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Tag archives: publishing

The facts and figures of peer review


Counting up: peer review by numbers – click to expand. (Courtesy: IOP Publishing)

By Tushna Commissariat

I mentioned yesterday that it was the start of “Peer Review Week”, which this year takes “recognition for review” as its theme. Physics World is published by IOP Publishing, which makes us a “society publisher” as we’re wholly owned by the Institute of Physics – a charity. IOP Publishing is also a relatively small operation compared with other large commercial publishers, but we still pack a punch, publishing more than 70 journals.

If you’ve ever wondered just how big a deal peer review is to the publishing sector, the infographic above (click on it to see the whole graphic) reveals some key figures such as the number of reviews completed last year at IOP Publishing, the average time taken to complete a review, as well as the reviewers’ geographical spread.


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Capturing your research on film

Photo of Hannover Congress Centrum

TPDL 2016 took place at the grand Hannover Congress Centrum.

Communicating science through video was the theme of a workshop I participated in yesterday in Hannover, Germany, as part of the Theory and Practice of Digital Libraries conference (TPDL 2016). It was a varied audience that included journalists, academics and librarians. I came away feeling inspired by all the possibilities, but realizing that science communication has a long way to go to use this medium to its full potential. I’ll share with you here some of the key messages.

As Physics World’s multimedia editor, I used my slot to talk about some of the journalistic videos I’ve produced and commissioned during the past few years – discussing what’s worked, what hasn’t and where I think journalistic video production is heading. I made the point that to create engaging web video you have to think carefully about how your audience will be watching the films. Your film may look great on a large monitor, but will it be enjoyed by someone watching it on a smartphone on a bus or train? Also, what are you trying to achieve with the film? Are you trying to entertain or promote something? Or perhaps you are trying to teach? The style and tone will vary depending on the purpose.


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On the frontline of the ‘reproducibility crisis’

Significant. (Click to view full cartoon. Courtesy: xkcd/Randall Munroe)

Significant. (Click to view full cartoon. Courtesy: xkcd/Randall Munroe)

By Margaret Harris

The “reproducibility crisis” in science has become big news lately, with more and more seemingly trustworthy findings proving difficult or impossible to reproduce. Indeed, a recent Nature survey found that two-thirds of respondents think current levels of reproducibility constitute a “major problem” for science. So far, physics hasn’t been affected much; the crisis has been most severe in fields such as psychology and clinical research, which, not coincidentally, involve messy human beings rather than nice clean atomic systems. However, that doesn’t mean it’s irrelevant to physicists. Last month, I had the pleasure of speaking to three physics graduates who have become personally involved in addressing the reproducibility crisis within their chosen profession: medicine.

Henry Drysdale, Ioan Milosevic and Eirion Slade are third-year medical students at the University of Oxford. All three earned their undergraduate degrees in physics, and they now make up one-third of COMPare – an initiative by Oxford’s Centre for Evidence-Based Medicine (CEBM) that tracks “outcome switching” in clinical trials. As Drysdale explained to me over coffee in an Oxford café, researchers who want to perform clinical trials have to state beforehand which “outcomes” they intend to measure. For example, if they are trialling a new drug to treat high blood pressure, then “blood pressure after one year” might be their main outcome. But researchers generally keep track of other variables as well, and often their final report focuses on a positive result in one of these other parameters (a dip in the number of heart attacks, say), while downplaying or ignoring the drug’s effect on the main outcome.


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The most expensive object on Earth, publish or perish, and a physics Magna Carta

Gold coast: the Hinkley Point C power station will be build next to existing reactors in Somerset (Courtesy: CC BY-SA 2.0/ Richard Baker)

Gold coast: the Hinkley Point C power station will be built next to existing reactors in Somerset. (CC BY-SA 2.0 Richard Baker)

By Hamish Johnston

What will soon be the most expensive object on Earth? The answer, according to Greenpeace, is the Hinkley Point C nuclear power station that is slated for construction in south-west England. According to the BBC, the environmental group reckons the station will cost £24bn ($35bn) whereas EDF – the company that will build it – puts the construction cost at £18bn. In contrast, the Large Hadron Collider at CERN cost a mere £4bn. While the price tag on Hinkley Point C – which should produce 3.2 GW of electricity by 2024 – is eye watering, building a reactor on the cheap is not really an option.

Still, Hinkley Point C will not be the most expensive object ever built by humans. That honour goes to the International Space Station, which the BBC says cost nearly £78bn. There’s something comforting in knowing that the single highest expenditure ever has been on science – maybe civilization isn’t doomed after all.


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The May 2016 issue of Physics World is now out

PWMay16cover-200By Matin Durrani

Physics stretches from the small to the large, from the simple to the complex and from low energy to high. It spans the entire alphabet too, with this month’s issue of Physics World including everything from the race to produce anti-atoms (A) at the CERN particle-physics lab near Geneva to a study of the physics of zombies (Z).

Zombies don’t exist, obviously. But we look at two physicists – Alex Alemi and Matt Bierbaum – who have studied the statistical physics of how zombies spread. As science writer Stephen Ornes explains, their interest emerged from a fun student project, but has led to a paper in a leading peer-reviewed journal and helped generate a wider appreciation of statistical physics.

If you’re a member of the Institute of Physics (IOP), you can now enjoy immediate access to the new issue with the digital edition of the magazine in your web browser or on any iOS or Android mobile device (just download the Physics World app from the App Store or Google Play). If you’re not yet in the IOP, you can join as an IOPimember for just £15, €20 or $25 a year to get full access to Physics World digital.


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The February 2016 issue of Physics World is now out


By Matin Durrani

Welcome to the February 2016 issue of Physics World magazine.

As I explain in the video above, this month we have a package of articles looking at some of the issues surrounding peer review, including a news-analysis piece by Physics World news editor Michael Banks, who talks to a range of figures in physics and publishing with views on this subject.

Our cover feature this month is on the new interdisciplinary science of “network physiology”. Elsewhere in the issue, John Campbell from the University of Canterbury in New Zealand looks at Rutherford’s secret work in the First World War using sonar to spot submarines, while science writer Matthew Francis looks at efforts to rewrite the rules of gravity.


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Keep it brief

Academic paper with letter dice

(Courtesy: iStockphoto/MichaelJay)

By James Dacey

“Brevity is a great charm of eloquence,” said the great Roman orator Cicero. A new study published today suggests that researchers would be wise to follow Cicero’s advice when it comes to choosing a title for their next academic paper. Data scientists at the University of Warwick in the UK analysed 140,000 papers and found that those with shorter titles tend to receive more citations.

Similar studies have been carried out in the past leading to contradictory results. But Adrian Letchford and his colleagues have used two orders of magnitude more data than previous investigations, looking at the 20,000 most cited papers published each year between 2007 and 2013 in the Scopus online database. Publishing their findings in Royal Society Open Science, Letchford’s group reports that papers with shorter titles garnered more citations every year. Titles ranged from 6 to 680 characters including spaces and punctuation.


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The admiral of the string-theory wars, add-male-author-gate, the Einstein font and more…

Xxxx Particle Zoo. (Courtesy: CERN)

Julie Peasley, creater of the Particle Zoo. (Courtesy: CERN)

By Hamish Johnston

Peter Woit is lauded by some for having the courage to speak the truth to the physics establishment, while others see him as an enemy of science. Woit writes the Not Even Wrong blog, which has the same title as a controversial book he once wrote about the merits of string theory. In an article in the latest issue of Nautilus, Bob Henderson profiles Woit and his three decades of doubt over various incarnations of the theory that culminated about 10 years ago in the “string wars”. Henderson’s article is called “The Admiral of the String Theory Wars” and provides a fascinating insight into how the rise of string theory caused Woit to switch from physics to mathematics and his relationships with string theorists – some of whom work in the same building as Woit at Columbia University.


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Heavy-metal Higgs, meet the Publons, Stephen Hawking’s galactic tour and more

By Tushna Commissariat and Hamish Johnston

I’m sure that most of you have wondered what the Higgs boson would sound like if it were a heavy-metal song. Now you can turn it up to 11 (TeV that is) courtesy of CERN physicist and guitarist Piotr Traczyk, who has “sonified” data from two plots from the CMS experiment that were presented at the Higgs discovery seminar on 4 July 2012. His heavy-metal ditty is based on gamma–gamma and 4-lepton data from CMS and after you listen to his excellent song in the above video, you can find out more about how it was created by reading this entry by Traczyk on the Cylindrical Onion blog.


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A journal for brief ideas, Heisenberg’s mirror, space-mission stickers and more

Mission accomplished: these graphics were created by Ariel Waldman and Lisa Ballard. (Courtesy:

Mission accomplished: these graphics were created by Ariel Waldman and Lisa Ballard. (Courtesy:

By Hamish Johnston

Dr Heisenberg’s Magic Mirror of Uncertainty” is the name of a series of photographs taken in 1999 by the American photographer Duane Michals. The picture over at that link is lovely, but I don’t really see the connection to quantum mechanics. I suspect my artist friends would accuse me of being a scientific literalist, which doesn’t bother me one bit.

More to my liking are the graphics pictured above, which have been created by Ariel Waldman and Lisa Ballard. The pair run a website called, which “catalogues the active human-made machines that freckle our solar system and dot our galaxy”. Here is their page on Voyager 2, which is packed with facts about the mission’s instruments and many accomplishments. These and other illustrations of space missions can be bought as stickers and posters – the perfect gift for the space enthusiast in your life.


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