Everyday, I receive invitations to submit research papers to journals that claim to be exceptional in some way; they claim to publish the very best research, to publish the most significant research and so on and so forth. Different journals have different definitions of exceptional, important, impactful, newsworthy, and outstanding. Some journals publish mostly well-substantiated results, some journals specialize in fashionable results, some journals are exceptional in their advertisement and marketing, and some journals are exceptional in their pursuit of profits.
No journal publishes a large fraction of papers that open up new scientific fields or genuinely alter our conceptual understanding. Not a single journal. None. Rather, one is likely to find exceptional papers — papers that opened up new fields and made conceptual breakthroughs — in the pile of rejected one. This list of papers suggests that some papers can make exceptional contributions without the associated claims of “prestigious” journals.
Remarkably, the best controlled experiment that I know of on the consistency of peer-review has found that one of the most prestigious and double–blind publication venues is more likely to disagree than to agree on whether a paper should be accepted if the same paper is evaluated by two independent committees of the peer-review process. So what is this telling us? My conclusion is that no journal or conference publishes genuinely exceptional papers in terms of their scientific importance. Many journals are exceptional in some way as listed above but none is exceptional in terms of consistently selecting and publishing genuinely transformative papers. Such papers are very rare, exceedingly rare. At least some of these genuinely transformative papers succeed in transforming science even when published in journals without exceptional claims. Exceptional papers do not need exceptional journals ! It is the incremental papers that need the support of advertisement and journal prestige.