More on Prematurity
| Peter Klein |
We noted before some work on prematurity, the phenomenon in which scientific discoveries are initially resisted because they lie too far outside the mainstream consensus.
Here is a paper — appropriately enough, not yet published — listing discoveries resisted, and scientific papers rejected, even though their authors would go on to win Nobel prizes for these same discoveries. (HT: Bayesian Heresy.) All the examples are from the hard sciences, but I was reminded of Joshua Gans and George Shepherd’s “How Are the Mighty Fallen: Rejected Classic Articles by Leading Economists” (Journal of Economic Perspectives, Winter, 1994). Akerlof’s “Market for Lemons” was rejected by three journals before the QJE agreed to publish it in 1970. Robert Lucas’s “Expecations and the Neutrality of Money” (1972) was dismissed by the AER as too technical. William Sharpe’s 1964 paper introducing the CAPM model was rejected by the Journal of Finance because of its “preposterous” assumption that investors share common beliefs (a new set of editors subsequently accepted a revised version). There are many other examples.
These stories are interesting, but I’m not sure they tell us much about the journal publication process, or scientific discovery, more generally. After all, there are surely many more examples of Type II error than these examples of Type I error — pick up the current issue of your favorite academic journal if you don’t believe me! Would a different system of peer review, or an alternative sociology of science, produce a better overall result?