APS News


Good Marketing and Self-Delusion Won't Do

A wide variety of articles discussing the relationship between the physics community and society appear to have similar problems, and the recent article by Bo Hammer which is summarized in APS News by this quote: "Our challenges are reduced to a marketing problem." is another example of this trend.

The problem is in dealing with facts and perceptions. The perception I have is that countless thousands of undergraduates take a wide variety of courses taught by physics faculty. Nearly all of them (to two significant figures, 100%) leave the course with a very bad attitude towards the physics community. This perception I have is based upon the facts I've reviewed concerning course evaluations and course enrollment patterns. It is very easy for the community of physics instructors to say that undergraduates aren't prepared, or aren't willing to work, or that better marketing must be done. It is rather more difficult to critically examine your teaching performance and improve it.

I recently talked with a tenured professor with a long history of "successfully" teaching introductory Astronomy courses. This instructor has received many awards for teaching excellence, and has "high" or "good" student evaluations. Out of over a thousand students, not one has gone on to take more advanced courses. And the instructor is convinced (from his personal experience) that very little true insight was given to students, and the lasting impact the course had on students was nil. Even "great" teachers seem to fail routinely.

I believe that many poorly prepared students are forced to take courses that are poorly taught. This has gone on for decades, and as the population of Undergraduates expands, the problem gets worse. More and more people, who eventually vote or run Human Resource Departments or become president of the country, endure this situation, and blame the "system" in general, and the physics community specifically. This learned disgust with the physics community is long lasting. I think the situation requires more than good marketing and self-delusion. The facts need to be understood first.

Russell Youmans
Alexandria, Virginia

Upon Reflection, Spin is not Reversed

I enjoyed reading your article on the fall of parity conservation in the December 2001 issue of APS NEWS. However, I must point out that both the Figure inserted at the lower left of the article and its caption contain a rather fundamental error, namely, that the direction of spin is reversed by the parity operation. This is not correct. The nuclear (or electron) spin, as any other angular momentum, is a parity-even, time-odd axial vector. It is not reversed by the parity operation. What actually is reversed is the linear momentum vector of the emitted beta particle.

The parity operation corresponds to changing the sign of all three (cartesian) space coordinates. Representing space inversion graphically by simple reflection in a mirror (or plane) can, according to the physical situation and to where one places the mirror, be misleading. By placing the mirror perpendicular to the beta decay axis, instead of parallel to it (as in the Figure), one would see that the axial spin vector is indeed conserved, whereas the linear momentum vector of the emitted particle is inverted.

Georges H. Wagniere
Zurich, Switzerland

Extremist Left-Wing Views Corrected

The statistical distribution of women, Hispanics, and African Americans in physics seems to be a topic reported on in most issues of APS News. Are your readers supposed to assume that this "issue" is either a problem or has some relevance as anything other than trivia?

Is this issue analogous to the dearth of whites in the National Basketball Association and professional boxing? Or is it analogous to the lack of Jews in law enforcement, the ranks of pop, rock, and/or rap musicians, and throughout professional sports? Perhaps it is related to the quotas that used to exist at some American universities which limited the number of Jews (including American citizens) who were permitted to enroll.

Is it related to the fact that not one of the world's top paid fashion models is male? Or the fact that there are more sources of aid from the federal government for female entrepreneurs than for male entrepreneurs? Does it have something to do with the fact that most US high school dropouts are male? Or the fact that in divorce proceedings, fathers are very rarely granted primary custody of the children.

Perhaps you, the staff and management of APS News, should re-examine your peculiar, left-wing extremist point of view.

Jonathan K. Mines
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

More on Plurals

Arne Reitan (November 2001 issue) says that the plural of kelvin is kelvin, not kelvins. He mistakenly thinks that the international system of units implies an international language with its own grammar. Physics is international, but the words in which it is expressed belong to a language, English, Norwegian, Hindustani, or whatever, and must follow the grammar and usage of that language. Agreed, papers in PR and PRL do not always do so, say some purists. Anyway, in English I write one kelvin or 273 kelvins, but in German I write ein Kelvin or 273 Kelvin. Note incidentally the capitalizing of nouns in German! In English, it is 230 volts, 10 amperes, 55 kilometres, 28 teslas, ...need I go on?

Groebenzell, Germany

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Editor: Alan Chodos
Associate Editor: Jennifer Ouellette