Wikipedia says that Newton published the laws in 1687 on Principia Mathematica. And in another page that:

The first recorded editorial pre-publication peer-review occurred in 1665 by the founding editor of Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society, Henry Oldenburg

However is unclear to me when and how publishing in highly reputable journals has become so important, in particular for judging a researcher's past research success. (For example, for evaluating researchers for purposes of awarding funding.)

I assume that it all started as a way to filter or deprioritize low quality research proposals or researcher, but that would make for other question maybe. When and how did journals start to have such an important role in science for evaluating researchers?

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    Funding doesn't depend on journal qualification at the moment. It's a crutch for the reviewers of the proposed projects to judge the quality of the researchers. I've never seen any grants where a requirement is ">3 publications with IF >5 in the last 24 months" or something like that. So I wouldn't call it a "system" and it certainly wasn't built like that.
    – VonBeche
    Commented Nov 25, 2016 at 9:25
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    And I am asking about how that proxy of where do you publish started :D Maybe I didn't even attempt to publish on a journal because I don't have funding.
    – llrs
    Commented Nov 25, 2016 at 9:41
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    I think the premise of this question is off. Getting funding requires a history of research success, and in most fields, publishing in highly regarded journals is evidence of research success (although not the only evidence!) But that is an indirect link; in most cases, there is no explicit publication requirement associated with grant funding.
    – ff524
    Commented Nov 25, 2016 at 9:43
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    "maybe I should simply ask since when and how did journals start to have such an important role in science." - that sounds like a much better question to ask.
    – ff524
    Commented Nov 25, 2016 at 10:03
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    Maybe I didn't even attempt to publish on a journal because I don't have funding Good journals are usually free for authors.
    – Cape Code
    Commented Nov 25, 2016 at 11:49

1 Answer 1


Widespread peer review in journals is a relatively recent phenomenon. Famously, Einstein and Rosen wrote an incorrect paper arguing that gravitational waves don't exist, which was rejected by a reviewer for Physical Review. The rejection made Einstein angry, and he wrote:

Dear Sir,

We (Mr. Rosen and I) had sent you our manuscript for publication and had not authorized you to show it to specialists before it is printed. I see no reason to address the—in any case erroneous—comments of your anonymous expert. On the basis of this incident I prefer to publish the paper elsewhere.


P.S. Mr. Rosen, who has left for the Soviet Union, has authorized me to represent him in this matter.

This was in 1936, and Einstein had already published many papers by that point. It appears from his response that peer review was not yet common at that time.

(Source: "Einstein versus the Physical Review" in Physics Today.)

Googling this I stumbled across a blog post by Michael Nielsen who links to some historical papers on the growth of peer review that may interest you.

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    Peer review might have been less rigorous, but clearly people were still publishing papers, books, and treatises, and they thought doing so was important. The question is specifically on the relevance of published material on a researcher's career, not on the state of peer reviewing over times.
    – user8001
    Commented Nov 25, 2016 at 18:36
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    Although interesting, it doesn't explain when or how did the journals start to be used to evaluate researchers. But thanks for the link to the blog it is interesting to know the origins of peer review
    – llrs
    Commented Nov 26, 2016 at 9:19

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