A joint Fermilab/SLAC publication

Name of fame

03/01/07

Counting the number of citations of a particular paper is one way to measure its impact and importance. But it is by no means the only gauge. Ettore Majorana’s famous paper, “Theory of the symmetry of electrons and positrons,” has only 154 citations in the SPIRES database, yet physicists around the world have heard about Majorana neutrinos.

Name of fame

Photo: Sandbox Studio

Counting the number of citations of a particular paper is one way to measure its impact and importance. But it is by no means the only gauge. Ettore Majorana’s famous paper, “Theory of the symmetry of electrons and positrons,” has only 154 citations in the SPIRES database, yet physicists around the world have heard about Majorana neutrinos. The titles of more than 700 scientific articles mention the name Majorana! Yet the vast majority of these articles do not cite the original work.

Majorana’s case is not an exception. From Yang-Mills equations to the Schwarzschild radius, the ground-breaking work by many physicists has been honored by associating their name with a discovery. Yet the number of citations of their papers is not keeping up with their fame. Yang-Mills is mentioned in the titles of almost 4500 papers, yet the original article has fewer than 1200 citations. Schwarzschild gets mentioned 750 times in titles, but none of his papers has more than 40 citations.

The ultimate name of fame might belong to physicist Peter Higgs. Three of his papers have about 1000 citations each. Yet the titles of 7500 papers mention the name Higgs—not counting the numerous popular science articles on the Higgs boson. That’s a name of fame that even Albert Einstein cannot keep up with. His name appears in the titles of “only” 3000 papers in the SPIRES database.

Heath O’Connell, Fermilab

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