When scientists are overpaid:
When I was a child a grammar school teacher was telling us about the planets.  She remarked, “Pluto isn’t like the other planets.  Its orbit is different.”  Of course that leads into a chance to discuss orbits, which is a nice way of getting the children to think.

Similarly, in the old days a teacher might remark, “The starfish isn’t really a fish.”  That would lead to looking at just what is and what is not a fish.  I’m not so sure I could give you a definition off the top of my head that would include all fish and nothing but fish.  But it does make the point that a fish is a fish because of certain characteristics. 

And of course now we are supposed to say, “Sea star,” which is a worse name for a number of reasons.  And the bottom line is not that a fish is a fish because of its properties, but because you are told it is a fish.  That is not a way to get people to think.

So I was most annoyed to read a take-out to a Science article (Eric Hand, Number 9, Heritage Science vol. 351 no. 6271 January 22, 2016 page 330) from one Mike Brown, who said, “Killing Pluto was fun…”  Fun.  Really?  Was his fun paid for by tax money?  Or was it paid for by an institution that accepts donations that are tax deductible?  That money was taken from taxpayers under compulsion with the threat of armed violence if sufficient resistance is met.  It’s not for fun.  If he wants to have fun, earn money the honest way and then support whatever scientific enterprise he likes.  I’ve done it and have found things far more important naming a distant world. 

Memory fails, but I think it was Arizona that passed a law saying that Pluto is still a planet.  Ok.  Tax money went into that, too.  And of course it only applies when Pluto is over Arizona, which happens only for a few minutes at a time then Pluto is in one of the positions where its elliptical orbit has placed it above that state. 

I am of no importance here, but the issue is not trivial.  There are lots of people who are actively hostile toward science.  That’s a pity.  Science’s great day is yet to come, and it had better be ready when that day arrives.  Deliberately antagonizing people is never a worthy enterprise, fun or not, but this steps on sacred ground.

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