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I recently read a paper whose co-authors are found in the conference committee.

Although they are not in the executive committee, they are in organizing committee and all the committee people know each other well.

So I am wondering how this can happen? I mean, is there any regulation, either ethical or by law, that prohibits this type of thing? Or it's allowed?

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For any reputable conference, authors with a conflict of interest will recuse themselves from discussions about their paper. They won't have a vote on the paper, and if things are very well administered, other committee members won't even know that the paper is from that particular author, only that the author has a conflict of interest. Indeed, there are many reasons for a conflict of interest:

  1. Current or prior colleague at the same university.
  2. Current or prior collaboration or co-author on a paper or papers.
  3. Current advisor / student relationship.
  4. etc.

These guidelines are generally spelled out in the paper submission guidelines, too (if you are an author and have a conflict, you should list them). Also, in many program committee meetings, committee members go in and out of paper discussions based on whether they have a conflict for a particular paper or not.

is there any regulation, either ethical or by law, that prohibits this type of thing?

Ethical: sure (see above).

Legal: no. I'm not sure why people think there are a lot of legal rules that dictate how independent, non-government conferences and journals are administered. I've seen this in a number of questions recently, and the bottom line is that a conference has its own rules to abide by, and that's about it. Conference organizers have a vested interest in making things fair to the extent that they don't want the conference to have a bad name, but they aren't in the position to be bound by any laws pertaining to the way the conference is administered (outside of normal law-abiding behavior).

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It would be a strange situation if you were forbidden to publish something when you organize a meeting. What usually happens is that your paper is taken on (for editing or other scrutiny) by someone else in such a committee. I agree that it can become a little sensitive if you are the sole organizer handling the reviews and submitting a paper. In such a case ethics would hopefully make you think about a co-convener or to openly state that someone with more neutral standings will handle your paper specifically.

So this situation is common, very common, and in most if not all cases there are ways to avoid conflicts of interest. There may of course be cases where the intent is to circumvent objective handling but such cases are likely noticed in the community. In the end, I think it is bad judgement to avoid objective handling.

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  • It would be a strange situation if you were forbidden to publish something when you organize a meeting. — In most theoretical computer science conferences, submissions from program committee members are not allowed. (Submissions from organizing committee members are allowed, however, because that's not the committee that decides on the program.) – JeffE Sep 25 '14 at 4:46
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In some of the communities I am in, the following processes ensure that bias is removed. In one case, such papers would receive additional reviews and would be rejected if any of the reviews suggests rejection. In another case, there is an additional committee whose task in part is to review such papers.

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