The Sciences

The Greatest Physics Paper!

Cosmic VarianceBy cjohnsonAug 17, 2005 6:53 AM


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So the good people at the BBC have gone out of control with this "Greatest...." business. I don't know when it started, but there was "The Greatest Briton" (Churchill), and "The Greatest Philosopher" (Marx), for example, and now there's "The Greatest Painting In Britain" and "The Saddest Piece of Music Ever Heard". (I wish I was making this stuff up, but no.) Now you, me and the girl next door all agree - because we're so terribly mature - that this is pretty much juvenile twaddle. Like when you were a kid and wasted time trying to decide what was your favourite toy, or game, food, movie, girl(boy)friend.... Remember? We grew out of all that, right? Right? So what gives, BBC? Why would you get members of the general public arguing childishly over an unanswerable issue like which painting, philosopher, song, or Briton is "The Greatest"? You have them, instead of making their widgets in the widget factory, spending endless amounts of time pointlessly swapping reasons back and forth, passionately trading anecdotes, long forgotten facts, interesting ideas and conjectures.....wasting hours in the library and on Google learning things about each other's candidate just so they can trash them with a killer argument..... Hang on...... Announcing Cosmic Variance's search for .....<drum roll>.... The Greatest Physics Paper! What we're going to do is pick the The Greatest Physics Paper! It can be from any branch of Physics, and I will enlarge the term "paper" to include other established published forms of results such as books (so Galileo's 1632 "Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems", or Newton's 1687 "Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica" can count), and famous unpublished manuscripts that nevertheless became known for reporting powerful results. Pick your favourite. Make your arguments as to why your choice is The Greatest Physics Paper! (The reasons need not be all scientific ones.) Lend support to another's champion, if you agree with them.....whatever. Humourous ones are allowed too, but let's keep it to real, existing, papers. (And please, as always, try to keep your dicussions reasonably polite and respectful, even though I know physics can inspire real passion!!) I'm going to let this one run for a while, and I hope that you'll make some strong and instructive cases for wide range of interesting papers. Then in a while I'll boil it down to a shortlist of, say, five papers. Maybe then I will try to convince each of my colleagues to join me in picking one paper at random to be its advocate, writing a summary of the case for it to be The Greatest Physics Paper! (Following the BBC model, we're supposed to get five celebrities to do this, but I don't know any (except Sean...), so hopefully you'll make do with us- unless you're a celeb and want to volunteer, or know one who would.) Then we'll put it to a vote..... There'll be one summary post each per paper, and so you just come in put a single comment on the post for your favourite paper. We'll count the votes. ...and then we'll all go back to making our widgets. Deal? -cvj

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