Peer review and Einstein

by reestheskin on 06/03/2015

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Interesting aside in Science. To which I would add: arrogance before men, humility before your subject.

At the time, peer review by anonymous outside experts was beginning to take hold among journals in the United States. Einstein, however, wasn’t used to it: Until he left Germany 3 years earlier, he had regularly published in German journals without external peer review. He was indignant when he learned that his paper had received a critical review, and he withdrew it in a huff. “We (Mr. Rosen and I) … had not authorized you to show it to specialists before it is printed,” he wrote to the editor. “I see no reason to address the—in any case erroneous—comments of your anonymous expert.” He and Rosen submitted the paper to another journal, the Journal of the Franklin Institute, without change.

Yet before it was printed, Einstein revised the manuscript, retitling it “On Gravitational Waves.” It now came to the opposite conclusion: that gravitational waves were possible. The unidentified referee had pointed out a legitimate flaw in the original paper. Historians have recently confirmed that the referee was Howard Percy Robertson of Princeton University. After his anonymous criticisms were ignored, Robertson had delicately approached Einstein and convinced him of his error.

Even though peer review had helped Einstein save face, he stuck to his guns and never published another scientific paper in the Physical Review.

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