'Diamond Planet' Astrophysicist: I'd Be Treated Differently If I Were a Climate Scientist


Image: Harvard-Smithsonian

Matthew Bailes just made my day. Not just because he is one of the astrophysicists who discovered the 'diamond planet' that recently captured the world's imagination. For that, he is surely awesome -- a whole Planet! made of diamond! wow and how strange! -- but in describing the public response to his work, the awesomeness expands:

"Our host institutions were thrilled with the publicity and most of us enjoyed our 15 minutes of fame. The attention we received was 100% positive, but how different that could have been.

How so? Well, we could have been climate scientists."

Writing in the Conversation, Bailes expounds upon the differences between working in his field and climate science:

Imagine for a minute that, instead of discovering a diamond planet, we'd made a breakthrough in global temperature projections. Let's say we studied computer models of the influence of excessive greenhouse gases, verified them through observations, then had them peer-reviewed and published in Science.

Instead of sitting back and basking in the glory, I suspect we'd find a lot of commentators, many with no scientific qualifications, pouring scorn on our findings. People on the fringe of science would be quoted as opponents of our work, arguing that it was nothing more than a theory yet to be conclusively proven.

There would be doubt cast on the interpretation of our data and conjecture about whether we were "buddies" with the journal referees.

If our opponents dug really deep they might even find that I'd once written a paper on a similar topic that had to be retracted. Before long our credibility and findings would be under serious question.

But luckily we're not climate scientists.

Read the whole thing. The piece illuminates the nature of the public's perception of climate science as powerfully as anything I have ever read. And it ends on an equally powerful note: "Sadly, the same media commentators who celebrate diamond planets without question are all too quick to dismiss the latest peer-reviewed evidence that suggests man-made activities are responsible for changes in concentrations of CO2 in our atmosphere."

Three blogospheric cheers to you, Mr. Bailes, for using your 15 minutes of fame to make an extremely important point -- especially since it's a point that a good many of the people who oooh and ahh at the discoveries you make certainly won't want to hear. We need to respect all science, not just the branches that feed our intergalactic imaginations.

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