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Experimentalists = Peons ?

  1. Dec 21, 2009 #1
    It seems as though experimentalists are the peons of theorists. Unfortunately, it seems as though many experimentalists are not aware of this and many theorists may be aware but choose not to make it obvious for fear that they might lose their peons. Has anyone else noticed this? Am I completely wrong?
    Last edited: Dec 21, 2009
  2. jcsd
  3. Dec 21, 2009 #2

    Chi Meson

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    Shut up and get back to work!

  4. Dec 21, 2009 #3


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    I think that it goes the other way almost as often. Lots of times an experimentalist will discover something unexpected and then turn it over to the theorists to figure out what caused it.
  5. Dec 21, 2009 #4


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    That rather a sweeping generalization. I'd say it's wrong.

    Experimentalist and theorists are collaborators in trying to unlock and understand the mysteries of the universe and Nature.
  6. Dec 21, 2009 #5
    Experimentalists get the funding($$$), women, cars, etc.

    Theorists know Algebraic Topology.
  7. Dec 21, 2009 #6
    It goes back and forth. There was a time when the experimentalists were creating new particles faster than the theorists could explain them. Now theory outruns experiment as string theory, loop quantum gravity and I don't know what other theories compete with each other and there is not enough experimental data to differentiate them.
  8. Dec 22, 2009 #7


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    Where or how in the world did you ever get this silly idea? And yes, you're completely wrong.

  9. Dec 22, 2009 #8


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    But every time I poke them they say, "Zug zug."
  10. Dec 22, 2009 #9
    In theory, theory and practice are the same. In practice, they are not.

    The good thing about being an experimentalist : you can not be wrong (if you do your job decently). You look out there and come back with points and their error bars.

    The terrible thing about being a theoretician : you can not be right. At best, your curve will be compatible with the error bars for a little while. At worse, a theoretician comes up with a unified theory of more than everything which elegantly sums up all possible universe in a single, alas useless, formula.
  11. Dec 22, 2009 #10
    Well I'm an experimentalist, and I don't feel like a "peon" of the theorist. I am a peon of my advisor, but that's a whole other issue. Actually in my research group, the experimentalist is the head honcho, and the theorist is sort of the lackey (even though he's got tenure). At the group meetings we talk about experimental stuff the whole time, and the theory guys just kind of sit there and fall asleep.

    Seriously though, experiment and theory are both equally important in physics. Without the theorists, we experimentalists wouldn't know what our results mean. I don't have the knowledge to derive fancy blazar spectra or do plasma physics calculations. And without the experimentalists, the theorists wouldn't be able to test their theories. The theorists don't know how to design equipment and analyze data like I can. Both jobs are dependent on one another. The master/peon relationship is professors and grad students, irrespective of whether one does theory or experiment.
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