The unexpected extension

| Comments (3) | Misc
For those who are thinking of submitting to ISOC NDSS, the PC has decided to extend the conference deadline to Fri Sep 12, though you have to submit your abstract and title by midnight tomorrow. This has been announced in some fora already and will appear on the site tomorrow.

Because so much CS publication is done at conferences, the work cycle tends to be driven by the submission deadline. These deadlines tend to be of varying hardness—sometimes people ask for and are granted extensions, but not uncommonly the program committee grants general extensions (a week is common here). If you're preparing a paper for such a conference, learning that the deadline has been extended seems like a nice bonus, if a little anticlimactic; people tend to work up to the deadline and so suddenly getting another week cuts down on the rush job aspect of things. On the other hand, since work tends to expand to fill the time available, it's a bit of a mixed blessing.

But of course these benefits only accrue to the submitters if the deadline extension is unexpected. If you know that there will be an extension (and NDSS is famous/notorious for having the deadline extended every year), then you just factor the later deadline into your planning and it's as if the extended deadline were just the real deadline (cf. rational expectations theory) and the PC might as well have just set that deadline in the first place. [Note that one could argue that the PC learns new information as the deadline approaches and people ask for extensions so they're correcting, but (1) since people plan to finish at the deadline it's not clear that having a later deadline would change anything and (2) even if this were true, once the conference has had a couple years to settle in, you'd expect the deadline to get calibrated pretty accurately.]

Paradoxically, then, if the PC thinks that having people shoot for time X but then actually have till time Y improves papers (or perhaps just author experience), then they need to preserve uncertainty about whether a deadline will be extended by sometimes not extending it. How often you have to do so is a more complicated calculation, of course, but given that your typical conference happens only every year and people tend to forget events more than a few years in the past, I suspect that you can't extend the deadline more than 75% of conferences or so.

Hovav Shacham observed to me that you could both provide the requisite uncertainty and try to establish whether extensions improve paper quality by only giving extensions to some random fraction of papers each year [tech note: you would need to force people to commit to their name or paper submission before telling them whether they got the extensions, since otherwise they might just poll until they got an extension] and then see whether those papers had a higher acceptance rate. In my experience, though, people tend to feel that giving some people unequal treatment—even when that treatment is randomly distributed—is somehow unfair.


If you do the randomization suggestion, you really don't want to do it for a security conference, because then you will get security researchers playing games (eg, 3-4 different titles/abstracts/author orders, withdraw the lowest extending ones).

So do it at a NON security conference.

If people don't like randomly distributed unequal treatment, then why do they keep submitting papers to security research conferences?

Well, at least NDSS maintains some uncertainty in the amount of extension—last year it was only three days, whereas this year it's a whole week. (ASIACCS is even more dramatic; this year they seem to be giving a 6-day extension, and last year they extended the deadline for 3 weeks!)

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