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Theoretical high energy physcis in Latin America from 1990 to 2012: a statistical study


We present a statistical overview of the publications in theoretical high energy physics (HEP), which emerged in Latin America (LA) in the period from 1990 to 2012. Our study captures the eight Latin American nations, which are dominant in this field of research: Brazil, Mexico, Argentina, Chile, Colombia, Venezuela, Uruguay and Cuba. As an intercontinental benchmark, we compare them with India, Canada, South Korea, Belgium and South Africa. We consider the productivity of research papers in specialized high-impact journals, and the corresponding numbers of citations. The goal is to document the efforts in LA to catch up with the most wealthy countries, in a field of research without direct practical benefits. The restriction to theoretical HEP excludes large international collaborations, which enables a fair evaluation of national achievements. We further investigate how these records are correlated with three socio-economic indices: the Gross Domestic Product (GDP), the Human Development Index (HDI) and the Education Index (EI). Despite some progress, there remains a backlog of LA compared to the dominant countries, which cannot be explained solely by economic deficiency. In general, a detailed correlation between the socio-economic and scientific evolution is not obvious.

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  1. 1.

    In HEP also preprints play an important rôle, more than in other fields, in particular due to the data bases arXiv and INSPIRE (formerly SPIRES). For instance in 2015 a total of 10 126 preprints were submitted to the arXiv; 6415 of them were later published in peer-reviewed journals, unlike proceeding contributions (about \(20\%\)) and others (Alvarez and Caregnato 2017). In INSPIRE-HEP we capture contributions to hep-ph (\(48\%\)), hep-th (\(40\%\)) and hep-lat (\(4\%\)), but not to hep-ex (\(8\%\)).

  2. 2.

    Birnholtz (2000), as well as Frandsen and Nicolaisen (2010) further observed that in about 3/4 of the HEP papers, the authors appear in alphabetic order. This quota is higher than in other disciplines, and it shows that in our study a consideration of first authors is not motivated.

  3. 3.

    Mele et al. (2006) observed in 2006 that a total of about 6000 HEP papers are published annually (including experimental HEP), \(83\%\) of them in just six journals. Five of them are specialized on HEP and therefore included in our Table 1 (Phys. Rev. D, Phys. Lett. B, Nucl. Phys. B, J. High Energy Phys., Eur. Phys. J. C), whereas Phys. Rev. Lett. is broadband, as we mentioned above.

  4. 4.

    To compute the IF of some year Y, one considers all articles published in one journal during the years \(Y-1\) and \(Y-2\). The IF is the average number of citations that these articles received in the course of the year Y (Journal Citation Reports n.d.).

  5. 5.

    This concerns J. Cosmol. Astropart. Phys. (since 2003), J. High Energy Phys. (since 1997), Eur. Phys. J. C (since 1998), Astropart. Phys. (since 1992) and Adv. High Energy Phys. (since 2010).

  6. 6.

    According to Russell et al. (2007), between 10 and \(15\%\) of the LA physics papers deal with particles and fields.

  7. 7.

    This table also contains the official national acronyms, to be used in the following.

  8. 8.

    Our study does include nuclear physics at the fundamental level of Quantum Chromodynamics, but not necessarily the (more traditional) effective approaches to nuclei, with external potentials etc.

  9. 9.

    From 1990 to 2012, the population (in millions) evolved as follows: Brazil 149–198, Mexico 83–115, Colombia 34–47, Argentina 32–41, Venezuela 19–30, Chile 13–17, Cuba 10.6–11.3, Uruguay 3.1–3.4.

  10. 10.

    This is not based on the currency exchange rate, but on the actual values of goods, i.e. it refers to purchasing power parity.

  11. 11.

    We do not have corresponding data specifically for HEP, let alone for theoretical HEP.

  12. 12.

    Explicit data about the fit quality of the plots in this section are given in Urrutia Sánchez (2015).

  13. 13.

    Here the annual publication number per capita fluctuates strongly. This can be explained by the relatively small population, so the HEP publications are written by very few individuals. For the same reason, the publication rate fluctuates strongly also in Cuba and Chile.

  14. 14.

    Our ranking can be compared to a branch of science, which is devoted to practical benefits (in contrast to HEP), like public health. A study of publications in this field (Chinchilla-Rodríguez et al. 2015) identified 10 leading countries in LA, which coincide with the countries in our list, plus Peru and Puerto Rico. In this field, Brazil strongly dominates with a production \(67.25\%\) of all LA publications, followed by MEX, COL, CHL, CUB and ARG, i.e. particularly COL and CUB are stronger than in HEP. From an intrinsic perspective, relative to the population, the ranking changes more drastically: here Cuba is the leader, followed by Puerto Rico, BRA, CHL and URU. This illustrates differences in the national research priorities, like the Cuban focus on medical research.


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We thank Magdalena Sierra for technical assistance, and the reviewers for attracting our attention to a number of relevant references. This work was supported by the Mexican Consejo Nacional de Ciencia y Tecnología (CONACYT) through project CB-2010/155905, and by DGAPA-UNAM, through grant IN107915 and through the program PASPA-DGAPA.

Author information

Correspondence to Wolfgang Bietenholz.

Appendix: Famous Latin American publications in theoretical high energy physics

Appendix: Famous Latin American publications in theoretical high energy physics

Top-cited LA papers in theoretical HEP, published in specialized journals between 1990 and 2012, regarding citations until 2012

We add a list of the eight most cited LA papers in our statistics (each of them can be assigned to exactly one LA country). Each of these eight papers has over 250 citations, which means that it is famous according to the terminology used in the online data base INSPIRE (n.d.), which is freely accessible and highly popular in HEP. However, our citation numbers added to this list are counted in the Web of Science, up to the end of 2012, as described in “Criteria for the statistical data” section.

  1. [1]

    M. Banados, M. Henneaux, C. Teitelboim and J. Zanelli, “Geometry of the (2+1) black hole”, Phys. Rev. D48 (1993) 1506 [Chile] 799 citations.

  2. [2]

    R. Gambini and J. Pullin, “Nonstandard optics from quantum space-time”, Phys. Rev. D59 (1999) 124021 [Uruguay] 413 citations.

  3. [3]

    F. Pisano and V. Pleitez, “An SU(3) x U(1) model for electroweak interactions”, Phys. Rev. D46 (1992) 410 [Brazil] 371 citations.

  4. [4]

    J. Frenkel and J.C. Taylor, “High Temperature Limit of Thermal QCD”, Nucl. Phys. B334 (1990) 199 [Brazil] 370 citations.

  5. [5]

    N. Berkovits, “Super-Poincaré covariant quantization of the superstring”, J. High Energy Phys. 0004 (2000) 018 [Brazil] 299 citations.

  6. [6]

    L.P. Chimento, A.S. Jakubi, D. Pavon and W. Zimdahl, “Interacting quintessence solution to the coincidence problem”, Phys. Rev. D67 (2003) 083513 [Argentina] 263 citations.

  7. [7]

    P.B. Arnold and O. Espinosa, “Effective potential and first order phase transitions: Beyond leading-order”, Phys. Rev. D47 (1993) 3546 [Chile] 258 citations.

  8. [8]

    G. Aldazabal, L.E. Ibáñez, F. Quevedo and A.M. Uranga, “D-branes at singularities: A bottom-up approach to the string embedding of the standard model”, J. High Energy Phys. 0008 (2000) 002 [Argentina] 254 citations.

Note that all authors of these top-cited papers are distinct. This list is dominated by the nations of the leading group with respect to the publication per capita, cf. Table 4.

Five among these top-cited papers involve co-authors in First World countries (there are no co-authors from other countries in the Third World). References [3] and [5] are all Brazilian, while in Ref. [1] all authors give a Chilean institute as their first address, but part of them add a second address in the First World.

Groundbreaking earlier publications

At last, we mention three groundbreaking highlights of earlier theoretical HEP in LA, i.e. these three papers truly entered the history of physics (cf. Masperi (2000)): the prediction of the geomagnetic effect on cosmic rays by M. Sandoval Vallarta (MEX) and G. Lemaître (Mateos and Minor 2013), the prediction of the Z-boson by J. Leite Lopes (BRA) (Leite Lopes 1999), and the invention of dimensional regularization by C. Bollini and J.J. Giambiagi (ARG) (Bietenholz and Prado 2014):

  • G. Lemaître and M. Sandoval Vallarta, Phys. Rev. 43 (1933) 87.

  • J. Leite Lopes, Phys. Rev. 190 (1958) 509.

  • C.G. Bollini and J.J. Giambiagi, Nuovo Cim. 12B (1972) 20; Phys. Lett. 40B (1972) 566.

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Urrutia Sánchez, G., Prado, L. & Bietenholz, W. Theoretical high energy physcis in Latin America from 1990 to 2012: a statistical study. Scientometrics 116, 125–146 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11192-018-2739-1

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  • Latin America
  • Theoretical high energy physics
  • Bibliometrics
  • Socioeconomic indicators