Guest Post by Dan Spielman.
The list of papers accepted to FOCS 2009 is now available at: http://www.cs.yale.edu/focs09/
As Mike did after the STOC 2009 PC Meeting, I'd like to provide a short summary of what happened at the FOCS 2009 Meeting.
We arrived at the meeting having at least three reviews for each paper. To save time for discussions of papers during the meeting, we voted to reject many papers in the two weeks before the meeting. We also voted to accept a small number that had overwhelmingly strong reviews. I would like to have heard more about these papers, but it would not have been a productive use of time.
After our preliminary decisions we had 123 papers to discuss over 2 days. This gave us only a few minutes to discuss each paper. In spite of the short timeframes, the discussions of papers were remarkably insightful, intelligent, and witty. Things were said that I will remember always. Unfortunately, confidentiality prevents me from sharing them with you. As chair, my job was to prematurely halt these discussions so that we could vote and move on to the next paper.
As was done in many PCs before, I asked committee members with conflicts of interest to leave the room. Committee members were deemed to have a conflict of interest with authors who were their advisor or advisee, who were at the same institution, and with whom they were close friends. My test for friendship was "would you be proud if this paper was accepted?" As many observed, these are not perfect tests for COIs, but they are a first-order approximation. This policy did have some drawbacks, as it often meant that the person most expert in the area of a paper was excluded from the discussion. To ameliorate this problem, I solicited extra reviews of papers for which this was the case. I am thankful that so many in our community responded to my urgent requests for reviews.
I am VERY happy that we took this approach to handling COIs. I know that I would have had a difficult time being unbiased when discussing papers with which I had a COI. One advantage of this approach that I did not see discussed in the comments on Mike's blog is that it preserves the committee members' reputations for integrity. We accepted many papers with which I had a COI, and I am glad that I will not be suspected of tilting the process in favor of my friends.
Deciding which papers to accept is a very difficult process. With insufficient time and consideration, we were forced to make decisions that are very important to many people. We did the best we could, but I am sure we made mistakes. At least there is no paper on which a majority of the committee believed we made a mistake.
I hope you all will join us for the 50th IEEE FOCS.