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Other Physics Papers: Where are the "working"?

  1. Nov 1, 2017 #1
    Hi all,

    I'm working on a school project that requires me to go through a published physics paper. However, there are arguments I couldn't fully follow.

    I was wondering if physicists were required to publish some of their "working" for review, and where I might find them.

  2. jcsd
  3. Nov 1, 2017 #2


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    Physicists are required to show only as much as needed for the audience it was meant for. If the target is other physicists in that field, then presumably, the audience already has the knowledge to know where some of the basic stuff came from. For example, I do not have to explain why the imaginary part of the single-particle Green's function is the spectral weight measured in ARPES experiment. This has been covered in a class in many-body physics and is well-known by people familiar with photoemission spectroscopy.

    Only if it is a new theoretical derivation may there be a more detailed description of how the authors got from A to B.

    It is why reading a paper isn't easy.

  4. Nov 1, 2017 #3

    Thank you for the insight!
  5. Nov 1, 2017 #4


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    I'm afraid this is not the case. If you're lucky you can find some notes of seminars, where they did the same thing: working through it. But this is neither guaranteed nor easy to find. The width of the steps in a paper depend on the knowledge of the audience, which is addressed. E.g. you won't ever find lines like ##2x - 7 < 3 \Rightarrow x < 5## because it is simply too obvious to everybody. Now articles in journals are written for people who have a far broader and deeper knowledge about the matter and explaining simple steps would be boring and unnecessary. However, this little word simple makes the difference: simple for one person doesn't mean simple for another. I remember that I once spent three days of try and error and several substitutions to verify a formula about complex numbers, which was simply noted as: Clearly holds ... Yes, it was clear ... afterwards.

    To make a long speech short, these articles are written for people who already studied physics for several years, if not even for specialists in the field. For your school project, I recommend to skip those passages or frankly admit, that you didn't understand them. Maybe you could add why. The alternative would be to choose an easier text.
  6. Nov 1, 2017 #5
    Thanks! I think that might be what I have to do.

    Just out of interest, what would the peer-review process of theoretical papers be like? Do the reviewers just work through these equations on their own?
  7. Nov 1, 2017 #6


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    Best case? Yes. Whereas "work through" might be easier for reviewres, which are specialists in the field, than for an ordinary student. They have many more theorems in mind, done many thousand more similar calculations before, and have a gut feeling whether results can be right or not. This leads to the usual case: Imagine you have 100 exams on your desk and you're supposed to correct them over the weekend. Would you read those of the best in class the same way as you read those you know there are probably mistakes in it? The same happens in real life. The reviewers normally know the authors and their work, so this determines a bit how carefully it is read. Maybe they even hand out some parts to their assistants to check or to search for results needed in the library. Of course they can only risk such sloppiness to the extend they can be sure it won't come back on them. In addition there are usually more than one reviewer, so it's risky not to find eventual errors.
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