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I'm more interested in answers from researchers in the field of computer science/electrical engineering. Having said that, readers in a different discipline observing such phenomenon are welcome to contribute.

I know of a few 'famous' individuals who have copious number of articles appearing in top journals/conferences every year without fail. Looking at their CV, it seems that they have a 100% success rate at these top venues.

Question: as we know, the review process is random at times, with 'dumb' reviewers rejecting papers for no good reasons. This in turn forces us to look for an alternative or perhaps lower ranking venue to publish our articles. Given this fact, how do the said individuals have such a consistent record? Is there a level one can get to where every idea is gold and every presentation is such that even a dumb reviewer can't recommend a reject? Or is it the case that there is a 'back door' or the individual or institution reputation is so bright that any reviewers are obligated to accept the article?

What is their strategy?

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – eykanal Feb 26 '17 at 2:39
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    I suggest reading about the NIPS experiment. Many papers are random toss-ups as you suggest; some are clear rejection; and some are clear accept. It may be incredibly unpopular to suggest that not everyone can be this way, but the very best of the best researchers will more consistently land their papers in the "clear accept" bin. – rhombidodecahedron Feb 28 '17 at 18:30
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Since people rarely document papers NOT published, a 100% success rate for papers in a CV is kind of guaranteed.

It does often seem like some PIs have the 'magic touch' when it comes to publishing, and here are some factors that may contribute to this success:

  1. they work on a very hot topic
  2. they are very established
    • [a] unfortunately publishing begets further publishing as ones name becomes associated with a high quality record
    • [b] they are possibly personally acquainted with some of the reviewers, which could help grease the wheels
  3. they are at a top institution (yes, this probably helps)
  4. they are working on several projects in tandem and so submit more papers in general
  5. they may be a pro at working the review process: invalidating certain dissenters by request or by inviting comments on a manuscript prior to publication (disqualifying them), or through fierce contest when papers are rejected.

The publication process is far from a perfect or even acceptable, and many factors contribute. Those that know how to exploit these factors will be more successful, deserving or not.

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    Addition: They might also have a lot of employees helping them improve their paper. – Anonymous Physicist Feb 22 '17 at 23:07
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    I agree with some if this, but "publishing is far from an acceptable process" seems both vague and extreme. Maybe you mean that you don't like how peer review works? If you don't believe in publishing then it's hard to say you're an academic. – David Ketcheson Feb 22 '17 at 23:09
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    @David Ketcheson, let me clarify: the peer review process, in my opinion, has become unacceptable. Publishing itself is not at all unacceptable. – HEITZ Feb 22 '17 at 23:16
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    It's not literal publishing that I myself object to, but the requirement of "publishing", and all that it entails. – paul garrett Feb 22 '17 at 23:33
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    The top item on that list should be "they perform high quality research". The rest may play a role but is probably marginal. – Cape Code Feb 23 '17 at 18:02
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You are trying to infer the ratio

(Papers accepted)/(papers submitted)

but you have information only about the numerator.

In other words, publishing a paper every year at conference X is not the same as getting 100% of your submissions accepted by conference X.

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    If all your papers are at top venue X, then even if at some year it's rejected the next year is accepted. This count again as a success. The most accurate is to see the ratio (papers in X) / (papers not in X) The OP comments, I suppose, about people with the above ratio a very very large number. – PsySp Feb 22 '17 at 23:19
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    @PsySp it's trivial to get a 100% rate of "papers in X". If for whatever reason papers not in X "don't count" for your goals (or criteria of your funding agency), whatever those may be, then it's reasonable that every paper you write will either eventually, with some revisions or using the ideas of rejected paper as a small part of a larger paper later, get in X or not get published at all anywhere as you'd simply never submit anything to a not-X venue. – Peteris Feb 23 '17 at 0:20
  • Trivial to get 100% success at top conferences? Nice!! – PsySp Feb 23 '17 at 0:23
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    @PsySp you don't need a 100% success rate at top conferences to get what the OP observes - instead, you need to make 0 submissions to lower ranked conferences; some teams do that. Also, after a few years you'd get a good idea about what is generally required to pass the bar at these conferences and you'd not submit (or even write up) research ideas that seem unlikely to be published there. In any case, I really doubt "The OP comments, I suppose, about people with the above ratio a very very large number.", in fact, that seems to be entirely opposite - the OP seems simply (falsely) assuming it. – Peteris Feb 23 '17 at 1:07
  • @Peteris If you make 0 submissions to lower than X conferences but you wait few years to see the "pattern" for TOP venues so that you can "revise" your papers accordingly (like simply this is gonna help you with STOC/FOCS in my domain), then I doubt you will ever reach that point of having to wait without publications for few years till you get the "pattern" of acceptance at such venues – PsySp Feb 23 '17 at 8:48
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I know of a few 'famous' individuals who have copious number of articles appearing in top journals/conferences every year without fail. Looking at their CV, it seems that they have a 100% success rate at these top venues.
...

Or is it the case that there is a 'back door' or the individual or institution reputation is so bright that any reviewers are obligated to accept the article?

Those 'famous' individuals have submissions being rejected much much more often than you think.

I know this because my boss and my collaborators are also kind-of famous, ACM Distinguished Scientist, more than 100 papers etc etc, one even has more than 20k citations.

What is their strategy?

AFAIK, there is no such backdoor or reputation that can help you to get papers accepted, at least in my community. The strategy is to submit a lot of papers :) Last year, many people really got mad because ICSE, top conference in Software Engineering, only allowed 1 author to submit maximum 3 papers.

Think about it, while you think they are awesome because they have published a paper at ICSE, but behind the scene they got 4 or 5 papers rejected at the same time :)

Famous people often attract a lot of people who want to collaborate with them. They are often very successful in obtain funding, and have a big group to do research for them.


UPDATE

Answers to comments of Prof. Santa Claus.

What do they do with those rejected papers? Revise and submit next year? or do they dump them into lower ranked conferences? Is the strategy then to always push all rejected papers, given 'infinite time', into top venues?

Of course revise and re-submit, but why wait until next year? If your paper is rejected at ICSE, the next step should be to re-submit it to either one of ECOOP, ISTTA, FSE, ASE, ICST...(the list doesn't end here) which are in the same rank, or just a bit less. Famous people, with their vast experience, do not submit paper which doesn't stand a chance. After being rejected, they know where the problem is, and know how to improve the paper to be accepted.

a 'back door' is simply to send a draft of your paper to likely reviewers for the conference. If you are famous, you tend to know most of the people on the program committee anyway -- birds of feather flock together. You get their feedback and if they hate it, don't submit. If they like it submit.

There are more than 20 PC members, who you should send your paper to? To the ones who work in the same problem? But they are direct competitors :) And you do this every time you want to submit a paper,i.e. 10-15 times per year, you will piss them off. If you think your paper is good, submit it regardless of what other people/reviewer think.

By the way, all the conferences I mentioned adopt double-blinded review. And you need to mark conflict PC members, who are your advisor/advisee, collaborators, institutional colleagues and so on. What you just said doesn't seem practical in the communities I know.

Another backdoor is that you know the EiC of a journal and you can give him/her a call when there is a reject. I know of a prof who does this regularly. Also, look up 'guanxi'. If you have enough of this, papers get in, and this is the 'normal' practice of certain people.

Is this "quanxi" only a Chinese thing? I don't think you can do this for top journals/conferences.

What is the success rate of your boss(es) at top venues

If "success" means eventually (even after some rejections) appear in top venues, then it would be more than 90% :) If you include also the rejections, then 60% is a rough guess.

  • What do they do with those rejected papers? Revise and submit next year? or do they dump them into lower ranked conferences? Is the strategy then to always push all rejected papers, given 'infinite time', into top venues? – Prof. Santa Claus Feb 23 '17 at 8:36
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    a 'back door' is simply to send a draft of your paper to likely reviewers for the conference. If you are famous, you tend to know most of the people on the program committee anyway -- birds of feather flock together. You get their feedback and if they hate it, don't submit. If they like it submit. – Prof. Santa Claus Feb 23 '17 at 8:43
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    Another backdoor is that you know the EiC of a journal and you can give him/her a call when there is a reject. I know of a prof who does this regularly. Also, look up 'guanxi'. If you have enough of this, papers get in, and this is the 'normal' practice of certain people. – Prof. Santa Claus Feb 23 '17 at 8:49
  • What is the success rate of your boss(es) at top venues? – Prof. Santa Claus Feb 23 '17 at 9:03
  • @qsp thanks for your responses. In my field, top conferences are staff by other top people that know each other. They don't compete. They help each other publish the next 'great idea'. Yes, 'guanxi' is a Chinese thing. – Prof. Santa Claus Feb 23 '17 at 23:02
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Except a very few number of people who have manipulated the system to work for their benefit, in most cases, there are some closely related factors:

(1) Practice already made them perfect: These people publish many papers in certain top venues. Probably they have had a lot of rejections in the past and now they have mastered the art of getting their papers published. This includes knowing the writing style of a certain community, as well as knowing the audience (reviewers) and identifying what contributions matter the most in these venues (in my area for example, the experiments, while in some other areas theoretical results are really important).

(2) They have a lot of resources and academics working for them: Not only they have big groups of PhD students working on similar problems, which results in larger number of publications. But they also have many post-docs and visitors who are usually professional in publishing. This comes down to being resourceful. They get grants and other resources, and fund academics to work for them.

(3) The rich gets richer effect: If you are famous and you have published a reasonable number of papers in your area, you are most likely to receive invitation to contribute to projects done in other groups and get credit for your (even minor) contributions. In fact, some people like to get these people involved, because they own a good record of publication, which means acceptable writing style for that venue, being familiar with the review process and reviewers and etc in (1). They may have a lot of graduated students who still publish with them because of (2).

(4) They are good leaders: Leadership has a lot to say, when it comes to productivity of a research groups. I know some academics who are really good leaders, so they can motivate and lead their (even though small) research groups to publish in an incredibly high volume. They is no limit in their productivity, because they posses leadership skills. This leadership helps them get to (3) from (2). Unlike them, there are some really smart, hard-working, focused, dedicated academics who reach a certain limit in productivity, because they have no leadership qualities and no strategies for leading their research group.

As I said, these situations are very closely related and influence each other. However, making impact does not always mean producing publication. Academia is sometimes viewed as a publication factory, but a genuine impact is usually different.

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    This. I don't think one needs to be famous to have good success at getting published. I don't think of myself as famous, but most of my 45 or so papers have appeared in the top level of journals, and I've only had 2 papers that ever got rejected -- which I attribute to putting care into choosing subjects I publish on, and being a good and careful author. I also have excellent co-authors who know what they are doing and produce good data. In other words, I think that "practice", "resources" and "leadership" are exactly the factors. – Wolfgang Bangerth Feb 23 '17 at 5:48
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    @WolfgangBangerth I totally agree with you on that. I think (1), (2) and (4) are the most important ones. However, these are not the necessary factors for everyone, so a person can have a subset of them. Also, it really depends on the subject matter, some areas are more subjective than others, so the presentation of a work matters a lot. That's why people get a lot of rejections in those areas. – orezvani Feb 23 '17 at 6:02
  • @WolfgangBangerth thanks. I like your answer! You seem to be one of those individuals :) – Prof. Santa Claus Feb 23 '17 at 8:37
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    Also after one or two successes at getting into prestigious journals, they're more likely to be willing to try (a sort of point 0) – Chris H Feb 23 '17 at 9:34

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