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Is a scientific paper a theory or discovery? Or only a paper?

  1. Jun 19, 2016 #1
    Many phisicists writed scientific papers at early age like maxwell who wrote one at 14 another one at 16 then at 18 but these 3 papers weren't a new theory or discovery right ? So why a scientific paper is always noted in the biography of physicists if it's not important because it's not a discovery . But i think that this scientific paper can turn out into a theory or a discovery ? Like the 5 papers of eisntein ? And how could I know if a scientific paper was a discovery in the later years or still a paper and not important at all ?
     
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  3. Jun 19, 2016 #2

    ProfuselyQuarky

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    A scientific paper in of itself is merely a medium for which scientists and researchers can share their work. Nothing more.
     
    Last edited: Jun 19, 2016
  4. Jun 19, 2016 #3

    Choppy

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    I think there's a dangerous trap to fall into here. You're looking at historical examples. Maxwell was a teenager well before the American Civil War! The world was a vastly different place then compared to now. Today there may be occasions of teenager publishing papers, but these are very rare events, and when they do happen, there's quite often a LOT of mentoring involved.

    The much more typical route for a scientist is to go through undergraduate studies without a publication (or if there is one or two, it's because the student got involved in a mentor's existing research program, not because the student has some brilliant insight). From there, the successful student progresses to graduate school. After learning enough about the sub-field to understand what's really going on the student embarks on a guided project and eventually learns how to write a paper. But the completion of a PhD, students will typically have a few first author papers to their name (but this depends greatly on the field itself).

    If the biography is well-written, it should be obvious why a paper is noted. If nothing else, a list of a person's peer-reviewed publications are a record of the direct contributions to the field that person was involved in.

    Just because something is not a "discovery" doesn't mean that it's not important. Sometimes, a concept needs to be explored even if that exploration leads to a null result. And if it was important enough to investigate, that null result is (usually) important enough to publish. As Profusely Quarky suggested, it's part of an academic discussion. Sometimes papers are published that simply refine measurement techniques, or confirm the work that others have done, or demonstrate that a known result occurs under a slightly different set of conditions. In no way does this work result in a new theory. Instead, it incrementally advances an existing one.

    And I think that's the key point. Science advances in incremental steps, not giant leaps.

    Understanding the importance of a given paper comes through deep study of a field and reading a LOT of papers. Reading a single paper in isolation is like reading a single page in a novel. The individual words and sentences will make sense, and you might even get a sense of what's going on, but in order to appreciate the context, you need to have started at the beginning.
     
    Last edited: Jun 25, 2016
  5. Jun 21, 2016 #4
    Why all new physics discoveries are shared to the world throught articles on journals ... why they don't send their discovery to the royale society or to the departement of physics ?
     
  6. Jun 21, 2016 #5

    jfizzix

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    My guess is that the historical record shows a centralized body of scientific authority is more trouble than a decentralized authority because what gets published should not be subject to the whims of a few individuals each with their own interests and biases. By having many different places where work may get published, all work worth seeing is more likely to be seen than if they got rejected from one body and dismissed.

    Not all journals are created equal though. More prestigious journals like Physical Review X, New Journal of Physics, Nature, and Science, are much harder to get published in than in other journals.

    Also, the sheer volume of scientific output by physicists today compared to 200 years ago, means that a single authority doesn't necessarily have the resources to have all papers funneled through them.
     
    Last edited: Jun 21, 2016
  7. Jun 21, 2016 #6

    Vanadium 50

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    The Department of Physics? The Department of Physics? What is that?
     
  8. Jun 21, 2016 #7

    Fervent Freyja

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    Territorial human males?
     
  9. Jun 25, 2016 #8

    chiro

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    Hey ricky33.

    As hinted at above, a paper can provide information already available but in a new way that serves utility.

    The utility of information is probably a better indicator to see the value of it as opposed to the independence of the information in a paper relative to what already is existing or accessible in the literature.

    The criteria for originality can be a perverse incentive and being able to better make sense of existing information is the focus of many papers across many fields of science, engineering, technology and mathematics.

    One has to remember the amount of information available and also how many different ways one can organize, relate, and make sense of this information.

    As information content grows it will become even more necessary to get people to re-organize and process the massive body of information in new ways and this activity is done all the time and helps the new generations of practitioners in these fields better utilize the information in comparison to those who did make the discoveries of information that really was independent to what existed at the time of publication.
     
  10. Jun 26, 2016 #9

    mfb

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    Scientific theories are typically a collection of many different papers from different authors. Often there are multiple possible models explored in theoretical publications, until experiments figure out which models are right. The others get discarded. Many publications are calculations made within existing theories - they allow to predict what experiments will measure, for example.

    On the experimental side: most measurements are in agreement with theoretical predictions, but more precise measurements of previous ones. No discovery, just the necessary daily work. Sometimes there is disagreement, and the theoretical calculations turn out to be wrong. A discovery? Well, sort of.
    Very rarely the experiments are really in disagreement with the theories., then the theories have to be changed. In particle physics, this happened once in the last 50 years (neutrino masses).

    In experimental particle physics, the authors are always sorted by name, therefore:
    0 to 2 - for 90-99% of the students
    10 to 200 - if your name happens to start with "Ab", "Ad" or similar ("Aa" is necessary for the big collaborations)

    From the author list of ATLAS: G. Aad, T. Abajyan, B. Abbott, J. Abdallah, S. Abdel Khalek, ...
    CMS now sorts by country, then institute, then name, so you have to work in Armenia (or start a CMS group in Albania, Andorra, ...) to be "first author".

    As you can guess, being the first in such an authorlist is completely irrelevant.
     
  11. Jun 26, 2016 #10

    jtbell

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    My HEP research group in grad school 35+ years ago was tiny by today's standards: only about 35 people at four institutions. None of them had names beginning with "A" or "Ba", and the only other "Be" came after me alphabetically. When I joined, as a second-year grad student, I became the "first author." :wideeyed:
     
  12. Jun 26, 2016 #11

    mfb

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    George Aad is first author of hundreds of papers. I guess he wouldn't recognize the title of half of them.
     
  13. Jun 26, 2016 #12

    Choppy

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    Perhaps then it would be more appropriate to say that by the end of the PhD a student will typically have made multiple meaningful contributions in his or her field, and ultimately the degree of "meaningful" is assessed by the PhD examining committee.
     
  14. Jun 26, 2016 #13
    That is true. But during one's college days, his/her publications to journals are not only for sciences and about discoveries but also are a pride. They also help qualify the students' research skills as well as their advisers or instructors's training skills. Many also show us how cooperative authors are. I also think papers can also be a good means for advertisement. :biggrin:
     
  15. Jun 26, 2016 #14

    SteamKing

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    Unless you want to show up in person at the Royal Society of the department of physics and perform your experiment in person, how else are you going to communicate to others what work you have been doing?

    Believe it or not, writing reports is an accepted form of communication for such information. We don't have to send smoke signals to one another when some scribbling on a few sheets of paper will suffice.
     
  16. Jun 26, 2016 #15

    jtbell

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    They are also a crucial factor in scientists' career progression. At a research university, whether a professor receives tenure, is promoted to a higher rank, or receives an endowed chair that has somebody's name attached to it, depends on the number and quality of his papers. Committees evaluate the impact factor of the journals that he publishes in, and the number of times his papers are cited by other papers.

    This where the phrase "publish or perish" comes from!
     
  17. Jun 26, 2016 #16

    Ygggdrasil

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    In the academic world (where most scientific research is performed), publications are the primary way in which we are evaluated (hence, the saying publish or perish). Decisions about funding, tenure and awards are often based mostly on a scientist's publication record. Although the content of what one publishes matters to some extent, with increasing amounts of specialization in science, not everyone (even people in the same department) will be able to evaluate the importance and impact of their colleagues' work, especially if they work on very different topics. Thus, people put a lot of stock into the journals in which one publishes.

    This essentially makes journals a form of gatekeeper in science. Journals have a team of editors whose job it is to keep an eye on a specific field and know what topics and ideas are most interesting to the field. They then try to evaluate the papers submitted to them for importance and impact (will the paper change the way people in this field approach their topic?), and decide to accept or reject based on the criteria of their journal. Papers that the editors believe are of high quality and significance get published in what the field perceives to be the best journals (in my field of biophysics, Nature, Science, Cell), whereas less important papers may get published in a lesser-tier journals or a journal with a focus on a particular field. Particularly low quality papers (e.g. their conclusion is obvious/already known or they present weak evidence to support their conclusion) get relegated to obscure journals. The system is imperfect (e.g. sometimes the best journals will reject papers that later turn out to be very important and sometimes they publish papers that turn out to be wrong or fabricated), but for the most part, that's how things work in academia. (In some fields, such as computer science, conference papers are much more important than print publications, but the vetting of conference papers works essentially the same way).
     
  18. Jun 26, 2016 #17

    Astronuc

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    I believe that at many institutions, academics or scientists would provide a draft to colleagues for a peer-review before providing a draft to a journal, or conference. We have an electronic peer-review system in which we recommend peers who might review, and they can recommend others to do peer review. Then it goes through several levels of management approval. If there is some IP involved, before the work is disclosed, it would go to the legal department, which would pursue patent(s) before public disclosure.

    Academics likely work in physics departments, or departments of other disciplines. Scientists work in research labs would have peers in the organization for peer-review. A discovery might be announced through a meeting of scientific organizations/societies.

    Journals are a way to get one's work out to a larger audience. In 1905, Einstein published 4 papers regarding his work, including Special Relativity and Mass-Energy Equivalence, in Annalen der Physik.
     
  19. Jun 26, 2016 #18

    mfb

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    Sometimes those reviews are more thorough than the formal peer-review afterwards. If you want to publish anything in a big particle physics collaboration, then you probably need ~2-3 review steps before you can show preliminary results publicly, and ~2-4 review steps before the paper with the final results gets uploaded to a preprint server and sent to a journal. Peer-review there is then typically limited to stylistic things - all the experts in the collaboration made sure the physics content is fine already.
     
  20. Jun 26, 2016 #19
    As someone who has published several articles in academic journals, sits on the editorial board of an international psychology journal, and referees papers for several other journals as well, I think I can weigh in on the discussion. Publishing in journals establishes your "street cred" as a scientist. I think the actual editors of journals get a modest stipend but the rest of us pretty much get jack sh#$. But we're glad to have it because publishing in journals is about service and about establishing a name for yourself, which typically or is supposed to pay off in university or industry job positions.

    Being a referee is a hit or miss occupation. Sometimes I'll get hit with three papers in one month that they want me to review, and sometimes I'll go a year or two without a request to review a paper. But everytime I get a request to review a paper, I take it very seriously. I think most other referees do also. There are so many subdisciplines in every area of science that even in the specialized, focused journals I referee for, oftentimes I get asked to review papers on subjects I'm completely unfamiliar with. There have been a few times where I declined the invitation to review a paper because I didn't feel I was qualified to review it, but most of the time I'll take it upon myself to spend a few weeks to become an expert in the subdiscipline in question.

    So this is one of the benefits of being a referee. For example, I probably would not be an expert in autonoetic consciousness if I weren't a referee. I wouldn't have taken it upon myself to study that topic if I weren't requested to review a paper on it.

    A number of my friends think I'm rich because I sit on the editorial board of an international journal and publish papers in various journals. Nothing could be further from the truth. We don't get jack squat for publishing or reviewing papers, despite the considerable effort and time that goes into both. Why do we do it? As stated in other posts, if you're in a university position, you're required to publish in order to keep your job in many instances (publish or perish). That hasn't been an issue for me because I've worked in the private sector. I do it as a public service and because I want to "give back" to the many great articles I've been privileged to read for free. These days, you can get most journal articles for free online. Even so, there are also many journal articles that are behind a paywall. I've figured out a trick to get by this, though, if you want to take note. When I'm doing my research, I just copy and paste the url from pubmed (usually) and save it to a word file. Then, when I've gathered up a few dozen references, I'll upload the file to a thumb drive and drive down to the UW Tacoma library and download the PDF files to the thumb drive and read them when I get home. Pretty cool and perfectly legal. UW has basically every journal online that exists.

    For example, the last article I published was in an Elsevier journal and had 259 references from about 60-70 different journals. If I had to pay to access the content of those journals, I'd be broke. But I got them all for free, so I think it's only fair that I give back by refereeing articles when I'm asked.
     
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