Diary of a Sad Physicist

Writing a blog is for me (1) amusing and (2) amusing. Can anyone take anything that I write on a blog seriously? Well sometimes people do. Many eons ago (okay, I lie, it was 2005), I wrote a post about the then new "h-index." The h-index is an attempt at trying to find a better way of "ranking" citation counts. As such, it is, of course, nothing more than another meter stick in the long line of lazy tenure committee metric sticks. But it's also fun! Why is it fun? Because calculating any "metric" is fun for people like me who spent their childhood involved in such mind expanding tasks as counting the number of loads of wood we did before we finished stacking all that had been cut. But that's just me.

Sadly, for others my original post provoke an amazing amount of hatred and anger. Thus is the diary of "Sad Physicist." Did I endorse this index as the ultimate answer to life, the universe, and tenure. Of course not. What do you take me as, an academic bent on analyzing everything within sight through the eyes of Science! Pfft.

Okay, you as, well why am I writing about this subject now? Well today, after over three years, the Sad Physicist, the one commenter of most venom about that post, has reappeared! Welcome back friend! So I thought it would be a good chance to collect the original dialogue, you know for posterity. Maybe one could even count this article as a citation, thus increasing Sad Physicist's h-index! Always helpful, the pontiff is.

Comment by Sad Physicist -- 4/14/2006:

All this is ridiculous. Everybody is talking about this h-index invented by a failed physicist, Jorge Hirsch. One quick look at his web page or any of his junk papers shows that the guy is unreasonable, and the fact that he called this thing "h-index" basically proves it (I bet "h" stands for "H"irsch). He is a complete nobody in condensed matter theory and I guess this was the only way for him to get famous.

I do not know what is going on with theoretical physics. People are obsessed with things, which have absolutely no significance. The theoretical physics community reminds me of sheep, following a drunken shepherd. Even worse, because unlike sheep many physicists are unjustifiably complacent, often obsessed with their own greatness (especially so-called string theorists), which in my opinion is disgusting. There is no single field in theoretical physics, where people do reasonable things. Sometimes young people are forced to write nonsense papers, just because this is oftentimes the only way to get jobs or, say, to increase one's h-index. May be the problem is that now there are no real leaders in physics, individuals of the caliber of Feynman or Landau, who would point out to the absurdity of the current state of affairs. Can you imagine Einstein, Feynman, or Bohr counting each other's citations?

I myself feel very disappointed in physics. Although I recently got a faculty job, I am very seriously thinking of leaving Academia because I think that modern theoretical physics is a joke. To be successful one has to spend enormous amount of time doing stupid things, such as dealing with physics education people, who make you teach according to their idiotic methods or writing grant proposals about drawing so-called minorities into science. One does not have time anymore to do high-quality research; all time is consumed by different kinds of nonsense. And now one has to worry about this h-index. I am truly amazed that people take it seriously. Some departments already use it officially in evaluating their faculty and making decisions about promotion and tenure. This is just hilarious. I do not want to spend my life worrying about the h-index. I'd rather worry about the Dow Jones

Therein followed a reply by one Dave Bacon which we shall skip because we all know that guy is an idiot. Next folllow a retort! Sweet, most people don't take blogs seriously enough to actually return after throwing out a deep rant, but alas Sad Physicist finds time to come back and reply to that loon Dave Bacon:

> I also have a quite differing view of physics
> education people and the role of minorities in
> science.

You different point of view is the correct one. If you want to find a good job or get funding that is exactly what you have to say: "I love education people and I will devote the rest of my life bringing minorities into science." That is what I say. If you try to say anything different, the consequences will be quite serious. Look at what has happened to the president of Harvard, Lawrence Summers. He just said that "innate differences between men and women might be one reason fewer women succeed in science and math careers." And now look at the outcome:


This is frightening... So, one has to be careful here.

> the leaders in my field are very good at doing
> what you say: pointing the field in the
> direction away from the junk.

Of course you are right here as well. I am sure they are doing great job pointing you in the right direction in the exciting field of two-level systems in single-particle quantum mechanics. Keep up the good work! And keep you h-index high!

Of course, the computer bit is a two level system, but pointing that out to Sad Physicist would probably not make him happier.

But sadly, things got sadder. Actually that's presumptuous on my part. Let's just say that Sad Physicists may have changed jobs (didn't help me, damnit) and then launched a personal attack:

Dear h-index lovers!

I would like to bring to your attention a new paper by this crazy man, Jorge Hirsch (arXiv:0708.0646) "Does the h-index have predictive power?" (the answer is "yes," it does have this power). It seems that he has invested a lot of his valuable time and applied his superior intellect to prove "...the superiority of the h-index." Obviously, the main conclusion of this "work" is that if you have a high h-index now, you are much more likely to become a great scientist in the future (to be a great scientist, of course, is defined as having a high h-index). Thus, you will have the highest scientific potential just before you croak.

I view this paper as another sign that IDIOCRACY is becoming a reality in modern science. I decided that if this nonsense gets published in any serious scientific journal, I quit my faculty job (another job opening for you!)

Sad Physicist

At this point, since I'm a fair and balanced (ha!) kind of guy its probably reasonable to post a reply comment by "Happy Physicists" about Jorge Hirsch's track record:

To sad physicist. This reply might be 3 years late, but I can help it: Hirsch made great contributions in the 80 in the field of strongly correlated electrons (for instance, the Hirch-Fye algorithm to quantum Montecarlo). In the 90 he has also very important contributions (like a highly cited and influential paper on the spin hall effect) and, the most important, he thinks out of the beaten track. I wonder who's the ignorant here. Are you still in academia or you move to Lehman Brothers?

And now, this week, finally(!) a reply from Sad Physicist (now "Sad Ex Physicist.") I know, I know, like you, I have been waiting with bated breath (my breath is more "baited" than "bated") for a new post by Sad Physicist. This one nearly qualifies as a novel:

Dear Professor Bacon:

What can I say, you are totally right and I have to admit that I was wrong. I totally agree with you now, Jorge Hirsch is a goddamn genius!

Also, thank you for your interest in my well-being and my career. Three years have passed and I am now a changed man. Unfortunately, I was fired from Lehman Brothers and I started a business: I now sell h-index extenders.

If you allow me, I would like to take the opportunity and post a testimonial about our services. V/R,

Sad (ex-)Physicist


Dear Fellow Physicists!

I would like to share with you a unique experience that has changed my professional life. What am I saying? It has changed my entire life! I hope that it may also help many other researchers, who might be suffering from the anxiety, associated with the small-h-index syndrome and large H-index envy, that I used to have, but have no longer!

Even though most Departments claim that the H-index size of their members is not the most important criterion for hiring, promotion and tenure, recent research (funded by the National Size Foundation) shows that size does matter. It is not always the deciding factor and in rare cases other criteria are used: There are still a few places left, where some old-fashioned senior physicists actually read candidate's papers and look into the content (Ha!, can you imagine that!?) But fortunately people like that are a dying breed. Also, in cases involving women and underrepresented groups in science, measuring the H-index is inappropriate, and other measures have to be involved. But in most cases, the h-index size does become a crucial deciding factor and circumvents the need to read or understand research, thanks to the genius, Jorge Hirsch! But, now back to my story:

When I was hired by my Department, my H-index was really small. It did not matter much at first, during my honeymoon, when our feelings were fresh and I just took many things for granted. But as time passed, I noticed that eventough my colleagues were nice to me, they clearly were not completely satisfied with my performance. Of course, I performed all required faculty duties and went above and beyond, but nothing could completely satisfy the Department and the higher-ups in the University administration. The problem was my h-index size: It was very, very small. If I did not find a way to enlarge my H-index, I was facing the prospect of not getting tenure, and being replaced with someone else (with a bigger one).

This was when I developed a severe anxiety disorder, which now is widely-known as small H-index syndrome. I did not sleep well, checking my h-index every morning, hoping that it grew overnight. But, alas, it has never happened. I secretly checked h-indices of other members of the Department (thankfully, this information is now publically available), but it was mostly demoralizing: There are physicists here with really big ones and I knew that mine was not even close.

Then, I decided to put my suffering to an end and do everything possible to enlarge my H-index. So, I developed stretching techniques to extend my h-index and they worked! I believe that if you have determination and patience, you can make it as big as you wish. And you do not even have to work hard! You can continue doing crappy research and still enlarge your H-index very substantially. In fact, I developed techniques, where the more unreasonable your research is, the better it is for your h-index size. For example, you can move into an active field and start arguing with the leaders about well-accepted facts (an extreme example of this technique would be to write a comment on the Einstein's work pointing out that the equation E=mc^2 is wrong and in fact it should be E=mc^3!). I can assure you that in most cases, your work will not go unnoticed!

Order NOW and you will learn more useful techniques that actually work (!) and will also receive 30 Minutes of FREE Live Tutoring on stretching your h-index!

30 day Free trial - for students and postdocs

Bronze package (10 citations) - Ideal for assistant professors

Silver package (20 citations) - Ideal for associate professors

Gold package (50 citations) - For full professors

Platinum H-index extender (100 citations) - For National Academy members!

Sweet! I think I'll sign up pronto. But I wonder if it works for research professors? Probably does, but with an added 50% overhead, I'm sure.

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By Gordon Pasha (not verified) on 27 Jul 2009 #permalink

Sad (Ex-) Physicist: there is something extremely ironic about how wrong is the strategy you propose to increase your h-index:
âyou can move into an active field and start arguing with the leaders about well-accepted factsâ
If you look at the evolution of Hirsch career, you will notice a dramatic downturn in the number of citations of most of his papers after approximately 1990. And this was the consequence of doing exactly what you suggest to increase h: he moved into a very active field (High Tc superconductivity) and started arguing with the leaders about well-accepted facts (which does not make them correct, but thatâs another story). In particular, he disputed the validity of BCS theory. Interestingly, he has only two highly cited papers after that, and none of them in superconductivity (the h-index one, and the one about Spin Hall effect).
Any of this makes h-index better. And you certainly have a point about people not reading the papers to judge their authors. But the point is being completely lost amongs all the bitterness and the anger in your rather obvious joke about h-enhancer.

By happy physicist (not verified) on 08 Aug 2009 #permalink