If I am not wrong, turbo codes was submitted to the ICC conference and rejected but accepted later on.

I want to know if there are other similar works (strong works) that were rejected at first but then accepted and considered revolutionary.

  • 43
    I have no doubt that this happens all the time. Mar 25, 2014 at 23:21
  • 36
    This happens extremely often. The trick is not getting this confused with the converse (my paper gets rejected => it's awesome)
    – Suresh
    Mar 25, 2014 at 23:30
  • 12
    cough Copernicus/Galileo cough
    – Suresh
    Mar 26, 2014 at 0:01
  • 35
    Also note that there's a difference between good research and a good paper. It's definitely possible to do groundbreaking research, but then have it rejected due to poorly communicating what you actually did in your write up. If the reviewers can't understand what you did they're not going to recommend the paper be accepted.
    – DaoWen
    Mar 26, 2014 at 3:57
  • 20
    Just as an indication of how often that happens, I read your question title and simply laughed out loud.
    – terdon
    Mar 26, 2014 at 4:34

4 Answers 4


Higgs's 1964 paper on the Higgs mechanism was rejected by Physics Letters (where his preliminary paper on the subject was published).

He was told that it was not suitable for rapid publication and that he should send it to another journal. However, he reportedly heard that the paper had been rejected because the editors felt that "it was of no obvious relevance to physics."

Apparently, Higgs acknowledged that the paper "had been short on sales talk," and after adding a couple of paragraphs it was accepted by Physical Review Letters.

Here is an early example of manuscript rejection, from 1842: Mayer came up with the theory of conservation of energy, and wrote an article explaining his idea that "energy is neither created nor destroyed." It was rejected by the leading physics journal of the time, ended up in an obscure chemistry journal, and was mostly ignored by physicists. When the physicists of the time rallied around Joule, who described conservation of energy later in the 1840s, Mayer suffered a mental breakdown. Towards the end of his life, he was finally given credit as a father of thermodynamics.

Nature declined to accept Krebs's paper on the "Krebs cycle" in 1937. The work later won a Nobel Prize. The letter from the editor regretfully informs Mr. Krebs that the editor already has "sufficient letters" for the next 7-8 weeks.

The seminal paper on quantum cryptography, Wiesner's “Conjugate Coding,” was rejected by the IEEE Transactions on Information Theory. (A surviving copy of the original typewritten manuscript says "Submitted to IEEE, Information Theory" on it.) It was published about a decade later.

In the same subfield, the original manuscript by Bennet, Brassard and Breidbart that introduced quantum key-recycle scheme (QKRS) was rejected several times by major CS conferences including STOC, and was never successfully published.

Ernst's work on nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy, which won the 1991 Nobel Prize in Chemistry, was rejected not once, but twice, by the Journal of Chemical Physics.

Binning and Rohrer's report on their first experiments in scanning tunneling microscopy, which earned them a Nobel Prize in Physics in 1986, was initially rejected on the grounds that it was "not interesting enough."

These are just a few examples. Many more have been compiled in various publications:

  • 8
    One more, Lamport's original Paxos paper was rejected several times. See his history. Paxos and its derivatives are now at the core of almost all large-scale web-sites (Google, Microsoft, Amazon, ...). Mar 26, 2014 at 5:31
  • 1
    @MichaelDeardeuff that's a great read - I think you should add it as an answer to academia.stackexchange.com/questions/17873/…
    – ff524
    Mar 26, 2014 at 5:49
  • 2
    Well timed since Lamport just got the Turing award.
    – Suresh
    Mar 26, 2014 at 5:51
  • @ff524: done. Mar 26, 2014 at 18:48
  • 4
    The original Google paper (by Page and Brin) on "PageRank" was rejected by SIGIR. However, this is not to say it should have been accepted. Even if a paper goes on to have huge impact, it does not mean that the paper at the time it was submitted, in the form it was submitted, definitively should have been published.
    – badroit
    Mar 27, 2014 at 19:47

Originally posted on this question, but it may be more useful in helping to answer this one. This article by Juan Miguel Campanario and Erika Acedo investigates the question of paper rejection:

Rejecting highly cited papers: The views of scientists who encounter resistance to their discoveries from other scientists


We studied the views of scientists who experience resistance to their new ideas by surveying a sample of 815 scientists who are authors of highly cited articles. The 132 responses (16.2%) received indicated that only 47 scientists (35.6%) had no problems with referees, editors, or other scientists. The most common causes of difficulty were rejection of the manuscript, and scepticism, ignorance, and incomprehension. The most common arguments given by referees against papers were that the findings were an insufficient advance to warrant publication, lacked practical impact, were based on a wrong hypothesis, or were based on a wrong concept. The strategies authors used to overcome resistance included obtaining help from someone to publish problematic papers, making changes in the text, and simple persistence. Despite difficulties, however, some respondents acknowledged the positive effect of peer review.

It is published in the Journal of the American Society for Information Science and Technology.

Andrew Hayes writes about the subject, linking the above article, as well as this second article also by Juan Miguel Campanario, at his blog.

Full citations, for posterity's sake:

Campanario, J. M. and Acedo, E. (2007), Rejecting highly cited papers: The views of scientists who encounter resistance to their discoveries from other scientists. J. Am. Soc. Inf. Sci., 58: 734–743. doi: 10.1002/asi.20556

Campanario, J. M. (1996), Have referees rejected some of the most-cited articles of all times?. J. Am. Soc. Inf. Sci., 47: 302–310. doi: 10.1002/(SICI)1097-4571(199604)47:4<302::AID-ASI6>3.0.CO;2-0

  • 2
    Is it wrong that I felt disappointed that this story didn't end with "fittingly, the paper was rejected twice"? Jul 20, 2014 at 13:32

Dan Shechtman's paper in which he announced the discovery of quasicrystals was rejected for being "not interesting". It was accepted after few years in a different journal.

He won the Nobel Prize in 2011 for this discovery.


Many of the seminal papers that have proven of exceptional importance to science were rejected. Some of them over 13 times: https://majesticforest.wordpress.com/2014/08/15/papers-that-triumphed-over-their-rejections/

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