A joint Fermilab/SLAC publication

3.4 degrees of John Ellis

04/01/05

How is John Ellis, physicist at CERN, similar to Rod Steiger, actor from such films as On the Waterfront and The Pawnbroker? Maybe you've played the movie trivia game revolving around "Kevin Bacon numbers," which connects actors via movies they have appeared in together, or heard of "Erdös numbers" in mathematics which use co-authorship of research papers for the same purpose.

 

3.4 degrees of John Ellis

How is John Ellis, physicist at CERN, similar to Rod Steiger, actor from such films as On the Waterfront and The Pawnbroker?

Maybe you've played the movie trivia game revolving around "Kevin Bacon numbers," which connects actors via movies they have appeared in together, or heard of "Erdös numbers" in mathematics which use co-authorship of research papers for the same purpose.

 

John Ellis
Photo: CERN 
See the Erdös Number Project at Oakland University and the Oracle of Bacon at the University of Virginia for more information. John Ellis (above) is a Quantum Diarist during the World Year of Physics.

The Oracle of Baconwebsite has found the "best" center of the movie world, and it isn't Kevin Bacon. The best connected actor, who can be linked to all other actors in the shortest average number of movies, is Rod Steiger, followed closely by Christopher Lee and Dennis Hopper. For these three actors, it takes an average of about 2.7 movies to link to any other actor in Hollywood, and it never takes more than 8.

 

Who is the analog in theoretical High Energy Physics? In spires there are over 50,000 distinct authors, but the best connected is John Ellis. The average "Ellis number" is about 3.4, with no author being more than 10 papers away from John Ellis. Following close behind are Vernon Barger of the University of Wisconsin, Madison, and Keith Olive of the University of Minnesota with average numbers of 3.6. The average connectedness of the top 50 cited HEP theorists is about 4.

 

As in Hollywood, being well-connected doesn't make you good or bad at what you do, but it is interesting that these folks seem to have spread their collaboration around more than others. Ellis, especially, is notable for the number of papers he has published (over 400, with over 200 different co-authors), on diverse topics within the field, so it is perhaps not surprising that he should head this list. 


Travis Brooks, SLAC

 

Click here to download the pdf version of this article.