Everything is in the title but just to expand on the question, I am wondering if there was any publication process similar to the peer-review process in the past (and when). If not, does it mean that anybody could widely release its results without any control?

  • $\begingroup$ Related: hsm.stackexchange.com/questions/480/… That question asks not just when but why, which I'd like to know more about. $\endgroup$
    – user466
    Feb 9, 2015 at 22:35
  • $\begingroup$ I read in an article once, but too long ago to remember where, that only one of Einstein's papers was ever rejected by peer review, and he was incensed by the whole idea and immediately submitted it somewhere else (in the 1930s) — but take it all with a grain of salt until you find the source. $\endgroup$ Feb 10, 2015 at 22:25
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @MariusKempe: The story is that in 1936, Einstein submitted a paper on gravitational waves to Physical Review. It was refereed by Howard Robertson and the 10 page report was critical. Einstein wrote back expressing his indignation that the paper had been shown "to specialists before it is printed" and explaining that he would submit it elsewhere, which he did (the published version differs from the original version). A brief account is on p. 495 of Pais's biography of Einstein. A longer account is available in a 2005 Physics Today article of Daniel Kennefick, and there are other accounts. $\endgroup$
    – Dan Fox
    Jul 1, 2016 at 10:16

2 Answers 2


Wikipedia has a nice page about the peer-review process, which includes a section on its history:

The first recorded editorial pre-publication peer-review process was at the Royal Society of London in 1665 by the founding editor of Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society, Henry Oldenburg. In the 20th century, peer review became common for science funding allocations. This process appears to have developed independently from that of editorial peer review.

The first peer-reviewed publication might have been the Medical Essays and Observations published by the Royal Society of Edinburgh in 1731. The present-day peer-review system evolved from this 18th-century process.

A prototype professional peer-review process is recommended in the Ethics of the Physician written by Ishāq ibn ʻAlī al-Ruhāwī (854–931). His work states that a visiting physician must make duplicate notes of a patient's condition on every visit. When the patient was cured or had died, the notes of the physician were examined by a local medical council of other physicians, who would decide whether the treatment had met the required standards of medical care.

Peer review has long been a touchstone of the scientific method, but it had only been performed by editors in chief or editorial committees until the end of the 19th century.

The Wikipedia also points to some very interesting, thorough resources:

  • $\begingroup$ Interesting. I didn't think this question would bring me back to the 9th century! ...although I will keep the 18th century as the best answer. And thank you for extracting the suitable references. $\endgroup$
    – Peabody
    Nov 5, 2014 at 11:12

According to the article Peer Review in 18th-Century Scientific Journalism (Kronick, 1990), state that peer-review had its antecedents in the 17th century, and that

the beginnings of "peer review" are frequently associated with the Royal Society of London when it took over official responsibility for the Philosophical Transactions in 1752

However, according to the article The ups and downs of peer review (Benos et al. 2007) suggests that the scientific peer review system had its basis in Edinburgh in the early 18th century, from the article:

It was not until 1731 that the Royal Society of Edinburgh published Medical Essays and Observations, the first peer-reviewed collection of medical articles

Where the editor of the journal

distributed the submitted essays for review to individuals he considered to be “most versed in these matters

There was a disclaimer even then that the peer-reviewed articles did necessarily mean that the content of the article was truthful or accurate and stated that

As always, the submitting authors were ultimately responsible for the quality and veracity of their own research

However, an important point made by both authors is that there has been many cases of editors exercising different policies and methods of ensuring the veracity of scientific articles, with Benos et al. stating:

The development of peer review was gradual and somewhat haphazard. Different editors employed varying styles of peer review.

  • $\begingroup$ Thank you for the original references and details. I wish I could merge your answer with Franck Dernoncourt's one... $\endgroup$
    – Peabody
    Nov 5, 2014 at 11:15

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