In high school, I had a history teacher who would berate any student who gave a ‘vanilla’ response in class – code for a ‘middle of the road’ or ‘safe to all ears’ answer. As Mr. Toy explained, while vanilla is the most consumed flavor of ice-cream in the western world, and by dint, the most ‘popular,’ vanilla isn’t also the most liked flavor – people tend to feel much more strongly about chocolate, butter pecan, and strawberry – it’s simply the one that’s most passable to the greatest number of people.
Peer review can, at times, reward papers for being merely ‘vanilla,’ particularly at the high-impact commercial journals. Last year, we had a paper at one of the top journals rejected on a 4:2 split (4 in favor, 2 added in 2nd and 3rd round against). We've since had 1:1 (reject), 1:2 (reject), 2:1 (reject). It's never going to be the case that there isn't someone out there who doesn't hate our work.* We take a very definite theoretical stand, which means we elicit bimodal responses at every single journal we try to publish in, doesn't matter the impact factor. Does that mean that our work is somehow less worthy of publication than papers that receive a chorus of middling votes?
[Oh, you already know what I think!]
But the issue isn't personal - we're certainly not the only lab to face this problem. The question is: Is science supposed to be controversy-free? Or, dare I say, vanilla? Are commercial journals really just out to preserve the status quo?
*Um, did that triple-negation work? I've tried rereading it three times and I'm still not sure. Late night. At least Charlie Sheen would approve. ("You can't process me with a normal brain.")
See also: Graphene.