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Paul Jackson | CERN | Switzerland

View Blog | Read Bio

Going Public

Congratulations to Nicole for her first publication on SPIRES. It got me thinking about
publications in high energy particle physics a bit and how the large collaboration represents a
blessing and a curse to this. As a former member of the BaBar collaboration I can take a look
on SPIRES and see hundreds of papers that I have authored. If I am being brutally honest
though, many of these I have never read, and some of them, I may not even fully understand.

These days, working on ATLAS, I suppose I could rub my hands with glee and look forward to
the monumental number of papers my name may be included on in the coming years. But how
does this huge number of papers that we author affect our careers. When there are applications
for funding or fellowships for graduate students and postdocs that are extremely competitive
we are asked to highlight our own individual contributions. In other fields this is clear, you
show your list of publications where you may have 5,10,20 or so papers with your advisor or
collaborators who number in the handful. For us high energy physicists this is harder, giving a
list of 200 papers may seems like a great thing on the face of it, but this in no way highlights
ones own contribution to the experiment and therefore to the field at large.

Within high energy physics people know the score. You apply for a job with a list of papers you
actually worked on and that, without you, they maybe would never have
even seen the light of day. This is sort of an unwritten rule. But when the criteria explicitly ask for
a list of all publications, you chop down a couple of trees, and print out what they asked for.

This is a potential problem that cannot be easily solved. Each major collaboration over the last 10
years, along with current and future projects have discussed the issue at length, and I certainly
have no answer herein. Credit where credit’s due, is a tough concept to impose in high energy
physics. If one physicist does an analysis of the data does that mean they are more deserving
of the publication than the engineer who built and calibrated the subdetector that was crucial to
their work? No. Of course not.

Gone are the days when a few men, wearing suits and glass, put together accelerators and
detectors and published their findings together. We have a duty to do our ‘big science’, but we
have to realign old misconceptions about what it means for us as individuals to publish our
results.

In other news: Welcome to our new set of Quantum Diarists!

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