Monday, January 09, 2006

Theorists! Bah!

The very interesting folks over at Cosmic Variance are selecting the Greatest Physics Paper ever written. My initial reaction was that the papers were all theory papers, and as an experimentalist myself I thought that seemed a little biased. The author of the post Clifford advised all to read the comments where the nominations were made before going off and ranting.
Before you write in with your terribly original observation that such a concept is silly, flawed, problematic, juvenile, etc, please consider reading my original post on the subject, and then the truly wonderful lively and informative 183-comment (to date) discussion that followed.
Well, I did, so now I can rant. The theory papers mentioned certainly outnumbered the experimental papers by a wide margin. Hubble's paper on the expansion of the Universe is mentioned as is Perlmutter's on the acceleration of the expansion of the Universe. While Noehter's theory paper on symmetries in physics ended up being in the five finalists, I saw no mention of the experimental discovery of parity violation or CP violation. The first set a pattern of searching for the limits of symmetery in the real world, and the second is needed to explain why we exist at all.

Oh, well what do you expect from a bunch of theorists.

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At 5:24 PM, Anonymous Kristin said...

Well, I voted for Noether's theorem, for what it's worth. And I was a condensed matter experimentalist, so I should have gone for Dirac. But my aesthetic sensibilities push me towards symmetry.

The problem with experimental papers is that reality is so often messier than theory (though that's not true for the CP violation papers you referred to!). Theories look so beautiful compared to various imperfect experiments, but of course it's the experimental data which justify the whole point of having theories!


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