Rejecta Mathematica

A new online journal that publishes only articles rejected by peer-reviewed journals. (HT: Freakonomics, which got it from the Economist.)

The obvious question is what’s the point of such a thing.  The editors address this in a letter accompanying the first issue, making a number of valid points: Good research is sometimes wrongly rejected.  Moreover, there’s value in publishing even results that turn out to be dead ends, if only to prevent other people from wandering down the same dead ends.  But here’s where they fail to convince me:

While such a project as Rejecta Mathematica would have been impracticable in the pre-internet age, the flood of resources available today begs another oft-posed question: "Why do we need a new journal? Isn't this what a preprint server (like the arXiv), a blog, or a personal website is for?"

My usage-pedant hackles get raised at the misuse of “beg the question,” but that’s not really the point.  Mostly, I just don’t think they have a good answer to this question.  This journal would solve some of the problems the editors have identified, if the right people would read it.  But I don’t see how that’s ever going to happen.  In particular, an author who wants to get people to notice his rejected paper can and should put it on the arXiv, which will be a much more effective strategy than publishing it here.  [Note:The arXiv does require an “endorsement,” but frankly, the bar there is set pretty low, and if you can’t get someone to endorse your paper, that’s a pretty solid indication that you need to fix either the work or your communication skills.]

Still, Rejecta Mathematica is an interesting experiment, and I hope it does prove useful to some people.  The editors did get one thing exactly right: along with each article, the authors must supply an open letter explaining the rejection history of the article.  These letters are extremely revealing: some contain reasoned discussion, while others are frankly rants.  If I were to look at this journal regularly, that would be my main guide as to which articles were worth a closer look.

Published by

Ted Bunn

I am chair of the physics department at the University of Richmond. In addition to teaching a variety of undergraduate physics courses, I work on a variety of research projects in cosmology, the study of the origin, structure, and evolution of the Universe. University of Richmond undergraduates are involved in all aspects of this research. If you want to know more about my research, ask me!