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[ 20060824 ]

Nine Twelve Twenty-Four Fifty-Three Eight Planets?! (III)

Well, instead of adding a few dozen "planets," they dissed my man Clyde. Grrrr.

UPDATES: Larry Goode of the ASKC reports, via our Yahoo! group, that when Clyde Tombaugh visited in 1988, he got to look at Pluto through the 30" telescope at Powell Observatory.

Thanks to glimpsing it a few times from the Texas Star Party in the 1990s, I can now say that I saw Pluto back when it was still a planet. ;^)

Thanks to Leo Johns for the revised Arcturian graphic at left ...

Jay Manifold [10:07 AM]

[ 20060823 ]

Nonproblematic Embryonic Stem Cells?

A particularly silly political dispute may be circumvented if the advance described in Stem cells from a single cell? holds up. RTWT.

Jay Manifold [12:46 PM]

[ 20060822 ]

Nine Twelve Twenty-Four Fifty-Three Planets?! (II)

Graze on over to Electronic supplement to Dissertatio cum Nuncio Sidereo, Series Tertia for Comments & discussions on Resolution 5: The definition of a planet; these are internal IAU member comments. Thanks to David Hudgins of the ASKC for the tip.

Jay Manifold [12:41 PM]

[ 20060817 ]

Nine Twelve Twenty-Four Fifty-Three Planets?!

I suppose I ought to say something about Draft Resolution 5 for GA-XXVI: Definition of a Planet (great roundup by Space.com's Robert Roy Britt here). Notwithstanding my considerable respect for the committee (Gingerich in particular), I must agree with Mike Brown that it's "a complete mess."

(To get my own position out of the way, see Why 2003 UB313 Should Not Be Called A Planet, in which I suggest that the list be frozen at the number of planets discovered "manually," as it were -- and exclude asteroids.)

This controversy goes to the heart of the distinction between two great human endeavors: the narrative art and the scientific method (see A Possibly Related Problem for how this affects science journalism; and whatever you do, read Dr Cline's Media/Political Bias, especially the entry on "narrative bias").

The narrative art is ancient, intuitive, intensely stylized, and deeply emotionally satisfying; the scientific method is much newer, often drastically counterintuitive in its findings, stylized only in its narrative expression (and then in a way nonscientists usually find unapproachable), and frequently not at all emotionally satisfying except to its most dedicated practitioners. I need hardly remind my readership, but will anyway, of the ongoing collision between ancient narrative and modern science in American society.

I submit that scientists own the science, but laypeople own the narrative. And the narrative of the nine planets of the Solar System is rich in mythology (Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn), serendipity (the discovery of Uranus [pronunciation]), mathematical prediction (the discovery of Neptune), and Herculean effort (the discovery of Pluto). It has been enriched that much further by the stunning imagery of every planet except Pluto returned to us by the Mariner, Pioneer, Viking, Magellan, Galileo, and Cassini probes.

The new resolution does not enrich the narrative; it merely attempts to impose upon it a definition which makes scientific (and counterintuitive) sense, and largely dissolves it from a cast of readily identifiable characters (think of Adams, Leverrier, Tombaugh; and of course the planets themselves, in a sense) into a chaos of tens, someday hundreds, of celestial bodies, only five of which can ever be seen from Earth by unaided human eyes, and all but a dozen or so of which were, or will have been, discovered by entirely automated methods with minimal human intervention. To adopt the new definition is to replace a novel that has a substantial but manageable number of intriguing dramatis personae with a huge, unwieldy roster of invisible objects and soulless robots.

Amateur astronomers are on the verge between scientists and laypeople. We must manage the narrative in such a way as to ensure that science receives the respect it must obtain from the public in order to continue operating, especially to the extent that it is paid for with public funds. And that narrative will not be that there are now 53 planets in our (by God!) Solar System, with a couple of hundred more on the way. There are nine. The canon was closed on February 18, 1930, by a Kansas farm boy who preferred a blink comparator to a pitchfork.

Jay Manifold [9:49 AM]

[ 20060802 ]

The Matter With Kansas (XV) - Flip-Flop #6

I was wrong; the Kansas Board of Education will change hands. Board of Education’s balance is shifting is the KCStar's laconic headline for what will almost certainly become the sixth version of science education in Kansas public schools in fifteen years.

For those keeping score, Kansas will have had:

  1. No science education standards at all prior to 1992.

  2. NSF/National Academies standards from 1992-1999.

  3. Standards which forbade achievement-testing questions about the Big Bang, the age of the Earth, or the descent of man from 1999-2001.

  4. NSF/National Academies standards from 2001-2005.

  5. Standards which encouraged teaching of "alternatives" to evolution from 2005-2007.

  6. NSF/National Academies standards from 2007-20??.

A child entering the system in 1st grade in 1990 would have been "educated" under four different official versions of reality before graduating in 2002. A child entering the system in 1st grade in 1998 will be "educated" under at least five versions, and quite possibly six, before graduating in 2010.

This charade is a gigantic advertisement for private and home schooling. A state with a population of 2.7 million has, thanks to an elected board that can't keep its hands to itself, made fundamental changes in how science is to be taught five times in fifteen years. The latest change was determined by the pattern of just over 100,000 votes (that would be 3.7% of the population) in five primary contests.

Thank God I live in Missouri.

(Previous member of series here.)

Jay Manifold [4:46 AM]