From Valery Rubakov’s interview

From Natalia Demina’s interview of Valery Rubakov (November 2014, all translation mistakes are mine):

…There was one rather peculiar point in my life. It was 1981. It seemed to me I’d found an interesting theoretical effect, although I was merely a graduate student then. I wrote up an article about that nontrivial theoretical phenomenon and sent it to Physics Letters. They rejected it. I was very young, and it was my own article, without co-authors. I wrote it all by myself, submitted it myself, and was turned down. What to do?

So I wrote up another article on the same topic, but with a description of possible experimental manifestations of the phenomenon. I sent it to JETP Letters and thought to myself that if JETP Letters wouldn’t take it, then I was an idiot. I thought I’d found something interesting. But if the paper was not approved by a journal, foreign or domestic, then evidently I was no good.

I remember well this moment in my life. With my heart shuddering, I called JETP Letters to learn about the fate of my paper. “Now they’ll tell me they won’t take it. Do I really have to quit physics?” I called the editorial office, turned out they’d accepted my paper! I felt a great relief. The paper later became well known. And in Princeton, Callan published a paper about the same effect. And after, the whole thing got accepted by the physics community. I remember that I wrote a letter to Callan, saying that his paper talked about the same effect as my paper, attached reprints, that everything had been published in the English translation of JETP Letters. To his credit, he immediately started to refer to my paper and recognized my priority. He and everyone else.

I must say that if I were the editor of JETP Letters, then I wouldn’t accept my own paper! It’s because it only outlined the basic theoretical phenomenon – “one can show that.” And I would never trust “one can show that.” I would ask the author to show the proof. The Editor displayed his intuition, publishing the paper in the form it was submitted. No way I would publish it. It was too much against the mainstream.

But the story has a sequel. Time passed, and once I came to Cambridge. And out of the blue, someone whom I only knew by name invited me to dinner at Trinity College. It’s such a solemn and honorable event. I was surprised, but I went. We ate, and as we were leaving he said: “Valery, impose a penance upon me.” I was perplexed, I didn’t understand. I didn’t know the English word then. I said, “What are you talking about?” “I’ve committed a sin. I want you to free me from the sin.” “And what kind of sin?” “Impose a penance upon me first, then I’ll tell you.” “What’s the matter?” “I was your referee at Physics Letters and rejected your paper.” Before that, during dinner, we were discussing if it would be a good idea to write a book on the subject he was working on. He disagreed and told me that he was too lazy. After his confession, I told him: “Write the book, that will be your penance.”

(Natalia Demina’s interview of Valery Rubakov, November 29, 2014, accessed December 9, 2014).


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