Math is hard, even for physicists. New research suggests physicists are less likely to lend their focus to theories underpinned by complex mathematical details.Maybe physicists are intimidated by the math, and do not read and understand the papers with heavy math.
The findings -- detailed in the New Journal of Physics -- are compelling because they suggest a "fear," or at least an avoidance, of math is prevalent even among scientists well-trained in high-level mathematics.
"We have already showed that biologists are put off by equations but we were surprised by these findings, as physicists are generally skilled in mathematics," study co-author Andrew Higginson, a researcher at the University of Exeter, said in a news release.
The new study and resulting hypothesis is based on analysis of 2,000 papers published in a leading physics journal. The researchers tallied citations of previous studies in each paper. They found studies with an abundance of mathematical equations on each page were less likely to be referenced in new papers.
But there are other possibilities. Maybe the math-heavy papers are of poorer quality. Maybe they are more likely to be obscure technical results that are not of use to anyone. Maybe the math is used to disguise the intellectual weakness of the papers.
Maybe a lot of papers get cited just to provide a source for some background material. For example, suppose you are writing a physics paper and you know that black hole entanglement is a hot topic, so you find a contrived way to tie it in. Then you will need a reference on black hole entanglement, even tho you know little about the subject. Are you going to cite a paper that is mostly math or mostly English? You will take the paper in English because you can skim it in about 10 minutes and determine that it is relevant. A paper with technical math results will be less likely to be cited.
So this finding may not mean anything.