More math actually reduces biology papers’ impact
|July 21, 2012||Posted by News under Biology, News|
More Darwinism, never.
Tim W. Fawcett and Andrew D. Higginson
School of Biological Sciences, University of Bristol, Bristol BS8 1UG, United Kingdom Edited† by Robert M. May, University of Oxford, Oxford, United Kingdom, and approved June 6, 2012 (received for review April 4, 2012)
Most research in biology is empirical, yet empirical studies rely fundamentally on theoretical work for generating testable predictions and interpreting observations. Despite this interdependence, many empirical studies build largely on other empirical studies with little direct reference to relevant theory, suggesting a failure of communication that may hinder scientific progress.
To investigate the extent of this problem, we analyzed how the use of mathematical equations affects the scientific impact of studies in ecology and evolution. The density of equations in an article has a significant negative impact on citation rates, with papers receiving 28% fewer citations overall for each additional equation per page in the main text. Long, equation-dense papers tend to be more frequently cited by other theoretical papers, but this increase is outweighed by a sharp drop in citations from nontheoretical papers (35% fewer citations for each additional equation per page in the main text). In contrast, equations presented in an accompanying appendix do not lessen a paper’s impact. Our analysis suggests possible strategies for enhancing the presentation of mathematical models to facilitate progress in disciplines that rely on the tight integration of theoretical and empirical work.
Friend asks, with some, understandable frustration,
When I see the physics predictions made at CERN, and then wonder about the predictions made in biology, how can they even be compared? Will fundamental mathematical predictions ever apply to biological machines for example, or is this unlikely to even become possible in the next 50 years given the computational power required to model just a few interacting atoms.
Well, friend, the fix that biologists came up with, to solve this problem, was Darwinism. Silly distracting just-so stories, covertly marketing atheism, gladly lapped up by dying legacy media, … did you know, by the way, that chimpanzees have police? (Wow. Gee. They’re just like us. And no maths were harmed in the making of this story..) .