How Are the Mighty Fallen
Joshua Gans writes to point out a paper he wrote with George Shepherd, “How Are the Mighty Fallen: Rejected Classic Articles by Leading Economists” (link to pdf), about the experience some leading economists have had with peer review:
We asked over 140 leading economists, including all living winners of the Nobel Prize and John Bates Clark Medal, to describe instances in which journals rejected their papers. We hit a nerve. More than 60 percent responded, many with several blistering pages. Paul Krugman expressed the tone of many letters: “Thanks for the opportunity to let off a bit of steam.”
The paper is extremely readable (and entertaining), if you have any interest in peer review. Among other tidbits: an extraordinary list of rejected papers, many of them among the classics of economics; the estimate from Krugman that 60% of his papers are rejected on first try; the remarkable story of George Akerlof’s Nobel Prize-Winning paper “The Market for Lemons”, rejected by three separate journals before being published; the two rejections of the famous Black-Scholes options pricing paper, also Nobel Prize-Winning; Krugman’s comment that “I am having a terrible time with my current work on economic geography: referees tell me that it’s obvious, it’s wrong, and anyway they said it years ago.” There’s much more.
Addendum: Joshua also pointed me to a retrospective on the article (pdf here), which makes for interesting followup reading.