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Is a useless novelty still considered a novelty?

I am reviewing a paper and the method is meaningless. But the authors used somewhat creative methods (I mean it is their own method) that suggest their method and its philosophy has problems. Their assumptions in real-world are meaningless.

Additionally, it is their own method but it is a simple one.

What should I do? I have only two options for selection: 1. novel enough for publication, or 2. not novel.

The journal is a high ranking journal. I know that this novelty in "not enough" to be published in such a journal, but my problem is that it is not 0 to be considered "not novel" too! Also, I know that in this case I would be better to select "not novel".

But I got doubtful about my understanding from the meaning of novelty, and my mind arose this question : Is a meaningless novelty still considered a novelty?

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    But the authors used somehow creative methods to suggest their method that its philosophy has problem. – I fail to parse that sentence. Also, what does the journal say about its novelty threshold? Usually, journals do care about how novel something is, i.e., how much it advances the field. Please edit your question to clarify.
    – Wrzlprmft
    Jul 23 at 10:57
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    Have you asked the journal editors? Ultimately they will be able to answer better than we can.
    – Andrew
    Jul 23 at 11:28
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    @OP Your question is not clear and I don't know what you mean by "meaningless". If it really has no meaning, then there's no proposition and therefore there's no novel proposition.
    – user354948
    Jul 23 at 14:01
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    I didn't understand the question, but I will say generically that novelty is not enough for most journals. There are at least three criteria which a referee typically looks for: 1. novelty 2. interest 3. timeliness
    – Tom
    Jul 24 at 6:33
  • I know the journal policy and I know that this paper is not appropriate for it. By the reason for my question is exactly that question of the journal which has a 0/1 view to novelty. Additionaly, beside this journal my mind got busy with the meaning of novelty that if their usefulness in real-world is important. @Zero TheHero example about sorting was a good one for this situation.
    – m123
    Jul 25 at 5:52

4 Answers 4

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The issue is that the journal's instructions aren't sufficient to cover the ground. If you can't choose 1 then you must choose 2. The opposite interpretation implies that anything novel, by any measure, is sufficiently novel for publication (in that journal).

But the measure of novel should be more than "I don't think anyone ever tried that (thought of that) before." It should really be whether the ideas in this paper can be used to advance the state of the art in the field. If they have no application in advancing the field, then they are meaningless and have no publishable value, even if they are a bit fun or cute.

And surely your review consists of more than checking a box. Say what you believe to be true based on your analysis.

It might also be valuable to inform the editor of your dilemma. Maybe they will fix the problem, perhaps by adding a third choice. Or, perhaps, by editing the labels on the checkboxes.

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  • Yes, even for that specific question of the journal about reviewers' evalution of the novelty of the under-review manuscript, there is a box to explain the novelty of the paper. Based on what you said I reached the idea of expaining my point of view in that box completely. Thank you for it.
    – m123
    Jul 25 at 6:05
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Novelty is novelty, but simply because nobody has cared to solve the problem doesn’t mean it’s worth solving. For instance, once could “reinvent” a sorting algorithm that nobody has published before that performs worse than the standard algorithm (thus technically novel but useless).

One way deal with this kind of issue is to ask for a specific example that can be handled (or handled better) with this new method, but not by other methods. Another legitimate comment is to ask for advantages of this method over others. In effect, what you’re doing in asking for such details is asking the authors to expand on the novelty to clarify who would benefit from this new method.

Otherwise, it’s perfectly fine to suggest that the method is incremental or does not represent a sufficient advance to be published.

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  • Worse than worstsort? Jul 24 at 1:36
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    @DanielR.Collins finding an algorithm “worse” would probably probably be worth publishing as a matter of fact… Jul 24 at 2:26
  • @ZeroTheHero Gogobogosort, on that page, is worse. || I longish ago designed "BOGO LIGHTS". Within their intended application are they were the best lights available :-). Jul 24 at 10:35
  • @ZeroTheHero: We never publish bad method of sorting. So, when we see a method of sorting that performs worse than the standard algorithm, we cannot determine it is new or not! But since others never published their worse methods, this person wasn't aware of others. Is it still novelty?!
    – m123
    Jul 25 at 5:56
  • @m123 yes it is technically novelty but novelty is only a necessary and not a sufficient condition for publication. If there’s something conceptual about a bad result (not sure I have an example of that handy…) it might be worth publishing but I agree that simply because it’s not been done doesn’t mean it should be published. Jul 25 at 12:07
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Evaluations have more than a single dimension. Common in my neck of applied computer science is to evaluate manuscripts in (at least) the criteria novelty, significance, and soundness (more criteria, such as presentation or envisioned impact, are also not uncommon). What you describe is that the manuscript may indeed be novel, but not significant (and potentially not sound, depending on whether their "own method" is plausible or not).

A baseline for acceptable papers is usually a reasonably uncontroversial yes to all evaluation criteria - a novel and significant contribution that's wrong should not be published, and neither should a correct, novel, but irrelevant paper (there are trade-offs and special cases, such as replication studies, but there are usually special rules for those).

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  • Yes, you are right and I am not confused with the final/total evaluation. My question is just about the evaluation of novelty, since the journal asked it separately. So, in addition to answer that I should give to journal, it got my own question about novelty in research, in general, not for a specific journal.
    – m123
    Jul 25 at 6:01
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    As I said, a meaningless novelty can still be novel. So if the system asks in some subitem "is the manuscript novel" you can definitely answer "yes", even if you don't consider that novelty very important.
    – xLeitix
    Jul 25 at 10:27
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The potential of novel research is not always obvious from the outset. An extreme case is the rejected papers which ultimately earned their authors a Nobel. This site mentions a few, such as Fermi's paper on weak interaction which apparently "... contained speculations too remote from reality to be of interest to the reader."

Although the paper in question may not be earth-shattering, it might have unobvious applications somewhere in the vast CS field. Also, a "meaningless" method might inspire valuable solutions later. If you are having doubts, could it be worth asking the authors for clarification? (They've been thinking a lot on the topic.) For instance, they could explain why their method could be meaningful, and come up with practical applications. Of course, as @Buffy implies, these communications should go through the proper channels.

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  • Don't break blind reviewing. That is, don't ask the authors directly, but make a suggestion to the editor.
    – Buffy
    Jul 23 at 14:52
  • I think that many of the sorts of things you describe weren't judged "not novel", but that they somehow broke the paradigm of the day. There is a sort of feeling (call it a myth if you like) that when something truly new comes along it takes a generation for it to be generally accepted, while the superstars of the era die off to be replace by fresh thinkers. There was a lot of that with Einstein's Special Relativity as the "old guard" was dominant in academia but still committed to the aether. It was judged heretical, not lacking novelty. Lack of novelty is too much aligned with current views.
    – Buffy
    Jul 23 at 15:30

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