The Trouble With Physics

For something related to the book-in-progress, I was reading Raymond Chandler's classic essay "The Simple Art of Murder" last night, and stumbled across the following quote, where he laments the number of stories in print in the mystery genre in 1950:

In my less stilted moments I too write detective stories, and all this immortality makes just a little too much competition. Even Einstein couldn’t get very far if three hundred treatises of the higher physics were published every year, and several thousand others in some form or other were hanging around in excellent condition, and being read too.

The graph that's the "featured image" for this post (which I'll also reproduce below, for those reading via RSS) is from the arxiv preprint server's statistical reports, showing the number of new submissions annually from its launch in 1992 through the start of this year. The scale is a little hard to read, sized down for this blog, but each box on the vertical scale is 10,000 new submissions.

Now, not all of these are physics, and you could quibble about which of them count as "the higher physics," but surely the high-energy physics category should count for that. The hep-* category on the arxiv is represented in the darker blue, and by itself accounts for better than 10,000 submissions/year at present.

And thus, we see the trouble with physics these days, as pointed out by a writer of private-eye stories 63 years ago: we haven't had a "new Einstein" emerge because not even the original one could get very far under these circumstances. In fact, he could get approximately 1/30th of not very far, given the statistics above...

New submissions to the arxiv, from New submissions to the arxiv, from

(Because the Internet is designed to be impervious to irony, I feel compelled to note that this is not a serious post. We kid because we love.)

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It would be a problem for Albert if among the many co-authors of those preprints there were another A. Einstein. That's a problem I personally am suffering from: because the default ADS search ignores middle initials, my name matches one of the 3000+ members of the ATLAS collaboration. (The reason for this default is that middle initials aren't always consistently used. You can force ADS to use middle initials, but then the search on my name doesn't find the papers where the lead author did not use my middle initial.) And the problem is even worse for certain other surnames, many but not all of them Chinese. (Some journals now allow east Asian authors to specify which characters comprise their names, a feature which allows a distinction between surnames which are different in Chinese but have the same English transliteration).

There are other wrinkles as well. People who know German are aware that, for example, Müller and Mueller are the same surname, but others who aren't aware of this convention will simply drop the umlaut, causing most search engines to think they are two different names. (ADS did put some effort into getting this one right.)

By Eric Lund (not verified) on 10 Apr 2013 #permalink