The value of the author response mechanism is frequently debated in our field and can be a source of stress for authors. On the one hand, when our work is being reviewed by others, it can feel helpless to not have the opportunity to respond to those reviews. On the other hand, there is the perennial question about whether author responses ever “help” (in the sense of taking a paper over the line to “accept” from “reject”). (On that point, see this very thoughtful analysis by Hal Daumé III for the process for NAACL 2013.) And finally there is the issue that author responses must be turned around in a short time and can be tricky to write: How to strike the right tone (firm, polite, confident; not pleading or angry) especially when we might still be feeling the sting of negative reviews. As reviewers, we have seen both very effective author responses (expressing gratitude for feedback and pointing out sources of misunderstanding) and very ineffective ones (pure vitriol, or long lists of promises of what will be accomplished before the camera-ready version).
In light of all of this, what we settled on for COLING 2018 is an optional author response to be seen by the area chairs only – and not the reviewers. Thus we are providing authors with the opportunity to flag reviewer misunderstandings for area chairs and to answer questions raised by reviews. The latter should only be done when the information is already available and can be indicated in a short statement (e.g. “Indeed, we did set the random seed and will include this information in the camera ready” but not “That is an interesting idea for a further experiment, we will run that one and include the numbers in the camera ready”). We also note that author response is optional and area chairs will not read anything into the lack of an author response.
Author response will run from 20-24 April.
Why this route? Well, the quantitative evidence is that pointing out reviewer mistakes rarely leads to a change in scores. The folk knowledge has been for some time that responses are really used by ACs to detect misaligned reviews. So rather than encourage an intrinsically difficult communication that has had little to no effect in the past, we instead divert the replies to go to the authoritative party they are relevant to. This gives a little extra work for ACs, but as they’re acting in pairs and areas are roughly the same compact size, our hope is that time can be spent more on working out the dialog around a paper and less on administering a huge set of authors and reviewers.