“Caveat Emptor,” warns the slogan of a new journal, Rejecta Mathematica, released today. In the spirit of recent pushes to publish more negative data and failed experiments, Rejecta Mathematica aims to publish articles rejected by traditional journals open access and without peer review. The brainchild of Michael Wakin, an assistant Professor at Colorado School of Mines in Golden Colorado and his three co-editors in chief Christopher Rozell, Mark Davenport and Jason Laska, Rejecta shuns conventions by publishing papers that have been shunned elsewhere — whether the reason be flawed logic, prior demonstrations, outlandish underpinnings, or just the standard human error of peer review that has on occasion deemed even Nobel Prize worthy work unfit to publish.
Reviewers make mistakes and so do scientists. Wakin says he hopes Rejecta will help turn those mistakes into teaching moments through its open letters, author commentaries that accompany each paper and explain the reasons, real or guessed at as to why the papers received such harsh treatment. I received an advanced copy of the journal’s inaugural issue, featuring six articles deemed too derivative (in the case of “Automatic CounTilings” by Doron Zeilberger), too long (as in Ezra Miller’s “Alexander duality for monomial ideals and their resolutions”) or too controversial (as in Marni Sheppeard’s “Mass matrix transforms in qubit field theory”). I spoke with Wakin as they prepared to launch.
Tell me about the reaction you get when you tell people you’re starting a journal called Rejecta Mathematica
So far it has been surprisingly difficult to convince some people that this is a real idea and not just a joke. It is something certainly that we had a lot of fun preparing, but it is something that is going to exist. It is a real idea and one that we hope can play a unique role in the academic and the mathematical and the scientific process.
Tell us about the open letters. What’s the rationale?
The open letter provides a place for the author to discuss the history of the paper to explain why it was rejected maybe include a little bit of what was said in the review process from its rejecting journal, give their opinion whether those criticisms are valid or invalid and state the case for why they think nonetheless that this paper has some value for the community.
You say in your editorial that it’s not a joke, but that hasn’t stopped you from having a few good laughs. Example?
We had a lot of fun coming up with the name of the journal. Ultimately we chose something fairly standard sounding and in the spirit of latin titles for mathematical journals. Also the slogan. ‘caveat emptor’.
And the logo?
So, the logo is a cursive E with a line through it. In Mathematics this is the symbol for something that does not belong to a set. So this is representative of papers that do not belong to the journals to which they were originally submitted.
With all the commentary that goes on about the flaws in peer review what lessons do you think Rejecta might teach?
One thing we were a little bit surprised about was how many significant papers had been rejected by the traditional review process. That’s not something we were thinking we could solve ourselves, but if we could bring attention to these issues and the fact that the peer review process itself is, of course, not perfect, then hopefully we could raise a little bit of awareness about the existence of important work that may be overlooked. A lot of our audience will be reviewers for the traditional journals, myself included. Hopefully this will get them to think a little bit more carefully about what papers do deserve a place in the traditional literature and which ones do not.
Logo used with permission: Rejecta Publications, Inc.