Comment on 'Are physicists afraid of mathematics?'
New Journal of Physics
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In 2012, we showed that the citation count for articles in ecology and evolutionary biology declines with increasing density of equations. Kollmeret al (2015 New J. Phys. 17 013036) claim this effect is an artefact of the manner in which we plotted the data. They also present citation data from Physical Review Letters and argue, based on graphs, that citation counts are unrelated to equation density. Here we show that both claims are misguided. We identified the effects in biology not by visual means, but using the most appropriate statistical analysis. Since Kollmeret al did not carry out any statistical analysis, they cannot draw reliable inferences about the citation patterns in physics. We show that when statistically analysed their data actually do provide evidence that in physics, as in biology, citation counts are lower for articles with a high density of equations. This indicates that a negative relationship between equation density and citations may extend across the breadth of the sciences, even those in which researchers are well accustomed to mathematical descriptions of natural phenomena. We restate our assessment that this is a genuine problem and discuss what we think should be done about it.
This work was supported by a European Research Council Advanced Grant (250209) awarded to Alasdair Houston and NERC Independent Research Fellowship (NE/L011921/1) awarded to ADH. We are indebted to the American Physical Society and Physical Review Letters for granting access to their article data and Jonathan Kollmer, Thorsten Pöschel and Jason Gallas for supplying it.
This is the final version of the article. Available from the publisher via the DOI in this record.
Vol 18 (2016) 118003