SETIcon feels like a curious mix of an AAS annual meeting and a science fiction WorldCon.
Unfortunately, this extends to the concept of the parallel session.
So, it is necessary to pick and choose.

So, “Asteroids: Junkpiles or Resources?” – Yes.

“Hubble 3D” – I really want to see Frank Summers’ rendition, but I’ll get another chance.

And, while I do want to know “When I can buy a ticket to the Moon”, I got the rah-rah spiel
on the impressive progress in commercial space already.

Hence the panel on: “The Next Big Science Revolution” – I gots to know.
As apparently does everyone else. Another “standing room only’ session.

Pierre Schwob is moderating, Alex Filippenko, Scott Hubbard, Nail Jacobstein, and Ariel Waldman discussing. Scott is presumably stuck in traffic on the 101…
Do they mean “Big Science” or “Big Revolution”?

Jacob goes for Big Data and AI. Reasonable extrapolation but with the usual overoptimistic take on strong AI.

Ariel goes for Citizen Science/Open Science; with ultra-cheap access to space as the dream goal. She uses crowd sourced science like GalaxyZoo as an example. She makes good points, but also underestimates the difficulty of doing a lot of science.

From my perspective, for example, she uses Hubble as an instance of where the public could pay an active role, but Hubble had time set aside for public proposals – target suggestions from non-astronomers – and never received a proposal over many years of providing the opportunity – apparently received a baker’s dozen of good proposal over the few years the program was run [ed].
Regardless, I’d still argue that a common problem with the public doing science is that the layperson tends to think the problem is with concepts, that what is needed is speculation.
Now scientists tend to be innately quite conservative, scientifically, but concepts are cheap, there are a lot of them. What really needs to be done is working out tests of hypotheses, and the associated metrology, measuring stuff.
Having said that, data mining does lend itself well to crowd sourcing. It will be interesting to see how much further it can go. It should also be remembered that Astronomy is one of the sciences which has utilized amateur resources very well, with multiple instances of significant contributions from amateur observers and well organized efforts to encourage involvement.

Alex goes for Dark Matter/Dark Energy. Sure. Bit conservative, but he leverages it to hint that this is a lever point for a fundamental conceptual revolution in science. Again. Poor Ptolemy gets such bad press, epicycles are a great calculable perturbation theory.
What can you say about Dark Energy.
Well, you can spin it into an interesting riff on the multiverse/landscape. And be reminded why Alex always gets the “best prof at Berkeley” award.

Pierre asks how to get public support for whatever comes next.
Good discussion on budgets, involving the public and leveraging enthusiasm for science.
Alex makes a not too subtle plea for funds, which are in fact emerging in interesting ways.

Very good audience question: “What is the big thing that you are not working on?”
Nail goes for Synthetic Biology – good one.
Ariel goes for Ocean Exploration.
Alex also goes for Synthetic Biology. Then a nod to gravitational radiation detection.

Another good question: “What assumptions are we hoding onto that are wrong”?
Nail goes for pace of discovery – ie we tend to linearly extrapolate and hence underestimate long term change.
Flashback to visiting Bay Area in late ’90s.
Ariel pushed Citizen Science again.
Alex goes back to Dark Matter/Dark Energy and is All Of Physics Wrong?

Back to funding: I am personally getting a little bit bothered by the presumption that we will return to fickle aristocracy as a major source of funding…


  1. #1 Michael Richmond
    June 23, 2012

    You wrote:

    > From my perspective, for example, she uses Hubble as an instance of where the public could pay an active role, but Hubble had time set aside for public proposals – target suggestions from non-astronomers – and never received a proposal over many years of providing the opportunity.

    Are you sure that no HST time was granted to amateurs? These sources disagree:

  2. #2 Steinn Sigurðsson
    June 24, 2012

    You are so right. I am not one to argue with The Google, and should give myself a firm kick in the butt for not checking before asserting.
    I was told, many years ago, that the amateur program was terminated due to lack of proposals (and that the Deep Field came in part from the set aside time thus released), but lack of funding sounds more plausible.
    ‘course amateurs can still compete for general GO time.
    Sign up with Eureka or such like if institutional affiliation is needed.

  3. #3 Frank Hatch
    July 11, 2012

    Invitation to Join an Upgraded Species:

    This is an invitation to functional individuals of a corrupt species – i.e., the human species called, “Man.” This invitation was first offered by the first New Man or Son of Man, but it has since collected a swamp of clerical additions. However, after two thousand years, the invitation is still open. Indeed, in the moment before your death, the invitation will still be open to you.

    Definitions for Functional and Non-Functional Individuals:

    Best Regards,

    Frank Hatch
    Initial Mass Displacements

  4. #4 Martin E.
    Cambridge, MA
    July 19, 2012

    I like the implied Ptolemy idea. Epicycles work, so did Lorentz’s formula, and so does the Standard Model, but the conceptually different approaches of Copernicus and Einstein is what made all the difference. For the Standard Model, what we can be sure of is that thinking like Einstein or Feynman won’t help – they already tried it. We need some crazy-sounding new approach. Selecting the non-crazy solution out of the crowd is hard though.

New comments have been temporarily disabled. Please check back soon.