This idea is not totally original: there was at least an attempt at a journal club in chat in 2011. That, in turn, was inspired by mbq's (and Cross Validated) idea, which seems to have happened at least twice. We already have users do this, so I'm really just suggesting that we more actively encourage this. So here's some ideas I have. Feel free to add ideas for the process, suggest ideas for papers.

What do you mean by a journal club?

Many physics departments have informal meetings where (mostly) graduate students meet for one or two hours with coffee, beer, and/or pizza, and discuss a recent research paper. Some departments even require their students to do this. Typically, someone will choose the paper for that week's meeting, everyone will read it before they meet and come up with questions for discussion. Then the group discusses the paper in some detail.

Why would we want to do this?

As several people have noted, and Manishearth has summarized, we've been having some difficulty recently with long-term, highly-respected users leaving or cutting back their involvement. We are also seeing a lot of homework questions that are either too basic for the regular users' tastes, or simply don't show any work at all. I hope that this idea will help fix both of those. First, by providing more interesting questions of a higher technical level, I hope that we can both retain our current users' interest and make the site more inviting for professional physicists who aren't already here. Second, this will help populate the front page with questions that aren't homework, which should help discourage students from asking for help on their homework.

So how would that work here?

Someone finds a research paper they think is interesting. They develop a question about that paper, and post it to the main site. For a theory paper, this might be about a missing step in a derivation. For an experimental paper, this might be about the experimental setup. For a computational paper, this might be about the approximations underlying the computational model. Regardless of the kind of paper, the question should otherwise be a valid, on-topic question for Physics.SE.

In addition to that, we will also invite suggestions for papers. People can add papers to this question as Answers, and others can vote those papers up or down. Other users can then use those votes as a gauge of how interested people will be to see a question about a particular paper.

Further, there will be no restriction on the number of questions that can be asked about a particular paper. After all, any good physics paper should invite several questions. Some questions will be distinct enough that they can be asked in parallel, while other questions will be generated from the answer to a previous question. We may even want to suggest a time-period (say a week) where people try to focus on one particular paper, and dissect it with many questions.

What sort of papers should I be looking for?

Any paper, past or present, that is within the scope of the site. They can be historical, current, in your sub-discipline, something you need for your research, something only of passing interest to you, whatever. The only real limitation is that it should be published in a real journal or posted on a real pre-print server. This journal club will not be a place to ask for feedback on a manuscript you are working on, and it really won't be appropriate for discussing some crank's magnum opus about the earth sitting on top of an infinite tower of turtles.

Should I worry about Open Access?

Yes and no. Not everyone here has access to many journals, so if you ask about a non-OA paper, you are excluding those who can't get a copy of that paper. That will presumably lower the quality of the response you get. On the other hand, some of the more prestigious journals hate Open Access, and many sub-disciplines of physics just haven't picked up on OA yet. So there are many papers that will produces good questions that just aren't OA papers.

Ultimately, feel free to base your voting and preference on the accessibility of a paper, but don't feel obligated to.

Should I tag such questions as journal-club, or something like that?

NO. Tag these questions as you normally would. We will compile a list of these questions here so people can find them easily. But creating a new tag for this project isn't useful; it would be a meta-tag.

Ok. This sounds great. What can I do to help?

Suggest papers here as answers. Vote on papers that you like. If you want to skip the whole suggestion-vote-ask process, just go ahead and ask a question about your paper.

This sound okay, but it would be even better if you did...

If you have suggestions for improvements, please feel free to add them, either as an answer/comment to this question, or by editing this question.

  • $\begingroup$ Nice idea... it may or may not be sustainable but it's definitely something worth trying. $\endgroup$
    – David Z
    Commented Oct 31, 2013 at 18:35
  • $\begingroup$ Should this get moved as an answer to this question? Which as a side note is what I thought the plan was when I proposed it in chat :) $\endgroup$
    – tpg2114
    Commented Oct 31, 2013 at 18:40
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ @tpg2114 Works either way, I kept a placeholder answer: meta.physics.stackexchange.com/a/5145/7433 $\endgroup$ Commented Oct 31, 2013 at 18:41
  • $\begingroup$ I had imagined posting it as its own thread. It is relevant to the retention question, so the placeholder answer there is perfect, I think. $\endgroup$ Commented Oct 31, 2013 at 18:42
  • $\begingroup$ @ColinMcFaul very good idea, I have been reading a lot of papers (as part of my job and research), so will be able to join in. $\endgroup$
    – user29350
    Commented Nov 1, 2013 at 0:00
  • $\begingroup$ This sounds like a great idea! I'll try not to flood the suggestions with too much astrophysics ;) (but 95% of astro is open access, and 100% is on arxiv, so that's nice) $\endgroup$
    – user10851
    Commented Nov 1, 2013 at 6:24
  • 3
    $\begingroup$ I have 223 documents in my PhD database at the moment, 90% of them incomprehensible. Should I just dump the whole list? ;) Seriously though, love the idea. $\endgroup$
    – Michael
    Commented Nov 1, 2013 at 11:27
  • $\begingroup$ @MichaelBrown, HA! I probably have something like that too, though I haven't yet looked at them enough to determine what's incomprehensible (and most of them are probably off-topic here). $\endgroup$ Commented Nov 1, 2013 at 16:13
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    $\begingroup$ @ChrisWhite (and Michael Brown), on a more serious note: I'm imagining something like a rotating list, with things coming in as people think of them, and moving off as people figure out what questions to ask about them. So flooding the queue hopefully won't be a real problem. $\endgroup$ Commented Nov 1, 2013 at 16:15
  • $\begingroup$ @ColinMcFaul Yeah, me too. $\endgroup$ Commented Nov 3, 2013 at 14:18
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ If this is to happen/work on an ongoing basis, could this question be made sticky somehow? Otherwise new users will never come across it, and existing ones may well forget. It would be useful to have (near) permanent visibility on the main front page. $\endgroup$ Commented Nov 18, 2013 at 11:14

2 Answers 2


I propose we start the journal club by reading

Three Classes of Newtonian Three-Body Planar Periodic Orbits. Milovan Šuvakov and V. Dmitrašinović. Phys. Rev. Lett. 110 no. 11, 114301 (2013). arXiv:1303.0181.

I'm certainly interested in that paper. Why not give it a go?

Questions about this paper on-site

Other commentaries and resources on the paper

  • $\begingroup$ I've edited the question to propose a format for this. I've also added banners to the two questions to link back to this index, though I'm less certain about their content and formatting. (Specifically, they ought to indicate some sort of temporality, but I can't think of a nice way. Also, mods seem to have nicer banner-formatting powers than regular users.) $\endgroup$ Commented Nov 7, 2013 at 17:06
  • $\begingroup$ @Emilio we don't have any special banner-formatting powers, except the ability to apply post notices, but there are only three post notices available. We might be able to request a custom one if we have a really good use case for it, e.g. maybe the homework policy, but I don't think this qualifies (yet). $\endgroup$
    – David Z
    Commented Nov 8, 2013 at 3:36
  • $\begingroup$ @DavidZ OK, cool. I suspected as much but thought I'd float the question. I'm not completely satisfied with the wording/formatting/position of the banner; any suggestions are welcome. $\endgroup$ Commented Nov 8, 2013 at 14:20

The paper that partially inspired this idea was a letter in the October 24 Nature regarding a new method for using NMR to measure the temperature in a chemical reactor (It's Nature, so not Open Access, but here's the DOI). I'm not totally sure I understand how they convert the NMR signal into temperature. I'm going to give it another read, and I should have a question or two about it in the next few days.


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