The planet debate continues


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In a public debate about the scientific definition of a planet, the IAU’s definition, imposed about eight years ago to expressly prevent Pluto from being called one, was soundly defeated when the votes were counted.

Science historian Dr. Owen Gingerich, who chaired the IAU planet definition committee, presented the historical viewpoint. Dr. Gareth Williams, associate director of the Minor Planet Center, presented the IAU’s viewpoint [which is the definition that is presently considered official by scientific bureaucrats]. And Dr. Dimitar Sasselov, director of the Harvard Origins of Life Initiative, presented the exoplanet scientist’s viewpoint.

Gingerich argued that “a planet is a culturally defined word that changes over time,” and that Pluto is a planet. Williams defended the IAU definition, which declares that Pluto is not a planet. And Sasselov defined a planet as “the smallest spherical lump of matter that formed around stars or stellar remnants,” which means Pluto is a planet.

After these experts made their best case, the audience got to vote on what a planet is or isn’t and whether Pluto is in or out. The results are in, with no hanging chads in sight.

According to the audience, Sasselov’s definition won the day, and Pluto IS a planet.

Notice that two of the three debaters considered Pluto a planet even before the vote was taken. Notice also that the first debater, Gingerich, was on the very committee that the IAU had created to come up with a definition and then ignored completely when its definition decided that Pluto was a planet.

In the end, it will be the people who speak the language that will decide, not IAU bureaucrats. This little public relations event and vote tells me that the bureaucrats will lose.

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2 comments

  • fred k

    calling pluto and other smaller, spherical, sun-orbiting objects “dwarf planets” seems to be a reasonable solution. Then Pluto can reasonably remain a “planet” in common usage.

  • DK Williams

    I am appalled by the arrogance of current scientists who arbitrarily decided to demote Pluto which was dubbed a planet by past generations. It has moons for goodness sake.

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