Thursday, August 31, 2006

You don't get a vote

Does this whole "Is Pluto a planet?" kerfuffle strike anyone as harmful? I'm not talking about the honest scientific debate; I'm talking about public outcry over the prospect of stripping Pluto of its status as the 10th planet in the solar system. I was reading about teachers getting children to write letters in support of keeping Pluto a planet, and I couldn't help but think that this approach to scientific debate is harmful.

I realize that many Americans (myself included) grew up learning in school that the solar system had nine planets, and we carefully memorized their names. So what? At one time people believed that the world was flat, but when it became obvious it wasn't, they got over it. Scientists have certain standards a heavenly body must meet to be classified as a planet, and Pluto didn't make it. Too bad. However, the idea that popular opinion should have weight in that debate just strikes me as wrong, wrong wrong. That's the kind of thinking that gets you "intelligent design."

On an unrelated topic, I've been slowly memorizing the words to "One Night in Bangkok", which until this week I didn't know was from a show. I also discovered that I had already memorized the lyrics of "I've Been to Paradise (But I've Never Been to Me)." Isn't that awful? Think about it...some producer sat in a recording studio and thought, "Yeah, Charlene, that's gold."


Blogger Daniel J. Linehan said...

In other areas, I would tend to agree. But there hasn't been a rigorous definition of a planet before, and it's not clear to me how having such a definition would help you analytically. The difference between a large planetoid and a small planet, as far as I can tell, is like the difference between a hill and a mountain, i.e., it's a matter of degree rather than kind. And in _that_ situation, it seems perfectly reasonable that tradition and popular opinion should have some say in things.

5:32 PM  
Blogger TrackerNeil said...

Meh. I say we let the scientists hash it out. As far as I'm concerned they can call Pluto a lollipop.

10:22 PM  

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