Are physicists afraid of mathematics?

Kollmer J, Pöschel T, Gallas J (2015)

Publication Language: English

Publication Status: Published

Publication Type: Journal article, Original article

Publication year: 2015


Publisher: Institute of Physics: Open Access Journals / Institute of Physics (IoP) and Deutsche Physikalische Gesellschaft

Book Volume: 17

Article Number: 013036

DOI: 10.1088/1367-2630/17/1/013036


A recent study claimed that heavy use of equations impedes communication among biologists, as measured by the ability to attract citations from peers. It was suggested that to increase the probability of being cited one should reduce the density of equations in papers, that equations should be moved to appendices, and that math training among biologists should be improved. Here, we report a detailed study of the citation habits among physicists, a community that has traditionally strong training and dependence on mathematical formulations. Is it possible to correlate statistical citation patterns and fear of mathematics in a community whose work strongly depends on equations? By performing a systematic analysis of the citation counts of papers published in one of the leading journals in physics covering all its disciplines, we find striking similarities with distribution of citations recorded in biological sciences. However, based on the standard deviations in citation data of both communities, biologists and physicists, we argue that trends in statistical indicators are not reliable to unambiguously blame mathematics for the existence or lack of citations. We digress briefly about other statistical trends that apparently would also enhance citation success.

Authors with CRIS profile

Additional Organisation(s)

How to cite


Kollmer, J., Pöschel, T., & Gallas, J. (2015). Are physicists afraid of mathematics? New Journal of Physics, 17.


Kollmer, Jonathan, Thorsten Pöschel, and Jason Gallas. "Are physicists afraid of mathematics?" New Journal of Physics 17 (2015).

BibTeX: Download