You laugh, you lose:

Learn to better communicate your research to non-scientists at the
Workshop on Communicating Science & Engineering with Chris Mooney

When: May 24, 2010-9am-1pm. Lunch will be provided.
Where: MIT- Room/Bldg TBA
Why: These days, amid ongoing media controversies over climate change, the teaching of evolution, the safety of vaccines, and many other scientific topics, researchers are increasingly asking themselves questions like these: Should I be doing more to communicate about my work to the public? And if so, how should I go about preparing for media encounters–and what should I be ready to say? This workshop will help.

Due to the heavy interest in this workshop, we will be accepting participants on an application basis. Please email your name, institution, year, program, and a brief paragraph explaining why your interested in this workshop to mooneyworkshop@gmail.com. Applications are due May 14. We will notify all applicants of their status no later than May 17.

A brief bio on Chris Mooney:
Chris is a 2009-2010 Knight Science Journalism Fellow at MIT and author of three books, including the New York Times bestselling The Republican War on Science-dubbed “a landmark in contemporary political reporting” by Salon.com and a “well-researched, closely argued and amply referenced indictment of the right wing’s assault on science and scientists” by Scientific American-Storm World, and Unscientific America: How Scientific Illiteracy Threatens Our Future, co-authored by Sheril Kirshenbaum. They also write”The Intersection” blog together for Discover blogs.

In the past, Chris has also been visiting associate in the Center for Collaborative History at Princeton University, and is a contributing editor to Science Progress and a senior correspondent for The American Prospect magazine. He has been featured regularly by the national media, having appeared on The Daily Show With Jon Stewart, The Colbert Report, MSNBC’s “Morning Joe,” CSPAN’s Book TV, and NPR’s Fresh Air With Terry Gross and Science Friday (here and here), among many other television and radio programs.

Among other accolades, in 2005 Chris was named one of Wired magazine’s ten “sexiest geeks.” In addition, The Republican War on Science was named a finalist for the 2005 Los Angeles Times book prize in the category of “Science and Technology,” and Chris’s 2005 Mother Jones feature story about ExxonMobil, conservative think tanks, and climate change was nominated for a National Magazine Award in the “public interest” category (as part of a cover package on global warming).

Chris’s 2005 article for Seed magazine on the Dover evolution trial was included in the volume Best American Science and Nature Writing 2006. In 2006, Chris also won the “Preserving Core Values in Science” award from the Association of Reproductive Health Professionals.

Chris was born in Mesa, Arizona, and grew up in New Orleans, Louisiana; he graduated from Yale University in 1999, where he wrote a column for the Yale Daily News. Before becoming a freelance writer, Chris worked for two years at The American Prospect as a writing fellow, then staff writer, then online editor (where he helped to create the popular blog Tapped).

Chris has contributed to a wide variety of other publications in recent years, including Wired, Science, Harper’s, Seed, New Scientist, Slate, Salon, Mother Jones, Legal Affairs, Reason, The American Scholar, The New Republic, The Washington Monthly, Columbia Journalism Review, The Washington Post, The Los Angeles Times, and The Boston Globe. In addition, Chris’s blog, “The Intersection,” was a recipient of Scientific American’s 2005 Science and Technology web award, which noted that “science is lucky to have such a staunch ally in acclaimed journalist Chris Mooney.”

Chris speaks regularly at academic meetings, bookstores, university campuses, and other events. He has appeared at distinguished universities including the Harvard Medical School, MIT, Yale, Princeton, Rockefeller University, and Duke University Medical Center; at major venues such as the Commonwealth Club in San Francisco and Town Hall Seattle; and at bookstores across the country, ranging from Books & Books in Coral Gables, Florida to Powell’s in Portland, Oregon. In 2006, he was the keynote speaker for the 43rd Annual Dinner of Planned Parenthood of San Diego and Riverside Counties and the Edward Lamb Peace Lecturer at Bowling Green State University. In 2007, he was the opening plenary speaker at the World Conference of Science Journalists in Melbourne, Australia.

Chris has been profiled by The Toronto Star and The Seattle Times, and interviewed by many outlets including Grist and Mother Jones.

Kids, lemme save you four hours of your life, and sum up for you Chris Mooneys method for communicating science:

  1. Be attractive.
  2. Dont be unattractive.
  3. Dont talk about science (See #1 and #2). Keep things nice and superficial. Telling people Pluto isnt a planet or vaccines dont cause autism makes them feel all oogy, thus rendering you unattractive in their eyes. Plus, you dont want to appear as if you are an actual working scientist. Scientists are Aspies in Ivory Towers that cant kumoonicates gud, aka nerds/geeks/dweebs, thus require the assistance of someone who can follow #1 and #2, like Chris Mooney.

Look, as someone who has no problem with flaunting their looks for attention, I really dont mind Mooneys ‘great hair’ or his ‘ten sexiest geeks’ affiliation. I have zero problem with people using their gender/boobages/sexuality as a way to get peoples attention on important topics like misogyny in religion, or soften scary topics like cancer or ‘scary’ math.

But when you flaunt your looks, and your position/arguments have no substance, and you have a gaping 5 year hole in your resume, you kinda end up just looking like a bimbo. A bimbo who spent 5 years as a whore on the Science Communication Bunny Ranch, and is now trying to get his shit back together by using pre-whore head shots and leeching off the brains of student scientists and gullible Ivy League administrators.

Or you just look like a traveling salesman. To quote XKCD Explained, with minor alterations:

It appears that the Author, in an attempt to increase traffic to his blog and web comic scientific literacy, was fooled into attending a conference on Social Media Science Communication and was disappointed in its offerings. These conferences are organized and run by self-proclaimed “Social Media Experts” “Science Communication Experts”, which generally translates to “I either have an english degree or none at all, have no technical skills, cannot create anything of value – but I still need a job.”

These “experts” generally talk people (like the Author) into listening to them with big promises of traffic and money real world advice. They then spout-out useless mantras that don’t actually mean anything and couldn’t possible help anyone achieve their selfish goals of attaining internet celebrity and promoting science. Instead, they merely attempt to create more of themselves – useless people making useless websites that steal or link to content created by others that add nothing but useless page views.

On a completely unrelated note, I heard some Harvard kids were roped into providing science content for The Intersection, soon. heh.

Comments

  1. #1 gf1
    May 18, 2010

    I’ve got some sympathy for the Pluto issue.

    If scientists need a tight definition as to what exactly constitutes a ‘planet’, and Pluto no longer qualifies, then it would be best to explicitly recognise that this new scientific definition does not mean that the socially and culturally determined meaning of the word ‘planet’ has necessarily changed. Scientists have no more right to the word than anyone else.

    In PR terms, the way the re-classification of Pluto was handled did play into the stereotype of scientists as detached and arrogant over-lords, whipping the ignorant masses to do their bidding despite being largely oblivious to the ways society operates. Pointless loss imo.

    I’m not to sure if this was Mooney’s point though.

  2. #2 Miranda Celeste Hale
    May 18, 2010

    OH HAI! This post is made of WIN! :)

  3. #3 Stephen
    May 18, 2010

    Hmm… no mention of the Templeton Fellowship in his bio. I would have thought he’d mention that when plugging a workshop for science communication.

  4. #4 gillt
    May 18, 2010

    HA! Did an undergrad write that sales pitch for Mooney?

    I guess I’m trying to wrap my head around the fair assumption that Mooney holds scientists in low regard and why he fashions himself a science communication guru.

  5. #5 danmeek
    May 19, 2010

    So I had no idea who this guy is, but apparently he’s a sexy geek so of course I just had to Youtube him. And I found him, talking about his book. By thirty seconds in he’s already “dispelling some possible confusion” about the cover image of his own book… having spent the previous thirty seconds mumbling, swaying and looking down into his laptop. And this guy thinks he has something to offer on how to communicate?

  6. #6 jim
    May 19, 2010

    gf1 – welcome to science. Old definition / theory / etc. fails to describe the observed phenomenon. So we toss the old definition / theory / etc and come up with a new one. Would the inclusion of 4 more orbiting bodies in our solar system as planets have been more acceptable? Or should the scientists have withheld the “real” knowledge from the “common people” so that society can continue feeling comfortable? All options other than the sharing the newest information are unpalatable.

    And “being largely oblivious to the ways society operates” is a bonus of scientific thinking, not a detriment. We will never figure out how things actually work if we keep tip-toeing over issues because we are afraid of hurting people’s feelings or offending obscure cultural baggage.

  7. #7 Theslat
    May 19, 2010

    @jim- I concur. I consider myself more of a “science groupie” because although I work in a pretty technical job I have not yet finished any official science degree. As a “common” person I think any other way of handling pluto or vaccines or any other of these issues is insulting to my intelligence. I understand how science works, I know that words have meanings and that clear definitions are needed. I know that the world isn’t “magical” and that we discover new knowledge all the time that may shift or change our knowledge of the universe around us.

    I read Mooneys book (I’m a masochistic, what can I say) and I must have had a grimace the whole time. I couldn’t get over the perception that he proposed treating people, like me, as a child not yet ready to learn the truth about santa.

  8. #8 Prometheus
    May 19, 2010

    ‘….Science and Technology web award, which noted that “science is lucky to have such a staunch ally in acclaimed journalist Chris Mooney.”‘

    Do you feel lucky?

    Well do ya PUNK!!

    Good lord, Mooney is just terrible. Now he is a motivational speaker? I can’t wait for the late night infomercials with Kirshenbaum repeating everything he says with deranged enthusiasm.

    “But Chris can the Mooney Penis Enlarging Power JuicerTM really reduce my mortgage interest rate while I sleep?”

    “Yes Sheril *drama pause* and that’s not all….”

  9. #9 Michelle
    May 19, 2010

    Wait… are we saying that people got upset about Pluto not being a planet?

    Like, for reals?

    When I heard that business, I said something to the effect of, “Huh. Well, all right then,” and went on with my life.

    Of course, we covered some of Pluto’s oddities in the one Astronomy class I took for my science credit, so I wasn’t even really surprised.

  10. #10 Optimus Primate
    May 19, 2010

    Wait… are we saying that people got upset about Pluto not being a planet?

    Yep! My Limbaugh-loving, psycho Republican father-in-law (who banished me from his home forever because I called Bush a liar), spent weeks ranting about how “The Scientists” demoted Pluto merely as an arrogant expression of their power. Also because everything worth discovering has already been discovered and they had to find a way to justify their paychecks. Not to mention the fact that astronomers are all raging lefties who simply couldn’t bring themselves to acknowledge a planet discovered by a God-fearing American.

    No, I’m not kidding even a little bit.

  11. #11 gf1
    May 19, 2010

    @ Jim: There’s nothing patronising about having scientist acknowledge the way in which the English language develops, and their limited role within this. What real knowledge would be withheld by doing so?

    I made it quite clear that there was no need to limit the adoption of a precise and particular terminology within an academic discipline (although in this case the new definition doesn’t seem terribly likely to unleash a new wave of discoveries and theories) I just think that the manner in which this was done was poorly thought out.

    I think that this explains a lot:

    “And “being largely oblivious to the ways society operates” is a bonus of scientific thinking, not a detriment.”

  12. #12 Prometheus
    May 19, 2010

    Please quit arguing about Pluto.

    We need more Mooney character assassination.

    The ‘other’ Colgate twin (you know the affianced sciencey one) has chosen a cover and subtitle for her inexcusably fluffy dreck:

    http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/intersection/2010/04/06/the-science-of-kissing-cover/

  13. #13 stogoe
    May 19, 2010

    I can understand the difference between the cultural definition of theory (aka “asspull”) and the scientific definition of theory (aka “explains a buttload of observations and has so far survived all challengers”), but what’s the cultural definition of planet? “Those nine round things my teacher told me about that orbit the sun”? So now it’s going to be “Those eight (or three hundred) round things my teacher told me about that orbit the sun”.

  14. #14 SLC
    May 19, 2010

    One has to get a laugh out of Mr. Mooney, the accommodationist. He’s all for accommodation when discussing evolution or vaccination but his accommodationist leanings suddenly disappear when discussing global climate change. Somehow, I don’t see Mr. Mooney attending Nationals’ games with Marc Morano when he visits the DC area.

  15. #15 Gabriel Hanna
    May 19, 2010

    I don’t understand the Pluto thing either. It’s not like the general public was interested in, or knew anything about, the definition of “planet”. It’s all rocks and gas balls, however many of them you want to call a planet.

    But Pluto had a name and everyone knew what it was. (I myself am much partial to Titan and Ceres.)

    Anyway, back to the topic, the quality of science journalism seriously needs to improve–watching anything on TV, or reading in a newspaper, about anything physics-related angries up my blood–and I don’t think journalists have any business trying to pass the buck to scientists on this. We are too busy doing the damn work.

  16. #16 Gabriel Hanna
    May 19, 2010

    In addition, what are you supposed to do with people who just lie about what you do? Like creationists and the climate “skeptics”? It’s not only them, they’re just the most prominent, there are a lot of obscure cranks who do the same thing, like the free energy people. (And sometimes, despite being obscure, they raise millions of dollars in venture capital and try to convince others to do the same: http://www.blacklightpower.com/ )

    How do you have a discussion with people who lie? What’s to accomodate?

  17. #17 Dan L.
    May 19, 2010

    In PR terms, the way the re-classification of Pluto was handled did play into the stereotype of scientists as detached and arrogant over-lords, whipping the ignorant masses to do their bidding despite being largely oblivious to the ways society operates. Pointless loss imo.

    What do you mean, “how it was handled?” The scientific definition needed to be refined, and it was. Scientists didn’t go around knocking on everyone’s door with long, angry polemics about how Pluto wasn’t a planet. They announced a new scientific definition at a conference.

    If you mean, “how it was handled in the media,” you can blame the “expert science communicators” for that. The controversy, such as it was, was the product of science journalists looking for a sensationalistic headline.

    Or do you have specific reason for criticizing scientists for doing their jobs correctly?

  18. #18 Jesse
    May 19, 2010

    @16 Gabriel Hanna

    “How do you have a discussion with people who lie? What’s to accomodate?

    You don’t. You make sure you have some evidence that they’ve lied, throw it in their face and make sure that they know that they are lying scumbag motherfuckers. If you’re feeling particularly cranky, you can even add in that they’d be doing the world a favor by offing themselves, but only with the right audience or in private. You give them scorn instead. I’m sick of those self righteous hypocritical syphilitic fucks.

    I’ve had several dealings with creationists trying to inject their shit into politics (including Mark Mathis who played a major role in making Expelled and a head pastor of a church looking me in the eye and lying straight to my face on multiple occasions) and it’s made me rather jaded. Can you tell?

  19. #19 Gabriel Hanna
    May 19, 2010

    You don’t. You make sure you have some evidence that they’ve lied, throw it in their face and make sure that they know that they are lying scumbag motherfuckers.

    I try to do that. Doesn’t usually work, in that it doesn’t get them to stop repeating the lie, but it sometimes convinces other people that the guy is a liar.

  20. #20 Ian Musgrave
    May 19, 2010

    gf1 wrote:

    In PR terms, the way the re-classification of Pluto was handled did play into the stereotype of scientists as detached and arrogant over-lords, whipping the ignorant masses to do their bidding despite being largely oblivious to the ways society operates. Pointless loss imo.

    This is almost, but not quite, completely unlike what happened. As I explain in more detail in this post there were good scientific reasons for making a decision, and the international astronomical community put a lot of effort into outreach and consultation over several years before the decision. Mooney and co just just abut everything wrong with this story.

  21. #21 jim
    May 19, 2010

    @gf1 –

    Point 1 – the “is Pluto a planet?” discussion started in the 1970′s. A debate that takes that long is not “handled” by anyone.

    Point 2 – “There’s nothing patronising about having scientist acknowledge the way in which the English language develops,

    Science is done by non-English speaking people as well. Not long ago certain fields were predominantly in German. English is commonly used now, but the choice of language is irrelevant to the doing of science.

    Point 3 – Please explain why defining what is a planet, or any other scientific attempt to describe the universe around us, needs to take cultural sensitivities into account? If we did, we would still be teaching kids that 2 humans poofed into existence less than 10,000 years ago, the rest of us would have never existed if it were not for that silly Eve, a serpent and a suspicious apple.

  22. #22 gf1
    May 19, 2010

    @ Ian Musgrave. Thanks for the link, I read it, but it doesn’t contradict what I’ve said. (Also, I think you’ve gotten the meaning of ‘semantics’ wrong. You kept saying it wasn’t a matter of semantics while describing a semantic debate. Semantic discussions certainly don’t exclude objective data. Even in a semantic discussion about very abstract concepts like ‘Equality’ or ‘Liberty’ you would certainly be expected to draw upon objective data to support your arguments.)

    One thing your piece missed out that I’d be really interested in is why Science needed to have a precise and consistent definition of the word ‘Planet’ in the first place. From what I’ve read, most scientists seem to mention the political benefits and implications for funding etc. I’ve not found any good explanation as to why a definition was needed for scientific reasons, but your whole piece seemed based on the assumption that it was.

    @ Dan L: Again, why did science Need a new definition? What work was the old definition holding back?

    Some of the people commenting on science blogs do seem to suck at communicating. Maybe Mooney’s got a point. If you want to ask a leading question Dan, you need to be more subtle than this: “Or do you have specific reason for criticizing scientists for doing their jobs correctly?”

    @ Stogoe: Yeah – I think that the public’s (and my own) definition is something like ‘Objects like those nine round things my teacher told me about that orbit the sun’. The new Science definition means only those that orbit the Sun can be counted as Planet, clearly contradicting the definition laid out by the Guild of Science-Fiction Writers – I’ve got more faith in those guys’ (and 2 women) semantic abilities and they certainly have no less authority over the matter.

  23. #23 jim
    May 19, 2010

    @gf1

    I’ve not found any good explanation as to why a definition was needed for scientific reasons,

    and

    Again, why did science Need a new definition? What work was the old definition holding back?

    Are you serious? Did you miss the “what is Eris” part?

  24. #24 gf1
    May 19, 2010

    Missed you Jim.

    1: It’s handled by lot of people. And in PR terms, it caused needless trouble.
    2: You missed my point. English as a language is lacking the sort of centralised authority that French has, and so is developing in a different manner.
    3: What are you talking about? A better comparison would be with the definitions of words like ‘Creation’ or ‘Soul’. Science has developed our understanding of the actual mechanisms which could be referred to by these terms, but it would be absurd to put together a council of Scientists to decide what the new definition of these terms should be in light of this evidence.

    I’ve not said anything that could be reasonably construed as requiring scientists to hold back actual information about the universe from the public. That you’ve somehow concluded I am promoting a vision of science so castrated it would be unable to challenge the claims of creationists shows that you’re deeply confused.

    re What is Eris: I didn’t see any explanation as to why it mattered whether Eris was classed as a planet or not.

  25. #25 Tyler DiPietro
    May 19, 2010

    If people actually had so little to worry about in their lives that they got their shorts in a wad about Pluto being reclassified, then that’s just more proof that fat fucking Americans have way too much time on their hands.

  26. #26 Azkyroth
    May 19, 2010

    gf1 – welcome to science. Old definition / theory / etc. fails to describe the observed phenomenon. So we toss the old definition / theory / etc and come up with a new one. Would the inclusion of 4 more orbiting bodies in our solar system as planets have been more acceptable? Or should the scientists have withheld the “real” knowledge from the “common people” so that society can continue feeling comfortable? All options other than the sharing the newest information are unpalatable.

    And “being largely oblivious to the ways society operates” is a bonus of scientific thinking, not a detriment. We will never figure out how things actually work if we keep tip-toeing over issues because we are afraid of hurting people’s feelings or offending obscure cultural baggage.

    Does this mean I should stop saying “I can’t chat now, I’ve got work to do” when I’m not really applying a force over a distance?

  27. #27 Jesse
    May 20, 2010

    I just experienced firsthand some serious science illiteracy.

    Truthers.

    There was no communicating with them. They also like to move goal posts. They make shit up on the fly to do it.

    And yes, I was rude.

  28. #28 eddie
    May 20, 2010

    The phrase; “a tapeworm explains sunday dinner” seems to apply equally to mooney and the xkcd parasites.

  29. #29 jim
    May 20, 2010

    @gf1 – re What is Eris: I didn’t see any explanation as to why it mattered whether Eris was classed as a planet or not.

    Directly from Ian Musgrave’s link above,
    If Pluto was to be called a planet, then what definition would exclude the dozens of icy lumps in similar orbits that were a tad smaller? If you didn’t exclude them, then up to 20-40 planets would have been created. The public may have been ready for a 10th planet, but over 20?

    Because a planet is defined by X. If Pluto falls within X, then a lot of other things become planets. The old definition was insufficient to have only 9 special things orbiting, instead of more. Since Pluto is more like a bunch of non-planets that are close, but not quite planets, and were probably made by different processes, the new class was created, and Pluto moved into that class – just like all the things it is more like.

    Another recent example marriage of Class Pongidae and Hominidae into the “new” Class Hominidae, when we finally got over the fact we were not so special to require the differentiation between apes and humans. The only difference here is that common folk have been using the technical term “planet” to instead mean “those nine names I was forced to memorize” but different words “ape” and “human”. Perhaps those saddened by Plutos’ demotion need to make up a special name for those planets and give scientists back the technical term?

    The alternative is that that scientists abandon their technical term, and leave the special word “Planet” to mean something abstract, meaningless, and not representative of any measurable reality, and make up a new word instead, so that the English language can continue on it’s quirky evolutionary trajectory with the hijacked word. Let’s call them “Gloops” instead and the other things “Zings”. So now we have 8 “Gloops” and at the upper end, 32 “Zings”. But 1 of the “Zings” gets to be called a “Planet” for arbitrary reasons, but it is not cool enough to be a “Gloop”. But 2 “Zings” are actually more “Gloop”-like than Pluto, but because you were born between 1930 and 2006, they don’t get to be “Planets”.

    I’m unsure how this alternative helps anyone.

    @ Azkyroth – “Does this mean I should stop saying “I can’t chat now, I’ve got work to do” when I’m not really applying a force over a distance?”

    Get back to me when you are not actually applying a force over a distance. Breathing is quite difficult if you are not. ;-)

  30. #30 Ian Musgrave
    May 20, 2010

    Gf1 wrote:

    re What is Eris: I didn’t see any explanation as to why it mattered whether Eris was classed as a planet or not.

    Did you actually read my article? If Eris, an object larger than Pluto, with the same composition and orbital properties as Pluto, is NOT a planet then Pluto cannot logically be a planet either. If Eris is a planet, preserving Pluto, then 2003 L61, Sedna, 2009 FY9 and a whole host of other objects must be planets too. It’s a matter of logic, consistency and making non-arbitrary rules based on physical properties. It’s a matter of science.

  31. #31 gf1
    May 20, 2010

    @ Jim: The quote you provided was again just assuming that a precise and consistently applicable definition for ‘Planet’ is required, and then exploring different implications for different definitions.

    I think that some of our disagreement stems from this. You said:

    “The only difference here is that common folk have been using the technical term “planet” to instead mean “those nine names I was forced to memorize”…”

    and

    “The alternative is that that scientists abandon their technical term, and leave the special word “Planet”…”
    You think that the term ‘Planet’ has been a primarily scientific and technical term for some time, although one used by common people. I don’t think that is true.

    What do you think the precise and technical definition of ‘Planet’ was prior to the recent changes?

    From my understanding, the objects classed as planets were done so for primarily cultural and historical reasons rather than because of their objectively identified properties. This was not a scientific term commoners have been borrowing, but a common term scientists have chosen to ‘hijack’ and impose their own definition upon.

    I had been assuming that there were good reasons for the need of a technical definition of the word ‘planet’, and that the adoption of this specialist terminology by scientists only caused problems because the PR was badly handled. However, from what I’ve seen here and my brief reading elsewhere, I’ve not been able to find any good scientific reason for the adoption of a technical definition at all – indeed, the vagueness of the earlier cultural definition avoided some of the problems of trying to create a technical definition, and didn’t seem to be damaging scientific progress at all.

    @: Ian Musgrave – the above should reply to you too. Ta.

  32. #32 Jason
    May 20, 2010

    hahaha, so funny.

    Wait until he comes to YOUR campus!

    Seriously, Abbie – I don’t know anyone who attended… who has the time???

  33. #33 Kemanorel
    May 20, 2010

    Lost right here:

    Learn to better communicate your research to non-scientists at the Workshop on Communicating Science & Engineering with Chris Mooney

  34. #34 ERV
    May 20, 2010

    Jason– The fatal flaw of Mooneys plan. Sure MIT students are retard Aspies who are too stupid and awkward to talk about their own research with laymen, thus require Scientist and Engineer Mooneys expertise on this topic. Unfortunately, theyre too antisocial to attend this FANTASTIC seminar that will no doubt save mankind (I blame Starcraft2).

    Also, Mooney did come to OK. He came, gave a talk (without telling anyone, including me or the state Citizens for Science professors at OU), and skipped town.

    No ‘communicating science’ to Sally Kern.

    No ‘communicating science’ to Jim Inhofe.

    No ‘communicating science’ to the multitude of megachurches in the area.

    Its almost as if what he is saying has no real-world applications, and he is 100% aware of that…

  35. #35 Dan L.
    May 20, 2010

    @gf1:

    From my understanding, the objects classed as planets were done so for primarily cultural and historical reasons rather than because of their objectively identified properties. This was not a scientific term commoners have been borrowing, but a common term scientists have chosen to ‘hijack’ and impose their own definition upon.

    Your understanding is incorrect. Philosophers — the ancient world’s version of scientists — were the ones who first “defined” planets as those heavenly bodies whose orbits around the earth were not consistent day to day — an utterly precise, scientific definition.

    When the Copernican model of the solar system became widespread, the “definition” of planet changed somewhat, but still referred to the same bodies (plus Earth). The term came to mean “satellites of the sun.”

    In the nineteenth century, advances in optics led to the discovery of many, many, many solar satellites. The number of planets ballooned in the eighteenth century to include such bodies as Ceres and Vesta. These bodies are tiny compared even to Mercury, and in the nineteenth century, the “definition” of planet changed again to exclude what came to be known as asteroids. (Do you suppose nineteenth century lay people complained about how Ceres should still be a planet for cultural reasons?)

    And now the definition has changed again. Just as astronomers realized that asteroids are so different from planets that it is counterproductive to classify them together, astronomers have now realized the same thing about the icy bodies at the periphery of the solar system. The meaning of the word “planet” — which began as and has always been scientific terminology, whether or not it was co-opted by the natural language, has changed several times over the course of its usage, always through a redefinition by scientists for the sake of productively classifying astronomical bodies.

    However, from what I’ve seen here and my brief reading elsewhere, I’ve not been able to find any good scientific reason for the adoption of a technical definition at all – indeed, the vagueness of the earlier cultural definition avoided some of the problems of trying to create a technical definition, and didn’t seem to be damaging scientific progress at all.

    The reason the new definition was adopted is because new scientific observations convinced astronomers that the old, imprecise definition WAS in fact holding back scientific research. There are probably thousands of bodies similar to Pluto in the outer solar system, all or most of which probably formed in similar conditions to each other, but very different conditions from the formation of any of the eight planets. Their orbits are dissimilar from those of the planets. The means of observing and studying them differ somewhat from those of studying the planets, due to their distance from earth and the low intensity of sunlight reflected.

    What exactly are the problems with making the definition more precise, besides the protests of a bunch of twits who don’t know what they’re talking about?

  36. #36 Dan L.
    May 20, 2010

    BTW, lay people arguing against astronomers to make Pluto a planet makes me think of the follow scenario:

    Doctor: It seems you have pneumonia.

    Patient: I don’t really want to have pneumonia. Let’s call it bronchitis.

    Doctor: You’re displaying symptoms that indicate that you actually have pneumonia, not just bronchitis. I’m not sure you’re really qualified to second guess my diagnosis.

    Patient: Look, I use the words “pneumonia” and “bronchitis” all the time in normal conversation. They’re obviously cultural terms, and I don’t really see why they need to be so precisely defined in terms of symptoms. You’re just a big bully trying to redefine a word that belongs to all of us.

  37. #37 gf1
    May 20, 2010

    @ Dan L: I think that your history of the word necessarily missed out rather a lot, but also didn’t really progress things. That our cultural and historical meaning of the word planets is affected by the information about the world available to us is not at all surprising – these things do not need to be entirely arbitrary.

    Let’s see if your belief that what is classed as a Planet has always been a scientific matter really holds up. You seem to imply that the scientific definition of ‘Planet’ prior to the recent changes was: ‘An object that orbits the sun, but is not a meteor’. Something like that? Wouldn’t that mean that all of the other objects similar to Pluto would have been classed as planets as soon as they were discovered? That is not what happened though. I would suggest that is because these matters were not entirely scientific, but influenced by cultural and historical factors.

    I’m amused by this bit: “The reason the new definition was adopted is because new scientific observations convinced astronomers that the old, imprecise definition WAS in fact holding back scientific research. There are probably thousands of bodies similar to Pluto in the outer solar system, all or most of which probably formed in similar conditions to each other, but very different conditions from the formation of any of the eight planets. Their orbits are dissimilar from those of the planets. The means of observing and studying them differ somewhat from those of studying the planets, due to their distance from earth and the low intensity of sunlight reflected.”

    Just how stupid are these astronomers? “Oh no, it would be so much better to study this in a different way, but because it’s called a Planet, I’ve got to use the same techniques I’d apply to Mars.” Should we stop calling the Earth a planet too, as very different techniques should be used for studying the Earth than Jupiter, and we don’t want them to get all confused about it do we?

    Lay people arguing against astronomers must be nearly as frustrating as watching scientists engage in semantics when they don’t even realise that they’re doing so. I’m becoming pretty opposed to the reclassification of Pluto based only on reading the poor arguments of those in favour of it. (Which is a charming reflection of those who seem supportive of the reclassification primarily because Mooney’s opposed).

  38. #38 jim
    May 20, 2010

    @gf1 – If what Dan L. wrote in 35 has no impact, I think we are stalemated on this topic.

  39. #39 Dan L.
    May 20, 2010

    @gf1

    Let’s see if your belief that what is classed as a Planet has always been a scientific matter really holds up. You seem to imply that the scientific definition of ‘Planet’ prior to the recent changes was: ‘An object that orbits the sun, but is not a meteor’. Something like that? Wouldn’t that mean that all of the other objects similar to Pluto would have been classed as planets as soon as they were discovered? That is not what happened though. I would suggest that is because these matters were not entirely scientific, but influenced by cultural and historical factors.

    Actually, you’re wrong — that’s exactly what happened. The number of planets was well above a dozen when “planet” was redefined to exclude the asteroids (because people kept finding new asteroids). By the way, a “meteor” is technically the visible trail of a meteorite (occasionally but not always an asteroid) falling through the earth’s atmosphere. It was exactly analogous to the crisis that led to Pluto’s demotion: the definition of a planet was admitting too many and too different bodies to useful as a scientific classification. “Planet” is and always has been primarily a scientific term, co-opted by the English language as scientific terms so often are.

    An analogy to biology would be if “bird” at one point meant “thing that flies.” Bats and bugs fly, and some birds don’t — the definition would be counterproductive, at least in the domain of studying heredity and evolution and probably other domains as well (just as the old notions of “planet” get in the way when studying orbital mechanics or planetary geology or the formation of various different types of bodies in the solar system).

    Just how stupid are these astronomers? “Oh no, it would be so much better to study this in a different way, but because it’s called a Planet, I’ve got to use the same techniques I’d apply to Mars.” Should we stop calling the Earth a planet too, as very different techniques should be used for studying the Earth than Jupiter, and we don’t want them to get all confused about it do we?

    Of course not. The formation, geology, and orbital mechanics of the Earth are exceptionally similar to those of Mars and Venus. They very much seem to be in the same class of objects. And in fact, they are differentiated from the “gas giants” and “ice giants” as “terrestial planets,” or a similar term. These are all classes of planet.

    Planet is in turn a sub class of solar satellites. Other classes of solar satellites: dwarf planets, asteroids, comets. Are these divisions arbitrary? Somewhat. But they’re useful — that’s a big part of science, breaking down the objects in the world into useful ontologies.

    The astronomers — the guys who actually study these things for a living — thought the ontology of solar satellites was flawed, based on the fact they had recently discovered Kuiper belt objects that should technically count as more planets if Pluto counts. So they corrected the perceived flaw by redefining Pluto.

    Again, arguing with that is like arguing with your doctor over the definition of a disease, or like arguing with your mechanic over the definition of a carburetor. Since it’s the expert who actually has to use the definition in practice, whereas a lay person can use it informally or even incorrectly with no serious consequence, it just makes SENSE to me to defer to the expert. For the expert, the debate has consequences. For the lay person — you — there are absolutely NO consequences.

  40. #40 Gabriel Hanna
    May 20, 2010

    Here’s an example of the bad science journalism I was talking about:

    http://www.utexas.edu/news/2010/05/20/brownian_particles_research/

    “Physicists Prove Einstein Wrong with Observation Of Instantaneous Velocity in Brownian Particles”

    They didn’t prove Einstein wrong. They confirmed, through direct measurement, that Einstein was right about what Brownian motion is and how it works; though there wasn’t any serious dispute about it.

    What was Einstein “wrong” about? He thought, in 1907, there would be no way to directly measure the velocity. How is that significant to anything?

    But they can’t resist the headline.

    As for gf1 and Dan L., I’m on Dan L.’s side here. The definition of “planet” has always been based on what astronomers could see, and in the 19th century Ceres and other asteroids were classed as “planets” until it was realized that they were so numerous and almost entirely found between Mars and Jupiter and in Jupiter’s Trojan points.

    A “comet” has never been called a planet. Even when it was proved that they orbit the sun just like a planet.

  41. #41 Prometheus
    May 20, 2010

    I’m sure glad to to have learned so much about the cutthroat, fast paced and take no prisoners semantics of celestial taxonomy.

    Are you guys available for Bachelorette parties?

  42. #42 Gabriel Hanna
    May 20, 2010

    I’m sure glad to to have learned so much about the cutthroat, fast paced and take no prisoners semantics of celestial taxonomy.

    Are you guys available for Bachelorette parties?

    You, sir, may feel free to call lobsters “fish” because cookbooks do. Don’t mind us.

  43. #43 gf1
    May 20, 2010

    @ Dan L:

    Re: “Actually, you’re wrong.”

    You seem to have misunderstood the passage you quoted. Prior to the redefinition of ‘Planet’ which just occurred, how many planets were there?

    Re Scientific terms:

    So you consider any words whose meanings are affected by our current understanding of the world as being scientific terms? Is ‘intelligence’ a scientific term? ‘Consciousness’? The observation and description of the planets has played a significant role in our culture, religions and ceremonies for a rather long time. They were always based upon observations of and beliefs about the nature of these phenomenon, but I would not have thought this means they were primarily scientific terms. If they were, a far wider group of people should have been entitled to vote on the reclassification.

    Re should we re-classify Earth?

    You had said “The means of observing and studying them differ somewhat from those of studying the planets..” and this has been the only practical implication of reclassifying what ‘Planet’ means that you’ve so far mentioned. The means of observing and studying the Earth differ somewhat from those of studying other planets.

    I did phrase it in a joking manner, but I’m surprised you so completely missed my point.

    Re “For the expert, the debate has consequences.”

    What are they? This is what I’ve been trying to find out for some time. A lot of people seem to have faith that there are important consequences here, but I’ve not hear anyone come up with any explanation.

    I don’t think we should trust the experts too much. They can sometimes be stupid too.

  44. #44 Dan L.
    May 20, 2010

    @Prometheus:

    And I suppose you’re only emotionally invested in things that every single human being on earth finds absolutely fascinating.

  45. #45 Prometheus
    May 20, 2010

    Gabriel Hanna@#42

    “You, sir, may feel free to call lobsters “fish” because cookbooks do. Don’t mind us.”

    Then why, my good man, is it called “lobster fishing” and not “lobster lobstering”?

    Hmmmmmmmmm.

    *Twirls mustache to celebrate use of Crete defense to an Ichthyology opening gambit*

  46. #46 Gabriel Hanna
    May 20, 2010

    What are they? This is what I’ve been trying to find out for some time.

    What are the consequences to biologists for classifying lobsters as fish? No big deal, right? Just words.

    Words can be more useful or less useful. We could classify animals based on their beauty or utility, rather than on their evolutionary history, but that would not be useful for biologists.

    The eight “canonical” planets have practically the same orbital plane-the plane of the sun’s rotation–and have practically circular orbits. That is because, if I remember correctly, they condensed out of the same cloud the sun did, at the same time, and have stayed pretty mush where they were. Their orbits wouldn’t be so similar otherwise.

    Pluto got where it did by an accident. Its weird orbit tells you so. Same for all the other little balls of ice and rock. They didn’t form they were and stay put.

    You can call Pluto a planet or a lobster a fish if you want, no one’s stopping you. The redefinition only applies to those people who agree that it applies to them. But your definition won’t be based on the same thing theirs is.

  47. #47 Dan L.
    May 20, 2010

    @gf1:

    You seem to have misunderstood the passage you quoted. Prior to the redefinition of ‘Planet’ which just occurred, how many planets were there?

    I think you’re the one with the misunderstanding. There were 9 OBSERVED planets. Then someone observed a tenth. Then an eleventh. Then astronomers realized that the number of planets would keep going up unless “planet” was redefined.

    As I’ve been trying to point out, this EXACT SAME SITUATION has occurred before. In the early nineteenth century, Ceres was a planet. So were Vesta and Pallas. And more and more were added until astronomers realized that there were hundreds or thousands of asteroids and that they would all qualify as planets unless the definition changed.

    So the Pluto redefinition was nothing new. The same thing had happened 150 years ago.

    You see, in both situations, what happened was that we were only able to see the largest example of a big class of small objects. The question 150 years ago was this: is Ceres more like a planet, or more like an asteroid? And it is, indeed, more like an asteroid in every relevant way — its orbital mechanics, geology, and formation.

    Pluto is more like a Kuiper Belt object than like a planet. Same exact situation. It’s a big Kuiper object, but not even the biggest.

    As far as scientific terminology goes, the etymology of “planet” is scientific, and it is has always been used as scientific terminology by scientists (neglecting for a moment the common language use of the word). You can take one of two views:
    1) Scientists and lay people use the word “planet” in two distinct ways. “Planet” is actually two words with subtly different meanings.
    2) They common language meaning of “planet” is really just the colloquial use of the scientific term. Lay people sometimes employ the term loosely or incorrectly, but that indicates an error on the part of the speaker, not a loosening of the definition of “planet.”

    If you take (1), then go ahead and call Pluto a planet, and you’re using the colloquial form of “planet.” Or you can take (2) and call Pluto a planet and be wrong. It’s your choice. You don’t get to tell astronomers what is a useful or not useful definition because you are not an astronomer. It’s really that simple.

    What are they? This is what I’ve been trying to find out for some time. A lot of people seem to have faith that there are important consequences here, but I’ve not hear anyone come up with any explanation.

    Again, is Pluto a small planet or a big Kuiper belt object? Is Ceres a small planet or a big asteroid? Since Kuiper belt objects are not asteroids are not planets, this distinction IS relevant to, for example, models of the formation of the solar system. It’s a question of ontology — of how we classify objects in the world and organize those classes. For a scientist, useful ontologies are indeed practical, and arbitrary ontologies cooked to give the desired classifications (instead of correct, rigorous classifications) are impractical.

    You seem to want “practical” to mean something like “affecting what scientists DO,” but for scientists, practical can also be “affecting how scientists THINK.” And in that sense, the reclassification of Pluto is indeed practical.

    The observation and description of the planets has played a significant role in our culture, religions and ceremonies for a rather long time.

    The observation and description of animals has played a significant role in our culture, religions, and ceremonies for a rather long time. Does that mean biologists should classify animals using the Biblical system? Beasts of the air, beasts of the sea?

    I don’t think we should trust the experts too much. They can sometimes be stupid too.

    OK, but in this particular debate, we have everyone who studies Pluto and objects like Pluto saying “dwarf planet” and a bunch of people who haven’t looked through a telescope since they were 8 years old saying “just planet.” Experts are sometimes stupid. Everyone else is almost always stupid.

  48. #48 Gabriel Hanna
    May 20, 2010

    @gf1:

    Maybe this will help:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Outersolarsystem_objectpositions_labels_comp.png

    Pluto and all its cousins in the Kuiper belt are in green. Compare with the planets and asteroids. Then tell me why arbitrarily you want to color one of the green ones blue, when it differs in no way from all the other green stuff. Tell me why it shouldn’t be pink while you are at it, since that would be just as arbitrary.

  49. #49 Michelle
    May 20, 2010

    Gabriel Hanna (#15):

    It’s all rocks and gas balls

    I demand that this phrase be immediately decontextualized and printed on a shirt.

  50. #50 Dan L.
    May 20, 2010

    @Gabriel Hanna:

    Man, you’re way better at this than I am.

    gf1, instead of explaining why one of the green dots should be blue, why don’t you point out which one of the green dots is actually Pluto, since Pluto is so obviously a planet and not one of many similar dwarf planets?

  51. #51 Michelle
    May 20, 2010

    Also, as an English major, teacher, and writer:

    1. I am generally for linguistic precision.
    2. I wouldn’t know what a planet was at all if not for scientists, so when a bunch of them say, “It’s actually this, I’m kind of OK with that.

  52. #52 Prometheus
    May 20, 2010

    The reason that the practitioners of the discipline get to control the definitions of things they study is because even if they may later have to redefine, correct, amend, or completely discard the definition and no matter how unlikely it is that they will be right, they still have the highest probability of being right.

    The alternative is to allow the state legislators to define terms of art….That has worked out in evolutionary biology and embryology sooooo well lately.

    If the consensus of astronomers is that Pluto is not just a pot pie but…an EVIL pot pie, I can live with that.

    Even without Chris Mooney holding my hand when I get the bad news.

  53. #53 gf1
    May 20, 2010

    @ Gabriel Hanna:

    The re-definition you’re defending doesn’t mention any of those historical matters, and the exclusion of Pluto is based upon the fact that it hasn’t has ‘cleared the neighborhood around its orbit’ – a factor that it seem many scientists think is rather arbitrary.

    I don’t think the Lobster comparison works – do you really think that they are equivalent? But still, thank you for actually trying to address the matter at hand.

    @ Dan L
    re: Prior to the redefinition of ‘Planet’ which just occurred, how many planets were there?

    So there were 11? According to the technical scientific definition of what a ‘Planet’ was?

    I’ve not been able to find any information supportive of this view of the evolution of the word planet. I’ve not been able to find any technical, scientific definition of the word prior to the one recently announced.

    (While typing I just found this: http://www.space.com/scienceastronomy/060816_planet_definition.html It seems that there never was a clear scientific definition as to what counted as a planet until the recent one was created. Doesn’t this mean that quite a few of your past claims are wrong?)

    re : “Again, is Pluto a small planet or a big Kuiper belt object? Is Ceres a small planet or a big asteroid? Since Kuiper belt objects are not asteroids are not planets, this distinction IS relevant to, for example, models of the formation of the solar system. ”

    I don’t see why it would affect models of the formation of the universe. I also don’t see why it would significantly affect the way scientists think, at least not the scientists specialising in these matters, who would hopefully have a level of understanding that would make broad brush terms like ‘planet’ quite irrelevant.

    re: “Does that mean biologists should classify animals using the Biblical system?”

    I think we’re getting confused here. The argument that the re-definition was poorly handled is different to my more recent (and less certain) one that the re-definition seems unnecessary.

    If a change in technical terminology would be useful, then it should be done – I’ve never said otherwise.

    re: The wikipedia chart – that’s a really weak point. It would be like me arguing that because Pluto’s density right in the middle of the nine planets it’s a perfectly normal planet.

    Ummm… I thought there were other points. Have I missed some out? I was doing a few things at once here.

    Can we now agree that there wasn’t a precise and technical scientific definition as to what a Planet is until the one recently created? This was my impression from a few things I’ve read, and the link above says so quite explicitly.

    I think it might also be worth having the new definition here:

    A planet is a celestial body that

    1. It orbits around the sun.

    2. It has sufficient mass for its self-gravity to overcome rigid body forces so that it assumes a hydrostatic equilibrium (nearly round) shape, and

    3. It has cleared the neighborhood around its orbit.

    From my understanding, point 3 is pretty unpopular within the scientific community, and seen as a bit arbitrary (apparently Earth wouldn’t count under certain conditions. I have a vague memory of reading the Pluto’s existence means that Neptune hasn’t cleared the neighborhood around its orbit either – google led to http://www.daviddarling.info/encyclopedia/C/classical_planet.html). Culturally – the term Planet is never going to be restricted to planets orbiting the Sun. They got the round bit right though.

    I think that people are trying to present this as a case of: Nice clear meaningful Scientific definition of a scientific term vs Muddled arbitrary corruption of a once scientific term. The facts just don’t support that sort of portrayal of this case.

  54. #54 Gabriel Hanna
    May 20, 2010

    @gf1:

    We’ll try it again.

    Just as plants and animals are classified by biologists according to an evolutionary perspective, not according to whether they are beautiful or tasty, so planets and other objects are classified according to where they make sense in the understanding of the evolution of the solar system.

    This is one reason why your density example is dumb; because the density of an object tells you only what it’s made of, not how it got there. Another reason your density example is dumb is because if Pluto’s density makes it a planet, so does every other pebble, rock, and speck of dust of the same density count as a planet.

    The reason I put the wikipedia chart up there is because WHERE an object is, and WHAT it is made of, and what its orbit looks like, all factor in to the history of HOW IT GOT THERE: the truly important point.

    This is why “clearing the orbit” is part of the definition. It has to do with planetary formation. Planets are things which condensed out of the original disk and stayed more or less where they were. If Pluto is a “planet”, then that didn’t happen for Pluto, but happened for every other planet.

    I don’t see why it would affect models of the formation of the universe. I also don’t see why it would significantly affect the way scientists think, at least not the scientists specialising in these matters,

    That you don’t understand why it makes a difference is not really relevant, but we’re trying to point it out to you. And then you move the goalposts, saying that nobody ever cared about that before. Well, people used to think the planets were gods before and didn’t know anything about planetary formation, and people also used to call lobsters “fish”.

    who would hopefully have a level of understanding that would make broad brush terms like ‘planet’ quite irrelevant.

    It was a ‘broad brush’ before they redefined it. Now it’s not. It’s like physics and ‘work’ and ‘energy’. People talk about mystical “energy” in crystals, and it SOUNDS like science, but isn’t. And if you talk about Pluto as a planet, you make an arbitrary exception for one out of a class of thousands or millions. It is as though you decided to define “chimpanzee” to include Chris Mooney, and only only Chris Mooney, in addition to actual chimpanzees, while calling all other humans “humans”.

  55. #55 gf1
    May 20, 2010

    @ Gabriel. I know the density argument was stupid. I said it was stupid.

    re the new definition requiring that Planets were formed in the same way… but it doesn’t! I could well just be ignorant of some vital piece of information here, but from my understanding, the new definition would allow for an object that was not formed in this way to still be classed as a Planet.

    re I don’t see why:

    Indeed, my own ignorance is of no importance. Yet your explanation, that claiming Pluto is a planet would be like saying lobsters were fish, doesn’t seem terribly helpful or accurate. It would be confusing because ‘people used to think the planets were Gods’? Calling Pluto a planet is like the faux science of Spiritual Energy? It’s the weakness of these explanations that make me suspect you’re wrong, even without having heard anyone put an opposing argument.

    I don’t see where I’ve claimed that “nobody ever cared about that”.

    re “It was a ‘broad brush’ before they redefined it.”

    Right, so it’s only recently been adopted as a precisely defined scientific term. I’m not trying to tie you to Dan’s claims, but this was a matter of dispute for a while.

    Rather than being like pointing out that lobsters were not fish, it would be like re-classifying ‘Drum and Bass’ as Urban rather than Dance music: because of it’s origins, development and over-lapping artists. A move forced by the recent emergence of Dubstep – clearly sharing vital links with D&B, but too slow to expect any serious raving to take place. If Dub-Step counted as ‘Dance’ music, almost anything could!

    You’ve not really responded to the points I was interested in.

  56. #56 Kemanorel
    May 20, 2010

    From my understanding, point 3 is pretty unpopular within the scientific community,

    Do you have a source or are you just speaking out of your ass again? BTW, you better be speaking about astronomers. What other scientists think doesn’t matter. It’s not their field. So, where’s the source that says that Pluto being reclassified is unpopular with Astronomers?

    and seen as a bit arbitrary (apparently Earth wouldn’t count under certain conditions.

    No, it was added because the previous definition of a planet was arbitrary. It’s smaller than our moon (70% the diameter and only 18% of its mass). That’s not enough enough mass to hold itself together if it weren’t frozen. If it came closer to the sun it would lose more than half its mass and become a comet with a watery/icy tail.

    It’s smaller than many of the other moons in the solar system as well. Sorry, but that is not a planet.

    I have a vague memory of reading the Pluto’s existence means that Neptune hasn’t cleared the neighborhood around its orbit either

    WTF are you talking about? It only comes closer to the sun than Neptune’s orbit. IT DOES NOT INTERSECT IT. Ergo, either you’re not remembering correctly, you remember reading a shit sandwich, or you’re just flat out willing to say anything to make your argument.

    I suggest reading some books… For example, The Pluto Files by Neil deGrasse Tyson (the guy who instigated the whole thing). Or just go watch some videos of Tyson on YouTube about the subject.

  57. #57 Stephen Wells
    May 21, 2010

    I suggest that Planet should mean Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn. And the Moon, of course. If it didn’t get a Greek deity 2000 years ago, it ain’t a planet. Earth can be “Home” and any more recently discovered celestial object can be “Get off my lawn”.

  58. #58 gf1
    May 21, 2010

    @ Kemanorel.

    I did a quick google.

    This page has a few astronomers explaining why they prefer different definitions:

    http://www.space.com/scienceastronomy/080819-st-planet-history.html

    Also this:

    “I’m embarassed for astornomy,” said Alan Stern, leader of NASA’s New Horizon’s mission to Pluto and a scientist at the Southwest Research Institute. “Less than 5 percent of the world’s astronomers voted.

    “This definition stinks, for technical reasons,” Stern told SPACE.com. He expects the astronomy community to overturn the decision. Other astronomers criticized the definition as ambiguous.”

    “re: and seen as a bit arbitrary (apparently Earth wouldn’t count under certain conditions.”

    That page from science.com has one of the proponents of the new definition (apart from requiring that Planets orbit our Sun) explaining why it’s still problematic:

    “The “cleared the neighborhood around its orbit” criterion is also a sticky issue. That’s because the farther away a planetary object is from its star the longer it takes to complete its orbit. So depending on the age of the system, that object may not have completed many orbits and thus If Earth were positioned at a distance of 100 astronomical units (100 times farther than it is now), our homebase would not fit the IAU definition of a planet, argue Hal Levison of the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colo., and others.”

    Stern from NASA again:

    “It’s patently clear that Earth’s zone is not cleared,” Stern told SPACE.com. “Jupiter has 50,000 trojan asteroids,” which orbit in lockstep with the planet.

    Stern called it “absurd” that only 424 astronomers were allowed to vote, out of some 10,000 professional astronomers around the globe.”

    re Neptune:

    http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/sci/tech/5283956.stm

    “One of the three criteria for planethood states that a planet must have “cleared the neighbourhood around its orbit”. The largest objects in the Solar System will either collect together material in their path or fling it out of the way with a gravitational swipe.

    Pluto was disqualified because its highly elliptical orbit overlaps with that of Neptune.

    But Dr Stern pointed out that Earth, Mars, Jupiter and Neptune have also not fully cleared their orbital zones. Earth orbits with 10,000 near-Earth asteroids. Jupiter, meanwhile, is accompanied by 100,000 Trojan asteroids on its orbital path.

    These rocks are all essentially chunks of rubble left over from the formation of the Solar System more than four billion years ago.

    “If Neptune had cleared its zone, Pluto wouldn’t be there,” he added.”

    Considering I only said “I have a vague memory of reading the Pluto’s existence means that Neptune hasn’t cleared the neighborhood around its orbit either”… something which seems pretty reasonable considering that is what was said, your jumping up and down and talking about ‘shit sandwiches’ or claiming I’m lying to win a point makes you look like a bit of a twit.

    I’m not interested in playing games to win a point. You’re not worth it.

  59. #59 Kemanorel
    May 21, 2010

    *sigh*

    First, that article twists a lot of things. What is meant by “It has cleared the neighborhood around its orbit” is not what it is represented as in the article. It’s not talking about objects like asteroids and stuff. It’s talking about objects that would actually throw the planet off course. Earth can hit those asteroids and not be knocked of course… there’d be a lot of dead stuff on Earth, but Earth would keep on going around the sun with barely a wobble.

    Pluto would not. It would be thrown off course. Pluto wouldn’t react the same way in the same situations as the other planets.

    The article also has this quote:

    So depending on the age of the system, that object may not have completed many orbits and thus If Earth were positioned at a distance of 100 astronomical units (100 times farther than it is now)

    Do you know that Pluto is 39.48AU? This article is making the argument that earth wouldn’t be a planet if it was 2.5 times FURTHER THAN PLUTO! What kind of argument is that? “Yeah, well, Earth wouldn’t be a planet either if it was 2.5 times further than Pluto is.”

    Oh, BTW, even at 100 AU, that’d still be several million orbits around the sun since the beginning of the solar system, so even that far out, Earth would still have cleared it’s orbit. Pluto would still be in danger of being knocked out of its orbit.

    To say this article is a fair assessment of the situation is just silly. It’s obviously biased towards those that want Pluto to be a planet, which brings me to my next point:

    Second, about Alan Stern… I don’t question the man’s credentials, but I do question his bias on the issue considering he’s the principal investigator of the New Horizons mission to Pluto.

    Though, I will say that this statement “If Neptune had cleared its zone, Pluto wouldn’t be there,” he added.” is a bullshit. Neptune and Pluto don’t even come close to each other because Pluto’s orbit is so off tilt from the actual planets.

    Pluto and Neptune’s minimum separation is over 17 AU…. that’s 17 times the distance of Earth to the sun. Do you think Earth isn’t a planet because it hasn’t cleared the sun from it’s path? And everything between the sun and almost half the distance to Pluto? If the neighborhood of a planet is 17AU, then Earth has to clear the sun, Mercury, Venus, Mars, the asteroid belt, Jupiter, Saturn, and Uranus to be considered a planet. What kind of stupidity is that?

    On top of that Pluto comes closer to Uranus’s orbit (11 AU) than it does to Neptune, so if anything Uranus hasn’t cleared it’s path of Pluto, but again, 11 AU? That’s ridiculous to including that as part of “clearing its neighborhood.”

    Stop taking arguments at face value just because the conclusion fits what you want. Actually do a little research and realize what the argument really means. A few minutes to look up the distances between objects and then a few more to do some comparisons.

    BTW, you still didn’t provide evidence that it was unpopular with the majority of astronomers… just a few of them, and biased ones at that.

  60. #60 gf1
    May 21, 2010

    @Kemanorel:

    That wasn’t much of an apology was it? I think you need to learn when to swallow your pride.

    I didn’t provide evidence that the re-definition was unpopular with the majority of astronomers but I never said that it was, so I don’t think that’s much of a point against me.

    You missed the point of the distance argument, but it wasn’t one of mine so I’m happy to leave you to it.

    re Alan Stern being a Pluto expert: Really?! So a scientists’ views as to what should count as a planet can be affected by political concerns about funding, their own self-interest, etc…. what a revelation. You genius for working that one out.

    It doesn’t have any bearing in this case though, as I’m not arguing that scientists should class Pluto as a Planet – I’m not terribly bothered either way (although I’ve yet to heard a compelling reason as to why the re-classification was needed, and think that way some seem to present this debate as one of Science fighting back the forces of unreason is slightly demented). Rather, I was providing a quote to support my claim that “I have a vague memory of reading the Pluto’s existence means that Neptune hasn’t cleared the neighborhood around its orbit either”. You know – the one that got you acting like a berk, and claiming I was lying, stupid, whatever. Now I’ve provided the quote that perfectly supports my claim, instead of apologising you’ve moved on to complaining that I’m disingenuously accepting arguments just because they’re what I want to hear. Are you really that stupid? If so, I suggest you alter your tone somewhat.

  61. #61 Kemanorel
    May 21, 2010

    And on this point:

    something which seems pretty reasonable considering that is what was said, your jumping up and down and talking about ‘shit sandwiches’ or claiming I’m lying to win a point makes you look like a bit of a twit.

    Obviously, from what I just told you, I was right. You did read a shit sandwich. You snuggled up to it and took a big, fat bite because the false conclusion fits what you wanted it to. You didn’t even bother to ask, “Hey, is this argument really valid?”

    So, who’s the twit? Me or you?

  62. #62 gf1
    May 21, 2010

    @ Kemanore:

    re: who’s the twit? Me or you?

    Definitely you I’m afraid.

    You keep missing the point – I was mentioning this vague, but it turns out accurate, memory as an example of the type of dissent seen within the scientific community. It seem to me that the current definition is itself vague enough that Stern’s interpretation could be argued for, but that is not what I am doing.

  63. #63 Kemanorel
    May 21, 2010

    I didn’t provide evidence that the re-definition was unpopular with the majority of astronomers but I never said that it was, so I don’t think that’s much of a point against me.

    BUT THAT WAS THE CLAIM YOU MADE! You specifically said the definition was unpopular, in particular the 3rd part:

    From my understanding, point 3 is pretty unpopular within the scientific community,

    If you’re going to make that claim to call into question the validity of the definition, you better have a source to back it up!

    You missed the point of the distance argument, but it wasn’t one of mine so I’m happy to leave you to it.

    What did I miss? The point was to call into question that same part 3 of the definition. Saying, “well if Earth was 2.5 times further out than Pluto, it wouldn’t meet the definition of a planet either” is ridiculous.

    Alan Stern being a Pluto expert: Really?! So a scientists’ views as to what should count as a planet can be affected by political concerns about funding, their own self-interest, etc…. what a revelation. You genius for working that one out.

    *sigh* That is EXACTLY the point. Biased sources are NOT a good source of argument unless the argument stands on its own merits. THIS IS NOT THE CASE HERE.

    It doesn’t have any bearing in this case though, as I’m not arguing that scientists should class Pluto as a Planet – I’m not terribly bothered either way

    Obviously you are, or you wouldn’t have carried this argument to more than 50 comments, fighting everyone tooth and nail that it should be.

    although I’ve yet to heard a compelling reason as to why the re-classification was needed

    How about because otherwise we have about a dozen more objects that should be defined as planets in our solar system… all of which show different characteristics from the other 8, and all of which have their own characteristics equal to eachother. Calling them dwarf planets is MUCH more descriptive of what they are then calling them planets.

    That’s why it was reclassified. It doesn’t fit in the group. It has a different set of characteristics along with all the other objects of similar mass and size. They are their own seperate group.

    Even your posterboy realized that if Pluto is a planet then a bunch of other stuff should be too: “…planet-sized objects in the asteroid belt or Kuiper belt should also be planets according to Stern.” Even if we had a super term to cover all the objects, you would still need sub terms to describe the characteristics of the actual 8 planets, and another for the smaller objects like Pluto.

    Now I’ve provided the quote that perfectly supports my claim, instead of apologising you’ve moved on to complaining that I’m disingenuously accepting arguments just because they’re what I want to hear.

    And I actually provided reasoned arguments why that article is ridiculous and why you’re wrong. You just ignored everything I said about the distances between Pluto and other objects so you can hold onto the ridiculous claim (Neptune hasn’t cleared it’s orbit either because of Pluto) because it fits what you want!

    I proved that was you read was a shit sandwich.

    Are you really that stupid? If so, I suggest you alter your tone somewhat.

    I suggest you actually make a reasoned argument.

  64. #64 Kemanorel
    May 21, 2010

    was mentioning this vague, but it turns out accurate, memory as an example of the type of dissent seen within the scientific community.

    I didn’t say your memory wasn’t accurate, but I have more than aptly shown that the arguments you remembered are shit.

    And one person is not dissent in a community. If that’s the case, then the sun being the center of the solar system is in dissent across the world.

    It seem to me that the current definition is itself vague enough that Stern’s interpretation could be argued for, but that is not what I am doing.

    No. It’s really not. I just provided reasoned arguments why his arguments were wrong, and flat out stupid… particularly the “clearing the neighborhood” between Pluto and Neptune/Uranus. 17 or 11 AU, respectively, is NOT the “neighborhood” the definition is talking about. Alan’s argument is shit. It doesn’t apply here. IT IS NONSENSE.

    He’s biased and conflating the issue with ridiculous arguments that don’t call into question the current definition.

    Did you really just ignore every argument I made back in post #59?

  65. #65 gf1
    May 21, 2010

    @ Kemanorel

    Are you autistic?

    Re: “BUT THAT WAS THE CLAIM YOU MADE! You specifically said the definition was unpopular, in particular the 3rd part:”

    You even had the quotes here. Saying something is ‘pretty unpopular’ is not nearly the same as saying something is opposed by the majority. President Bush Jnr was pretty unpopular, but still got re-elected. What’s happening in your mind?

    re: “Biased sources are NOT a good source of argument unless the argument stands on its own merits.”

    I was not adopting Stern’s argument, but merely noting it as an example of a scientist opposed to the reclassification. You seem unable to understand this and I think the next quote explains why you’re so confused:

    Re: “Obviously you are, or you wouldn’t have carried this argument to more than 50 comments, fighting everyone tooth and nail that it should be.”

    Obviously. You’re arguing against what you think I believe rather than what I’ve said, or what I actually believe. And then get frustrated by the fact that I refuse to back up the claims I have not made with evidence. It’s pretty silly of you.

    I just get sucked into these sorts of silly debates. It’s no reflection of importance to me. Today has been a rather nice day, and popping in to do this has been a good way of breaking up playing in the sun and making sure I don’t get burnt.

    Re “Even your posterboy realized that if”

    I’m not remotely attached to Stern’s view of things. I’m not sure why there was a need for a precise technical definition at all. I’ve provided a few links showing that we did not have one before, and a link to one of the supporters of the change saying that it will not affect scientific research at all (but will be important for school children learning the names of the planets); another scientist was saying the impact on research will be politically driven, as there’s a tendency to prioritise planets.

    Re: “You just ignored everything I said about the distances between Pluto and other objects so you can hold onto the ridiculous claim (Neptune hasn’t cleared it’s orbit either because of Pluto) because it fits what you want!”

    You’re really not following this at all, are you? I’ve not claimed that Neptune hasn’t cleared its orbit. I claimed that I remembered reading someone else claim that Neptune hasn’t cleared its orbit. I have no preference either way as to whether Neptune has cleared its orbit, never mind being so committed to the proposition that I’m working to delude myself.

    Re: “I proved that was you read was a shit sandwich.”

    This is such a peculiar claim that I’m not even sure where to start with it.

    re “And one person is not dissent in a community. If that’s the case, then the sun being the center of the solar system is in dissent across the world.”

    I’m sure there are people across the world who dissent from that. But there’s more than one person who was opposed this re-definition. The committee set up to look into the classification of planets had come up with a quite different definition.

    Re: “17 or 11 AU, respectively, is NOT the “neighborhood” the definition is talking about”

    Where were you able to find this more precise terminology for this re-definition? I’m genuinely interested. I understand the new definition’s intent, but based only on the current words used, Stern’s point can be fairly made.

    Re : “Did you really just ignore every argument I made back in post #59?”

    I didn’t reply to a single argument you made in post #59.

    I replied to your request that I provide evidence supporting a claim I did not make. I replied to your comments about Stern being biased because he’s a Pluto expert. I replied to your continued confusion at my reference to Stern’s claim about Neptune’s orbit. I didn’t find a single argument that needed replying to.

    I made post number 1 only about the way in which the reclassification was handled in PR terms. I’ve only been sucked into this discussion about the merits of the actual reclassification and the new definition because I asked this question and didn’t seem to get a decent reply from anyone:

    “One thing your piece missed out that I’d be really interested in is why Science needed to have a precise and consistent definition of the word ‘Planet’ in the first place.”

    It’s not a topic I have any commitment to either way. I’m just a bit interested, and I dislike some of the poor arguments others have been making. Sometimes commentators on science/sceptic/atheist sites can slip into an instinctive faith in scientific authorities, and act as if anyone questioning them must be supportive of creationism and crystal healing. This approach to science irritates me.

  66. #66 gf1
    May 21, 2010

    Actually, re: Are you autistic.

    That comes across as abusive, when I only asked because I got into a similar discussion with someone who was autistic. It seemed to rather limit our ability to communicate clearly with one another over the internet. You keep misunderstanding me, and I’m genuinely interested in finding out why.

  67. #67 ERV
    May 21, 2010

    gf1– No, its okay *points to OP* Everyone here has Aspergers.

  68. #68 Kemanorel
    May 21, 2010

    I’m not sure why there was a need for a precise technical definition at all…. “One thing your piece missed out that I’d be really interested in is why Science needed to have a precise and consistent definition of the word ‘Planet’ in the first place.”

    I gave it multiple times. Here it is again as simple as possible:

    We have this thing called technology. It advances. When we found Pluto, that was the only one. It seemed fine to classify it as a planet. We got better technology. More of these things were found. Pluto was shown to have different characteristics than the other 8 planets. Pluto doesn’t seem like a planet anymore. It seems to belong to a different group. It gets reclassified with the other group so we don’t have two dozen planets.

    THAT is why. Under the old definition we would have to declair a dozen other objects as planets. It’s not useful to have so many objects with different characteristics declaired as planets. It makes “planet” much more ambiguous. Planet and dwarf planet is a MUCH better system because objects that are planets have similar shapes, orbits, etc. Dwarf planets have similar shapes, orbits, etc

    It’s like lumping colored pencils, crayons, and watercolors all under the title “watercolors.” Water colors are as distinctive from colored pencils and crayons as planets are from dwarf planets.

    There’s your answer. I said it in my last post too:

    How about because otherwise we have about a dozen more objects that should be defined as planets in our solar system… all of which show different characteristics from the other 8, and all of which have their own characteristics equal to eachother. Calling them dwarf planets is MUCH more descriptive of what they are then calling them planets.

    That’s why it was reclassified. It doesn’t fit in the group. It has a different set of characteristics along with all the other objects of similar mass and size. They are their own seperate group.

    PR doesn’t matter, the scientists are the ones that need a system of classification that makes sense and groups things together properly. Not the public.

    Pluto does not fit, ergo it was reclassified with similar objects as dwarf planets.

    I didn’t reply to a single argument you made in post #59.

    I replied to your request that I provide evidence supporting a claim I did not make. I replied to your comments about Stern being biased because he’s a Pluto expert. I replied to your continued confusion at my reference to Stern’s claim about Neptune’s orbit. I didn’t find a single argument that needed replying to.

    They do need to be addressed, because the quality of your source to back up your original assertion is highly questionable as evidenced by my arguments.

    Your argument doesn’t hold up if a source is bullshit and biased beyond measure.

    Sometimes commentators on science/sceptic/atheist sites can slip into an instinctive faith in scientific authorities, and act as if anyone questioning them must be supportive of creationism and crystal healing. This approach to science irritates me.

    Umm… that’s what YOU did by posting the article on Alan Stern and making remarks/quoting things like these:

    seen as a bit arbitrary (apparently Earth wouldn’t count under certain conditions.

    NOPE.

    But Dr Stern pointed out that Earth, Mars, Jupiter and Neptune have also not fully cleared their orbital zones. Earth orbits with 10,000 near-Earth asteroids. Jupiter, meanwhile, is accompanied by 100,000 Trojan asteroids on its orbital path.

    NOT what is meant by “clearing the neighborhood.”

    “If Neptune had cleared its zone, Pluto wouldn’t be there,” he added.”

    NOT EVEN CLOSE.

    I’m the one the questioned his authority and realized his arguments were bunk. You quoted them wholesale without looking at what the arguments really are, which is why you used it as a source to back up your assertion that “#3 is unpopular.”

    I read from Tyson why this reclassification was done and his arguments are sound. I analyzed them the same way I did Stern’s. Stern doesn’t hold up. Tyson does.

  69. #69 Kemanorel
    May 21, 2010

    Where were you able to find this more precise terminology for this re-definition? I’m genuinely interested. I understand the new definition’s intent, but based only on the current words used, Stern’s point can be fairly made.

    No, it really can’t. The fact that if 17 AU was considered “in the neighborhood” then Earth would have to clear everything from the Sun through Saturn to be on the same scale as if Neptune had to clear it’s orbit of Pluto.

    Does that really not follow on its own?

    How about the fact that what is meant by clearing the neighborhood means objects that would change it’s trajectory or orbital pattern?

    The asteroids and things he mentions wouldn’t do that to anything except Pluto, and that would include Neptune or Uranus colliding with Pluto. Pluto would be gone. The gas giants would not be.

    Pluto does not react like a planet would. End of story.

  70. #70 Kemanorel
    May 21, 2010

    You keep misunderstanding me, and I’m genuinely interested in finding out why.

    I have explained why multiple times, and explained why your sources arguing that no reclassification was needed is bunk.

    What more do you want?

  71. #71 Jennifurret
    May 21, 2010

    I can’t get past the fact that Chris Mooney made the list of top 10 sexiest geeks. Really? I mean, he’s not bad looking…but…really? Brain explodey.

  72. #72 gf1
    May 21, 2010

    @Kemanorel

    Re: “Under the old definition we…”:

    Oh, I see. You’re another one who thinks that there was previously a technical scientific definition as to what was classed as a planet. I’ve posted a few sources which said this was not the case. Would you be able to post what you think the previous definition was? I think that you are wrong here, and that this has led to much of your confusion.

    Re: “I gave it multiple times.”

    You’re answering a different question (which you have done multiple times – I was complaining about people needlessly repeating this point by post 31).

    Here’s someone vaguely qualified making the point I was, maybe this appeal to authority will help you: “In an 18 August 2006 Science Friday interview, Mike Brown expressed doubt that a scientific definition was even necessary. He stated, “The analogy that I always like to use is the word “continent”. You know, the word “continent” has no scientific definition … they’re just cultural definitions, and I think the geologists are wise to leave that one alone and not try to redefine things so that the word “continent” has a big, strict definition.””

    Re: “PR doesn’t matter”

    Just about every valuable aspect of the scientific endeavour can be adversely affected by incompetent PR. Yet you’re willing to so baldly assert that ‘PR doesn’t matter’?

    I’ve just gone back to check I didn’t quote you out of context – surely you wouldn’t make such a claim… oh well.

    Re “They do need to be addressed, because the quality of your source to back up your original assertion is highly questionable as evidenced by my arguments.

    Your argument doesn’t hold up if a source is bullshit and biased beyond measure.”

    Are you kidding me? You’re again talking about the fact that I said “I have a vague memory of reading…” as if I said “The fact that Pluto’s sometimes close to the Sun than Venus shows that the new definition is bullshit!”

    My original assertion was “I have a vague memory of reading that…” so even if the quote had been from some high school science teacher rather than NASA’s Pluto guy, you would still have no point here. You’re arguing with something I’ve not said. If you’ve got a problem with Stern, take it up with him, I’ve got no interest in defending the guy and never have.

    If you have been diagnosed with some sort of disorder which is likely to be limiting our ability to communicate, I really think that it would be fair to let me know.

    Re: “Umm… that’s what YOU did by posting the article on Alan Stern and making remarks/quoting things like these”
    You’re repeating the same mistake. I didn’t quote Stern as some authority who must be bowed down before, but as an example of the differences of opinion. It’s a simple point – why are you having such difficult time understanding it?

    Re: “I’m the one the questioned his authority and realized his arguments were bunk. You quoted them wholesale without looking at what the arguments really are, which is why you used it as a source to back up your assertion that “#3 is unpopular.””

    I don’t understand how you can use a quote that so clearly indicates we were discussing popularity rather than truth, and simultaneously seem proud of yourself for having spent so much time acting as if I had quoted Stern as if I accepted his claims as true.

    Re “No, it really can’t. The fact that if 17 AU was considered “in the neighborhood” then Earth would have to clear everything from the Sun through Saturn to be on the same scale as if Neptune had to clear it’s orbit of Pluto.”

    So the objective, technical and scientific definition of ‘Planet’ should not be interpreted in Stern’s manner, as otherwise it would exclude objects that, for cultural and historical reasons, we know are planets?

    It’s this sort of thing that makes me suspect the re-definition was a slightly silly exercise. When you read the discussion about defining feature it’s full of arguments like: “We can’t require planets to have an atmosphere, because that would exclude Mercury, and we know that’s a planet.”

    Re “I have explained why multiple times, and explained why your sources arguing that no reclassification was needed is bunk.

    What more do you want?”

    Please… respond to what I’ve actually said, rather than what you imagine I believe. Also, take the time to acknowledge when you’re wrong. That doesn’t mean you need to accept I was right about everything, you can continue to argue over other things, but when you have made a mistake, acknowledging this would indicate a level of self-awareness you’ve not so far displayed. (For example, at the top of my last post I corrected your belief that I’d said that majority of scientists were opposed to section 3. You’d been rather accusatory on this point, and completely wrong. There are all sort of other times you’ve just passed over these errors, and it gets slightly trying.)

    @ ERV: Bloody scientists.

  73. #73 Blake Stacey
    May 21, 2010

    Where: MIT- Room/Bldg TBA

    Ah, damn, this is coming to my corner of the world, isn’t it?

    Applications are due May 14.

    Man, I am SO FUCKING PISSED that I missed that deadline. Really, I am.

  74. #74 Kemanorel
    May 21, 2010

    *sigh*

    I’m done. You’re not worth my time any more, gf1.

    If you can’t understand how I addressed your argument, then I can’t help you.

  75. #75 gf1
    May 22, 2010

    I understand how you attempted to address my argument. You just did so very poorly, with a number of errors and with a confused understanding as to what you were criticising in the first place.

    It’s probably fair to say you can’t help me though.

  76. #76 tsig
    May 23, 2010

    I understand how you attempted to address my argument. You just did so very poorly, with a number of errors and with a confused understanding as to what you were criticising in the first place.

    It’s probably fair to say you can’t help me though.

    Posted by: gf1 | May 22, 2010 12:17 PM

    You’re obviously beyond help.

  77. #77 Sven DiMilo
    May 25, 2010

    A brief bio on by Chris Mooney:

    fix’d

  78. #78 windy
    May 25, 2010

    inexcusably fluffy dreck

    Hey, don’t knock it yet. There is a lot of interesting science to discuss wrt kissing: herpes, mononucleosis, Streptococcus mutans…

  79. #79 Paul W., OM
    May 31, 2010

    gf1,

    You seem to be confused about how words normally work.

    What the scientists were doing about Pluto and the word “planet” was the absolutely normal thing that people have done with nouns for thousands and thousands of years, since long before what we call “science.” Expert opinion has always mattered a lot in how we define words.

    Words normally do not have real definitions with necessary and sufficient conditions. What we call “definitions” are generally more or less vague descriptions of some real, observed phenomenon, and we adjust the definitions to fit the phenomenon. And in general, expert opinion is valued in terms of how the definitions are adjusted to fit reality.

    That is nothing new or peculiar to science. It is the only reasonable way to use words for poorly understood real phenomena.

    Consider the word “gold” and synonyms that have been around for thousands of years. (This is a classic example in modern philosophy of language.)

    For thousands of years, people dealt with gold and had a word for it, without having a real definition for it. All they knew was that it was typically a heavy yellow metal, but nobody really knew whether it was always heavy, always yellow, or always a metal. (Whatever a “metal” was, which they weren’t at all clear on either.) They did not know whether it was an element, or even what an element really was.

    People also knew that there were different things that at least sometimes appeared to be gold, such as “fool’s gold” (iron pyrite), without really knowing what those things really were, either.

    Basically, what people reasonably guessed about gold was that most examples of purported gold were real gold, but some were not. They assumed that most examples of gold had something in common, and that non-gold was different in some poorly-understood way.

    In other words, people guessed that gold, whatever it really was, was a real kind of thing in the world, with properties to be discovered, and that if they knew more about gold they’d be better at telling gold from apparently similar non-gold.

    They also guessed that some people, who had experience with gold, were probably better at guessing whether something was actually the real thing—the same stuff as most of the other good examples. They had better tests for discriminating between real gold and non-gold. (Careful weighing, exposure to acids, or whatever.)

    For thousands of years, people would take purported gold to gold experts and have them test it and assay it. Even the experts didn’t have a definition of gold, though—just some heuristic tests based on several assumptions. (E.g., that “real” gold was a particular kind of thing, and that their superficial tests had something to do with some deep, unknown fact about gold.)

    We didn’t have a real definition of gold until pretty recently, with the rise of modern chemistry and the recognition that gold was an element with particular atomic number that fit in a certain place in the periodic table.

    Even then, the “definition” of gold was vague—nobody really understood atomic numbers; they just had some observed patterns of regularities in chemistry, and guessed that atomic numbers corresponded to some deep fact about substances.

    We only had a good definition of “gold” when we understood that an atomic number reflected the number of protons in the nucleus of atoms of an element. (And we only understood what made something a metal when we had a theory of electron shells and such.)

    Similarly, people have used the word “planet” for thousands of years without having an actual definition for it—just a few clear examples, some superficial tests, and an assumption that most of the examples had some deep, unknown commonality.

    The word “planet” originally meant “wanderer,” and signified that the observable planets wandered in odd ways, relative to the background stars. Nobody knew why, or what deep fact their wandering reflected, but they assumed that planets were somehow importantly unlike normal stars, whatever those were, and that whatever the deep difference was, it accounted for the easily observable differences. (Wandering, changes in brightness, etc.)

    Comparatively recently—after people talked about planets without knowing what made them planets for thousands of years—the experts figured out basically what they had in common: that they orbited a star, like the Earth, and were pretty big, but not as huge as stars, and illuminated mostly by reflected starlight. Which ones were actually visible from the Earth with the naked eye wasn’t a deep fact about the planets themselves—it was a rough, superficial correspondence with a deeper fact about their being pretty darned big but not stellar.)

    Notice that when Neptune was discovered, nobody whined about including it in the list of planets, even though it was not on the traditional list. Why? Because it obviously has a whole lot in common with the other planets, and is different from your average rock or snowball in space.

    Common people recognized that intuitively—they realized that Neptune was a lot like the traditionally accepted “planets,” in deep ways, and was only different from them in an obviously superficial way—it was just too far away to spot with the naked eye. People intuitively recognized that it would be stupid to exclude Neptune just because we happen not to be able to easily see it from Earth. They realized it would be stupid to use a subjective fact like that to limit the list, because they intuitively assumed that whatever made something a “planet,” it wasn’t that arbitrary and subjective—it should be something about the planets themselves, and not so much about human limitations.

    Likewise, when scientists speculated about (and later discovered) planets orbiting other stars, nobody complained about calling things “planets” that weren’t on the traditional list. Why? Because everybody assumed that planets had something in common that wasn’t just about our point of view—that if we had a good handle on what made our local, known planets planets, we’d recognize the same sort of thing elsewhere.

    That is absolutely normal in terms of how words work in a natural language. Nobody’s going to write sci-fi novels about “planet-like objects” similar to Earth orbiting other stars, because people intuitively recognize that whatever it is that makes our local planets planets, distant things orbiting distant stars should obviously count, too, if they have the same basic things in common. (Whatever those things turn out to be, once we understand them.)

    Sticking to the traditional list of (visible) planets would just be bizarre in a way that almost everybody would recognize intuitively, even if they couldn’t articulate it. It would go against the grain of how we instinctively use nouns.

    I think that shows that people mostly recognize, intuitively, that word meanings are not supposed to be arbitrary or determined by slavish adherence to tradition or popular opinion. They automatically recognize that deeper facts about kinds of things are what should matter in how we use words, and that it’s silly to define words using arbitrary lists, outdated misconceptions, or obviously subjective criteria. People naturally and automatically try to use words to refer to real things, out there in the world, and “definitions” are secondary. They’re really just rough, provisional partial, and fallible descriptions ofthese things or those things, which we assume have something in common, whatever it turns out to actually be.

    Scientists realized that there were some real facts about almost all the so-called “planets” that included them but excluded a host of other rocks and snowballs orbiting the sun. And Pluto.

    As is common in evolving definitions to fit facts, both in science and in popular usage, it turned out that one of these things is not like the others, and one of these things doesn’t belong.

    That has happened a zillion times in the history of language.

    For example, consider iron pyrite. A long time ago, somebody realized that such “gold” isn’t really like other gold, in some deep unknown way, and therefore isn’t really gold.

    The same goes for Pluto. We figured out what planets are, and what most of them have in common but lesser objects don’t, and Pluto turns out not to be a planet. It’s the fool’s gold of planets.

    Continuing to call Pluto a planet (and not calling a bunch of other distant rocks and snowballs planets) would be like grandfathering pyrite into the definition of “gold,” just because most people don’t know enough about gold and pyrite to tell the difference.

    That is not generally how language normally works, or how it should work, or anything scientists should be a party to.

    People who know more about the real stuff are supposed to stick to their guns and tell the people that they don’t that they’re wrong.

    Gold experts never caved on pyrite, and people who know about planets shouldn’t cave on Pluto.

    Definitions of words are not a simple matter of popular usage, and if Mooney doesn’t realize that, he’s not much of an expert on communication, much less on scientific communication.

  80. #80 gf1
    May 31, 2010

    Hi Paul W.

    Thanks for your reply.

    What about gold crayons? Gold watches need not be made of gold. We may now know much more about the atomic structure of the element known as gold, but that’s not as restrictive upon our use of the word ‘gold’ as you seem to think. This isn’t terribly important though.

    It’s possible that you are arguing against a position I do not hold. You say things like: “Definitions of words are not a simple matter of popular usage…” or “[P]eople mostly recognize, intuitively, that word meanings are not supposed to be arbitrary or determined by slavish adherence to tradition or popular opinion.”: I’ve not seen anyone disagree with this. Earlier on someone was acting as if semantic arguments were necessarily detached from data about the real world, and I disagreed there too. Our use of different words, phrases and terminology will certainly be influenced by developments in our understanding of reality, and these developments will tend to be led by specialists and experts. Sometimes these elite groups will find it helpful to adopt new and precise terminology, or re-define old words for their own. No-one’s disputing any of this.

    Originally I was just saying that the introduction of a precise and technical definition of the word ‘planet’ led to needless poor PR. I’m also interested to hear why a precise and technical definition of the word ‘planet’ was needed. The low quality of the answers so far provided has led me to question my initial assumption that there was some good reason that had just been poorly communicated. I’ve stolen this quote to clarify what I mean, as a lot of people think that they’ve provided an answer when they’ve really just explained the problems with lots of the different precise and technical definitions which could have been chosen:

    “In an 18 August 2006 Science Friday interview, Mike Brown expressed doubt that a scientific definition was even necessary. He stated, “The analogy that I always like to use is the word “continent”. You know, the word “continent” has no scientific definition … they’re just cultural definitions, and I think the geologists are wise to leave that one alone and not try to redefine things so that the word “continent” has a big, strict definition.””

    I was also a bit unsure about this bit from you:

    “Nobody’s going to write sci-fi novels about “planet-like objects” similar to Earth orbiting other stars, because people intuitively recognize that whatever it is that makes our local planets planets, distant things orbiting distant stars should obviously count, too, if they have the same basic things in common.”

    So are you saying that the new definition is wrong to limit the term ‘planets’ to those which orbit our Sun, or that it’s okay because everyone will ignore it anyway? From re-reading, I get the impression that you think the definition of ‘planets’ should not be limited to those that orbit our sun – so are you opposed to the new definition? I’m really not sure what you were saying here.

    I think this quote explains the tone some of the posts here, and it slightly bemuses me:

    “People who know more about the real stuff are supposed to stick to their guns and tell the people that they don’t that they’re wrong.
    Gold experts never caved on pyrite, and people who know about planets shouldn’t cave on Pluto.”

    Some really seem to see this as a battle against the forces of unreason: ‘Just as our fore-fathers did not give in to those arguing for fools-Gold to be classed as ‘Gold’, we must never surrender!’ I do not understand this sort of posturing in the slightest. Gold waist-coats aren’t going to bring down the Enlightenment project either. Apparently we have no precise or consistent definition for the word “continent”, and no-one seems greatly troubled. Lots of words are used rather loosely, and that need not be problematic.

    Ta.

  81. #81 Paul W.
    June 3, 2010

    gf1,

    People are generally aware of the difference between a gold crayon in a kindergarten class, that’s just gold-colored wax, and a gold crayon in a jewelry store that’s a crayon-shaped charm made of gold. Likewise, most people do understand that cuttlefish and shellfish are not fish, even if they’re not surprised to find all those things at the “fish market.”

    Words having multiple senses is not the problem, and is not the issue.

    I don’t think most astronomers would care much if people called Pluto a “planet” when speaking loosely, so long as they similarly understood that Pluto is only a planet in the sense that Eris is a planet, and if we’re speaking loosely, so are other KBOs including Ceres, and a bunch of moons like Titan.

    What the astronomers particularly don’t like is people mistakenly thinking that there’s a definitive list of The Planets with nine items on it, including Pluto. There isn’t. The list of planets has 8 items on it, not including Pluto, or if we’re speaking broadly, it has ten or more, maybe dozens, depending on what the hell you’re talking about. What people should not do is memorize the list of nine planets and think they know what they’re talking about.

    If a lot of people didn’t know that a gold Crayola wasn’t made of gold, or that crabs and mussels and porpoises are not fish in the same sense as minnows and bass and tuna… well, then you’d probably would see chemists and biologists making a point to clearly define those words and tell people that wax is not real gold, and invertebrates are not biologically fish.

    Most of us don’t care a whole lot about the technical definition(s) of “Planet” and whether people understand that Pluto is not one, per se.

    What we care about is science and scientific communication. Pluto is just one of many things about which scientists try to be clear and communicate clearly.

    What we don’t like is journalists who focus on the “controversy” instead of explaining why Pluto isn’t really a planet, and why people should just get used to it, as they mostly have about gold and fish.

    What we’re particularly irritated by is folks like Chris Mooney, who latch onto this, take the wrong side, and use it as an excuse to slam scientists for doing their fucking job, which is exactly to be so uppity as to act like they think they know what they’re talking about, when in fact they do.

    Of course the definition of “planet” isn’t going to save or doom the republic—but nobody said it would.

    You may think it’s weird for scientists to defend themselves about doing their job and doing it correctly—why do they care about mere words?

    What’s really weird is that anybody else cares.

    Why the hell does anybody who isn’t a planetary scientist care about the definition of Planet? Why does anybody who’s not a planetary scientists think that they are reasonable to insist that there are exactly 9 planets, and Pluto is one of them but Eris is not?

    Why do so many people who don’t much care about what counts as a planet, or why, and who don’t much care about Pluto—people who don’t know its size, for example, or that its orbit is very eccentric—nonetheless care so much whether scientists say it’s a planet?

    One reason is anti-intellectualism. There’s a strain of populist bullshit running through this manufactuversy, with journalists thinking it’s better to report on a stupid, ignorant public opinion horserace than on the truth about what people are spouting woefully uninformed but strong opinions about.

    And then we have Mooney misrepresenting the whole thing in several ways, and using it to bash the scientists as poor communicators, when he himself doesn’t understand the issue—and especially, that he’s part of the problem, not part of the solution.

    It’s almost as if he thinks that we should be very careful of people’s tender feelings about their Gold Crayolas, which they learned to call “gold crayons” in kindergarten. We shouldn’t be so brusque and insensitive and clueless as to define Gold as an element with atomic number 79 and make a point of telling people that their beloved sticks aren’t pieces of gold.

    Hyeesh.

    Yes, this is “a battle against the forces of unreason,” as you so overdramatically put it. It’s just not a big one, or a particularly important one—it’s just one of many little battles to clarify and announce scientific truth, and to defend that utterly normal practice against media dumbassery and Monday morning quarterbacking. It’s just part of the job.

    As for “continent,” it is a drag that we lost that battle—the word continent was unsalvageable. Few particular words matter much, but the more fucked up terminology we have, the harder it is for scientists to communicate efficiently with each other, or explain themselves clearly to the public.

    For example, we lost on “arthritis,” too. We managed to exclude some things, like bursitis, which turned out not to be the same as arthritis, but when it came down to it, we found out that “arthritis” is still ambiguous, and it’s too late to revise the terminology—we’re stuck with rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis both being called “arthritis,” even though they’re basically different things.

    All kinds of scientists fight this kind of fight all the time, because if too many conceptual and terminological fuckups go unfixed, it becomes much harder to communicate about things. “Planet” is just one of many terms that we don’t want permanently fucked up like “continent” and “arthritis,” which are continuing sources of inclarity and confusion.

    If you don’t understand why scientists think it’s important to get things right as often as we can, and especially to do so before it’s too late and confusions get entrenched, I think you may be reading the wrong blog.

    If you want examples of this sort of problem, that are particularly important, consider the terms “life” and “mind.”

    Most people have little idea what kind of things they themselves are. Most are very naive dualists who believe in a scientifically implausible immaterial soul, and many if not most are still vitalists who belive in a “life force.” Yikes.

    Now there’s a failure of scientific communication of monumental proportions, and of enormous practical importance, and if we follow the advice of people like Mooney, we’ll never make a dent in it.

  82. #82 Paul W.
    June 3, 2010

    gf1,

    Nobody’s going to write sci-fi novels about “planet-like objects” similar to Earth orbiting other stars, because people intuitively recognize that whatever it is that makes our local planets planets, distant things orbiting distant stars should obviously count, too, if they have the same basic things in common.

    So are you saying that the new definition is wrong to limit the term ‘planets’ to those which orbit our Sun, or that it’s okay because everyone will ignore it anyway? From re-reading, I get the impression that you think the definition of ‘planets’ should not be limited to those that orbit our sun – so are you opposed to the new definition? I’m really not sure what you were saying here.

    I think you’ve misunderstood a subtlety about the IAU definition.

    It’s not really meant to define “planet” to exclude extrasolar planets—that would be stupid, because there’s a lot of talk about extrasolar planets these days, now that we can detect some of them.

    I think the idea is that the current distinction is currently only being applied within our solar system—we’ll worry about other planetary systems later, when we have more data to go on.

    The current distinction is clearly intended to apply to many other planetary systems, more or less, depending on whether they’re basically similar to our own. For radically different planetary systems, we might have to make a somewhat different set of distinctions.

    The bit about clearing their orbits of planetesimals is clearly forward-looking, and meant to be applicable to other planetary systems in the future. It’s mean not just to distinguish between Pluto and, say, Mercury, but between “large enough” and “not large enough” objects in extrasolar planetary systems, where there’s likely to be a similarly small number of big objects with a certain general pattern of orbital relations, and a similarly large number of smaller objects with different orbital relations. There’s clearly been an effort to make the definition fairly general, and not specific to our particular planetary system.

    By only applying that distinction within our solar system at present the astronomers are being cautious and acknowledging that sometimes definitions have to have multiple senses to fit basically different situations.

    This happens in biology all the time. There are multiple senses of “species,” for example—some of which only make sense in the context of sexually reproducing organisms, and others that only make sense in certain kinds of fitness landscapes. We accept that there can’t be a single precise definition of species that corresponds to the folk idea of species, but we avoid a proliferation of terms and unprincipled distinctions as much as possible. Each species concept should reflect some basic and important aspect of reality, or it’s a useless kludge that only promotes confusion. The fact that there’s more than one important aspect of reality that affects what we should call a “species” is unfortunate, but that’s life. Evolution is messy.

    That happens with common and seemingly simple folk terms, too, like “bachelor” or “mother.”

    For example, a “mother” is prototypically a biological mother and also a primary caregiver in a nuclear family, but we can distinguish between adoptive nurturing mothers and non-nurturing biological mothers (and funny cases where you might have more than one, given cloning etc., e.g., a mitochodrial mother and a Y-chromosome mother…). What we mean by “mother” therefore depends on context—whether we’re talking about certain important aspects of culture, or of biology, etc.

    That doesn’t mean that anything goes, and you can call anybody or any thing a “mother” with equal validity. (My car is simply not my mother in any reasonable sense, and neither is the number 2 or the Gettysburg Address.) It also doesn’t mean that everybody is equally qualified to decide what “mother” can or can’t reasonably mean. Some people are more expert about reproductive senses, and others are more expert about social psychology and human development. Others are comparatively ignorant, and some are just kooks spewing nonsense.

    When it comes to Pluto, Chris Mooney is a bit ignorant and a bit of a kook, ham-handedly grinding his axes about scientists being clueless communicators, and demonstrating his own cluelessness at multiple levels in the process.

    He doesn’t really understand how words work, or how science works, or how public opinion works.

    (Or to the extent that he does, he doesn’t want to acknowledge anything that weighs against his preferred stance. He’s a somewhat dishonest, baised propagandist presenting himself as a reliable authoritative expert. That doesn’t sit well with a lot of scientists and communicators who understand the issues better than he admits they do, and disagree with him, only to be ignored and chronically misrepresented.)

    Chapter 1 of Unscientific America was a spectacular display of wrongitude, bias, and tone-deafness, which is a truly funny way to open a book that pontificates to scientists about science and PR.

  83. #83 Science for Kids
    June 8, 2010

    The views of media should change ,they don’t look only for money but they include articles and programs which will improve knowledge and make peoples towards good things.

  84. #84 Science for Kids
    June 8, 2010

    The views of media should change ,they don’t look only for money but they include articles and programs which will improve knowledge and make peoples towards good things.

  85. #85 Science for Kids
    June 8, 2010

    Oh this content of blog seems to be different ,but the ideas are not in attractive manner a blog should be attractive then only peoples will read that.

  86. #86 Prometheus
    June 8, 2010

    Science for Kids is my new favorite commenter.

    Mooney is that you?

  87. #87 gf1
    June 11, 2010

    Hi Paul.

    Sorry the slow reply.

    As a child, I had a sense that the gold and silver crayons were especially precious (do they cost more? a scarcity in the class-room?) and that this was related to their connection to precious metals (I cannot remember if I thought they contained the element gold or not, but I’d have thought it’s likely I did). How many children would need to believe that their gold crayons did have real gold in them before you would think that Scientists should take a stand against the Crayola corporation? To me, it would be a terrible misunderstanding of their role within society for Chemists to try to insist that children stopped calling gold crayons ‘gold crayons’, even if the terminology was confusing most of them. It’s deeply patronising to presume that scientists are required to step in and re-define words because otherwise people are too stupid to develop their own understanding in these matters.

    Re: “What the astronomers particularly don’t like is people mistakenly thinking that there’s a definitive list of The Planets with nine items on it, including Pluto. There isn’t. The list of planets has 8 items on it, not including Pluto, or if we’re speaking broadly, it has ten or more, maybe dozens, depending on what the hell you’re talking about. What people should not do is memorize the list of nine planets and think they know what they’re talking about.”

    There is a list of nine planets with Pluto on it. There’s a list with 8, 13… I don’t particularly dislike any of them.

    I think we can both agree that just memorising a list of names, be they 8, 9 or whatever, is not going to provide students with much useful knowledge. I’m not sure if you saw, but I quoted one of the proponents of the new definition explaining that the definition will not affect the way scientists work, but will be helpful for educating student about the solar system. Yet I’ve not seen any evidence to show that this is true.

    I value science because it’s emphasis upon the need for evidence in developing our understanding of the universe. Some seem to have come to think that, because of science’s successes, we should have faith in the preferences and beliefs of scientists. If they vote for the belief that a consistent and clearly defined definition of the word ‘planet’ will aid children’s education, then it’s up to the rest of us to believe that they are right. That makes me uncomfortable, and I’m not surprised that many people react badly to it and see it as discrediting the scientific community.

    We could have:
    1: Children taught the list of 8 planets, and the consistent definition which identifies them. Then taught about other objects orbiting the sun.
    or 2: Children taught the list of 9 planets, then it’s explained that the definition isn’t consistent and that the only reason Pluto is included is for historical and cultural reasons, as there are many other similar objects orbiting the Sun.

    I don’t know which would be more educationally useful. 2 could lead to the sort of discussion and thought that would encourage a more genuine engagement with the knowledge we have about the state of our solar system – or it could not. If this is a matter for any group of experts, it’s educational specialists, not the IAU.

    Science should be valued because of its role in developing an evidence based and rational understanding of the universe, rather than because scientists are so very wonderful.

    The science community is culturally unusual and unrepresentative , those with certain attributes and predilections unrelated to pure talent or intelligence tend to be attracted to a career in science, so to prioritise their instinctive beliefs over other’s will unsurprisingly cause resentment – anti-intellectualism need not be it’s motivation.

    What problems have the culturally derived definitions of the word ‘continent’ caused? What important ideas or understanding have they restricted? If you view the debate over ‘continent’ and ‘planet’ as similar, shouldn’t we have some clear evidence of some of the problems caused by the cultural definition of ‘continent’ before we claim that a culturally derived definition of ‘planet’ would be damaging?
    “What we’re particularly irritated by is folks like Chris Mooney, who latch onto this, take the wrong side, and use it as an excuse to slam scientists for doing their fucking job, which is exactly to be so uppity as to act like they think they know what they’re talking about, when in fact they do.”
    Who gave astronomers this job? Which body appointed them? What are the limits of their linguistic remit? You talk with such certainty that it is the role of the IAU to be foisting new definitions onto the public, and are even angered that journalists write about the controversy instead of just promoting the views of the IAU and telling the public to “get used to it”… I think this is all part of a mentality some within science have, and which serves to damage public respect for science.

    If you want to engage in a discussion about the useful meaning of certain words, then you should feel free to do so. Specialists and experts are likely to be able to hold greater sway over the use of certain terminology. But when they act as if it’s their job to tell people what certain words must mean, they will tend to look rather presumptuous and silly.

    “If you want examples of this sort of problem, that are particularly important, consider the terms “life” and “mind.”
    “Most people have little idea what kind of things they themselves are. Most are very naive dualists who believe in a scientifically implausible immaterial soul, and many if not most are still vitalists who belive in a “life force.” Yikes.
    “Now there’s a failure of scientific communication of monumental proportions, and of enormous practical importance, and if we follow the advice of people like Mooney, we’ll never make a dent in it.”

    LOL at the biology equivalent of the IAU trying to impose a definitions of ‘mind’ and ‘life’, and then expecting journalists to uncritically promote their beliefs and make the general public “just get over it”.

    Re post 82: I did understand that the IAU definition was supposed to be limited to our solar system (I think I mentioned this above), I was a bit confused about the point you were trying to make here, and didn’t want to miss anything important.

    I’m afraid that I don’t know much about Mooney, and have not read Unscientific American.

    Re Mother: Again, there are complexities to this example which I think undermine your point. ‘Mother’ can mean so many things related to your definitions, but not falling within them. It can be used affectionately for someone who is simply behaving in a caring manner, in a derogatory manner for someone who is bothersome and interfering, abstractly for something which gives rise to something else… it can be short-hand for ‘mother-fucker.’ I’m sure there are all manner of additional uses. Everyone is equally qualified to join in the process and discussion which develops and defines our use of the word, experts may hold more sway, but they have no monopoly on input. Your presumption that the word should only be defined by these from particular, narrow areas of expertise presumes too much. Particular social groupings can adopt certain uses of a term, and these may then become widespread. The African-American use of the word ‘brother’ may not have been approved by any vote of Biologists, and now science has ‘lost that battle’, but we are none the poorer for it.

    “If you don’t understand why scientists think it’s important to get things right as often as we can, and especially to do so before it’s too late and confusions get entrenched, I think you may be reading the wrong blog.”

    Why do you think that?

    PS: I’m sure I missed out a few points. If they come back to me, I’ll come back to it. Ta.

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