James Evans, a participant in our NSF workshop on transformative research, has some interesting comments in this article.
The article itself discusses a study of papers that are published after having been rejected. The major finding is that papers published in another journal from the same field as the journal by which they were initially rejected have higher rates of citation.
Some make the claim — prima facie plausible, I think — that going through multiple rounds of peer review improves the quality of the paper, which is what accounts for its receiving more citations. Of course, it is questionable whether peer review actually increases the quality of a paper; but I do think that this is one of the main functions of peer review. It is also questionable whether better quality papers receive more citations — as well as which is cause and which is consequence even if true. Does it receive more citations because it is a better paper? Or is it a better paper because it receives more citations?
Evans has a more interesting explanation, in my opinion:
“Papers that are more likely to contend against the status quo are more likely to find an opponent in the review system”—and thus be rejected—“but those papers are also more likely to have an impact on people across the system,” earning them more citations when finally published.
In other words, trying to publish transformative ideas may be initially more difficult, but ultimately more rewarding. Sounds like a hypothesis worth testing!
What do you think?