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No, physicists have no fear of math. But they should have more respect.

8 Dec 2016, 12:50 UTC
No, physicists have no fear of math. But they should have more respect.
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Heart curve. [Img Src]“Even physicists are `afraid’ of mathematics,” a recent phys.org headline screamed at me. This, I thought, is ridiculous. You can accuse physicists of many stupidities, but being afraid of math isn’t one of them. But the headline was supposedly based on scientific research. Someone, somewhere, had written a paper claiming that physicists are more likely to cite papers which are light on math. So, I put aside my confirmation bias and read the paper. It was more interesting than expected.The paper in question, it turned out, didn’t show that physicists are afraid of math. Instead, it was a reply to a comment on an analysis of an earlier paper which had claimed that biologists are afraid of math. The original paper, “Heavy use of equations impedes communication among biologists,” was published in 2012 by Tim Fawcett and Andrew Higginson, both at the Centre for Research in Animal Behaviour at the University of Exeter. They analyzed a sample of 649 papers published in the top journals in ecology and evolution and looked for a correlation between the density of equations (equations per text) and the number of citations. They found a statistically significant negative correlation: Papers with a ...

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