Friday, January 22, 2016

A New 9th Planet for the Solar System?


Mike Brown and Konstantin Batygin (astronomers from the California Institute of Technology) announced they have conjectural evidence for the existence of a ninth planet in our solar system.



Details were published in the newsmedia, in the Caltech website ("Caltech Researchers Find Evidence of a Real Ninth Planet", by Kimm Fesenmaier, Jan. 20), and in the Science magazine website ("Astronomers say a Neptune-Sized Planet Lurks Beyond Pluto", by Eric Hand. Jan. 20).



As in the case of the discovery of Neptune (mentioned in the video and about which I write in "Observation vs Deduction"), Brown/Batygin's conjecture is based on anomalies observed in the orbits of existing astronomical bodies and requires observational (empirical) confirmation.

If Planet X -- whose existence has been deduced -- is found, that would explain those anomalies.

It should go without saying -- but I will say it anyway -- a failure to find such planet (an incredibly difficult task, given the volume of space involved) would be terribly embarrassing to Brown and Batygin, although in fairness, given the difficulties, perhaps it would be less than fatal. It would also have implications against the theoretical framework they employed: if not Planet X, what on earth explains those anomalies?

That, however, is obvious and is not what drives me to post.

What drives me to post is that cases like this seem not to fit well in Sir Karl Popper's simplistic scheme (scheme which was enthusiastically adopted by Joan Robinson). I've written about this before and there's no point repeating myself. Those interested please read "Popper, Art, and Science".

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A screen capture from the comments thread to the Science website article illustrates my own views on kibbitzers' role on scientific discovery:



Best of lucks to Mike Brown and Konstantin Batygin.

2 comments:

  1. Magpie, I think it was either Brown or Batygin that I heard interviewed on the radio this morning. Assume it was Brown: he said that they were looking forward to the scientific community scrutinizing this hypothesis. So yes, perhaps it would be embarrassing for them if no such planet is discovered, but perhaps they really do welcome the scrutiny.

    Also, the screen captures of the blog comments you provide above make me think of this piece on questioning assumptions that Jason posted yesterday.

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    1. @Tom

      "[H]e said that they were looking forward to the scientific community scrutinizing this hypothesis. So yes, perhaps it would be embarrassing for them if no such planet is discovered, but perhaps they really do welcome the scrutiny."

      Absolutely. It's a matter of intellectual honesty and it speaks highly of them. Honesty and humility -- it may sound cheesy and naive -- but in my opinion still are the best policy.

      Another example -- in economics this time -- is the case of Thomas Piketty, who made his data available to the public and was open to debate his findings.

      Even if a person like Piketty makes a mistake, one cannot deny their openness and honesty.

      Personally, I wish Brown and Batygin good luck. I guess it will be difficult to find Planet X, but I'm no astronomer and mine is only an amateur's guess.

      I do, however, think that lots of people will come up with plenty of deeply felt opinions (like you see in the screen capture).

      Upon questioning, it turns out they are not astronomers, which did not deter them from producing deeply felt opinions.

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