Saturday, August 19, 2006

The Planet Issue

Below I commented on the link to this blog from Seed Magazine where they said that one could find out about Pluto being a planet or not in this blog. I wrote that I will not write about this issue at all because I find it unimportant. They now have even added a reply, correcting their "mistake". :-)

Maybe my choice of words was provocative, but for some reason, most of the links to this blog seem to be about these three lines and how bad they are. I will now list the major critics and adress them. Some wrote that:
1. I was a snobbish extra-galactic astronomer bashing planetary science.
2. I had forgotten where my money came from and that popularising is important.
3. Even if this topic may be unimportant, it attracts attention and all popular attention to astronomy (or the IAU) is good.
4. I should have written about it.

My replies:
1. This could not be further from the truth. Yes, this subject is quite remote from what I do myself, but finding out how the solar system came about is great science and with the discovery of extra-solar planets, this topic is deservedly becoming more and more popular among astronomers.

2. Of course it is! Popularising is immensely important and I think that every astronomer is aware of that. But isn't it somehow logical, that I try to do that in my own field? To justify that what I myself do is interesting and important? If that is not possible and unapplicable, I totally agree that planetary science is a popular topic. When I do popular shows at our old refractor I certainly do not point at feeble galaxies, but at the moon and the planets.

3. Now we come to the point where I disagree. Attention for astronomy is good, yes. The topic, if Pluto is a planet, and how to define a planet has gotten attention, yes. Does that make it good automatically? I think not and here is why: It is semantics and not science. It creates the (almost totally wrong) impression in the public that what astronomers do is sitting in committees and debate what a planet is. Is that what they are willing to give tax money for instead for new discoveries? I doubt it. In addition, it takes the media attention away from real science (including planetary, in case you missed point 1.) and I think I am far from the only one who feels misrepresented by this issue.

4. Must I write about everything? I think everyone has to make choices because you cannot cover all. I wrote about this meeting from my own perspective and the meaning was to give people a glimpse of what is going on here. I chose to ignore the "planet issue" and hope it became somehow clear why.

5 Comments:

At 11:43 PM, Blogger Dave Pearson said...

From the wording of your post it seems that point three relates to something I wrote a short while back (you do say the points come from "links to this blog").

The problem is, while most of the wording seems to be lifted from my post, you've gone and added all popular attention to astronomy (or the IAU) is good. That isn't what I wrote.

 
At 10:31 PM, Anonymous Tom said...

Dave, it actually might be one of my posts. I didn't intend to rankle anybody, but guess what, I have worked in government for a long long time and get to deal with the bureaucracy and public alike. This whole planetary issue is what the public-at-large cares about, the rest of it means nothing to them. Funding for such research is coming under scrutiny. The public can be very fickle and I can tell you when you get an opportunity, you’d better take advantage of it, even if it irks you. True, in an ideal world we wouldn’t have to, but the world is not perfect, its just the way it is.

However, for people like me, there IS much more to the meeting and I wish to than Mr. Marquart for this excellent piece of work.

 
At 3:01 AM, Blogger Nick (Space Guide) said...

Guys,

I think Thomas was responding to several of us. I know he commented on my Blog with a link to this post.

I agree that there is much to be interested in at the IAU General Assembly, but many of my readers are very interested in the Pluto question. However, if, as I now understand, this Blog is more of a personal Blog than an unofficial IAU General Assembly blog, I was wrong to take him to task and I've apologized here. I do plan to continue reading this Blog for its excellent contents.

 
At 10:50 AM, Blogger Thomas Marquart said...

No need to apologize for anybody. I wasn't offended, but the ractions (not only yours) made it obvious that I should be a little more specific on what I meant.

Regards
Thomas

 
At 2:39 AM, Anonymous Jim said...

I am a Philosopher not an astronomer. It seems to me that calling Pluto a dwarf planet and yet not a planet confuses the issue. It's like calling a dwarf human not a human. Nonsense!
I suggest Pluto and other similar bodies that orbit the sun - SOLAR MOONS.

 

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