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I have submitted a paper at a certain conference that has a rebuttal phase (authors are presented with initial reviews and can write a rebuttal, which will be used for the final decision). Based on the reviews, it seems that the chances for the paper being accepted are zero. The submission system of the conference has a "Withdraw" button, which makes it easy to withdraw the paper and submit it to another conference. I intend to make use of that option, after using the available reviews to significantly improve the paper.

To my surprise, a senior colleague explained to me that doing so might be considered unethical. The explanation was one could see it as a wasteful use of reviewer time, comparable to a double submission.

This explanation did not really get clear to me: Assuming that I use the reviewer comments to improve the paper, I have used the reviewer time in the intended way. The situation would be exactly the same as if the paper had been rejected right away, and I had proceeded to submit to another conference.

Am I missing something? What are the ethical implications here?

  • why not asking the editor or chair? – MimSaad Apr 28 at 18:03
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    It strikes me that your senior colleague implied that you are obligated to persevere, even if that fails or is almost sure to fail. I think that is a too-narrow view of the point of reviews... and that your idea that implementing the improvements is exactly making good use of the reviews. But, yes, sometimes the professional culture gets confused about the larger goals. Ask the editor... – paul garrett Apr 28 at 18:55
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One certainly can withdraw a paper after initial reviews and if the reviews indicate that the paper does not fit well with the conference topic-wise or has to be significantly improved/re-worked. In the latter case, the paper author should assess how much time is required to work on the paper and if it is possible to meet the deadlines (taking into account additional development, data collection/re-collection, work on the text and visualizations, literature review, etc.).

If the timeline does not seem viable, withdrawing and resubmitting to another conference is certainly the right call. In addition to the potential adaptation of the paper to the new submission, it would be very wise to use the feedback from the original reviewers to improve the paper.

I would certainly agree that in the case of withdrawal and resubmission, you would have used the reviewers' feedback and time in an intended way: to improve your work and make it better/more accessible to your reader/listener. However, there is a small catch: different entities (people, organizations) intend different things for the use of their resources, in this case, the pool of reviewers and their time.


In this case, I would say, the authors' good intentions matter the most.

If the author of the paper submitted it to a conference/journal primarily to get the feedback of the reviewers and get "free" advice knowing that the submission itself is doomed to fail — this is unethical in my opinion.

On the contrary, if a particular paper failed to go to a particular conference during peer review and its improved version ended up in another venue — this is great. Peer review and research win!

If this situation happens to the researcher consistent and too often, I would certainly agree that there is at least a hint of being a bit unethical, more from the point of being a bit lazy and wasteful of ones' peers' time.

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There is nothing unethical about withdrawing or about using the reviews to improve the paper for other use. If you submitted the paper in good faith in the first place then you haven't wasted anyone's time.

The paper probably needs improvement generally, not just to be more suitable for that particular conference, though it is possible that it is just a bad fit.

But you don't need to decide immediately. Give the paper a re-write based on their suggestions and then decide whether you still think it has no chance of acceptance. If you think not, then look for somewhere else. But if you think it is sufficiently improved then submit the new version.

Of course, since this is a conference, time is a factor.

And most places that reject a paper still pass on the reviews and authors are then permitted to rewrite and submit wherever they like.

Submitting to a conference doesn't give them ownership of the paper in any sense until it is accepted and you may need to yield copyright. And the people who review aren't paid by the conference, but do it as a service both to the conference and to the authors. If you eventually present/publish something good they are happy and have done their job well.

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