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Ken Bloom | USLHC | USA

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The destiny of boson observation papers

On Tuesday, CMS and ATLAS submitted their papers on their observation of a new boson to the journal Physics Letters B. These are surely the most significant publications of the LHC experiments to date, and, without airing too much internal laundry, you can imagine that the content and the phrasing of the papers was very thoroughly discussed within the collaborations. Within CMS, the length of all the comments submitted during collaboration review was longer than the paper itself. You will also notice that CMS and ATLAS came up with slightly different titles; one says that a boson was observed, the other says that a particle (spin unspecified) was observed in a search for the Higgs boson. And for sure neither one says that what is observed is the Higgs boson; as has been discussed in many other posts, we’re very far away from being able to make any confident statements about that.

We can expect that these papers will soon be accepted for publication (in fact, sooner than you might think), and then go on to be fixtures of the scientific literature of particle physics, cited many times over in future papers. Which got me thinking — what are the most highly cited papers in particle physics, and where might the “Higgs” observation papers end up in that list? (Note how he takes pains to put “Higgs” in quotation marks!)

Now, you’ve heard me sing the praises of the Particle Data Group before, but now let me put in a word for the people at INSPIRE, which has recently succeeded SLAC’s SPIRES database as the repository of publication information in our field. I wouldn’t be able to put my CV together or brag about my crazy-big h-index without them. Not only do they track every paper by author, they also keep track of paper citations. How often a paper is cited is a measure of the impact of the paper on the field.

It’s not hard to generate a list of the most cited papers tracked by INSPIRE. And the results may surprise you! A few observations:

  1. The most cited papers are theory papers, not papers that describe measurements. The number one paper, with 8414 citations, is by Juan Maldacena, describing a major breakthrough in string theory. (Don’t ask me to explain it, though!) This paper is only 14 years old. Number two, at 7820, is Steven Weinberg’s paper that was among the first to lay out the electroweak theory. It’s from 1967, predating the Maldacena paper by more than thirty years. And number three, at 6784, is by Kobayashi and Maskawa, explaining how a third generation of quarks could straightforwardly accommodate the phenomenon of CP violation; it’s from 1973.
  2. That famous paper by Peter Higgs? Only #95, with 2043 citations.
  3. The first experimental paper that shows up, at #4, is actually an astrophysics paper, the first results from the WMAP satellite, which among other things really nailed down the age of the universe for the first time. There are in fact many highly-cited papers on experimental results on cosmology. This is of course partly a function of the kind of papers that INSPIRE tracks.
  4. The first experimental papers that show up are actually compendia of results, from the PDG. They release a new review every two years, so many of them are on the list.
  5. The most-cited paper on a single experimental measurement is at #27, with 3769 citations. It’s the Super-Kamiokande paper from 1998 that showed the first evidence of the oscillation of atmospheric neutrinos.

So while it’s true that these observation papers will be among the most highly cited from the LHC experiments, the evidence already suggests that they will be pikers compared to many other publications in the literature. (So was it worth all that effort on what the title should be?) It will be interesting to watch…if nothing else, it will surely be one of the most cited papers that I am an author on, and it is definitely an achievement that we can be proud of.


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  • Mitchell Porter

    These papers will pick up thousands of citations, because of all the theory papers about a 125 GeV Higgs boson that will continue to be written, and because of future experimental papers about measuring the boson’s properties.