For a scientist at work for years on the same data, there are few things more frustrating than having an article rejected by an important journal. But the peer review ("peer review"), that is the evaluation and correction process that precedes the publication of a research, is a fundamental part of the scientific process and progress, and - almost always - a guarantee of correctness and impartiality.

It should therefore come as no surprise that some of the Nobel prize-winning papers had to endure, before glory, one or more "rejection", that is, that they were discarded before being improved and published in a more appropriate magazine. Here are some examples of fundamental scientific work with a history of waste behind it.

1. Enrico Fermi's work on weak interaction. The weak interaction or force, one of the four fundamental interactions present in nature, was first described by the Italian physicist Enrico Fermi in 1933, in an article on the theoretical framework of beta decay (a type of radioactive decay) published in the journal German Zeitschrift für Physik. Previously the article had been rejected by Nature because "too far from reality to be of interest to the reader".

Five years later, in 1938, that work constituted the theoretical basis of the Nobel Prize in Physics awarded to Fermi, for the discovery of artificial radioactivity produced by neutron irradiation.

2. The study on the citric acid cycle by Hans Krebs. Even the German doctor who gave his name to a fundamental metabolic cycle for cellular respiration, felt the thrill of seeing his work rejected by Nature. In reality it was not a real refusal, but a temporary stop due to the backlog of works being published in the magazine, "sufficient to fill his pages for seven or eight weeks", as the editor wrote, apologizing.

Krebs did not want to wait and published the research that same year, in 1937, in the Dutch journal Enzymologia. In 1953, that work earned him the Nobel Prize for Medicine. Krebs kept the letter of Nature and repeatedly used it to encourage young scientists to persevere.

Image A long "print queue": the reason for the rejection of the Krebs paper. | Nature / The Scientist

3. The classification of elementary particles by Murray Gell-Mann. Sometimes it is not the content of a paper that arouses the doubts of the magazines, but its title. In 1953, the American physicist Murray Gell-Mann proposed a study entitled Isotopic Spin and Curious Particles (isotopic spin and curious particles) in the journal Physical Review, but the editor did not like "Curious Particles". Gell-Mann then proposed "Strange Particles", only to have another waste trimmed.

The final title was "New Unstable Particles", but Gell-Mann never went down. That was not his title, he said, swearing he would never try to publish in Physical Review. In 1969, Gell-Mann obtained the Nobel Prize in Physics for his studies on elementary particles and the quark theory. It was one that kept names: the term quark is contained in a seemingly meaningless phrase from the novel Finnegans Wake by James Joyce, which the scientist was reading at the time of discovery.

4. Work on the radioimmunoassay of Rosalyn Yalow. Years after earning the Nobel Prize for Medicine for studies on the radioimmunoassay of protein hormones (a laboratory technique used to dose any compound of the immune system and determine the level of antibodies in the body), US biophysicist Rosalyn Yalow proudly showed the own rejection letter.

He had received it from the editor of The Journal of Clinical Investigation: the technique works by releasing an antigen tagged with a radioisotope in the human body and seeing which antibodies bind to it. The editor was skeptical that the body could produce antibodies small enough to bind to antigens such as insulin (the technique is used in the diagnosis of diabetes). Evidently, he was wrong.

Image The refusal letter received from Rosalyn Yalow. | Rosalyn Yalow

5. The first Higgs model, in 1964. It took some time, but in 2013 Peter Higgs received, along with François Englert, the Nobel Prize in Physics "for the theoretical discovery of the mechanism that allows us to understand the 'origin of the mass of subatomic particles' confirmed by the experiments of the Cern LHC. But the article that described the Higgs Boson was initially rejected by the journal Physics Letters in 1964, with the motivation that it could not be guaranteed a rapid publication. Higgs published it in 1965 on Physical Review Letters.

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6. Ernst's research on nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy. For the study of the high-resolution spectroscopic method of nuclear magnetic resonance, a technique that allows to reveal details on the molecular structure, the Swiss chemist Richard Robert Ernst obtained a Nobel Prize in 1991. Yet the article that described the method of investigation was all rejected twice, from the Journal of Chemical Physics. He was later accepted by Review of Scientific Instruments magazine.

Image Not even the decisions (taken or missed) of the Nobel Committee are infallible: look at the most controversial prizes, and the most blatantly missed ones. | CSU Archives / Everett Collection / Contrasto

7. The discovery of quasicrystals. When the Israeli chemist Dan Shechtman proposed the existence of quasiperiodic crystals (solid with an ordered but not periodic structure, unlike the "normal" crystals), the journal Physical Review Letters rejected the article, claiming that it did not concern physics, but rather metallurgy.

It was 1984 and the paper was actually published on Metallurgic Transactions A. In 2011, Shechtman won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for his discovery.

8. The work of Kary Mullis on the polymerase chain reaction. The technique called PRC that allows laboratories all over the world to multiply DNA chains every day was rejected by Science in its original formulation. In 1993, Kary Mullis obtained the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for its formulation. It is not clear why Science had rejected the publication, but editor Dan Koshland, who made that choice 10 years before the Nobel, probably ate his hands.