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A little while back I had sent one of my works to an ACM conference -just a National level conference. I knew my work was not one of the best they were going to receive, but given the quality of the papers published in the conference in the previous years, I was almost sure of an "Accept", and sure enough, an "Accept" did arrive around a week ago. But reviewer practically tore my work to pieces, saying that the claim is not novel, the data sets are biased, etc. And I do agree with him on most of the points.

Since the reviewer had given a detailed review, I had been working all week long to improve the quality of the paper and address all the points mentioned by him.

But to my great surprise, today I receive a mail from the PC chairs stating -

we had inadvertently sent an ACCEPT for your paper. After discussion with reviewers we have decided to not accept this paper.

This is, to say the least, unethical unprofessional. And my entire week of hard work in improving the paper just went down the drain I guess.

My questions here-

  1. Should I put any endeavor in contacting the PC Chairs and ask them to explain this strange stand? Should I explain my stand that the work has been drastically changed and improved from what it was when submitted?
  2. Does such a behavior make them accountable for any legal action from my side? And, is it worth for me to take such an action?

UPDATE:
Thank you all for your comments and answers. Posting this here just to make the story complete. My guide insisted that we should write to the PC chair, requesting an opportunity to resubmit since some of the previous review comments were not really justified and too harsh on us, and anyways our paper stands improved from what it was before.

So we did re-submit. And our improved paper was accepted as well! Rather having an unsatisfactory publication, I have a better paper at hand now!

So happy ending after all :)

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    Unsure why your admittedly unsatisfactory paper (given your agreement with the critical reviewer and subsequent changes you made) why you were "almost sure of an 'Accept.'" This is probably not a good mentality for any conference. – Chris Gregg Jul 30 '13 at 10:32
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    Grossly unprofessional, certainly, especially with the one-week delay. But unethical? – JeffE Jul 30 '13 at 10:48
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    @JeffE I think "grossly unprofessional" is going really far without knowing more of the background. It is unfortunate, yes, but mistakes happen to and by us all. – Peter Jansson Jul 30 '13 at 10:51
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    RE: This is, to say the least, unethical. And my entire week of hard work in improving the paper just went down the drain I guess. I disagree with this paragraph. I don't see how it's "unethical", particularly since you acknowledge the scathing review was justified. As for "wasting your time," if you've answered the criticisms by reworking the paper, at least you've gotten your findings in better order, which surely could be useful if you wanted to present at another – or next year's – conference. – J.R. Jul 30 '13 at 10:54
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    I would suggest going for a beverage of your choice with a friend and venting. Then file the acceptance and rejection emails away so you can one-up your colleagues in horror stories. – StrongBad Jul 30 '13 at 11:22
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Should I put any endeavor in contacting the PC Chairs and ask them to explain this strange stand? Should I explain my stand that the work has been drastically changed and improved from what it was when submitted?

I think an email to the PC would be appropriate. Don't expect the answer to change, however, and it may very well have been an administrative oversight. Even as a mistake, it is a relatively minor one that you don't have much control over.

Does such a behavior make them accountable for any legal action from my side? And, is it worth for me to take such an action?

No. Their decisions aren't bound by any laws (that I know of) that could force them to honor their original email. If you make a big deal of it, you're likely to make a bad name for yourself, regardless of the mistake being on their end.

In the end, you've now got a better paper that probably shouldn't have been published anyway. Your changes are now in place, and you admit to having improved it. Submit it to another conference, and move on.

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    you've now got a better paper that probably shouldn't have been published anyway That's very nicely put, n I agree to it :) – pnp Jul 30 '13 at 11:00
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    +1 for "you're likely to make a bad name for yourself." In Academia, as in many other walks of life, your reputation is one of your most important assets. Don't create a reputation for yourself as difficult to deal with over a very minor setback like this. Fix the paper and move on to resubmit the improved version elsewhere. – eykanal Jul 30 '13 at 11:52
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    @eykanal: I think that's great advice. Someone could take that even one step further, and sincerely thank them for the reviewer's feedback – which will likely prove invaluable in the long run. Moreover, because that feedback was extensive, it probably took significant time and effort to generate. – J.R. Jul 30 '13 at 13:20
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You can always try to send an email to the PC explaining that you used the comment of the reviewer to greatly improve the paper, and that you hope that the paper could be reconsidered in this improved form. I don't think your chances of acceptance are big, but you can always try.

In regard to the legal action, I doubt that you have anything based on which you can sue them. In addition, what do you hope to gain.

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Without knowing what happened at the other end it is early to place judgement such as "unethical" on this circumstance. It is of course very unfortunate and also clearly something that all editors do not want should happen. Clearly the accept was prematurely sent away; that was the mistake. I would interpret the "discussion with reviewers" as the editor(s) trying to see if the paper could pass despite the reviews but such an action could seemingly not be supported.

Now the course of events have happened. You can certainly contact the editors to get more feedback, I am sure they would help you with more (scientific) information if they can. Under most circumstances (do not know how this applies to your manuscript), I would recommend you to take the comments you were given and work up your manuscript (which you have also done). The manuscript should now be better than before and it might be suitable to publish somewhere else. This is also something you can ask in your letter to the editors unless you and your immediate surroundings do not already have a clear picture of where it might fit for possible publication.

Regarding the legal bits, journals have no obligation to publish anything and can even reject a paper without telling why. I cannot imagine anyone wanting to do this since it would reflect very badly on the journal and the publisher but the decision lies with the editor(s) and it is final. As an editor, one must think of the reputation of ones journal (because a well run journal attracts good papers) which usually means trying to be as fair and open as possible.

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