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July 31, 2004

Conventional Wisdom is Neither Conventional Nor Wise

I don't quite know what the title to this post means, but it came into my head when reading this column on a recent essay citing the 100 most influential papers in physics. It points out that for all the glamour that cosmology, quantum mechanics, black holes, and the like have been getting, what physicists are actually *doing*, and what they're actually *reading* is more prosaic.

Posted by peterme at July 31, 2004 09:35 AM


Ah, but look at the date column. The latest date for a Top 50 citation is 1982, and the latest date among all 100 is 1986. In the Top 10, the *average* paper is 47 years old. These papers are highly cited because they have become emblematic of whole domains.

The papers listed here are more like shoutouts or blogroll links than they are like samples or links in posts, in other words, which, because of their variety, suffer in any ordinal ranking.

Dawkins did some work on this years ago, and showed that there is a considerable lag between publication and broad of citation. So all this chart shows is that brilliance+50 years equals wide citation. The fact that we don't yet know which papers will be this heavily cited in 2054 doesn't mean they aren't good.

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