The present study only serves to quantify what is generally well known in
the physics community: throughout the twentieth century a consensus has
developed among physicists that the top priority is the push to understand nature
at ever smaller distance scales. This priority is quantitatively balanced against
the desire to also contribute to the current march of technology.
every physics department adopted the optimum research profile, the NRC rankings
would be purely a function of the total faculty size (perhaps to within 8% or less on the average).
There is evidence that the physics community over
the course of the last decade has moved, albeit very slowly, toward this balance.
Nevertheless, it is clear that most physics departments are far from the optimal
balance. It is, therefore, obvious that many departments have priorities and
values that are not those of the physics community as a whole. Often physics
departments propose expansions that are not those that would maximize the department's
perceived quality among physics departments. Usually deans and other university
administrators are not informed that the proposed plans are not designed to maximize
departmental rank but are aimed at other goals.
What are these other priorities and values that take precedence over a
department's stature in the physics community? They might take the form of a
desire to maximize external funding, physics degree production, or service to local
industries. It could well be, of course, that any attempt to maximize these
factors without optimizing one's standing in the physics community
is futile at least in the long term.
We believe the current study shows that the NRC rankings are not purely
subjective; they can be quantitatively understood at the 92% level by
how well a department's research profile conforms to the values of the
academic physics community. The remaining 8% includes the effect of
historical and geographic prejudice, the effect of true excellence
of a given faculty above
or below the average, and presumably some
The rankings do not correlate well with traditional measures of
excellence such as citations per paper (see www.phy.tulane.edu/table.html).
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