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All together now…


With a little help from their friends: some of the DØ collaboration

By Hamish Johnston

Many years ago I wanted to be an experimental particle physicist (didn’t you?).

But then I cast my eyes over a few papers and realized that my name would be buried between D Johnston and A Jonckheere in a two-page list of authors (if I was lucky enough to join the DØ collaboration above).

I can’t say that was the only reason that I switched to condensed matter physics – I found it more interesting, for example – but the idea of being a small cog in a huge machine wasn’t that appealing.

Since then I’ve often wondered how hundreds (indeed, thousands) of particle physicists get together to write one paper.

If you are curious, Tommaso Dorigo has a blow-by-blow account on his blog.

Among other things, it involves committees referred to as “godparents” and arguments over British versus American spellings – although I would have thought the journal would have the last word on the latter.

Dorigo writes, “Now, if you think that the above baroque, surreal, ridiculous procedure is crazy, you might be right”.

However, he also points out that the process is “extremely democratic”, which he says is one of its “striking positive qualities”.

But is democracy the best way of doing science?

Cast your ballot now!

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  1. He means ‘democratic’ in the sense of fairness of participation, not a bad thing since it is assumed people didn’t get jobs at CDF unless they had some inkling about particle physics, but if people are assumed to know what they are doing pedantic comments should be unnecessary.
    So perhaps ‘fraternity hazing’ would be a better comparison?

  2. As a 10+ year collaborator on BaBar, Tommaso’s description of the internal review process is depressingly accurate. I can’t think of a better process, given the immense size of particle physics experiments, but there does need to be some improvement in efficiency.
    He is quite right about the “democratic” nature of the process — every member of the collaboration has both the right and the duty to read and comment on the papers which go out. After all, every one of our names are on it, and therefore we all share collective responsibility for its contents.


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