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Einstein and peer review. (I've never been published in Nature, but...)

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  • Einstein and peer review. (I've never been published in Nature, but...)

    Woo hoo. Fame at last. (Albeit somewhat transient) I've never been published in Nature, but as of just now I *have* had a tweet favourited by a Nature senior editor! Just had to say that...

    The topic was peer review, BTW; and a fascinating little story about Einstein.

    Formal peer review is considered an essential part of modern science work, with good reason IMO. But it is a fairly recent development, becoming common somewhere around the mid twentieth century. There's always been plenty of peer review once scientific ideas get out and other scientists get to evaluate them. What's a bit more recent is peer review as an initial gateway to be passed before publication.

    Anyhoo, in 1936 Einstein submitted a paper to The Physical Review, entitled "Do Gravitational Waves Exist", in which he present a "proof" that gravitational waves do not exist. The editor was concerned about the paper, and sent it out to another expert (Howard P Robertson) for his evaluation. This was not a normal practice; anything from Einstein tended to get published automatically. Indeed, this may have been only occasion Einstein ever had to deal with peer review at a journal!

    Tate evidently felt the need of some expert comment. Robertson identified errors in the paper and returned a 10 page comment describing them. Tate then returned the manuscript to Einstein, along with the reviewer comments, and indicated that he would be glad to have Einstein's further comment.

    Einstein took umbrage and responded with a letter that is now famous in the annals of peer review:
    Source: Einstein


    Dear Sir,

    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.
    Respectfully,

    P.S. Mr. Rosen, who has left for the Soviet Union, has authorized me to represent him in this matter.

    © Copyright Original Source



    The irony of this is that the review was correct, and Einstein was wrong. Einstein DID publish elsewhere; indeed he never published with The Physical Review again. However, by the time of the publication he had spoken directly with Professor Robertson and they discussed the issues. Einstein recognized and acknowledged the errors and made extensive corrections; in particular no longer claiming to have disproved gravitational waves.

    The eventual publication, ironically, included this acknowledgement as a note to the paper.
    Source: Einstein


    The second part of this paper was considerably altered by me after the departure of Mr Rosen for Russia since we had originally interpreted our results erroneously. I wish to thank my colleague Professor Robertson for his friendly assistance in the clarification of the original error. I thank also Mr Hoffman for kind assistance in translation.

    © Copyright Original Source



    There's a lot more on this amusing affair at Einstein Verses the Physical Review (published in Physics Today, Sept 2005, pp 43-48) The note and acknowledgement I quoted from Einstein and Oppenheimer by Silvan S. Schweber (Harvard Uni Press 2009).

  • #2
    Originally posted by sylas View Post
    Woo hoo. Fame at last. (Albeit somewhat transient) I've never been published in Nature, but as of just now I *have* had a tweet favourited by a Nature senior editor! Just had to say that...

    The topic was peer review, BTW; and a fascinating little story about Einstein.

    Formal peer review is considered an essential part of modern science work, with good reason IMO. But it is a fairly recent development, becoming common somewhere around the mid twentieth century. There's always been plenty of peer review once scientific ideas get out and other scientists get to evaluate them. What's a bit more recent is peer review as an initial gateway to be passed before publication.

    Anyhoo, in 1936 Einstein submitted a paper to The Physical Review, entitled "Do Gravitational Waves Exist", in which he present a "proof" that gravitational waves do not exist. The editor was concerned about the paper, and sent it out to another expert (Howard P Robertson) for his evaluation. This was not a normal practice; anything from Einstein tended to get published automatically. Indeed, this may have been only occasion Einstein ever had to deal with peer review at a journal!

    Tate evidently felt the need of some expert comment. Robertson identified errors in the paper and returned a 10 page comment describing them. Tate then returned the manuscript to Einstein, along with the reviewer comments, and indicated that he would be glad to have Einstein's further comment.

    Einstein took umbrage and responded with a letter that is now famous in the annals of peer review:
    Source: Einstein


    Dear Sir,

    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.
    Respectfully,

    P.S. Mr. Rosen, who has left for the Soviet Union, has authorized me to represent him in this matter.

    © Copyright Original Source



    The irony of this is that the review was correct, and Einstein was wrong. Einstein DID publish elsewhere; indeed he never published with The Physical Review again. However, by the time of the publication he had spoken directly with Professor Robertson and they discussed the issues. Einstein recognized and acknowledged the errors and made extensive corrections; in particular no longer claiming to have disproved gravitational waves.

    The eventual publication, ironically, included this acknowledgement as a note to the paper.
    Source: Einstein


    The second part of this paper was considerably altered by me after the departure of Mr Rosen for Russia since we had originally interpreted our results erroneously. I wish to thank my colleague Professor Robertson for his friendly assistance in the clarification of the original error. I thank also Mr Hoffman for kind assistance in translation.

    © Copyright Original Source



    There's a lot more on this amusing affair at Einstein Verses the Physical Review (published in Physics Today, Sept 2005, pp 43-48) The note and acknowledgement I quoted from Einstein and Oppenheimer by Silvan S. Schweber (Harvard Uni Press 2009).
    The history of ideas and the researchers who deal with them are often as important as are the ideas themselves. And they are as interesting, if not more so.

    Well done on your tweet too.

    Comment


    • #3
      Originally posted by sylas View Post
      Woo hoo. Fame at last. (Albeit somewhat transient) I've never been published in Nature, but as of just now I *have* had a tweet favourited by a Nature senior editor! Just had to say that...

      The topic was peer review, BTW; and a fascinating little story about Einstein.

      Formal peer review is considered an essential part of modern science work, with good reason IMO. But it is a fairly recent development, becoming common somewhere around the mid twentieth century. There's always been plenty of peer review once scientific ideas get out and other scientists get to evaluate them. What's a bit more recent is peer review as an initial gateway to be passed before publication.

      Anyhoo, in 1936 Einstein submitted a paper to The Physical Review, entitled "Do Gravitational Waves Exist", in which he present a "proof" that gravitational waves do not exist. The editor was concerned about the paper, and sent it out to another expert (Howard P Robertson) for his evaluation. This was not a normal practice; anything from Einstein tended to get published automatically. Indeed, this may have been only occasion Einstein ever had to deal with peer review at a journal!

      Tate evidently felt the need of some expert comment. Robertson identified errors in the paper and returned a 10 page comment describing them. Tate then returned the manuscript to Einstein, along with the reviewer comments, and indicated that he would be glad to have Einstein's further comment.

      Einstein took umbrage and responded with a letter that is now famous in the annals of peer review:
      Source: Einstein


      Dear Sir,

      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.
      Respectfully,

      P.S. Mr. Rosen, who has left for the Soviet Union, has authorized me to represent him in this matter.

      © Copyright Original Source



      The irony of this is that the review was correct, and Einstein was wrong. Einstein DID publish elsewhere; indeed he never published with The Physical Review again. However, by the time of the publication he had spoken directly with Professor Robertson and they discussed the issues. Einstein recognized and acknowledged the errors and made extensive corrections; in particular no longer claiming to have disproved gravitational waves.

      The eventual publication, ironically, included this acknowledgement as a note to the paper.
      Source: Einstein


      The second part of this paper was considerably altered by me after the departure of Mr Rosen for Russia since we had originally interpreted our results erroneously. I wish to thank my colleague Professor Robertson for his friendly assistance in the clarification of the original error. I thank also Mr Hoffman for kind assistance in translation.

      © Copyright Original Source



      There's a lot more on this amusing affair at Einstein Verses the Physical Review (published in Physics Today, Sept 2005, pp 43-48) The note and acknowledgement I quoted from Einstein and Oppenheimer by Silvan S. Schweber (Harvard Uni Press 2009).
      All things considered (emphasize ALL) peer review (PR) is a good thing and is needed.

      HOWEVER ...

      Nowadays especially, the PR process is often NOT objective, fair, or presents a level playing field.

      To wit: try going through the PR process at Harvard, Princeton, Berkeley or MIT with something that opposes the views of the reigning "scientific" establishment and see what happens. The obvious example (but certainly not the only one) is anything that criticizes the Evolution dogma - that paper paper will be toast before it even gets to 1st base of PR regardless of its scientific merits (which, by the way, is why people wishing to publish such works have had to resort to alternative publication outlets).

      So, yeah, a purely-scholarly PR (what it is supposed to be) would be wonderful. Unfortunately, what exists today is far removed from that. Depending on what you're trying to publish, PR could be a blessing or the worst possible of all curses.

      Jorge

      Comment


      • #4
        Originally posted by Jorge View Post
        All things considered (emphasize ALL) peer review (PR) is a good thing and is needed.

        HOWEVER ...

        Nowadays especially, the PR process is often NOT objective, fair, or presents a level playing field.

        To wit: try going through the PR process at Harvard, Princeton, Berkeley or MIT with something that opposes the views of the reigning "scientific" establishment and see what happens. The obvious example (but certainly not the only one) is anything that criticizes the Evolution dogma - that paper paper will be toast before it even gets to 1st base of PR regardless of its scientific merits (which, by the way, is why people wishing to publish such works have had to resort to alternative publication outlets).

        So, yeah, a purely-scholarly PR (what it is supposed to be) would be wonderful. Unfortunately, what exists today is far removed from that. Depending on what you're trying to publish, PR could be a blessing or the worst possible of all curses.

        Jorge
        How about when a bunch of Creationists rent space in a dining hall at a prestigious university like Cornell for their creationist conference, then try to leech off Cornell's good name by advertising their little Edited by a Moderator as a Cornell sponsored event? Big Red sure curb stomped the lying Creationist on that one, didn't it?
        Last edited by rogue06; 06-26-2014, 09:33 PM.

        Comment


        • #5
          Originally posted by HMS_Beagle View Post
          How about when a bunch of Creationists rent space in a dining hall at a prestigious university like Cornell for their creationist conference, then try to leech off Cornell's good name by advertising their little Edited by a Moderator as a Cornell sponsored event? Big Red sure curb stomped the lying Creationist on that one, didn't it?
          Two things, Beagle Boy:

          FIRST: have you finally improved your test score on that science quiz for young teenagers?

          SECOND: Have you figured out that World Scientific Publishers -- the organization that published the Proceedings of the Scientific Symposium that you refer to above -- is NOT a "rag-publisher" as you once called them?

          You are so pathetic, Beagle Boy, that I'm surprised they even let you read the posts here at Nat Sci 301.

          By the way (Sylas and the Moderators), DO NOTICE who started this.

          Jorge
          Last edited by rogue06; 06-26-2014, 09:33 PM.

          Comment


          • #6
            Jorge,

            What standards of "scientific merit" would you recommend for PR? I mean other than those being used already with mainstream scholarly journals?

            K54

            Comment


            • #7
              Originally posted by Jorge View Post

              (snip the usual Jorge bluster)

              Jorge
              Tell us Jorge, since you claim the peer review process at places Harvard, Princeton, Berkeley or MIT is so biased: what papers supporting your YEC position have you or your Creationist pals actually submitted for review to those institutions? Please furnish a list of the ones that have been submitted and the reason given for their rejection. Unless you're making it all up again and just bellyaching because you have no science to submit.

              Don't bore us with the Meyer / Sternberg bit of dishonesty of trying to sneak a crap paper around the peer review process either. Those liars have already been dealt with.

              Comment


              • #8
                Originally posted by klaus54 View Post
                Jorge,

                What standards of "scientific merit" would you recommend for PR? I mean other than those being used already with mainstream scholarly journals?

                K54
                When properly and fairly applied, PR is fine just as it is today.
                The problem is that it is NOT properly and fairly applied.

                By far, the number one flaw of the PR process is its dogmatic adherence
                to certain paradigms. This creates a self-perpetuating stagnation of true
                science. Ya think, for example, that Michael Behe would get published by
                Harvard Publishing Press? Heck, Behe cannot even give a public talk unless
                he first reads a disclaimer (I know, I've been to several of his talks after
                Darwin's Black Box 'magically' transformed him into a "pseudo-scientist").

                A close second in the problems of the present PR is that it is often
                influenced / driven by political and/or corporate ($$$) agendas.
                Those aren't suppose to influence a genuinely scientific PR (ideally).

                Jorge

                Comment


                • #9
                  Originally posted by HMS_Beagle View Post
                  Tell us Jorge, since you claim the peer review process at places Harvard, Princeton, Berkeley or MIT is so biased: what papers supporting your YEC position have you or your Creationist pals actually submitted for review to those institutions? Please furnish a list of the ones that have been submitted and the reason given for their rejection. Unless you're making it all up again and just bellyaching because you have no science to submit.

                  Don't bore us with the Meyer / Sternberg bit of dishonesty of trying to sneak a crap paper around the peer review process either. Those liars have already been dealt with.
                  Is someone paying you to haunt me?

                  Springer Verlag -- in case you didn't know -- had already completed some
                  PR of our symposium papers. All was perfectly well - the science was solid.

                  Then the Evolution Weirdo-Cuckoos came out and threatened SV in the pocketbook.
                  As if by magic, the same papers were no longer "science".
                  Mind you, they could not find a single flaw with the science.
                  If they did find any flaws, we were never informed of it.
                  That's a perfect example of how PR isn't what it's supposed to be.

                  Now, you'd better shut up before Sylas boots you off for derailing his thread.
                  On second thought, I'll buy Sylas a new pair of boots just to see that happen.

                  Jorge

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    Originally posted by Jorge View Post
                    When properly and fairly applied, PR is fine just as it is today. The problem is that it is NOT properly and fairly applied.
                    More sour grapes from someone who's never even bothered to submit a paper.

                    By far, the number one flaw of the PR process is its dogmatic adherence to certain paradigms. This creates a self-perpetuating stagnation of true science. Ya think, for example, that Michael Behe would get published by Harvard Publishing Press?
                    If Behe or any of the IDCers could support their claims with results from actual scientific research and not just imbecilic popular press books sure they could get published by a real science publisher. But they don't even try. IDC pushers like Behe and Meyer make money off the scientifically ignorant knobs like you by telling you what you want to hear.

                    Heck, Behe cannot even give a public talk unless he first reads a disclaimer (I know, I've been to several of his talks after Darwin's Black Box 'magically' transformed him into a "pseudo-scientist").
                    What papers on ID/Creationism has Behe actually submitted to mainstream scientific journals that were subsequently rejected? List them or quit with the childish whining.

                    Comment


                    • #11
                      Originally posted by Jorge View Post
                      Springer Verlag -- in case you didn't know -- had already completed some
                      PR of our symposium papers. All was perfectly well - the science was solid.

                      Then the Evolution Weirdo-Cuckoos came out and threatened SV in the pocketbook.
                      As if by magic, the same papers were no longer "science".
                      Mind you, they could not find a single flaw with the science.
                      If they did find any flaws, we were never informed of it.
                      That's a perfect example of how PR isn't what it's supposed to be.

                      Jorge
                      Sorry Jorge but the history of your "Cornell" conference papers is well know. The IDCers misrepresented the work to SV and when SV found out about the duplicity they rightly booted you clowns. Lie about it all you want but it won't change history.

                      Your paper on "Information Theory" has been challenged in threads right here at TWeb but you've never had the cajones to try and defend the idiocy.

                      Comment


                      • #12
                        Originally posted by Jorge View Post
                        When properly and fairly applied, PR is fine just as it is today.
                        The problem is that it is NOT properly and fairly applied.

                        By far, the number one flaw of the PR process is its dogmatic adherence
                        to certain paradigms. This creates a self-perpetuating stagnation of true
                        science. Ya think, for example, that Michael Behe would get published by
                        Harvard Publishing Press? Heck, Behe cannot even give a public talk unless
                        he first reads a disclaimer (I know, I've been to several of his talks after
                        Darwin's Black Box 'magically' transformed him into a "pseudo-scientist").

                        A close second in the problems of the present PR is that it is often
                        influenced / driven by political and/or corporate ($$$) agendas.
                        Those aren't suppose to influence a genuinely scientific PR (ideally).

                        Jorge
                        So how would you like to change the PR paradigm? Should a paper be required to follow scientific method? Should untestable notions be allowed?

                        I'm not sure how your suggested PR process would be any different? And about politics -- that influences grant funding not necessarily publication.

                        K54

                        Comment


                        • #13
                          Originally posted by klaus54 View Post
                          So how would you like to change the PR paradigm? Should a paper be required to follow scientific method? Should untestable notions be allowed?

                          I'm not sure how your suggested PR process would be any different? And about politics -- that influences grant funding not necessarily publication.

                          K54
                          WOW!!! ...

                          Yeah ... sure ... whatever.

                          Jorge

                          Comment


                          • #14
                            First, I really don't understand why anyone here bothers to respond to Jorge on anything.

                            Second, I have written quite a lot on peer review in the past, and the failings of peer review. I may recycle some of that here sometime. Peer review is a bit like democracy as described by Winston Churchill.

                            Source: Winston Churchill

                            No one pretends that democracy peer review is perfect or all-wise. Indeed, it has been said that democracy peer review is the worst form of Government journal oversight except all those others that have been tried from time to time.

                            © Copyright Original Source



                            Couple of things to bear in mind.

                            Peer review is not what determines whether a scientific paper is valid. It is simply a way of managing the initial checks to see if a paper is worthy of consideration by the larger scientific community. The real review and evaluation of scientific papers and ideas is what happens after publication, as other scientists read and followup with more research or data or response. Peer review is just a couple of individual experts who generally manage fairly obvious flaws in a proposed paper.

                            By and large this process works ok. There are plenty of examples of the process failing. I've been collected some of these, in many fields. The most obvious and easiest failures of peer review are when a hopelessly flawed paper somehow gets past the review gateway and is published anyway. Harder to identify are cases where good and important papers don't get published because of invalid reviews.

                            (This is most often something that happens to your own papers and it is usually due to the third reviewer. That's a bit of an inside joke in publishing. Just google "third reviewer" and you'll see what I mean.)

                            You can always get your publications out in any case, especially now we have the internet. A good paper that fails to get into a scientific journal can still get out through blogs or websites or self publication or specialized journals without conventional scientific review: and if it actually is significant and any good, it will get picked up and passed around. If it still doesn't have any impact, then it would not have had any impact as a journal article either. We are well used to journals that publish lousy papers; getting published doesn't correspond to having an impact on the field.

                            There are also a lot of journals, and you can often bypass competent review by submitting to a different journal... especially one that doesn't actually specialize in the field you are dealing with! That's a good way to avoid the experts who might pick up problems.

                            That (with all due respect to the journal of the Franklin Institute) is what Einstein apparently did. After the road bump at The Physical Review, he submitted pretty much the same erroneous article to a second journal. The corrections he made were done AFTER the paper was accepted, most likely as a result of interactions with colleagues between acceptance at the second journal and submission of the final proofs.

                            Rejection at the peer review stage is nearly always due to explicitly identified flaws in a paper.

                            It's common to claim that a paper is rejected simply because it goes against an established orthodoxy. Checking out the actual reviews, however, invariably show that the problems are far more specific. In many cases, this is exactly why you get an "orthodoxy". Well established ideas in science are ones that are build on lots of data and well founded and tested theory. New developments can and do still get published. Tired counter arguments that have been around for decades and are already thoroughly refuted, however, don't get generally get past peer review. Not because they conflict with orthodoxy, but because they are flawed on their own merits, just like they have been for ages.


                            I have a small collection of examples of the following (in many different fields):
                            • Papers which got through peer review despite having really glaring errors.
                            • Journals that claim peer review but persistently publish stuff that even minimally competent review would reject.


                            What I would really like to add to this are examples of excellent papers that failed to get published because of improper peer review.

                            Note that what I need are specific individual instances, rather than sweeping generalizations.

                            I'd welcome some examples anyone here might know of, from any field of science or mathematics. (I'm not sufficiently at home to deal with examples in academic disciples outside of science).

                            Cheers -- sylas

                            Comment


                            • #15
                              Originally posted by sylas View Post
                              First, I really don't understand why anyone here bothers to respond to Jorge on anything.
                              That's a good question. There is something in us that enjoys seeing the Black Knight continuing to declare victory while he lay bleeding with no arms and no legs I guess. I mean the comedy skit gets laughs anytime its shown. I guess when you see it in real life, it just keeps you coming back for more ...

                              Not sure if that's a particularly good commentary on those of use that keep prodding and poking, but it is what it is I guess.

                              Jim
                              He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me."

                              "So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets"

                              Comment

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