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Thursday, January 26, 2006

Similar in a superficial sort of way

I like astronomy though I am not really much of an astronomer; my interests lie within the solar system. Plus I have to contend for funding with astronomers who do not really seem to appreciate what we do and severly outnumber us. I have a colleague who laments that it seems that astronomers seem to publish whenever they turn on their telescopes and see a slightly pinker star than the one they saw yesterday, plus they are very good at getting their stories picked up by the media.

Anyway, a planet closest in size to Earth has been discovered. This is the latest in a line of planets that have been identified which successively smaller sizes, each one bringing with it a fanfare of excitement. It is quite a triumph considering that the first extra-solar planet was discovered only 11 years ago. It is still five times the mass of the Earth, and though I don't have the numbers, if it has a comparable denisty to Earth (speculation on my part, then you would experience just over 3 times the pull of gravity that you do on Earth.

This is all well and good but what really got me was in this BBC report.

The planet, which goes by the name OGLE-2005-BLG-390Lb, takes about 10 years to orbit its parent star, a red dwarf which is similar to the Sun but cooler and smaller.


So similar in what way exactly? In that its a star perhaps? Or maybe more basic: its kind or round and gives off light.

See that is why I get irritated with some science journalism?

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

Publishing in scientific journals is a completely different animal then the science journalism you seem to be frustrated with. Yes, research scientist stories are picked up quickly- largely because their research is grounded in objectivity and intellectual humility, not to mention peer reviewed. The problem, and I think I agree with you here, is that the reporters themselves often lack either the intellectual humility or capacity to offer truthful interpretation of science. In some instances the very selection process of stories can be breathtakingly skewed- completely distorting the concept of objectivity.

Anonymous said...

You're a scientist so I'm sure you know better then most that publishing in scientific journals is a completely different animal then the science journalism you seem to be frustrated with. Yes, research scientist stories are picked up quickly- largely because their research is grounded in objectivity and intellectual humility, not to mention peer reviewed. The problem, and I think I agree with you here, is that the reporters themselves often lack either the intellectual humility or capacity to offer truthful interpretation of science. In some instances the very selection process of stories, can be breathtakingly skewed- completely distorting the concept of objectivity. Just be lucky they say cosmology most of the time rather then cosmotology.

Kav said...

I would not consider publishing in journals to be the same as 'science journalism', root of the word notwithstanding. Sometimes the reports are very interesting and newsworthy, it often depends on whether the journalist has understood the science.