Paper 1

Assignment: Write a referee report on Einstein’s 1905 paper on special relativity

Due date: Friday of Week 5

Length: 4–5 double-spaced pages. You should use standard margins (1-inch to 1.25-inches on each side of the page) and a 12-point font. Acceptable file formats include .doc, .docx, and .pdf.

Grade: Your grade on Paper 1 will contribute 25% of your final course grade.


Imagine you are a young assistant of Max Planck’s in Berlin in 1905. As an editor of the journal Annalen der Physik, he hands you a new submission by a relatively unknown researcher named Albert Einstein. The paper is entitled “On the electrodynamics of moving bodies.” Based on the opening 4.5 pages of the paper (that is, the portion of the paper included in the course readings), write a 4–5 page referee report on the submission. Does the author justify his conclusions to your satisfaction? What is your recommendation: accept the paper for publication, reject it, or ask the author for revisions? If the latter, what revisions should the author undertake before you would deem the paper worthy of publication?

To fulfill the spirit of the assignment, you should imagine that you are peer-reviewing the submission as someone would in 1905. That is, you have never heard of special relativity before; forget what you already know about the subject from present-day classes and textbooks. No matter what conclusion you draw (to accept the paper, reject it, or ask the author to make revisions and resubmit), you should articulate a clear thesis statement in your introductory paragraph, and use specific examples and evidence throughout the body of your paper to bolster your argument. 

To help guide your referee report, consider the questions that today’s journals, such as the Physical Review, ask their own referees to consider:

  • Does the paper contain enough significant new physics to warrant publication?
  • Is the paper scientifically sound and not misleading?
  • Is the paper well-organized and clearly written?
  • Are the subject matter and style of presentation appropriate?
  • Are there appropriate and adequate references to related work?

The only source you are required to use is the excerpt from Einstein’s 1905 paper as provided in the course readings. However, you may also want to include examples and evidence from other course readings, such as readings by James Clerk Maxwell, Bruce Hunt, Michel Janssen, Gerald Holton, Peter Galison, Amanda Gefter, or Andrew Warwick, which all inform how a young assistant of Max Planck’s may have understood the submission in 1905, along with the lectures of the course. (Including material from any of these sources, beyond Einstein’s own excerpt, is strictly optional.)

For all material you draw from specific sources (including Einstein’s paper), be sure to use standard footnote conventions and include a bibliography of sources cited at the end.

Course Info

As Taught In
Fall 2020
Learning Resource Types
Lecture Notes
Lecture Videos
Written Assignments