Pluto : the final solution

Over at The Astronomy Blog, Stuart has a post about Pluto called Planet Status Apathy, and how Laurel Kornfeld has been vigorous in responding to his various posts. Gee I thought it was just me; but the comments made me realise it was others too. Laurel, where do you find the time ? Don’t you got a job ?

Through the comments on Stuart’s post, I discovered Paolo’s Demote Pluto website. This is wonderful. It has some really sane and balanced material, and links to all sorts of good stuff, including the “save pluto” campaigners. And … its really funny. There’s a great link to an interview with Pluto.

Best of all though is that Paolo has come up with the FINAL SOLUTION. Check it out.

14 Responses to Pluto : the final solution

  1. Andy,

    Yes, I have a job; I’m a writer for a weekly newspaper here in New Jersey and do freelace writing and editing as well. Surfing the Internet is one of my hobbies, and I admit to having made a conscious effort over the last year to be as prolific as possible in publicly opposing the IAU demotion of Pluto.

    In the same way I surf the web to find background information on subjects about which I write professionally, I do so on subjects of personal interest. I’ve found a lot of wonderful astronomy sites over the past year and have learned a lot about the subject, which I would think you’d find a positive thing. As far as I’m concerned, it’s a much more interesting subject than Lindsay Lohan, Brittney Spears, or Anna Nicole Smith, or most of what the mainstream media like to write about. I’ve also met new friends and connected with some local amateur astronomy clubs in my area.

    Now, as for the Demote Pluto website, it’s “final solution” illustrates just why the demotion was so bad. Call it the slippery slope argument. We start with demoting Pluto; then it’s destroying Pluto, and then if you look at Stuart’s Astronomy Blog, the comment links to “how to destroy Earth.” That’s a pretty strong argument in favor of Pluto’s planethood. 🙂

  2. sme says:

    I don’t know the motives of the small % of IAU members in their reasoning of changing the definition of a planet. However, I encourage all to check out the IAU statutes and bye-laws as to how their meeting are “supposed” to be run, how documents are supposed to be disseminated to its members, how much time alloted before voting, and how the votes are supposed to be recorded. There were 400+ members who voted on the last day of the conference, yet there is no mention of who voted how. How many votes did this new definition get? I can’t find a record of that. As far as the meeting- it was not run the way the “policies” are set. My big question is, “why?”. Our own U.S. Congress would not allow only 4% of its members to vote on any issue with only a “majority” of that 4% present being given the ability to change U.S. laws. Perhaps the IAU should require a quorum.

  3. andyxl says:

    Not sure what your point is. The voting on all relevant resolutions followed well established and long agreed IAU rules, and the results including numbers are a matter of public record. Are you suggesting that special rules should be made for the one particular vote you personally don’t like the answer for ? Nobody ever complained about IAU procedures before.

  4. sme says:

    Of course I don’t think special rules should be applied to particular votes. Also, not complaining, just bringing up an observation by what I’ve read. Please tell me where I can find the vote count. Been searching, but can’t seem to locate it. Also, are you implying that no matter how small the membership at a conference, the vote should go on? With the technology of today, why not have internet voting so more members can be involved in the process?

  5. andyxl says:

    Sorry for the knee-jerk reaction. A number of people have precisely been arguing exactly that the rules should be changed after the decision.

    … I just checked for the web page where the session was recorded but its not at the page I bookmarked.. probably a mistake by me .. I will check this out

  6. andyxl says:

    OK, sme, if you are still reading, I figured out where the relevant pages are on the IAU website. There is a link to the voting rules. There is a link to the text of the resolutions passed. And finally, there is a summary of the voting results.

    You will note that the key result (Resolution 5A) was passed by “a great majority”. The way this was done was that we all had yellow cards and raised our hands at the appropriate point. In these circumstances if it is obvious that a vote is overwhelming, a formal count is not required. But for your information, we are talking about 400ish vs 20ish. Now there is no reason to believe that this was not a representative sample of members of the IAU. So the 4% thing is irrelevant. For that specific resolution it is completely clear that nearly all reasonable astronomers would have voted the same way. On the hypothesis that actually most astronomers would vote the other way, the probability of 400 to 20 in the opposite direction is tiny.

    If Laurel K is reading this, I leave to her as an exercise in statistics to calculate just how likely such a fluke vote would be….

  7. sme says:

    Andy,

    Still reading….thanks for the links to the info. I will check it out.

    -sme

  8. Hello, Andy,

    I disagree with your assessment of the fact that of onlyfour percent of IAU members having voted as being irrelevant. You have not established that this group was a random or representative sample of all IAU members as opposed to a group heavily biased in one direction. Just your opinion does not make it so. A total of 2,500 members attended the conference, and that is out of a membership of 10,000. Therefore, the sample of those present at the vote is also biased in favor of those who had the time, money and motivation to attend the conference and stay until the very end. Supporters of Pluto’s demotion arranged for those sharing their views to not only attend but push this issue. Internet and absentee voting was never allowed. Why? And why was Dr. Alan Stern, an IAU member and leading Pluto expert in the world, able to assemble a petition of almost as many professional astronomers rejecting the IAU decision within days? He described the IAU vote as having been “hijacked” by dynamicists with an agenda of demoting Pluto, and I don’t believe he would make such a claim without valid reason. Yes, this is anecdotal, but I have met astronomers who are IAU members, didn’t attend the convention, and strongly oppose this decision. I have also spoken to some who voted for it, and even they admit it is “sloppy” and problematic.

    The planet definition issue will almost certainly resurface in 2009. At this point, the IAU should anticipate this will be a contentious dicussion and create provisions for absentee/Internet voting. To not have this in the digital age is downright ridiculous. People who cannot attend the conference can easily follow it via Internet podcasts, teleconferencing, etc., and can even contribute to the discussion that way. With such a large number of professionals in the field dissenting and with the extremely problematic way the definition is worded, this has to be revisited in a way that corrects for the problems that occurred in 2006. It will also be interesting to see the outcome of Dr. Stern’s planned conference of 1,000 astronomers, who will address this issue prior to the 2009 convention. I think you may have a much larger attendance then by those who feel their voices have not been heard.

  9. andyxl says:

    Laurel

    “You have not established that this group was a random or representative sample of all IAU members as opposed to a group heavily biased in one direction.”

    Since when is the IAU guilty until prove innocent ? YOU have to prove it was not representative.

    “the sample of those present at the vote is also biased in favor of those who had the time, money and motivation to attend the conference and stay until the very end.”

    Ah yes. Obviously, people who think Pluto is not a planet are rich and scheming and have nothing to do back home, whereas people who think Pluto is a planet are poor and straightforward folk who are all too busy to attend conferences. Any fule can see this.

    “Supporters of Pluto’s demotion arranged for those sharing their views to not only attend but push this issue”

    And your evidence for this ludicrous claim is ???

    “And why was Dr. Alan Stern, an IAU member and leading Pluto expert in the world, able to assemble a petition of almost as many professional astronomers rejecting the IAU decision within days?”

    Because that IS a biased sample w.r.t. to the Pluto question, whereas those attending the IAU was a random sample. Jeez.

    “Yes, this is anecdotal, but I have met astronomers who are IAU members, didn’t attend the convention, and strongly oppose this decision.”

    Of course. Is that surprising ?

    “He described the IAU vote as having been “hijacked” by dynamicists with an agenda of demoting Pluto, and I don’t believe he would make such a claim without valid reason”

    And precisely how many “dynamicists” are there do you think ? Not many. This is where you have to be careful. In special sessions debating the issue it is absolutely true that specialist astronomers on BOTH sides of the Pluto debate made sure they crammed into meetings to get their opinions heard. But at the GENERAL ASSEMBLY itself, these small warring camps were powerless. They had to sit back while the mass of ordinary astronomers considered their rival resolutions.

    “in 2009. At this point, the IAU should anticipate this will be a contentious dicussion and create provisions for absentee/Internet voting.”

    …just for the special Pluto vote Laurel ?? Or for every normal tedious resolution about co-ordinate systems ? And do you really think that people watching a podcast have been following a highly technical debate in the same way as people physically present?

    “I think you may have a much larger attendance then by those who feel their voices have not been heard”

    Oh good. So for that vote we are guaranteed to have votes by fanatics on either side, rather than a normal selection of astronomers ?

    Unfurl banners now please. Its tea time.

  10. […] I have had some odd comment spam recently. I don’t mean Laurel Kornfeld spraying paranoia all over my Pluto posts. She’s most welcome. Its just that I know she puts comments in so […]

  11. Andy,

    It’s not a matter of guilt or innocence. You have not proven that the four percent who voted are a representative sample, and admittedly, I have not proven that they are not. So we have a stalemate. Given the degree of controversy and dissent their decision generated, along with the uncertainty of just who was represented, it is clear that a decision of this magnitude, which affects education all over the world, must be redone and in a more transparent, open, and deliberative manner.

    I never said that those who believe Pluto is not a planet are rich and those who believe it is a planet are poor. What I did say is that there are reasons to believe the sample who voted are not representative of the IAU as a whole. For one thing, the distribution is such that more of the dynamicists are European while more of the planetary scientists are American. Naturally, it is easier for Europeans to attend a summit in Prague for two weeks than it is for Americans, who must take that much time away from their families, work and other obligations. in a longer trip. I for one would like to see a list of each of the 424 who voted, their specialties in astronomy, and their nationalities and then compare them with the same data for the total IAU membership of 10,000. Such a comparison would reveal if there were any biases based on nationality, types of astronomers who stayed for the vote, etc.

    The signatories of Dr. Stern’s petition may be a biased sample, but they are mostly planetary scientists, meaning this issue is their specialty. You have not proven that those who voted at the IAU constituted a random sample. I will throw out the question, how many of the 424 who voted were planetary scientists versus other types of astronomers? Shouldn’t the planetary scientists, who know this issue best, be the ones taking the lead in such a manner? In your blog, you state that you study quasars. How would you take it if astronomers who don’t specialize in quasars took the lead in defining what a quasar is?

    The warring camps were powerless at the General Assembly? Somehow, I find that hard to believe. Are you saying that the majority who voted are “ordinary astronomers” who are neither dynamicists nor planetary scientists? Obviously, they were aware that most of the IAU membership, including leading planetary scientists, were not present. Why was there a sense that a decision had to be made at this General Assembly? The definition adopted was presented on the last day of the conference. Usually, researchers do not decide one way or another on new proposals without first taking sufficient time to deliberate on all sides of the issue. This decision was clearly done in haste because of a sense that the IAU would be embarrassed if no action were taken on this matter as was expected.

    Internet and absentee voting should be allowed for EVERY decision, not just the Pluto issue. It really is not that difficult. Today’s teleconferencing technology allows people to not just watch a debate but actually participate from a remote location. University courses are conducted this way all the time. If someone is having difficulty following a highly technical debate (which this was not), he or she can seek clarification from colleagues by personally contacting them through phone or email and reading the appropriate documents.

    I find it interesting that in a prior post, you yourself stated that you see no reason why the IAU should be defining the term “planet” at all. If that is so, why did you take part in the vote? Why did you not express the sentiment that this is not an appropriate action by the organization?

    As for “fanatics” versus “a normal selection of astronomers,” such definitions are highly subjective. Obviously, those who study planets and KBOs will have stronger sentiments than those who specialize in other fields. When a decision is being made that impacts education the world over and will affect 6.5 billion people, yes I want to see as many astronomers participate as possible, not only the 10,000 IAU members, but the many professional astronomers who are not members of the organization as well.

    It all goes back to the issue of who decides what constitutes a planet? Both this question and the actual definition have not been dealt with in a sloppy and questionable manner, which is why the issue will come up again in 2009. Think of it as a chance to get it right this time. If that is so problematic and irritating for you, then stay home and don’t take part in the discussions or the vote at all.

  12. Correction in the last paragraph. It should read “both this question and the actual definition HAVE been dealth with in a sloppy and questionable manner.”

  13. Hywel says:

    Am I the only person who really doesn’t care if Pluto is a planet or not? I guess that defines me as not being an astronomer.

  14. Hayley Choate says:

    I think it should not be domoted. Why change something that has been around so long? it does no make sense at all

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