Follow Slashdot blog updates by subscribing to our blog RSS feed

 



Forgot your password?
typodupeerror
Note: You can take 10% off all Slashdot Deals with coupon code "slashdot10off." ×

Comment While we're on the topic... (Score 5, Informative) 25

... here's 19 reasons why the IAU's Pluto decision was ridiculous. But first, the definition

The IAU...resolves that planets and other bodies in the Solar System be defined into three distinct categories in the following way:
(1) A planet [1] is a celestial body that (a) is in orbit around the Sun, (b) has sufficient mass for its self-gravity to overcome rigid body forces so that it assumes a hydrostatic equilibrium (nearly round) shape, and (c) has cleared the neighbourhood around its orbit.

(2) A "dwarf planet" is a celestial body that (a) is in orbit around the Sun, (b) has sufficient mass for its self-gravity to overcome rigid body forces so that it assumes a hydrostatic equilibrium (nearly round) shape [2], (c) has not cleared the neighbourhood around its orbit, and (d) is not a satellite.

(3) All other objects [3] orbiting the Sun shall be referred to collectively as "Small Solar System Bodies".

[1] The eight planets are: Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune.

[2] An IAU process will be established to assign borderline objects into either dwarf planet and other categories.

[3] These currently include most of the Solar System asteroids, most Trans-Neptunian Objects (TNOs), comets, and other small bodies.

1. Nomenclature: An "adjective-noun" should always be considered a subset of "noun". A "dwarf planet" should be no less seen as a type of planet than a "dwarf star" is seen as a type of star.

2. Erroneous foundation: Current research suggests that individual planets do not necessarily cleared their own neighborhoods, and their neighborhoods may not always have where they are. Jupiter, and Saturn to a lesser extent, have cleared most neighborhoods.

3. Comparative inconsistency: Earth is far more like Ceres and Pluto than it is like Jupiter, yet these very dissimilar groups - gas giants and terrestrial planets - are lumped together as "planets" while dwarfs are excluded.

4. Poor choice of dividing line: While defining objects inherently requires drawing lines between groups, the chosen line has been poorly selected. Achieving a rough hydrostatic equilibrium is a very meaningful dividing line - it means differentiation, mineralization processes, alteration of primordial materials, and so forth. It's also often associated with internal heat and, increasingly as we're realizing, a common association with subsurface fluids. In short, a body in a category of "not having achieved hydrostatic equilibrium" describes a body which one would study to learn about the origins of our solar system, while a body in a category of "having achieved hydrostatic equilibrium" describes a body one would study, for example, to learn more about tectonics, geochemistry, (potentially) biology, etc. By contrast, a dividing line of "clearing its neighborhood" - which doesn't even meet standard #2 - says little about the body itself.

5. Mutability: What an object is declared at can be altered without any of the properties of the object changing simply by its "neighborhood" changing in any of countless ways.

6. Situational inconsistency: An exact copy of Earth (what the vast majority of people would consider the prototype for what a planet should be), identical down to all of the life on its surface, would not be considered a planet if orbiting in the habitable zone of a significantly larger star (harder to clear zone), or a young star (insufficient time to clear), a star without a Jupiter equivalent (no assistance in clearing), or so forth.

7. Ambiguous definition: There is still no consensus on what defines having "cleared the neighborhood" - in particular, what the "neighborhood" is.

8. Lack of terminology: Exoplanets - indeed, including any potential Earthlike planets - are arbitrarily declared to not be planets. This deprives those studying exoplanets of an IAU-acceptable term to refer to them by.

9. Inability to describe exoplanets even if not ruled out: There is no way that even if exoplanets hadn't been arbitrarily ruled out that one could ascertain whether a body has met a "cleared the neighborhood" via observations from Earth.

10. Failure to address binary objects. Self-explanatory.

11. Unscientific motivation: The primary reason cited by everyone interviewed thusfar for choosing an exclusive standard over an inclusive standard is along the lines of, "It would be too hard for schoolchildren to memorize the names of all of them". This is such a blatently unscientific standard that it doesn't even bear going into, and leads to absurd consequences when applied to other fields, such as the AMA declaring that there's only 8 bones in the human body and all others are "dwarf bones" that aren't real bones, or the USGS declaring that there's only 8 rivers in the world and all others are "dwarf rivers" that aren't real rivers, all for the purpose of making things easier for students to memorize.

12. Resistance to accept the diversity of reality: In every scientific field, the universe continually presents those making discoveries with a wide range of diversity. This is almost universally accepted in an inclusive manner, subdividing groups into subgroups, and subdividing those further. We will continue to find new types of planetary bodies in a wide range of diversity - large terrestrial planets, dwarf-scale planets, gas giants, ice giants, hot jupiters, super-earths, water worlds, supercomets, extremely large bodies orbiting as moons, planets without parent stars, and so forth. Rather than trying to hide diversity, science is supposed to embrace it.

13. Discouragement of exploration among the public: The term "planet" has a deep and meaningful place in the public mind, as a body worthy of exploration, perhaps even eventually colonization. "Small solar system body" does not. Public support for scientific exploration to these diverse and fascinating worlds should not be discouraged by poorly chosen names. Quite to the contrary, it would be worthwhile if fascinating worlds the diameter of Mercury like Ganymede and Titan were given the same level of attention with a label such as "planetary moons" (note again: an "adjective-noun" is a subcategory of "noun").

14. Distrust of the scientific population among the public: Images of discontent scientists sniping at each other and divisive voting on controversial "truths" have a profoundly negative consequence on the public's view of the scientific community. Anyone who spends any time looking at any of the internet commentary on the dwarf planet decision will find them full of comments along the lines of "Scientists can't even agree about whether Pluto is a planet, why should we trust them about global warming?" I wish this were hyperbole, but I've seen it far too often to ignore it.

15. Poor voting statistical representation: While 4% of the IAU would make up a statistically significant sample if chosen at random, the people involved were not "chosen at random". The people present were "those who could take a trip to Prague and didn't have to leave before the closing ceremony", which leads to numerous potential biases. As Owen Gingerich noted, "There were 2,700 astronomers in Prague during that 10-day period. But only 10% of them voted this afternoon. Those who disagreed and were determined to block the other resolution showed up in larger numbers than those who felt 'oh well, this is just one of those things the IAU is working on'." In this day in age where electronic balloting is simple to implement, that the IAU would be willing to make charged decisions on a 60% vote of a non-random 4% of the membership is highly inappropriate.

16. Wrong people making the decision: Only a small percentage of the IAU are planetary scientists, who are the actual people who should be the ones making decisions about what makes up a planet. Letting people who study stars decide what counts as a planet is akin to letting dermatologists decide how to treat a heart condition - hey, a doctor's a doctor, right? Just like when meteorologists or chemists make claims that global warming isn't real - a scientist is a scientist, right?

17. Making the decision before gathering the data: For most of the history of humankind's knowledge of Ceres and Pluto, we have not had any missions underway to explore them. They were just poorly resolved points of light. But at the time of the IAU vote, at long last, we had launched New Horizons to Pluto and were preparing Dawn for launch to Ceres. Yet it was at this narrow interval, between actually launching craft to gather data about the bodies, but not having them arrive, that the IAU decided to make their declaration. Making scientific declarations about objects that you know little about when vast amounts of data are coming in the pipeline - data that could influence members making the decision - is profoundly unscientific.

18. Not following through on its own declarations: The IAU decision declared that it would continue to name new dwarf planets as new data comes in. Yet there's not been a new declaration since 2006. We have far better data than we had to make declarations of dwarf planets in 2006, and there's a long list of them awaiting declaration - where's the IAU? For example, Quaoar's diameter is known is known to a mere ±5 km and is significantly larger than Ceres. Even the lower bound of 2007 OR10 is larger than Quaoar. Why aren't they and countless others on the list? It increasingly looks like the IAU just wanted to make its declaration purely for demotion purposes rather than for its stated purpose of categorization.

19. Disagreement with the IAU is so intense that those who disagree are simply ignoring it - a process that began in the literature almost immediately (example: http://arxiv.org/abs/0712.2198), let alone in conversations with the public (example: any press conference with the New Horizons team). This not only renders the definition meaningless but serves to undercut the IAU's authority in other issues (such as naming).

Comment Re:Still no word on if its discoverer gets to name (Score 4, Informative) 25

Such a program already exists. And guess what - shock of all shocks, the IAU is throwing a hissy fit about it. They're basically at war with NH's director Alan Stern and are planning to refuse a large portion of the NH team's feature names for Pluto.

Comment Re:Damned Revisionists (Score 2) 25

I think I'm going to take a cue from the IAU's attitude and go ahead and make my own definition for the IAU:

"The International Astronomical Union is defined as a member body of navel-gazing self-important wankers who use grant money to travel to exotic locales to get drunk and make shit up in the name of science."

Comment Re:Ice, again? (Score 3, Insightful) 25

"Ice chunk" is so dismissive. First off, it's not going to be 100% ice. Its surface will probably be mostly ices, of which water will most probably be the most common one, but maybe not. The body should also contain some rock. And while it's small compared to Pluto, it's still not "small"; its cross section is nearly the size of Rhode Island.

Pluto proved to be way more interesting than most people were expecting. While most people are setting the bar pretty low for this one ("Ice chunk", for example), while I certainly don't expect it to have the level of interestingness of Pluto, I think a lot of people will be surprised.

Comment Hoboken (Score 1) 369

We'll never need to decide if Hoboken is worth saving. It will be saved as a side effect of saving Manhattan. Once we block inflows on the Arthur Kill, the Narrows and East River then all of Hudson County is safe.

Of course NYC may need to evacuate Staten Island and South Brooklyn somewhere, so Hoboken may change. Sorry. PS For the short stint when I lived in Hoboken it was a living shrine to Frank Sinatra, with a surprising number of residents who never left the "square mile" for any reason. I've been told this has already changed.

Comment Re:It's not about the crime (Score 4, Insightful) 246

To be more technical:

The "beyond a reasonable doubt" standard requires that the "facts of the case" be proven beyond a reasonable doubt - every one of them individually, with a list of facts to prove being given in the jury instructions and depending on the crime and jurisdiction For example, in a murder case, basic facts can be "The victim is dead" and "The defendant deliberately killed them". Beyond that, the prosecution "bears the burden" of demonstrating these facts as undeniably true. For more about what the legal burden is, there's details here.

The same does not hold true to what are called "affirmative defenses" or "defense theories". For example, if you charge me with assault and say I hit you with a chair, and I say that I was trying to stop you because you were trying to rape me, you don't face a "beyond a reasonable doubt" standard and 100% of the burden to prove that you weren't trying to rape me. Depending on the circumstances, there's either a "shared burden" or I would bear the burden of proof on my own. If the defense is to be analyzed on its own, as it's not a "basic fact", but rather a "defense theory", it would not on its own face a "reasonable doubt" standard (generally a "preponderance of the evidence" or "clear and convincing evidence" - although the claim may shift the jury's views toward whether there's reasonable doubt toward the basic facts in other ways.

There are many different types of defense theories, too numerous to go into here. And in most crimes, claims of consent are treated as defense theories - they don't on their own need to be proven beyond a reasonable doubt (they contribute to doubt relating to the basic facts but are not themselves a specific fact for jury evaluation), and there's either a shared or shifted defense burden. If you say "Hey, I wasn't robbing her, she gave me the money because she wanted to help me out", the burden doesn't fall 100% on me to prove that beyond a reasonable doubt that I didn't - it's your theory, you have to bear part of the burden of proof for it. The case as a whole still needs to be proven beyond a reasonable doubt, of course.

It would be nice - and in fact, would only be basic fairness - if rape cases faced the same standard. Unfortunately, in most jurisdictions, it does not work that way. Consent is not treated as a defense theory. Humans are not treated as in a perpetual state of consent for giving away money, for being taken strange places by strangers, or any of the other sorts of cases where "consent" defenses are common.... except that they generally are treated as being in a perpetual state of consent for sex. No matter how weird, twisted, sick the sexual practice, with whatever person they may be, even with a person not matching your sexuality, you're presumed by default to be in consent for it. And the burden falls 100% on the accuser in this one type of case to prove that consent was not given.

And this is wrong.

Comment Re:All bullshit (Score 3, Insightful) 246

Where I live, there's pretty much no sexual shame for a woman to have sex, which eliminates the concept of this argument. Yet rape rates are still very high.

And seriously, I simply cannot comprehend this logic. The (incredibly common) logic used by people like you is based on the following premises:

1) The concept that a woman had sex is shameful
2) The concept of going down to a police station, telling them that you were raped, having strangers probe you, having the media cover your sex life, getting countless threats and personal attacks and people calling you a liar and a slut, etc, all for what everyone knows is a pitifully tiny chance of getting a conviction (wherein even more calls of "liar" and "slut" will be fielded), is totally easy and totally not shameful.

I mean, WTF people?

Comment Re:All bullshit (Score -1, Troll) 246

Of course he believes him. Someone alleged rape, and thus she's automatically a liar simply regretting consensual sex, QED. Likewise, in his world, consensual sex is a horrible shameful mark that can only be erased by the totally-no-shame, totally-not-getting-your-name-dragged-through-the-mud, just-another-tuesday process of pressing charges for rape.

Step right up, see the rape culture!

The answer is, they were unable to prove that the sex was not consensual. That's not quite the same as saying that the sex was consensual.

In MRA-land, they're identical.

Do I believe him? I have no reason to believe, nor to disbelieve. I have no way to know either way.

Indeed.

Comment Re:It's not about the crime (Score 3, Interesting) 246

Let's say it all together: Acquittal doesn't mean that the accuser lied. Just like in the vast majority of cases, rape is incredibly hard to prove. If they felt there was evidence that she lied, rather than insufficient evidence to prove "guilt beyond a reasonable doubt", then they would be trying her for making false charges - which, computer used or not, is usually a felony.

Regardless, I won't consider justice "blind" until "she consented to the sex" is treated by the same legal standard as a robbery defendant's claim "he consented to give me the money" - as an affirmative defense / defense theory.

Comment Re:From TFA: bit-exact or not? (Score 1) 168

There used to be a web page called "Your Eyes Suck at Blue". You might find it on the Wayback machine.

You can tell the luminance of each individual channel more precisely than you can perceive differences in mixed color. This is due to the difference between rod and cone cells. Your perception of the color gamut is, sorry, imprecise. I'm sure that you really can't discriminate 256 bits of blue in the presence of other, varying, colors.

Comment Re:From TFA: bit-exact or not? (Score 5, Insightful) 168

Rather than abuse every commenter who has not joined your specialty on Slashdot, please take the source and write about what you find.

Given that CPU and memory get less expensive over time, it is no surprise that algorithms work practically today that would not have when various standards groups started meeting. Ultimately, someone like you can state what the trade-offs are in clear English, and indeed whether they work at all, which is more productive than trading naah-naahs.

The road to ruin is always in good repair, and the travellers pay the expense of it. -- Josh Billings

Working...