While answering a comment in another recent post, I was struck by a thought I have had other times, but which I tend to remove. This is about the fact that it is surprisingly hard to produce a paper in a large experimental collaboration in high-energy physics. The amount of work required to put together a sound analysis of collider data is quite sizable, and the pains of going through the internal review process may last months, when not a year or even longer.

Of course it is nice to have the benefit of signing each and every paper that our collaborators wrote: my publication list counts over 440 entries by now. But what that number means, it is not so clear -I edited about twenty of those papers, contributed significantly to another 20 or so, and barely read some other 200, while I have not even browsed through the remaining half.

A simple computation will clarify matters. Let us compute the rate of publications per author by CDF, an experiment which has now produced articles for over 20 years:

Number of publications: O(600) (I do not care about the exact number since this is an example).

Number of authors per paper: O(600)

This gives a rather startling picture of improductivity of any given collaborator, doesn't it ? It basically means that every CDF collaborator produced the equivalent of one paper in 20 years of work!

... On a different note, the number of colleagues who actually worked at the analysis which will soon become our first CMS paper -the one I announced here- is 9. This means I will soon be able to claim the merit of one ninth of a publication. Mumble mumble... This basically justifies about two years of work! I can go back to blogging for quite a while now, apparently. Or can't I ?

Regardless of what you think of the previous question, please consider: the typical theorist works in a group of three to five, and produces one paper a year. Okay, you may question these numbers, but it is the right order of magnitude. And it means that a theorist is, on average, five times more productive than a CDF collaborator, since his paper-per-head-per-year rate is 0.25, as opposed 0.05. Food for thought!