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Seth Zenz | Imperial College London | UK

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Collaborating Isn’t Always Easy

Hi, Seth here.  It’s been a while since I’ve written about my work, mostly because my work lately has been time-consuming and a bit complicated to write about.  Nevertheless, I’m going to take a stab at it.  About two weeks ago now, I gave a talk at the APS conference (which Regina gave a talk at also).  Preparing for the talk was a more challenging process than I had expected; I knew what I wanted to say, but what I showed also had to fit within the goals of ATLAS as a whole.

I had originally written in my abstract for the talk that I was going to describe the method for my track jet measurement, but I had always hoped that I would be able to show some initial collision data in order to demonstrate things were going well.  And indeed, I had that data, and things looked pretty good to me.  But of course, when any ATLAS collaboration member shows the results of our work outside the experiment, we are relying on years of hard work by thousands of people, and we are speaking for everyone in the experiment.  That means that my colleagues had a say, as they should, in what I would show in my talk and how I would show it.

Showing my plans and simulated results wasn’t a big deal, in part because ATLAS has special rules for “work-in-progress” by students. But there were definitely questions and discussions on whether we ought to show plots based on real collision data.  Let me summarize a few of the potential issues:

  1. My talk was very early.  Except for an initial flurry of quick plots right when we got first data, ATLAS is showing its next round of more polished plots of detector performance in March. Did it make sense to release some of that work ahead of schedule?
  2. Was there time to make sure my results were correct?
  3. My own plots rely heavily on the work done for our experiment’s first paper, the “minimum bias” analysis.  (It shows the distributions of charged particles in our detector, including as many events as possible — hence, “minimum bias.”)  That paper isn’t out yet (but the one from CMS is).  Did it make sense to show work that depended on other, not-yet-published work that might change?

These are important questions.  Some of my collaborators thought the answer was yes and some didn’t, and the resulting discussions took time and energy.  In the end, I did get to show some of what I wanted, but not all of it.  I can’t say I was completely happy about that, but I did end up getting to show some of my work only a few months after we collected data, and that’s cool.

I fully agree with the need for ATLAS to have a set of procedures to make sure that our work is presented appropriately and that it’s correct.  A big experiment relies on consensus, so obviously I won’t always be completely satisfied with the outcome.  As as an experiment, we’re also still in the process of figuring how to apply those procedures now that we have real data to discuss.  It may not have been easy, but reaching agreement on my talk was an educational experience.

The plots from my APS talk aren’t posted anywhere, but you’ll get to see improved versions of them soon —  I’ll let you know.


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One Response to “Collaborating Isn’t Always Easy”

  1. Andre Bach says:

    “…relies on consensus, so obviously I won’t always be completely satisfied with the outcome.” That might be the most shockingly sensible thing I’ve ever read on the internet. Seth, we owe you a debt of gratitude for showing that we physicists are classy grown-ups.

    Also, it’s flipping outrageous that you didn’t get to show all your hard work in your talk! :P

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