Monday, April 29, 2013

So Your Paper Got Rejected -- It Can Still Become a Classic and You Can Get a Nobel Prize

Academic researchers must be persistent and clearly resilient -- an adjective that is being applied to everything from critical infrastructure networks (transportation) to organizations.

Academic researchers submit articles for publication in journals, which are peer-reviewed.

After months, if not years of work, a paper is submitted, and then one waits (I have even waited for over a year) to get the reports on the paper back.

Sometimes the news is fabulous -- publish as is!

Sometimes the news is very good -- minor revision only needed.

Sometimes it is lukewarm -- major revision needed and then you hope that it ultimately hits, but you may need to go (my record is 4 revisions) through multiple revisions.

And sometimes one gets the dreaded news -- outright rejection.

Take heart, folks. 

Yesterday, yes, on a Sunday, I had a discussion with an Editor -- I am serving now on over a dozen journal editorial boards and also do (alot) of reviewing of articles. Part of the correspondence from the Editor had the following phrase in it to me: Understand, I cannot accept a paper with negative reviews (even if it is submitted by a Nobel prize winner).

Since I love the history of science and am also very persistent I did some research. I admit that I had heard comments over the years that some scientists had had their major work rejected, which then went on to garner them fame (if not fortune). I wanted the evidence.

This is what I dug up, which I think is very illuminating.

An editorial in Nature, a top scientific journal, which you can access here,  stated that it had celebrated the 2003 Nobel in Medicine awarded to Paul Lauterbur, only to have him remind them that the paper had been first rejected and then he appealed the decision.

I also discovered this great article: How Are the Mighty Fallen:  Rejected Classic Articles by Economists by Gans and Shepherd in the Journal of Economic Perspectives, which was based on a survey of 140 leading economists including Nobel Prize winners and Bates medal winners. Paul Samuelson, the Nobel laureate, acknowledged rejections of some articles of his that are classics. Many "let off steam" in relating their rejection experiences, according to Paul Krugman, quoted in the article, who later went on to also get a Nobel prize in Economic Sciences, as had Samuelson. The article has a list of articles and their authors that were rejected and where they were eventually published.

The Nature editorial concludes with:  Nevertheless -- a final moral -- rejected authors who are convinced of the ground-breaking value of their controversial conclusions should persist. A final rejection on the grounds of questionable significance may mean one journal has closed its door on you, but that is no reason to be cowered into silence. Remember, as you seek a different home for your work, that you are in wonderful company!