There are three differents cases when the research level of a paper must be evaluated before any publication:
- for author: to choose the most appropriate journal,
- for referee: to recommend acceptance or rejection for a given journal,
- for editor: to take the final decision.
If we compare this process to justice, a referee is like a lawyer, and an editor is like a judge.
Question: How an author, a referee and an editor can (respectively) evaluate the research level of a paper?
We here ask about the purely research level of a paper, so we assume that the paper is original, correct and well-written. We also assume that the paper is not too specialized if it is a general-audience journal, and is on-topic if it is a specialized journal (idem for any other specificity). Finally, if specific, I am mainly interested in mathematical papers.
An utilitarianism way could be to estimate how many papers should cite this paper in the next five years (self-citations excepted). Then the author can choose a journal having this number as Article Influence score (after renormalization), and the referee can check if it matches with the chosen journal. But then it would be necessary to know how to make such an estimate...
Of course, an author/referee/editor can evaluate the paper subjectively, but subjectivity varies with emotions, it can be manipulated and the process can become political. I wonder whether there is an objective way to proceed, or at least, if we can add a bit of rationality in this process. Consider the process of justice, it contains undeniably a part of subjectivity, but also rationality, called the law.