one. [citation needed]

But upon further reflection, it occurs to me that with the vast multitude of papers out there, the likelihood of not having a single paper that could help advance this paper's position in a meaningful way is probably very, very small. What is much more likely is that the authors either did not do their due diligence in looking for work that could have advanced their position and/or saved them time, or worse, specifically excluded other research because glaring similarities. Both are common, and either is bad for the authors and the scientific community as a whole.

The main thing that concerns me is... where did they get the idea to do whatever is in the paper? Was it not at least partially based on some published work that they're either challenging or advancing? That is the most troubling thing to me.

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It's not clear from your question, whether they simply don't regard other papers in the field, or they do have related work etc. but they omit the in-body-citations.

If it is the first case, I'd second Dave's answer (unless it's a brand new question with a brand new technique that solves it, and they clearly say that no related work can be found to the best of their knowledge).

However, if it is the second case, it seems quite technical issue that can be easily fixed, and in this case you can just mention in your review that references are missing and this should be fixed (also note this to the PC chair; s/he can condition the acceptance on fixing this issue)

The fact that it's a conference, in my eyes, makes it more flexible -- papers should be considered mainly by merit and not by technicalities. I can think of the opposite case, where the paper has all the citation, gets accepted, but in the camera-ready version all references are removed.

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+1 for technical issues which might be the case here (though I can't imagine submitting a paper without checking its references and in-text citations). –  seteropere Feb 23 '13 at 13:19
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