The Sciences

astro-ph Rationalized

Cosmic VarianceBy Sean CarrollJan 21, 2009 2:02 AM


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Here is probably the single most helpful thing I have ever done for the world. Last month Paul Ginsparg, who did a world-changing thing by inventing the arxiv system for sharing scientific preprints, was visiting Pasadena, and dropped by Caltech. We chatted a bit about blogs, the internet, the preprint server, ways one might incorporate links to blogs and talks and newspaper articles and all that (some of which already exists in the form of trackbacks). And he told me a fun math problem I will blog about at some point. And then he asked, "Is there any other obvious way the arxiv could be improved?" To which I naturally responded, "You mean in addition to subdividing astro-ph into categories?" The problem with science is that there's just too damn much of it. Every weekday, when one peeks at the new listings on astro-ph, one is faced with 40 to 50 new abstracts to read. That's a lot of science to wade through, and it's especially bad for people who work on the boundaries and might also be interested in hep-th, gr-qc, hep-ph, and/or other categories. (I haven't yet broken down and started reading quant-ph.) Especially since, just because you are interested in issues at the interfaces of conventionally-defined disciplinary boundaries, it doesn't follow that you are interested in every single kind of research that is carried out in every one of those disciplines. An early-universe cosmologist, for example, might not be interested in star formation or the interstellar medium. Or they might be; but perhaps not. Nevertheless, everything astronomy-related on the arxiv gets put into astro-ph, from models of inflation to light curves of W UMa contact binaries. And if one was interested only in some subset, one needed to sift through the 50 abstracts to search for the few that struck a chord. Until now! Paul and Mark Wise and I chatted for ten minutes and came up with a perfectly sensible (I like to think) set of categories into which astro-oriented papers would mostly fall, and Paul went away promising to implement such a scheme. After chatting around with a few actual astrophysicists and fine-tuning the system, it's now done! That wasn't so hard, was it? (Part of the reason this hadn't happened much earlier is that certain astrophysicists who will remain nameless took a "eat your vegetables" approach to the problem, insisting that it was good for anyone to look at every single astro-ph abstract if they were possibly interested in any of them.) Here is what I was happy to find in my email just now:

By popular request, the Astrophysics (astro-ph) archive has been split into six subcategories: CO Cosmology and Extra-Galactic Astrophysics EP Earth and Planetary Astrophysics GA Galactic Astrophysics HE High Energy Astrophysical Phenomena IM Instrumentation and Methods for Astrophysics SR Solar and Stellar Astrophysics For more information, see the subcategory descriptions at (including links to the subdivided new and recent listings). This split should make announcements of new papers more manageable for those interested only in subsets of astro-ph. New astro-ph submissions must assigned one or more sub-categories. (Existing astro-ph articles will be machine-classified according to the new scheme when enough training data has been collected.) To subscribe to the daily e-mail notifications for only a set of subcategories, you should first cancel your existing subscription, and then subscribe only to the subcategories of interest via physics. See For example, you could send two emails -------- To: Subject: can -------- To: Subject: subscribe [Your Name] add CO add GA

O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay! Undoubtedly some curmudgeons will gripe that their particular kind of research doesn't fit snugly into any one of the categories. Fair enough; let the powers that be know, and they'll do whatever is reasonable to make sure the system evolves appropriately. But for right now, my early evenings (abstracts appear at 5 p.m. Pacific time) just got a little brighter.

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