Sunday, March 08, 2009

Bush Science Record Defended by Liberal Physicist

Neil deGrasse Tyson, who describes himself as "left of liberal," takes some questions from the audience during an event while he talks about his book The Pluto Files. The questioner referred to the Bush administration as "the dark years" and asked for some comment from Dr. Tyson about President Obama's claim the he "is restoring science to its proper place in our society."

Dr. Tyson notes that the Bush administration was not "the black hole of science some said it was" and noted that science was treated with higher budgets during the Bush years--the only measure that matters in his view. He cited the example that the NASA budget was cut 25% during the Clinton administration and raised by 20% during the Bush administration.

This five minute clip is only part of a very entertaining presentation that is mostly about the planets and science. It is a fun watch for anybody who still has pride that they can name all the planets in order and cared when Pluto got the boot. If you want to watch the full ten-minute answer to this question (including the original question), go to the full version of this video and check out chapter 18.

UPDATE: The embedded video seems to be ignoring the internal place mark, so click the link above to see the segment in question.


Laurel Kornfeld said...

Pluto's demotion is not final, and Tyson misleads readers into thinking so by using the subtitle "The Rise and Fall of America's Favorite Planet."

Only four percent of the IAU voted to demote Pluto, and most are not planetary scientists. Their decision was rejected by hundreds of professional astronomers led by Dr. Alan Stern, Principal Investigator of NASA's New Horizons mission to Pluto.

In the book, Tyson contradicts himself on the IAU vote, on the one hand disavowing anything to do with it and accurately describing it as "flawed" while on the other hand citing it to vindicate his decision regarding design of the Rose Center.

Tyson also ignores the fact that the IAU definition claims a dwarf planet is not a planet at all, which is inconsistent with the use of the term "dwarf" in astronomy, where dwarf stars are still stars, and dwarf galaxies are still galaxies.

He is also wrong in depicting Pluto as "a large comet." Unlike comets, Pluto is in a state of hydrostatic equilibrium, meaning it is large enough to have been pulled into a round shape by its own gravity. This is a characteristic of planets, not of comets or asteroids. As for his claim that if brought into Earth's orbit, Pluto would develop a tail, he neglects to add that any planet brought close enough to its parent star would develop a tail as well. Earth is 30 times closer to the sun than Pluto. If Earth were brought 30 times closer to the sun than its current orbit, it would definitely develop a tail due to outgassing.

Pluto is still considered a planet by many scientists and lay people, and many are working even now to overturn the demotion or are ignoring it altogether. This debate is far from over.

Bradley Ross said...

Dr. Tyson was arguing that we need more classifications of planets; the word itself isn't meaningful enough. I haven't read his book, so I can't comment about what he said there, but in the lecture he also makes a distinction between the inner planets (hard and small) and the outer planets (gas giants). He sees Pluto as a third type of planet.

Nevertheless, I understand that there will be another meeting of the IAU this year and that there may be another vote on the matter, so we'll see what happens!