Our paper deals with obstacles faced by challengers to dominant physics paradigms. It seems only fair that we also tell the story of the obstacles we faced in publishing our paper.
Following some of the rejections by journals, we modified the paper, but its structure and basic arguments remained the same. I am happy to supply copies of the earlier, rejected versions on request.
Website (with email address)
Go to "Challenging dominant physics paradigms"
On the advice of several of our respondents, we first considered Foundations of Physics, which describes itself as "an international journal devoted to the conceptual bases and fundamental theories of modern physics, biophysics and cosmology".
In October 2002 I wrote to Foundations of Physics enclosing a copy of the abstract to our paper and enquiring whether our sort of social analysis was potentially publishable in the journal. I noted that science journals sometimes publish relevant social analyses. The editor, Alwyn Vandermere, replied saying "I much regret that a paper of the kind you have described would be totally out of place in FP."
We next tried the journal Physics in Perspective, recommended by historian of science Stephen Brush. The journal describes itself as follows:
"Physics in Perspective (PIP) was created to convey to a broad spectrum of readers a deeper understanding and appreciation of the way physics is conducted, of its content and application, and of the profound influence that physics has had in changing our conception of the natural world and in shaping our modern scientific and technological culture. The journal strives to deepen the reader's physics "literacy" and thereby bridge the gulf between the physicist and the non-physicist by encouraging the publication of historical and philosophical studies. Such studies are essential to understanding a field whose complex achievements are the result of an often unpredictable, and often cross-disciplinary, interplay of observation, experiment and theory, occurring over extended periods of time.
"The scope of subject matter is virtually limitless. Historical articles can be situated in any cultural context and in any period of time. Authors can explore the theoretical and experimental foundations of physics; the nature and achievements of physics in academic, governmental, and industrial settings; its role as both a source and product of new instruments and devices; how it has extended into allied scientific disciplines such as astrophysics, chemical physics and geophysics. Philosophical articles can focus on any subject that makes explicit connections to the foundation or history of the field. Papers may take the form of first-person or biographical accounts, review articles or close-ups on specialized topics. One quality, however, must be common to each contribution: the power to make the results of historical and philosophical studies vibrant and exciting to physicists, teachers, students and the public at large."
We submitted our paper in November 2002. On 7 December I received the following reply from co-editor Roger H. Stuewer.
"Dr. [John S.] Rigden and I now have had a chance to read and discuss your and Campanario's MS. Unfortunately, we have concluded that it is not suitable for publication in Physics in Perspective.
"The first part of your paper just presents well-known ideas of Kuhn, Popper, and Lakatos. Its core is how dissidents respond to accepted theories, but you give little insight into their influence onthe general community of physicists. Publishing inalternative journals gains them no broader recognition from the establishment, which is what they desire. Physics students also are unlikely to give them a hearing by investing time in studying alternative theories of, say, electromagnetism. The only real example of a prominent dissident physicist you give is Sakharov, but you only treat his political dissent; his physics was entirely acceptable to the physics community. Certainly physicists should be more open to unconventional points of view, but you give little evidence that dissidents haveaccomplished that goal. What would be of great interest would be to learn a lot more about how established physicists actually do respond to unconventional theories, but you give no real evidence or insightinto how they do. In sum, we feel that your paper has too many shortcomings to merit publication in Physics in Perspective."
Obviously the editors preferred a paper about "how established physicists actually do respond to unconventional theories", whereas we had written one about how proponents of unconventional theories deal with obstacles.
The statement of editorial policy for the American Journal of Physics includes the following:
"The American Journal of Physics publishes papers that meet the needs and intellectual interests of college and university physics teachers and students. ... Expository, didactic articles are especially encouraged. These contributions should treat subjects of genuine value and interest to physics teachers and students. ... The Journal is particularly interested in manuscripts that can be used to bring contemporary research in physics and related fields into the classroom. ... Manuscripts of historical, philosophical, and cultural value to physicists are also encouraged."
We submitted our paper to AJP on 31 January 2003, including this comment in the covering letter: "We think that readers will be most interested to learn of the existence of well-qualified challengers to accepted physics theories, and the difficulties they encounter, and the implications for understanding and teaching physics. We do not endorse any of the challengers - indeed, they might all be wrong! - but we believe there is much to learn by examining their views."
The editor replied on 11 March 2003 as follows:
When I read your paper "Challenging dominant physics paradigms," our number 16474, I found the paper to be mostly an opinion piece and had some other concerns as you can see in the reviewers' reports. The two reviewers however are split on whether or not your paper should be published. Because of the interest in the topic and the positive review from one of the reviewers, we will consider a revision. The reviewers provide some good points which need to be considered in a revision. If you wish to revise your manuscript along the lines indicated, we would continue the editorial consideration of your manuscript upon receipt of a revised manuscript. If you do resubmit, please indicate in your cover letter how you have responded to the various comments of the reviewer.
I recommend that this paper be published, with whatever minor changes you may consider necessary in the light of comments from the other referee(s). It will be useful not just as "advice to dissidents" but as a source of enlightenment for readers who have been successful in getting their own work published and may not realize what the situation is like for others. The question of whether the physics community treats dissidents fairly is worth discussing in AJP. The paper is clearly written (though sometimes gives the impression of rambling from one topic to another without treating any one topic deeply enough) and should stimulate discussion. Contrary to the impression one might get from the informal style, it is not just an "opinion piece" but does represent the results of research. It might be a little more convincing if the authors gave greater attention to a few individuals who were once dissidents but succeeded in getting recognition after initial rejection and scorn. I don't mean Galileo (the standard example) but a 20th century physicist. However, I understand that the authors consciously chose not to structure their article that way.
I read the paper by Companario and Martin and then I read your covering letter: My main concern is that it seems to be mostly an opinion piece with a few examples of scientists who have had trouble getting their ideas heard. There is nothing particularly surprising about what they say. A systematic study might be interesting, but this seems to fall short. Do you agree with this assessment?
I entirely agree.
Another problem is that the essay fails to distinguish between kinds of dissent, ranging from minority views of knowledgeable people to uninformed nonsense. This spectrum of dissent and the impossibility of drawing a sharp line raises lots of difficult and interesting questions that are simply not addressed. (My guess is that their examples are mainly from the nonsense end so their position is that everything deserves a full and complete airing, but I could be wrong. Josephson has become a poster boy for the loonies, "Galilean Electrodynamics" is an anti-relativity sheet, and the home page of "Bruce Harvey, dissident physicist" is not encouraging.)
There is also a surprising (in view of Martin's CV) naivete to a lot of it. On page 5 "modify the theory" is set up in opposition to "rejecting the theory". On page 6 "dealt with according to logic and evidence" is contrasted to "rejected out of hand because they conflict with current models" (which you could view as yielding to logic and evidence). On page 9 the "scarcity of attention" problem, which it seems to me is central to the whole problem, is dismissed too superficially.
We decided to revise the paper according to the referees' comments and resubmit it. After undertaking considerable work in revision, on 29 April 2003 I wrote to the editor as follows:
Dear Dr Tobochnik,
Re: paper 16474.
Thanks for your email of 11 March (below) with copies of the two reviewers' reports for our paper "Challenging dominant physics paradigms". We found the reviewers' comments most useful in improving the paper. The revised version is attached in pdf and rich text format.
In the earlier version of the paper, we perhaps did not emphasize sufficiently the social science grounding of our project, so we have added additional explanation of our methods in the new section "Investigating dissent in physics", plus related comments elsewhere.
However, we have retained our style of writing. It is our preference to avoid the jargon and tortuous prose that afflicts so much work in social science and instead speak accessibly to readers. As authors who have published extensively in the top journals in our field (such as Social Studies of Science and Science, Technology, & Human Values), we are well aware of what constitutes good social science. We believe that the present article is of the same calibre, but we prefer not to obscure the main points by writing the way that social scientists often do in communicating (only) to each other.
Reviewer 1 is largely favorable to the paper but usefully raises of couple of points for improvement. One is to avoid the impression of rambling. We have added some signposts in the section "Understanding challenges" to address this, as well as a more detailed overview of the paper at the end of the introductory section.
Reviewer 1's second point is to give greater attention to dissidents who are later vindicated. We've added a paragraph and some references on this, at the end of the section "Investigating dissent in physics".
Reviewer 2 says that we fail to distinguish between kinds of dissent. We've added greater emphasis on our selection criteria for dissidents, namely that they are well qualified in terms of degrees, positions, publications and/or prizes.
In comments in parentheses, reviewer 2 makes some surmises about the dissidents we cite in the paper, but we think these would not be borne out by a careful investigation. For example, reviewer 2 says that "Galilean Electrodynamics" is an anti-relativity sheet, but actually it publishes dissent concerning a range of theories. Reviewer 2 says that Brian Josephson is "a poster boy for the loonies", but presents no evidence for this claim; in any case, we only mention Josephson in one sentence and certainly not as a "poster boy". Contrary to reviewer 2, it is not our position that "everything deserves a full and complete airing". Our views about the value of assessing the views of dissidents are carefully presented in the final section.
Reviewer 2 says that "On page 5 'modify the theory' is set up in opposition to 'rejecting the theory'." Actually we said that modifying a theory is one possible alternative response to rejecting a theory. This is well established in the social analysis of theory reception. We've modified our sentence to remove any possible ambiguity.
Reviewer 2 says that "On page 6 'dealt with according to logic and evidence' is contrasted to 'rejected out of hand because they conflict with current models' (which you could view as yielding to logic and evidence)." We are puzzled by this claim, since rejecting something out of hand means that logic and evidence are not brought into play; to clarify matters, we have added a sentence to the text.
Finally, reviewer 2 asks for more attention to the "scarcity of attention" problem. This problem has quite a few facets which are dealt with at various places in the paper (not always under this label), but we've added an additional paragraph on the matter.
As well as responding to the reviewers' comments, we have polished the text in a number of places, deleted some material to improve flow and updated the references. As mentioned previously, we think the paper has been improved and we hope you will think so too.
On 2 May 2003 we received the following response from the editor:
Dear Prof. Martin,
I read over your manuscript, "Challenging dominant physics paradigms," our number 16474 very carefully. I also re-read the reviews and your explanation of the revision. I have come to the conclusion that your manuscript is not appropriate for publication in AJP. Here are my reasons.
(1) There is nothing new in your manuscript that most people do not already know. People with unorthodox ideas have difficulty getting funding and publishing. Your manuscript does not provide new insight on why this situation is the case. The work of Kuhn and others has dealt with this issue in much more depth, and your manuscript does not provided any new insights.
(2) Your manuscript can be read as a polemic against the scientific establishment. As such it is not appropriate for an archival journal.
(3) The manuscript makes many unsubstantiated statements and opinions. For example, it claims that science is presented in classrooms as truth, and not as a work in progress. This claim may be true for many classes, but Craig Nelson has been giving Chatuaqua seminars for science faculty for around 20 years and says the same thing. More importantly, he provides guidelines for improving science teaching.
(4) I think you missed an important point about why many "dissidents" don't receive much attention. That is, it is not clear that they are solving any problems with their theories. This is made clear from the quotes from the dissidents themselves at the bottom of page 19 and the top of page 20, where they say that maybe they should actually work out some consequences of their theories so that they can be tested. If that is what they are suggesting now, it is no wonder they have not been taken seriously. String theorists were criticized for not presenting any testable consequences. Many of them are now trying to find testable consequences, and there are possibilities for the near future. As a result they are now being taken more seriously.
(5) There are many unorthodox ideas (some of which seem quite wierd) that do get attention when it appears that they might solve an outstanding problem. This is particularly true right now in astrophysics. Your manuscript doesn't really address why these ideas are getting attention and the ones of the people you mention are not.
In summary, your manuscript doesn't address any serious issue that hasn't already been discussed at much more depth elsewhere.
It seemed to us that the editor in this response introduced entirely new objections. If we had known about these objections initially, we would not have gone to the trouble of revising and resubmitting.
We next tried the journal Science in Context, which says that it "is devoted to the study of the sciences from the points of view of comparative epistemology and historical sociology of scientific knowledge. The journal is committed to an interdisciplinary approach to the study of science and its cultural development - it does not segregate considerations drawn from history, philosophy and sociology. Controversies within scientific knowledge and debates about methodology are presented in their contexts."
We submitted the paper on 16 May 2003. On 28 May, the assistant editor, Boaz Hagin, replied to us:
"Thank you for submitting your manuscript. The journal's editors feel it would be out of place in Science in Context which specializes in historical perspectives. Perhaps a journal that deals more directly with the sociology of science would be more appropriate. We wish you the best of luck finding a more suitable venue."
We submitted our paper on 3 June 2003. We received two referees' reports - one favourable, one recommending rejection - in January 2004, with an offer to revise and resubmit. We submitted a revised version in February. After being read by the Editor-in-Chief and members of the editorial staff, it was accepted in March.
See the published version in the Journal of Scientific Exploration.