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Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Media effs up another astronomy report, film at 11

Dear astronomers and astrophysicists,

For the love of whatever deity you happen to believe in this week, please stop talking to reporters.
Do this. Hire a bright, young and enterprising journalism grad. Spend a year teaching them about things like Hertzsprung-Russell Diagrams and Keplerian laws of planetary motion. Then, when you think you've discovered something cool, tell them about it, and let them talk to the media about it. Really. Here's a hint, a lot of pretty young sorority girls (and pretty young fraternity boys, whatever floats it for you) end up majoring in Journalism because they have a basic mastery of their native language and were smart enough to figure out that majoring in English required a strong desire for Top Ramen (yes, I know that majoring in Astronomy also requires a passionate love of Top Ramen, just bear with me for a minute). Then, some small number of them figure out that most of the news outlets won't actually hire anyone who has spent four years studying actual journalism, because "journalism" implies something which is antithetical to most corporate media. So, you have at your disposal a fairly substantial pool of people who know how to talk to the media, who are capable of learning enough astrophysics to be able to communicate that effectively to a small child, an adult with profound learning differences or a television news anchor, are willing to work for almost nothing and with whom you MIGHT ACTUALLY HAVE AN OPPORTUNITY TO DATE. That's right kiddies, just imagine having an attractive, unattached co-worker who knew how to mingle at parties AND didn't need terms like "main sequence" explained to them! Wouldn't that be AWESOME???
No, really, I do know what it's like to try to run a research program and also actually survive off of a research grant. But you might want to consider hiring one of these people anyway. Because the result of not hiring them is this.

Captain Robert


By the way, that wasn't Fox News or AOL, but Time effing magazine. Remember when Time WAS journalism? Sigh.

Okay, to clarify. We have NOT discovered a "new" gas giant planet "hiding" in the Oort Cloud.

Professors John Matese and Daniel Whitmire of the University of Lousiana-Lafayette think there might be a planet there, based on frankly fairly scant evidence of cometary periodicity. They've believed this since about 1999. Nothing to date has conclusively corroborated this belief. NASA's WISE satellite has recently completed scanning the part of the sky where Matese and Whitmore expect to find Tyche, which is the name they've given to their hypothetical planet (others have named it Nemesis; no it isn't Nibiru, no it isn't going to collide with earth). But nobody yet has had an opportunity to analyze the data that WISE obtained. So, we still don't have any meaningful evidence to support the existence of this planet. Now, there's no special reason to suspect that there ISN'T a planet there, either. For the record, I think it's reasonably likely that Tyche (or Nemesis or whatever we're calling it this week) does exist. I'm actually inclined to suspect a brown or red dwarf star as a better candidate than a gas supergiant planet, but that's frankly quibbling. I've even posted about Nemesis here before. It's just that we don't actually have enough evidence to say anything meaningful in any direction. By the middle of May the data will be analyzed, and we will know more, one way or another. But right now we really don't have anything interesting to report.

So, please, astronomers, stop talking to reporters. Hire a professional to do that for you. Because this is getting embarrassing. And it isn't entirely the media's fault.

1 comment:

  1. Errata:

    "Nemesis" and "Tyche" are NOT the same body. Nemesis was expected to have a fairly elliptical orbit, Tyche is expected to have a more circular orbit. To date, the existence of neither one has been proven or disproven.