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My friend submitted a paper to a well-known computer science conference. One of the reviews was very short - only 2.5 lines of text, extremely general and vague, and rejected the paper. The review is so meaningless, that the author cannot even respond to it, or use it to improve the paper. Additionally, the review includes little justification to the rejection recommendation.

The other two reviews were balanced - there was one positive and one negative review.

The author feels that the short review should get a smaller weight in the final decision. How can he communicate this to the conference organizers? Is it a good idea to contact them directly by email?

The conference is organized by an automatic web-based submission system that allows the author to write a single response to the reviewers, but it is not clear if this response gets to the organizers or only to the reviewers.

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    The author feels that the short review should get a smaller weight in the final decision.It probably did. "Well-known" computer science conferences are extremely competitive; one negative review is often enough to justify rejection. – JeffE Aug 15 '13 at 17:09
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    I once reviewed a paper and wrote an enthusiastic and detailed/long positive review. Another reviewer wrote a short reject review without giving detailed reasons. The review supervisor noted the discrepancy and told the "brief" reviewer off in strong words to write a proper review. This happened, and, albeit still much shorter than mine, it had turned "magically" into a positive review. The bad news: lazy/irresponsible reviewers exist. The good news: in good conferences there are people responsible for quality control which keep lazy reviewers in check. – Captain Emacs Mar 3 '16 at 17:01
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It reminds me of a review we got recently, in which, among other (reasonable and meaningful) things there was the phrase

"5) The argument at the top of page 7 is not as clear as it should be."

My immediate response was

"The referee's remark in section 5 is too vague to take any action upon it."

(I believe, my co-authors finally put it in a slightly nicer form, but the meaning stayed).

I completely agree with Chris that your friend should just ignore the "content empty" review and act properly upon the other two, but, before everything, ask yourself honestly whether the paper in question is good enough and written well enough? I don't want to know the answer but you should know it yourself before you proceed in any way or give him any advice. Only one positive review out of three is a clear signal of trouble unless your friend had quarreled with each and every influential colleague of his by the moment of submission.

The last thing: whatever your friend feels the organizers should do, most likely, trying to convince them of that directly won't accomplish anything. I believe that the indirect comments like the one I quoted above yield better results (especially if your friend's tact and sense of humor are not as terrible as mine :)).

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Unfortunately, when submitting to a conference, you don't have control over the process to the detail you are talking about. It will probably be the case that the useless review does indeed get less weight during discussions (unless the reviewer happens to be one of those reviewers who holds a lot of sway and can get a paper rejected with a vague and general review!).

I would urge against sending an email to the conference chair / organizers -- unless you are extremely tactful, any attempt to sway them with this method will come off as whiny and will only hurt your case (or, rather, your friend's case).

The best option is to write a rebuttal as you normally would: fix all the critical comments from the other reviewers, address each comment specifically in your rebuttal response, and thank the reviewers for their consideration. The good news is that you got one positive review. While this is not normally sufficient for a paper acceptance at a very competitive CS conference, you have the chance to improve the paper as much as you can, and send in your rebuttal, and you should make the most of that opportunity.

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