It seems that some astronomers, perhaps lacking cryogens to play with, have been wasting their time on one of the dumbest controversies of the modern era: whether Pluto is technically a planet. Personally, I don’t care very much. Tiny Pluto with its elongated and tilted orbit always seemed awkwardly tacked on to the list of planets anyway, and if it doesn’t make whatever arbitrary cutoff the astronomers pick, I won’t miss it.
However, the passion with which Pluto’s status is defended in some quarters is astounding. Do people really attach such emotional weight to the issue? Maybe that glorified snowball has kind of an underdog appeal, or perhaps it’s a laudable impulse not to throw the weird one out of the clubhouse. As scientists, however, we must be objective (ha!) and this post lays out the very convincing anti-Pluto case.
(Via Making Light, which quotes a sensible comment from one of Berkeley’s own astronomers: “I am not attending the I.A.U. meeting, nor do I care about the outcome of any vote about whether Pluto and Xena are ‘planets.’”)
Politics is everything with the Bush Administration, and in the latest effort to bring the government in line with the new political correctness, we have:
Earth dropped from NASA mission statement
NASA has reportedly eliminated the promise “to understand and protect our home planet” from its mission statement.
That statement was repeatedly cited last winter by NASA climate scientist James Hansen, who said he was being threatened by political appointees for speaking about the dangers posed by greenhouse gas emissions.
But NASA officials told The New York Times the elimination of the phrase that was used by Hansen was “pure coincidence.” The statement now proclaims the agency’s mission is “to pioneer the future in space exploration, scientific discovery and aeronautics research.”
I suspect the change is not directly related to Hansen, but rather, as the article mentions,
One observer noted results from NASA’s increasing involvement in monitoring the Earth’s environment have sparked political disputes concerning the Bush administration’s environmental policies.
In other words, it’s part of the “ignore it and maybe it’ll go away” approach to global warming. (Via Warren Ellis.)
Stephen Hawking proposes that humans need to begin colonizing other planets in order to ensure the survival of the species. Now, I don’t normally approve of beating up a man in a wheelchair, but I definitely enjoyed the verbal thrashing delivered to Hawking by Chris Clarke:
Let’s say you had a horrible cockroach infestation, and the bugs were trashing your house, spreading filth and eating the bindings of your irreplaceable antique books and breeding profligately and an electrician came to you one day and told you that they were eating your circuit breaker insulation, and you needed to do something about it or your house would burn down.
I don’t know about you, but my first reaction would not be to put a bunch of roaches in a Tupperware container and then release them into a neighbor’s house so that the species would live on.
We are the problem here.
The whole post is definitely worth reading.
I meant to blog this story over the weekend, but was distracted by, um, football. Anyway: here’s a pretty good illustration of why I said last week that the Bush administration should just stay away from science.
So George Deutsch, an asshat Bush appointee (is that redundant?) to the public affairs office at NASA, took it upon himself to make sure that everything coming out of the agency was, well… “politically correct” would be a good term for it if it didn’t have other connotations. This included trying to stop NASA’s top climate scientist from speaking about global warming, and insisting that the Big Bang be referred to as “the Big Bang theory”, because, like evolution, it’s “just a theory”. (I am pretty much the last science blogger to comment on this.)
What happened next was sort of hilarious: a blogger discovered that Deutsch lied on his resume, claiming to have graduated from Texas A&M when in fact he never received a degree. This has resulted in Deutsch’s subsequent resignation, which would be heartening if this administration weren’t so good at finding even worse people to replace the ones who leave.
And this would be why I’m suspicious of Bush’s increased funding for physical science. How much of it is going to guys like Deutsch, or projects of which they would approve? (Is there a cosmological equivalent of Intelligent Design? Maybe The Onion’s Intelligent Falling.) As has been pointed out by others, this administration just doesn’t do policy. Everything is politics to them.
UPDATE: I see we have nothing to worry about, now that Duke Cunningham’s seat on the House subcommittee responsible for NASA’s budget has been filled by… Tom DeLay.