In the 1930s the mathematical physicist Howard P. Robertson was the main referee of the journal Physical Review for papers concerning general relativity and related subjects. The rich correspondence between Robertson and the editors of the journal enables a historical investigation of the refereeing process of Physical Review at the time that it was becoming one of the most influential physics periodicals in the world. By focusing on this case study, the paper investigates two complementary aspects of the evolution of the refereeing process: first, the historical evolution of the refereeing practices in connection with broader contextual changes, and second, the attempts to define the activity of the referee, including the epistemic virtues required and the journal's functions according to the participants' categories. By exploring the tension between Robertson's idealized picture about how the referee should behave and the desire to promote his intellectual agenda, I show that the evaluation criteria that Robertson employed were contextually dependent and I argue that, in the 1930s, through his reports the referee had an enormous power in defining what direction future research should take.
- © 2016 The Author(s)
Published by the Royal Society.