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Research finds that maths-heavy evolutionary biology research papers are less often cited

An article in Times Higher Education (THE) reports on a study that has found that biologists tend to overlook research that is packed with mathematical equations.

Researchers compared citation data with the number of equations per page in more than 600 evolutionary biology papers in 1998. According to THE, they found that most maths-heavy articles were referenced 50 per cent less often than those with little or no maths. The paper abstract says that they found papers receiving 28% fewer citations overall for each additional equation per page in the main text. On the other hand they found that equations presented in an accompanying appendix do not lessen a paper’s impact.

The paper carries the inspired title “Heavy use of equations impedes communication among biologists”.

The THE piece reports that “the research stemmed from a suspicion that papers full of equations and technical detail could be putting off researchers who do not necessarily have much mathematical training”. Co-author Tim Fawcett is quoted in the accompanying press release saying:

This is an important issue because nearly all areas of science rely on close links between mathematical theory and experimental work. If new theories are presented in a way that is off-putting to other scientists, then no one will perform the crucial experiments needed to test those theories. This presents a barrier to scientific progress.

And the other co-author Andrew Higginson is quoted saying:

Scientists need to think more carefully about how they present the mathematical details of their work. The ideal solution is not to hide the maths away, but to add more explanatory text to take the reader carefully through the assumptions and implications of the theory.

Of course the THE article and the press release on which it is based refer to the famous Stephen Hawking quote.

Times Higher Education: Maths-heavy papers put biologists off.
Press release
: Scientists struggle with mathematical details.
Paper: Heavy use of equations impedes communication among biologists.

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