October 4th, 2014

planet

pluto, science, and the beautiful idea of eight planets

Someone posted this to my facebook wall, I sighed heavily:

Harvard-Smithsonian Center debate comes to conclusion that Pluto IS a planet

Basically a bunch of people got together because they're STILL mad that Pluto was reclassified as a dwarf planet in 2006. They held a debate. One guy said "Well I think round things that orbit our sun are planets! So Pluto is a planet!" The people there voted and decided they liked his definition and then said that Pluto is a planet again, just like Earth and Jupiter.

The obvious problem with that is that the "round things" definition means that there could now be now hundreds of "planets" in our solar system. In fact that's why Pluto was reclassified in the first place - we discovered new objects that were a lot like Pluto, even bigger than Pluto. I've written about this before and it still frustrates me.

Overland Park Kansas even just opened a brand new natural history museum with a solar system painted on the wall of the kids area, showing eight planets plus pluto. They did not show Eris, Ceres, or any other dwarf planets. When I asked them about this, they said that they wanted to show the view of the solar system that "people grew up with and felt comfortable seeing". so apparently my kids also have to grow up with whatever you grew up with? is that what we want to teach kids about how science works?

I didn't blog about this when I first visited because I was honestly just so ashamed to have Overland Park contribute to the running joke that is science in Kansas. I thought things were better there.

But what the hell.

One of the great things that Bill Nye said in his debate with the creationists was that if they could show him evidence that they were right, he would change his mind. And that's where most people said he won the debate. Because he was willing to change, he showed that his opinions were not based on dogma, they were built on discovery. An amazing thing about science is that we get to reclassify things based on new things we learn.

If you feel sentimental about pluto, why not feel sentimental about science instead, and how beautiful it is that we can change our views based on the new wonderful things we find every day?