Pluto the Red-headed Dwarf Planet March 9, 2009Posted by baldricman in astronomy, News.
Tags: astronomical, clyde tombaugh, dwarf, IAU, planet, pluto, science
Many of you will remember the debacle in 2006 about the (finally) successful attempt at reclassifying Pluto, “demoting” it as it were, from a planet to, well, not a planet. The International Astronomical Union (IAU) voted* to reclassify Pluto, originally the ninth planet in our solar system, relegating it to a “Dwarf Planet”. (I’m not even sure that term is politically correct, but moving on)
* Voted in “majority”, though many felt the vote, which was delayed until the last day of the 2006 conference when most visiting astronomers were not present, was more an ambush – only 4% were present for the proposal, by arrangement, some theorise, and no absentee votes were allowed
The US state of Illinois, however, has declared March 13 as “Pluto Day”, and officially declared Pluto as a planet. They have decided to simply disregard the IAU’s decision (read about it here). It turns out the guy who first discovered Pluto, one Clyde Tombaugh, was in fact born in Illinois….
I’ll keep my opinions on the classification to myself, but one thing I will say is that the reactions, justifications, and general politicking of many of the involved scientists seems rather, well, un-academic (for want of a better word). I’m well aware that scientists are also (mostly) human, and as such are susceptible to passions, pride, the need for job security (and of course funding), and the general arrogance that so often accompanies intellectuals, and indeed I feel that some scandal in these circles is probably a good thing (every so often, as history will agree), but it really is a little disconcerting when they let it all hang out like this.
Although this is just a nomenclature issue, it still reminds me to be extra wary (more so than before) of what “science” cries, especially when so loudly. It reminds me just how fluid the views of “fact” are in science (perhaps not without good reason).
I guess sometimes the “bosses of science” need to just make a decision, name something a something, call a half-truth a truth, name a theory without a better alternative as fact, all in the interests of Joe Public’s understanding.