The megalomania of numbers. 1

The experiments in High Energy Physics can usually be linked with the gigantic. Its contained in its own nature. When compared with the other fields of physics, its size, its numbers and some of its characters stand out in stark contrast.

For some these are not very welcome or at the least initiates a sense of peculiar response. But ask the high energy physicist, the experimenters, its pretty natural for them. To cut the cake fresh not just to eat it but to show that its fresh is a meaningless exercise. Here is a online-conversation to that in mind.

Nzola M.Z. De Magalhaes
How to publish 50 papers in 2 years?

This is the number of publications that a faculty once told me that would take a postdoc to be competitive when applying for a faculty position. Could anyone share tricks they use to submit papers at a high and steady frequency?
Thank you.

Matthew R Lockett
I find that 50 publications in 2 years a daunting — and near impossible task — for anyone. I would suggest the following strategy: pick a few institutions that you could see yourself working and look at the number of publications the faculty members had prior to joining the department. I would bet money none of them had 50 publications.

I also encourage you to remember that quality of publications is far more important than quantity. If you can get one field-altering paper in a good journal such as Science and Nature I think it is more impressive than a large number of iterative papers in journals with lower publication standards.
My two cents — for what it is worth.

Alex B Berezow
With all due respect, that faculty member either is making stuff up or flat-out doesn’t know what he/she is talking about. I just looked up a recent hire in our dept (microbiology), and he has 18 papers. 50 papers is insane– I don’t care what field you’re in. In microbiology, at least, you’re lucky to get out 2-3 papers per year. That’s if you’re REALLY good.

Michael R Webb
Are you sure it wasn’t 15? A postdoc publishing 50 papers in two years is ridiculous. I’m assuming that it was also total papers by the time they apply, not papers published in a two-year period.

Approximately 15 papers from grad school and a postdoc combined is a reasonable number to have if you are applying for a faculty position, but certainly not the minimum. The field, the quality of the paper, and whether or not you are first author are also factors.

Nzola M.Z. De Magalhaes
Thank you very much for the replies. Believe me the number was 50. Going from experience, I also thought it was quite suspect. But why wanted to give this faculty the benefit of doubt since he’s close to retirement, a leader in his field, and has had many post-docs become successful professors.

His most recent postdoc (the one who has published 50 in 2 years) was offered an assistant professor position this year. I thus wanted to learn from scientists in other institutions if this was the “new” norm for faculty appointments. Based on the replies, I’m much more relaxed and feel less pressured to start pumping out papers regardless of quality.

Jordan T Vidrine
I believe in quality over quantity – thank you very much! Solve the damn problems, already instead of publishing innovations. Innovations doesn’t solve problems. I can come up with innovations all day if I want to, but it isn’t going to solve any problems. I much rather solve the damn problem and get a Nobel Prize for it.

Manmohan Dash
Its relevant only to a particular field. In high energy physics e.g. in recent days if you are working in experiments, you can have 300 papers in 4/5 years

Matthew R Lockett
Could you please cite an example (or multiple if they exist) of an individual obtaining 300 papers in a 5-year span? I am highly skeptical of this statement.

Manmohan Dash
Dear Matthew I myself have 311 publications roughly in that time, check spires web page for author M. Dash. Ok I will give you the link here. Of these not all are published but have been submitted to journals and as usual all will be published in due course.

Also I haven’t signed up for many papers due to various reasons which could have easily added at-least 50 more papers. this is nothing unusual in high energy physics as I had mentioned previously

Manmohan Dash

http://www.slac.stanford.edu/spires/find/hep/www?rawcmd=ea+Dash,+M

http://www.slac.stanford.edu/spires/find/hep/www?rawcmd=ea+Dash,+Manmohan

Manmohan Dash
please copy/paste this to your browser as the link is not updating properly.

Miquel Bosch
In Neuroscience, it usually takes 2-5 years to publish ONE SINGLE first-author paper. Fifty papers in 2 years means writing a paper every 15 days (assuming first-author papers, which obviously is impossible). 300 papers in 5 years means writing a paper every 4 days. Wow. It almost takes me that time to READ a paper :)

Manmohan Dash
That’s why I stressed on the HEP scenario. To my knowledge no other field would have such a scenario. Its extremely difficult for a HEP guy to have too many first author publications. Simply because the machines and experiments they deal with are gigantic.

What this means is the work they do to have 10% of one of the paper is equivalent to a paper in many other fields i.e. 1 HEP paper may be equivalent to 10 papers in condense-matter physics papers compared on the basis of information and work involved.

But there are 400 guys involved in producing this 1 paper. [simultaneously they are working on 30/40 other paper’s works] So they can collectively churn out this many number of papers. So all the papers where I am an author I haven’t worked towards the analysis that’s presented in the paper.

But I am an author, because I am involved in many different important aspects of the experiment without which this paper wouldn’t have been possible. One example is the efforts towards collection of data. This aspect is the most important one in HEP experiments. One small mistake somewhere and the whole experiment has to stop.

If there is no new data this essentially means we can not produce another paper with significant value compared to a last one. Of-course there are many different kinds of studies that are done in the experiment.

And if you think of the Large Hadron Collider [the LHC] there are easily 2000 people there in one of its many experiments, who can be contenders to one paper while at the same time they may produce large number of papers in a short time. There is nothing to be surprised.

But if some of these HEP guys were to do publications in another field given their productivity, expertise and out of box thinking [again only some of these people] they would easily produce a factor of 2 or 3 times more high quality paper than the most outstanding guy in the field.

Again the most outstanding guy in another field, after proper experience can be a very valuable High Energy Physicist. A word of caution though is that there is a time lag in the beginning. Its extremely scary to learn the field of HEP experiment in the beginning because of the complexities of the experiment and therefore the complexities of the techniques to be mastered or learned.

This may easily take 2/3 years. After that an average guy produces papers at that rate. But an average guy can not explain any detail satisfactorily, only a few outstanding guys can.

Manmohan Dash
Another important aspect of HEP experiment I must draw open from the closets is the fact that much work might have been done before someone joins one experiment, e.g. many software modules and software frameworks. These would have taken an additional time if they were not done and significantly reduce the number of papers that could have been produced.

In these “past efforts” also included is the work towards the R&D work, machinery, simulation and so on. We also do the same before we produce our papers, but then if something has been done in a generic way in the past it makes life easier.

In that number 300 of papers there is also a factor of multiplicity somewhere. One particular study might have been done many times because the data that was available was more and some techniques were different.

So you may consider that 300 to be 200.

Consider the past effort to be another 5 years. So that makes it 10 years.

Consider there were an average of 200 guys in these 10 years that worked towards this. Each paper is say 10 papers in another field, Then one person produced (200×10)/(10×200) = 1 paper per year in another field.

Does it sound consistent now??

One comment

  1. Pingback: A Physicist is a physicist’s way of talking about himself. « Invariance Publishing House, mdashfoundation

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