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Naming quarks


Proposing quarks. The Physical Review and Physics Letters
Murray Gell-Mann Scientist
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I proposed the quarks in a letter to the Physical Rev... no, to Physical Review... no, not the Physical Review

[Q] Physics Letters...

Physics Letters, to Physics Letters.  See, I had no objection to publishing in a European journal. I had had so many problems with letters to the Physical Review and Physical Review Letters that I didn't really like to publish there at all. I still don't very much.

[Q] Do you want to tell any stories about that as an interlude, while we're on it, because that's a very sensitive subject,

Well, I find the policies absurd. It's based on a very reasonable hope, which is that by being very strict they will get high quality material. And by requiring that it be important they will get urgent material because it's an urgent type of publication as compared to the main body of the journal, or the main journal nowadays, which is supposed to take… which takes quite a while for publication. However, it doesn't work out very well in practice, because what happens is that articles that represent rather small improvements in our understanding, are… are easily accepted--letters, I should say, letters that represent rather modest improvements in our understanding are easily accepted and printed. Ones that are more revolutionary have a very, very, very hard time. But crank letters, which are the ones that they are presumably trying to avoid, those are often published because the cranks have infinite patience. The serious people get sick of arguing with referees who don't understand what they're doing and so on, but the cranks will wait as long as necessary to get their stuff into print. So that a number of crank letters actually get through, whereas the letters from serious people who are doing something a bit new have a terrible time. I don't care for that. I don't like it. I think it's silly. Physics Letters seemed to be better. They were… if they got letters from serious people they would publish them, except they did have referees, the referees were checking for mistakes. The serious person can easily make a mistake and then the referee's job is to point out the mistake. The referee's job is not to say, gosh, this interesting, really new idea is one that shouldn't be printed. That's not the purpose of a… of a referee in my opinion. So anyway, after all these bad experiences with letters to the Physical Review and letters to Physical Review Letters, I gave up.

New York-born physicist Murray Gell-Mann (1929-2019) was known for his creation of the eightfold way, an ordering system for subatomic particles, comparable to the periodic table. His discovery of the omega-minus particle filled a gap in the system, brought the theory wide acceptance and led to Gell-Mann's winning the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1969.

Listeners: Geoffrey West

Geoffrey West is a Staff Member, Fellow, and Program Manager for High Energy Physics at Los Alamos National Laboratory. He is also a member of The Santa Fe Institute. He is a native of England and was educated at Cambridge University (B.A. 1961). He received his Ph.D. from Stanford University in 1966 followed by post-doctoral appointments at Cornell and Harvard Universities. He returned to Stanford as a faculty member in 1970. He left to build and lead the Theoretical High Energy Physics Group at Los Alamos. He has numerous scientific publications including the editing of three books. His primary interest has been in fundamental questions in Physics, especially those concerning the elementary particles and their interactions. His long-term fascination in general scaling phenomena grew out of his work on scaling in quantum chromodynamics and the unification of all forces of nature. In 1996 this evolved into the highly productive collaboration with James Brown and Brian Enquist on the origin of allometric scaling laws in biology and the development of realistic quantitative models that analyse the influence of size on the structural and functional design of organisms.

Tags: Physics Letters, Physical Review, Physical Review Letters

Duration: 2 minutes, 35 seconds

Date story recorded: October 1997

Date story went live: 24 January 2008