This series of post is drawing to a close, this will be the final post. This third post, in the series discussing the recent decision by the International Astronautical Union to rewrite the definition of what is and isn’t a planet. In how this decision is not going to be understood nor will it be accepted by the general public, and thus there will be two trains of thoughts with regards to our solar system. The first will be the masses who will recognize nine planets, Pluto included. The next school thought will be the astronomers and other types who can actually understand the International Astronautical Union’s definition of what constitutes a planet. This post I would like to present some instances where even though something had been proven or redefined by science it wasn’t until later when the information was presented in a more coherent manner that the public at large accepted the change.
The example that I shall discuss will be a very simple example – the spherical shape of the Earth. As early as Greek and Roman times, philosophers taught that the Earth was a sphere, not only for philosophical and religious reasons, but also because of scientific and mathematical proof. Aristotle is the first recorded philosopher to detail the mathematical and scientific reasons as to why the Earth is a sphere as opposed to a flat disk.1 Yet as any American elementary school child will be able to tell Christopher Columbus’ sailors believed that the earth was flat and that they would fall off the edge as soon as they left sight of land or would be devoured by sea monsters. Almost, 2,000 years after Aristotle and Eratosthenes had proved that the earth was round, the masses believed that the Earth was flat.
Even today there exists a society of skeptics, proudly calling themselves The Flat Earth Society, whose stated goal is “Deprogramming the masses since 1547”2. This is something that most reasonable people would have no trouble agreeing to, that the Earth is a sphere, resting in space, that it orbits the Sun and the Moon orbits the Earth. Yet even on this after humans have been in space, orbited the Earth and even landed on the Moon, there are still fringe groups in society that rebel against such a commonly accepted belief.
How then are engineers to present an idea to the masses that can be accepted without all the confusion, by presenting the information in a way that the masses can understand. Rather than writing for other scientists, I would challenge researches to write for the masses. Today’s modern society has on average more years of schooling than any other in the history of the world, and yet news reports from scientific organizations read like a dry and impossible to chew piece of beef jerky. There seems to be no meat to the reports and what there is, no one without a higher degree in math or physics or engineering can make any sense of. I would urge Scientific bodies to write two types of reports one for the researches and the scientific magazines and journals and another for the masses and the general news media. Information presented inadequately might as well not even exist.
1. – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spherical_Earth
2. – http://www.alaska.net/~clund/e_djublonskopf/Flatearthsociety.htm