Subscribe:   RSS icon   twitter icon

The International Astronomical Union Does Bad Science History

Lee Phillips
June 8th, 2024

Thony Christie examines a disturbing excerpt from a report put out by the International Astronomical Union. The excerpt attempts to be a historical note about Copernicus. It’s riddled with historical errors at the rate of over one per sentence. Some of the mistakes will only be noticed by experts, but others, such as the claim that “Kepler’s laws of the motions of the planets were the first mathematical description of a physical phenomenon”, are just bonkers.

How anyone with even a passing interest in astronomy or physics and a vague awareness of the history of science could read these lines without pause is a mystery. That they appear in an official document of the IAU is saddening.

The sadness is made more acute because the report, entitled “Call to Protect the Dark and Quiet Sky from Harmful Interference by Satellite Constellations”, deals with an important and urgent subject. Astronomers are upset by the vandalism of the night sky committed by Starlink and other satellite deployments, which have proliferated under a regime of weak regulation. Anyone who appreciates the importance of Earth-based observational astronomy will welcome efforts by the IAU and any other entity with a credible voice to inform and influence policy.

But a reputation for credibility is fragile, and can crumble under ridicule if one’s blunders are too egregious. The current environment of skepticism, and often outright hostility, toward formerly respected scholarly institutions is not entirely the fault of social media and other anti-intellectual influences in our society. It is, to a large extent, the fault of these institutions themselves. The IAU could have avoided these embarrassing howlers by having a couple of outside consultants read the report before publishing it. This precautionary measure, which should be standard operating procedure, would have added a negligible incremental cost to the expense of publishing and disseminating the report. They probably could have found one or two graduate students to read through the thing free of charge, for something to put on their CVs or just as a public service.

Share with Facebook Share with Twitter Share with Reddit Share with Slashdot
▶ Comment is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to
Quotilizer ... loading ...

Tenuously related:

The best tool for CVs with publication lists.