Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Einstein Rejected Peer Review

According to Silvan Schweber (page 9 of Einstein & Oppenheimer):
By 1930, every European scientific journal would automatically accept and publish any paper that Einstein had submitted.
When the Physical Review dared to submit his paper for peer review, Einstein responded:
We (Mr. Rosen and I) had sent you our manuscript for publication and had not authorized you to show it to specialists before it is printed. I see no reason to address the - in any case erroneous - comments of your anonymous expert. On the basis of this incident I prefer to publish the paper elsewhere.
There are many ways to look at this, depending on one's agenda.

On the positive side, it looks like Einstein was able to contribute to science, despite using the publication system much like we would now use Nature Precedings or a blog. But did the readers know his papers were not peer reviewed? At least with our current Science2.0 tools the assumptions are more explicit. And it is much easier for the community to comment.


At 6:57 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

There is a very good Physics Today article about this. Einstein published his most important papers in Germany before coming to the US in 1933. German journals at the time had little peer review and a very high acceptance rate. Although peer review was more common in American journals, most of Einstein's publications probably would not have been subject to anonymous peer review, given his reputation. Although Einstein ignored the referee's comments, the referee (Howard Percy Robertson) had found a serious mistake, and was able to convince Infeld, Einstein's assistant, of the mistake. The paper which was eventually published had the exact opposite conclusion of the version originally submitted to Physical Review. So it appears that peer review is good for something after all.

At 8:04 PM, Blogger Jean-Claude Bradley said...

Michael Nielsen made me aware of the same article.
Useful yes but not the sine qua non of progress.


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