Thursday, September 12, 2013

Einstein hated referees

A reader recommends an article by physicist John Moffat:
It is interesting to note that the most famous physicist of the 20th century, Albert Einstein, only faced the anonymous peer-review system once, for a 1936 paper he wrote, with his collaborator Nathan Rosen, disputing the existence of gravity waves in general relativity, Einstein's famous theory of gravitation. This paper, considered controversial at the time, was submitted to the Physical Review, the premier American physics journal then and now, and was duly rejected by the anonymous referee. Einstein wrote an angry letter to the editor, complaining that he had not been warned that he would have to face an anonymous review system when he submitted the paper for publication, and declaring that he would never submit a paper to Physical Review again. He was good to his word, sending future papers only to journals in which the editor made the decision to accept or reject papers. Unfortunately, there are no such journals remaining today. An obvious question arises: Would Einstein have succeeded so phenomenally as a physicist with his typically iconoclastic approach to physics, in which he was usually outside the box of mainstream physics of the day, if he had been subjected to the peer-review system of publication as it exists today? In my opinion, the answer is no.
That Einstein paper was rejected for good reason, as the anonymous referee wrote a detailed analysis showing that it was wrong. While Einstein complained about it, he ultimately decided that the referee was right, and stole his analysis for the revision that was published.

Very few of Einstein's famous papers were really outside the box. His special relativity papers were affirming the theory of the leading physicists of the day.

A large part of Einstein's success was his ability to steal the ideas of others and publish them as his own. Perhaps better refereeing and editing would have forced him to cite the previous work in his papers. If that had happened, he would not have been such a phenomenal success.

Most of Einstein's later papers on unified field theory were garbage, unfit for publication.

Maffat has his own complaints about refereees. He got his start by writing letters to Einstein in the 1950s. He has published a number of far-fetched theories, but none of them have any experimental verification, as far as I know.

The reader has his own theories for going faster than light. I do not see how that is possible.

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