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Math? Ick!

Publications that are full of math will probably get less attention from scientists than papers that are not, according to a study published in PNAS this week. The study's authors found that for each additional equation per page, an ecology/evolution paper received an average 28 percent fewer citations. But while it may seem amusing to think scientists are shying away from math, it could also mean that important papers are being ignored because they seem too technical, says Evelyn Lamb at the Scientific American Observations blog. "Taking this study at face value, I think it might provide a lot of us with a bit of relief," she says. "Scientists are just people like us who prefer reading words to wading through equations."

The study's authors suggest better mathematical education for scientists might help, but SciAm's Lamb is not so convinced. "I am never one to take a stand against further math education for scientists, but the problem doesn’t seem to be poor understanding; people just don’t like reading equations," she says. The answer, Lamb suggests, may be to make papers more readable by all.

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