Nearly all scholarly journals use referees to screen submitted manuscripts. Physical scientists recognize the significance of the referee system: Some defend the system, and others attack it. But refereeing itself has not been systematically assessed. By studying the archives of The Physical Review for the years 1948 to 1956 (before the separate publication of Physical Review Letters) we have been able to come to a few conclusions about the workings of the referee system. Although some of the results were expected, others are surprising. Younger physicists, for example, are more likely to have their papers accepted than are older physicists, and the physics “establishment” does not appear to have any bias toward publishing the papers of its own members. The referee system here apparently does what it is supposed to do: Sift out the good papers from the bad.

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