Let's say there is a physicist who is merely 21 years old, has no relation with academia and is only beginning, but has came up with a contradiction/refutation in the theory of relativity. His 25-page and extremely complex paper has no grammar/mathematical mistakes, is written in LaTeX. However, it is 25 pages and extremely complex, and its title is modest, not cranky.

Q: Just how well are the editors of Nature at reading and understanding papers? Would it be possible to describe the accuracy of their decisions?

Assuming Nature receives more than 10,000 papers each year. And surely, one may say that they would first look at the name and if it is unknown and the paper itself is concluding revolutionary matters, they could say to themselves, "Ah! Another crackpot! I received 25,000 of these already. Time to throw it in the bin." But since they are professional, I assume that they would read it. But how much?

Even if the author was to submit the paper double-blinded, considering the amount of papers they receive and the realization that since it's double-blinded it is surely from a newcomer, can doubt be casted upon Nature's consideration of such a paper?

Planck said that revolutionary paradigm-shifts are not immediately accepted but are rather brutally opposed and rejected in the beginning, and as time passes little and little, only then the world bows down to them.

Academia today is too complex, there are too many people, too many papers and too much "drama" (many things going on). Would people really consider such a paper in the future, would they really not forget? Who knows, there could very well be such a paradigm-shifting paper out there published, but nobody ever cared about it!

P.S: Such a physicist, I would say, is expected to be a great nonconformist. Einstein himself ridiculed academia in saying that they kill curiosity. (Source: https://newrepublic.com/article/117028/carl-sagan-albert-einstein)

  • This question seems to be more related to philosophy of science than academia in particular. You might be interested to take a look at the latest developments in that area, such as Kuhn's work, Social Constructivism, Actor-Network Theory, etc. – Yet Another Geek Mar 30 '16 at 9:17
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    "it is 25 pages and extremely complex." Which means it would be rejected from all the best journals without reaching the editor's desk, because it would be over the length limit. – Anonymous Physicist Mar 30 '16 at 9:59
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    There are very young people that are extremely talented (e.g., Terence Tao, Erik Demaine). But why do you assume that they are "despisers of academia". They are all tenured professors. Also, Einstein was awarded a PhD, BEFORE his groundbreaking theories. It is nice to fantasize about lonely guys who fight the scientific status-quo from their mother's basement (there are many cranks who relate to that image), but guys who are that smart know it is smarter to play by the rules of the science and prove their theories within the boundaries of the science and education systems. – Alexandros Mar 30 '16 at 10:45
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    I downvoted this post for some of the reasons described in the answers to this meta post and the help center. If you edit the post to remove unnecessary editorializing and irrelevant detail, and focus on a specific question that is neutral in tone, I will gladly remove my downvote. – ff524 Mar 30 '16 at 11:00

I can't say for Nature in particular (being from Computer Science myself), but no "top-journal" editor would reject a paper for being too complicated. The editor normally takes a first read to filter out spam, very badly written papers, or out-of-topic submissions, and the rest goes through peer-reviews.

So in your example, the paper would be reviewed by several physicists who can understand what is being told in there. Their experience will tell them that most papers breaking down a well-established theory contain a flaw (this is statistics, not prejudice), so they will probably go through the paper once looking for said flaw. If the paper has one, then it will be pointed out to the editor and the paper is rejected. If the paper has none, then the reviewers will make the effort of understanding every little detail of the paper until they are convinced it is correct. Then the paper will be accepted.

As an addition, in physics, I assume that any paper claiming an accepted theory is false must come with a reproducible experiment showing the flaw in the original theory. If anyone can come up with such an experiment without the support of a research lab, then most probably it's simple enough to be reproduced by the reviewers, so that they directly see the flaw by themselves.

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    Unfortunately, I suspect that an "extremely complex" paper written by a 21-year-old (who almost certainly doesn't know how to write a paper, nor the usual conventions and language) will fail already the "very badly written paper" test. – S. Kolassa - Reinstate Monica Mar 30 '16 at 10:52

Let's ignore for a fact the length. A paper must communicate, or there is no recipient. So, if there is some message in the paper and the message reaches editor or reviewer, it has a chance of being read (not necessarily agreed with, but read). Nature/Science are probably the wrong journals for this, as they are more interested in compactly to describe results, but there are good journals for that purpose.

"Extremely complex"? Well, the problem is not complexity (see Perelman's work), as long as there are people who are experts in the general language you use. The question is, is there a community that is able to connect with what you aim to say? You argue about revolutionary discoveries, but often, the revolution isn't realised until after the fact. I am not sure how much Einstein was intending/expecting to upset the existing framework in 1905. Things could have gone: "Oh, yes, dispensing with the ether is a good idea, why didn't we realise it ourselves?" and return to daily business with a new framework. Or consider Galilei: he wrote in Italian, precisely to avoid his language being a hurdle to understanding.

If you look for real revolutionaries of the kind you seem to think about, your best bet is probably Galois. The good news: he was not a crackpot. The not so good news: it took some decades for his stuff to be understood (basically, because he never bothered to explain so that others could follow). The bad news: he was killed (not because of being a scientific revolutionary, probably not even because of being a political revolutionary, but because of a woman).

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    With apologies to Tom Lehrer: "People like that make you realize how little you've accomplished. It is a sobering thought, for instance, that when Galois was my age, he'd been dead for 14 years." – Nate Eldredge Feb 22 '17 at 20:33
  • @NateEldredge It's not so sobering - in fact, I consider myself lucky to have known some people with such a superior intellect to understand how much more space there actually is above to reach for. I think it is more comforting than sobering, especially in light of everything else that goes on. – Captain Emacs Feb 23 '17 at 2:03

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