Tuesday, April 22, 2008

How Much a Paper Submission Costs?

I have been reading the post by Lance Fortnow about the cost of a class, and what is the amount that students pay collectively for an hour of teaching. This made me think of a similar calculation for the cost of submitting a paper to a conference. We are accustomed to submit papers and then asking for high-level reviews, often disregarding the associated costs. "What cost?", you will ask, given that everything in academic reviewing is done in a gratis, voluntarily basis. Fundamentally our peer reviewing system is based on an implicit tit-for-tat agreement: "I will contribute a number of reviews as a reviewer, so that others can then review my own papers".

In most cases, though, some employer is paying the reviewer (a university, a research lab...) and reviewing consumes some productive time. A typical computer scientist with PhD will have a salary above $100K per year, which roughly corresponds to a $50/hr-$100/hr salary. A typical review (at least for me) takes at least 3 hours to complete, in the best case, corresponding to a cost of $150 to $300 per review. Additionally, every paper submission gets 3-4 reviewers, which results in a cost per submission of $500 to $1000 per paper. Therefore, a conference like SIGMOD, WWW, KDD, and so on, with 500-1000 submissions per year, consumes from $250,000 to $1,000,000 in resources, just for conducting the reviewing. I simply find that amount impressive.

This leads to the next question: Have you ever thought about your balance? How many papers do you review and how many papers do you submit per year? If someone had to pay $1000, I doubt that we would see many half-baked submissions. Or, if credit was given for each conducted review, then we would have more reviewing resources available. I do not advocate a system based on monetary awards, but before complaining about the quality of the reviews that you get, think: What is your balance?