IAU once again sticks it to an American scientist, devaluing Edwin Hubble

In what is already seen by many scientists as an inappropriate action, the International Astronomical Union (IAU) this week voted to change the name of Hubble’s Law to the Hubble-Lemaître Law.

Hubble’s Law, a cornerstone of cosmology that describes the expanding universe, should now be called the Hubble-Lemaître Law, following a vote by the members of the International Astronomical Union (IAU), the same organization that revoked Pluto’s status as a planet. The change is designed to redress the historical neglect of Georges Lemaître, a Belgian astronomer and priest who in 1927 discovered the expanding universe—which also suggests a big bang. Lemaître published his ideas 2 years before U.S. astronomer Edwin Hubble described his observations that galaxies farther from the Milky Way recede faster.

There are so many things about this that are wrong it is hard to keep count. First, the IAU was never given the right to change the name of a scientific concept. It’s original job was merely to systemize the naming of astronomical objects, and that alone.

Second, it appears to be based on a misunderstanding of basic science.

The resolution has also come under fire for confusing two different issues: the expansion of the universe and the distance-velocity relation for galaxies, which is also known as the Hubble constant. Hubble never claimed to have discovered cosmic expansion, but did do much of observing work to nail down how fast the universe was expanding. “If the law is about the empirical relationship, it should be Hubble’s Law,” Kragh says. “If it is about cosmic expansion, it should be Lemaître’s Law.”

Third, it relies on bad history.

The text of the IAU resolution, circulated to members ahead of the vote, asserts that Hubble and Lemaître met in 1928, at an IAU general assembly in Leiden, the Netherlands—between the publication of their two papers—and “exchanged views” about the blockbuster theory. Kragh says that meeting “almost certainly didn’t take place” and that IAU’s statement “has no foundation in documented history.”

There are other problems, including the method by which the IAU conducted its vote. The bottom line is that this organization has no business sticking its nose into this issue, and it illustrates again, as happened when it tried to push a bad definition of “planets” on the planetary community in order to devalue the discovery of Pluto by an American, that there is a strong anti-American streak within it.