I was discussing this topic with an older professor of mine who had published more than 90 papers and couple of books in his field. The papers are highly specialized and half of them are with different co-authors from the same or a different field.
Since he has so many papers, I asked him if he was able to remember and / or explain all of his published papers to a random guy or student on the street if he's asked to do so. His answer was, of course, 'not really'. Since his papers were highly specialized and he tends to change his research interests over time, his memory of the papers tends to fade. He'd still be able to remember and explain the methodology and results of any of the published research, but not in detail or without first re-reading them.
My question is, how much is expected from a scientist to remember from his papers? If you get asked to explain some of your papers, what of the following would you do:
- Just explain what's in the abstract (if you remember), or
- Tell them to just read the paper themselves, because 'everything is there'