It seems to me there is a sinister new trend in reviewing for conferences. Perhaps you have noticed this too, and would like to join my resistance movement. It could get dangerous, I warn you. You might get haranging letters from programme chairs insinuating that you are un-professional.
If you have never had the joy of reviewing, here is a quick guide. Academics usually get asked to review papers for conferences and journals in their area of expertise. You don't get paid for this. It is not usually factored into your workload by your employer. Conferences might expect you to read and then write assessment reports for between 3 and 5 papers of between 8 and 10 pages each, with a turn around of say 2 weeks. For journals you might get a month to read up to 20 pages, write a detailed report and then a few months later you have to check the revisions by the author are OK. In terms of content, these papers are meant to be high quality, so they're hard to read. It's more difficult than marking MSc projects, for example, although they are shorter (but denser). You usually end up reading them on buses, or in the bath, or when you could be playing with your cats because there is always something more pressing to be done in your actual job. Oh yes, and you should know there are also Programme Chairs, Programme Committee members, or editors who usually divy up the reviews so the people with the right expertise see the right papers.
You might wonder why we bother. It's because the process of peer review is the cornerstone of the way science works. Science would be nothing without peer reviewed publishing. Not to be confused with PR-review, which is quite different. It's also quite a useful way to keep up with research in the field assuming a) the topics are of interest to you and b) the papers assigned to you are not a seething heap of maggot infested garbage.
It's mid Feb, and I have completed 10 reviews since January for various publications. On time. Now I am tackling a pile of reviews for a conference which shall remain nameless and discovering these sinister new developments:
1. Like many conferences, this one uses Easy Chair which is a system where you log in to get papers and upload reviews. Sadly it was not designed with the convienence of human beings in mind. Easy Chair has an alarming feature set which various Programme Chairs seem to enjoy.
2. One of these features is a bizarre exercise in time wasting where reviewers don't get assigned papers according to their stated expertise and the key words of the papers. No, no. The reviewers have to log into EasyChair and bid for papers they might want to review. So you have to scan hundreds of abstracts and titles indicating ones you might consider. Assuming you can be bothered doing this,it would then seem that your preferences are largely ignored and you end up with those maggots.
3. At this point, EasyChairmakes it possible for another stage of idiocy. The programme chairs or their Men in Black send you more papers then you can shake a stick at (Ok, 7 in this case). But it's OK, because they tell you - get this- that you can invite other people to do the review for you. They might helpfully suggest a list of possible reviewers. So then you have to email people from this list, and if they say no you're meant to get them to suggest other people. It's like a chain letter worming its way into innocent people's inboxes! If you're wondering why you have had email from people you don't know asking you to review papers you're not interested in, it's probably a result of this. Cunningly, the programme committee and their dark legions have moved the admin burden of nagging people to complete their reviews on time to you. I bet there are really maggoty papers that get thrown all over the interwebs looking for someone who can actually face reviewing them.
I rebelled. I wrote back to the Programme Chair to protest, saying I only had time to do 4 of the 7, and could they reallocate the rest. I did this in plenty of time ahead of the deadline. In response I got a masterfully composed email which managed to simulataneously imply that I was unprofessional, untrustworthy,unexpectedly unreasonably while also being kind. But not quite as kind as the other 100 reviewers who were doing their duties without complaint.
So to those reviewers I say: complain! Rebel! Throw off your shackles of servitude! Join the resistance! And for pity's sake, don't forward those chain letters for reviewing unless you know it is really someone's field. It just passes on the pain to your unfortunate colleagues.