In every manufacturing process there are pieces made which do not meet a standard set by the manufacturer, these pieces are hopefully filtered out by quality control. In academic publishing there is a similar kind of filter. Scientific papers not up to the standards of a journal are frequently turned away and are consequentially known as “rejects.” Last year alone, the respected mathematics journal, Annals of Mathematics, rejected over 300 papers. This begs the question, “where do these rejected papers end up?” Some get published in less prestigious journals, while others are shelved indefinitely. However this could all change in the near future.
A new academic journal called Rejecta Mathematica offers hope for the rejected research of the mathematics world as “an open access, online journal that only publishes papers that have been rejected from peer-reviewed journals in the mathematical sciences.”
Rejecta was conceived three years ago by graduate students Michael Wakin and Christopher Rozell, who came up with the idea while at Rice University, after one of their own papers was deemed unfit for publication and rejected. The journal’s reviewers complimented the paper itself, but rejected it from publication because they believed that the subject matter — card-counting in blackjack — didn’t fit with the other articles in the journal. Unable to find another place to publish they teamed up with Mark Davenport and Jason Laska to found their own journal; thus Rejecta was born.
The more academic among you might be scoffing at the idea of a journal full of wrong turns, half-baked ideas and cockamamie formulas, but before you begin to lament the death of quality peer reviewed science, give the journal a chance. Some papers that fall into the above categories may have real value for the mathematical world.
It is important to note that, while Rejecta’s existence may be a revolt against the bureaucracy of publishing, it does have publishing rules of its own which, in addition to its “five common reasons for publishing an otherwise un-publishable paper,” (see sidebar) adds to its credibility.
Each paper comes with an open letter from the authors that includes a discussion of the paper’s original review process, discloses any known flaws in the paper and states the case for the paper’s value to the community. The letter allows the reader to understand the purpose of the publication and hopefully prevents the reader from being misled by any errors inherent in the paper. Additionally, the journal encourages correspondence from the math community regarding papers published in Rejecta, which may be subsequently published in the journal, contributing to the air of openness and discernment surrounding the publication.
The journal citation report scale, which ranks scholarly journals by the number of times their articles have been cited, gives Rejecta Mathematica a “current impact factor of 0.” So while the journal’s newness and unorthodox publishing criteria are contributing factors to this low rating, it might be foolish to write off such a novel idea so soon.
The slogan of the journal is Caveat Emptor, which is Latin for “buyer beware.” This upfront honesty about the nature of the papers contained in the journal and the candour of the authors in discussing their weaknesses is truly refreshing. And while one should obviously read these papers with a grain of salt, it is worth bearing in mind that some truly great scientific ideas of our time were almost themselves rejects. For example, Peter Higgs, who the Higgs boson particle is named for, faced rejection from the journal Physics Letters when first attempting to publish on what two of the most distinguished research facilities in the world, the Hadron Collider and Fermilab, now concern themselves with researching. Likewise Paul Lauterbur, the man responsible for magnetic-resonance imaging (MRI,) had his seminal paper on the subject initially rejected by Nature; he was later to win a Nobel Prize for his work.
It remains to be seen if Rejecta Mathematica will flourish and perhaps inspire similar journals in other fields, or be consigned to marginality. There must always be rigorously peer-reviewed journals and Rejecta itself has had to turn away some papers; but it’s nice to know that in math, if not in life, rejects with value may have found a home.