A very interesting initiative organized by the Institute of Physics,
Polish Academy of Sciences, has been reported to us by Dr. Gorzkowski.
This year, the Fifth International Competition in Research Projects
for Secondary School Students is being organized. Please
distribute this information between students and encourage them
to participate in that competition. We will publish more details
in the next issues of Virtual Physics. Some additional information
can be found at WWW pages of Virtual Board.
SOME PROBLEMS OF MANUSCRIPT REFEREEING
AND POSSIBLE SOLUTIONS
Received: June 15, 1996
A shortened version of this essay appeared in PHYSICS TODAY, January
1996, pp. 86-87.
In 1968, Alvin Weinberg (Minerva 16 (1978) 1) said, "Of all the traits
which qualify a scientist for citizenship in the republic of science, I
would put a sense of responsibility as a scientist at the very top. A
scientist can be brilliant, imaginative, clever with his hands, profound,
broad, narrow -- but he is not much of a scientist unless he is
responsible." Here, I discuss a few aspects of such responsibility and
some ways which may help it to be better met.
It is an important responsibility of those who publish refereed
papers to be willing to review manuscripts themselves when so requested.
This reciprocity is inadequately recognized by some authors, and those who
agree to review far fewer manuscripts than they themselves publish thereby
require others to review more than their fair share.
Here, I first summarize a few other common problems of omission and
commission by editors or reviewers, ones which many readers will recognize
from their own experiences. Problems with refereeing may significantly
and unnecessarily delay an editor's decision on a submission, much to the
dismay of its author, and such obstacles may even prove detrimental to
science. Perhaps it is not much of an exaggeration to remark that while
everyone complains about review problems, no one does anything about them.
Talk is cheap, but effective action can be difficult, especially when it
must deal with matters of common courtesy between colleagues. Second, a
modest proposal to achieve useful action is presented below, one whose
implementation would reduce substantially the incidence of one of the most
serious reviewer problems.
Some editors request review of a MS by mailing it to a selected
reviewer without securing prior agreement from the reviewer. This
practice can be especially inefficient when the request goes to a person
who has never reviewed for the journal before. When that person has
moved, is abroad, is uninterested, or is ill or dead, total lack of
response can easily delay the submission of the MS to another reviewer by
a month or more. Next, if editorial procedures do not ensure that the
latest address of the selected reviewer is checked before use, another
month may be lost. The remedy for the above problems is obvious.
Further, avoiding "cold" requests, at the least to potential first-time
reviewers, is likely to save both money and time on the average.
I am aware of numerous occasions where a review of a MS reaches the
author of the MS ten or more weeks after submission. When one considers
that many journals request that completed review reports be returned no
more than two or three weeks after receipt, there is clearly much slack in
the system in such instances. The primary problem here is reviewer
procrastination. In my opinion, reviewers who take substantially more
than a month to review a MS should never have agreed to review it in the
Clearly, the standard editorial request for a speedy review is more
honored in the breach than in the observance. If editors included with
manuscripts sent for review a return postcard containing a line to specify
the expected date of mailing the completed review by the reviewer, it
would not only help editorial planning but would provide a definite
self-established goal for the reviewer. Routinely tardy reviewers would
seem to have little empathy for other authors, yet they would likely be in
favor of an unsymmetrical application of the golden rule. Because
reviewing reduces the time available for one's own work, some reviewers
consciously or unconsciously unduly delay their response, and thus reduce
the probability of receiving another request during the review period or
after its completion.
There has been considerable recent discussion of the potential
abuses and conflict-of-interest problems inherent in anonymous peer
review. Berezin, Gordon, and Hunter (APS News, March 1995, p.7) have
called for a halt to such reviewing and proposed that all reviews be
signed. In the best of all possible worlds, this would indeed be
appropriate, but it involves its own problems, such as finding enough
reviewers who agree not to be anonymous. In the absence of the millenium,
and, hopefully, as a stop-gap solution, I propose below a middle ground
approach which, I believe, is more likely to be practical.
To ameliorate some of the problems of anonymous reviewing mentioned
above, I suggest two new possible approaches which incorporate desirable
feedback procedures without necessarily sacrificing anonymity. First,
editors should not only strongly emphasize the importance of adherence to
the requested two- (or three-) week review response time, but in addition,
they should inform a potential reviewer that if the review has not been
received by the editor within a month (six weeks?) of mailing to the
reviewer, then (barring rare extenuating circumstances) that reviewer's
name will be disclosed to the author of the MS. This tactic by itself
would certainly reduce average review time.
Even if the above disclosure procedure is deemed to be too
draconian, the following procedures should encourage reviewers to be less
tardy. One or two lists of reviewer names should be published by each
journal at the end of the year. The first list should contain the names
of those reviewers who were dilatory (by the above criterion) during the
year. A potential author would then have the option of avoiding
referencing anyone on the list and even of requesting that no one on the
list be selected as a reviewer of his/her submission. Further,
publication of such lists at the same time of the year by many journals
would allow their editors to accumulate the various listings and thus be
better able to recognize and pass over slow reviewers when appropriate.
Finally, and of essential importance, when a reviewer on the "slow" list
submitted a MS, it would be particularly appropriate that any referees
selected for that MS be chosen from the "slow" list! Such selection would
also be desirable for MS's submitted by authors who have published in a
given journal but have rejected several reviewing requests since such
publication. Although such negative reinforcement of civilized norms of
behavior would certainly help ameliorate the problem, the approach could
be even more strengthened by simultaneous publication of the list of
reviewers who met their obligations in timely fashion during the year.
Widespread implementation of the above proposals might initially
reduce the supply of willing reviewers, an undesirable result. But this
is not likely to be the case for the steady state when the procedure
becomes well known and lists are routinely published. Although it might
tend to weed out some of the worst offenders, especially if they did not
expect to ever publish again themselves, it should cause most slow
reviewers to mend their ways and begin to meet their professional
responsibilities with courtesy and empathy, rather than apathy. It is
remarkable what strong light on a subject can do to reverse ingrained bad
habits previously shielded by a cloak of anonymity and perpetuated by
J. Ross Macdonald
William R. Kenan, Jr., Professor of Physics, emeritus
Department of Physics and Astronomy
University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, NC 27599-3255
tel. (919) 967-5005, fax: (919) 962-0480,
CONDENSED MATTER NEWS
Universal Formulae for Percolation Thresholds
A very simple, and still accurate approximation for the percolation thressholds
has been found by
Serge Galam and Alain Mauge.
The Authors report that a power law,
where d is the space dimension, q is
the coordination number, predicts
the percolation thresholds for a broad range of parameters d and q.
They find that three universality classes should be introduced, which are defined by a set of values of p0 and a.
For the first two classes, b=0 for site dilution while b=a for bond dilution,
For the fird class, b=2a-1 for sites and bonds percolation.
The article may be treated also as a nice introductory review
to the present status of the percolation theory.
A TEX and PostScript versions are available at LANL server,
Nonlinear transverse magnetic moment in anisotropic
In a recent article by
Igor Zutic and Oriol T. Valls
from the University of Minnesota, the nonlinear transverse magnetic moment
is considered that arises in the Meissner state of superconductors with a d-wave,
anisotropic order parameter. The clue to those effects is presence of
nodes on the Fermi surface, changing significantly electrodynamic properties.
While the existence of nonlinear effects in the magnetization has been predicted in earlier works,
and (unsuccesfull) experimental attempts of detecting them have been reported already
(see for instance: J. Buan, et al., Phys. Rev. Lett. 72 (1994) 2632),
the study of Zutic and Valls is of great value. It seems that it is the first one addressing concistently
the issue of the presence of a transverse magnetic moment,
perpendicular to the direction of an applied
magnetic field. The authors compute numerically the magnetic moment
as a function of applied field and geometry for several realistic
situations useful for comparison with experiment.
The authors argue that these effects should be potentially capable of
yielding a signature for the structure of the
order parameter function, and therefore for the nodal structure of the gap
itself. The Editor of Virtual Physics (Z.K.) is more sceptical, however,
and he is convinced that measurements of the ac susceptibility rather
(a method which is much more sensitive in detecting any nonlinear
contributions to the electrodynamic response) would be able to resolve
the issue of the presence of gap nodes.
A TEX and PostScript versions are available at LANL server,
Compiled by Zbigniew Koziol
Letter to Virtual Physics : Alan Sokal's "experiment"
Received June 19, 1996
I got copies and read both articles by Alan Sokal
[ original in 'Social Text' of 30+ (!) pages and his
pseudo-Galilean 3-page 'recant' in Lingua Franca,
May-June 1996 ].
He is undoubtedly a very talented writer and
knows his art.
Yet, I am convinced that his experiment
proves nothing in substance and his intention
to make a mockery of the 'holistic' science was
not delieverd. The issues he wants to ridicule
are far too serious to be dismissted by a spoof,
even if the spoof is a very clever and smart.
Contrary to his intentions, this episode will
likely add even MORE fuel to the (de)constructivist
discourse. Thank you, Alan Sokal for the service you
apparently did not intend to offer.
Alexander A. Berezin, PhD
Department of Engineering Physics
McMaster University, Hamilton,
Ontario, Canada, L8S 4L7
tel. (905) 525-9140 ext. 24546
2nd Edition of Tinkham's Introduction to Superconductivity
has published recently the second edition of one of the best known toolbooks
on the superconductivity, Introduction to Superconductivity by M. Tinkham.
The Editor of Virtual Physics is pleased to provide you the following
information (with the permission of Professor Tinkham):
The new version has been expanded by over 50% to include new chapters on
high-temperature superconductivity, superconductivity in mesoscopic
tunnel junctions, and nonequilibrium superconductivity.
the chapter on the classic Josephson effect has been completely rewritten to
make it more inclusive and up-to-date, including a brief introduction
to arrays of Josephson junctions. Also, a new introductory chapter on
electrodynamics at the level of the London equations has been inserted
before BCS, to provide a gentler introduction to the subject of
FIRST STEP TO NOBEL PRIZE IN PHYSICS
Fifth International Competition in Research Projects
for Secondary School Students
organized by Polish Academy of Sciences
Received: June 18, 1996
Some of secondary school students interested in physics
perform their own research works in physics. Sometimes their
results are very interesting and valuable.
In the academic year 1996/97 the Institute of Physics,
Polish Academy of Sciences, organizes the Fifth International
Competition in Research Projects in Physics for Secondary School
- All the secondary (high) school students regardless of the
country, type of the school etc. are eligible for the
competition. The only conditions are that the school cannot be
considered as a university college and the age of the
participant should not exceed 20 years on March 31, 1997.
- There are no restrictions concerning the subject matter of the
papers, their level, methods applied etc. All these are left
to the participants' choice. The papers, however, have to have
a research character and deal with physics topics or topics
directly related to physics.
- Every participant can submit one or more papers but each paper
should have only one author. The total volume (i.e. text +
figures + captions + tables + references) of each paper should
not exceed 25 normal typed pages (about 25,000 characters).
- The papers will be refereed by the Organizing Committee and
the best will be awarded. The number of awarded papers is not
limited. All the awards will be considered equivalent. The
Authors of the awarded papers will be invited to the Institute
of Physics for one month's research stay (the stays are
scheduled on November 1997). The stay expenses in Poland will
be paid by the Institute of Physics (unfortunately, the travel
expenses to and from Poland cannot be paid by us as well).
- In addition to the regular awards the Organizing Committee may
establish a number of honourable mentions. The participants
who won the honourable mention receive diplomas, but they are
not invited to the research stay.
- The participants send their papers in two copies in English only by March 31, 1997 to:
- Dr. Waldemar Gorzkowski
- Secretary General of the "FIRST STEP"
- Institute of Physics, Polish Academy of Sciences
- al. Lotnikow 32/46, (PL) 02-668 Warszawa
- IMPORTANT: Each paper should contain the name, birth date and
home address of the Author and the name and address of his/her
We hope that our competition will provide the students with an
opportunity to compare their own achievements with these of their
colleagues from other countries. Also we hope that the stay of
young scientists in our Institute will result in friendly
relationship between them, what seems especially valuable for the
On behalf of the Organizing Committee
Prof. Henryk Szymczak
Director of the Institute of Physics
Additional information on the competition and on the proceedings
of the past competitions can be obtained from Dr. Waldemar Gorzkowski - phone: (022)435212; tlx: 812468 ifpan pl; fax: (022)430926.
Current information on the competition and related topics can be
found on the ftp server ftp.ifpan.edu.pl/pub/competitions.
a forum for virtual meetings of scientists and students involved in a research activity on
THE SOLID STATE PHYSICS AND SUPERCONDUCTIVITY
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