Almost one year ago, several physicists from Imperial College London and the University of London released one of the most highly-praised papers
on the foundations of quantum mechanics in recent years. Essentially, the researchers had provided strong evidence that the quantum state is, in fact, real. Furthermore, this suggested that the quantum state is not merely a reflection of an observer's knowledge of a system, as some physicists and philosophers have argued.
Image courtesy Cornell University Library/Arxiv.org
Terry Rudolph, one of the authors of the paper, decided to submit his paper to perhaps the most prominent interdisciplinary scientific journal: Nature
. Additionally, he posted his work to the popular arXiv preprint server.
After reaching a very late stage in the editorial process, the paper was rejected. The reason, according to Nature, was follow-up research
that Rudolph posted on the arXiv which cast doubt on the original research. Rudolph, however, thought there was more to the decision.
In a blog post
on Cosmic Variance, Rudolph included excerpts of emails from Nature that, in his mind, showed that the rejection stemmed from scientific "buzz" surrounding his preprint articles.
After seeing this blog post, I decided to investigate.
I found that the case was highly unusual and convoluted. Nonetheless, the publishing controversy raised some interesting questions about physicists' use of preprint servers and traditional publishing outlets, such as Nature.
I recently wrote a feature article
on the story behind the research's publication (my article appeared in the American Physical Society's newsletter: APS News). I think the full story turned out to be pretty interesting, and it addressed fears that many physicists have, whether justified or unwarranted, when posting preprints of papers that may appear in highly regarded journals. If you've been following the evolution of scientific publishing, be sure to check it out.