Sunday, June 17, 2007

The media's anthropomorphization of Pluto

A quick survey of mainstream media reporting on Pluto this weekend reveals their continued (and incredibly annoying) obsession with turning Pluto into an conscious being with feelings.

Here a few examples. Note red circles (mine).

The San Francisco Chronicle mentions Pluto's pride. CNN claims the planetary body is suffering from indignity. I guess at least BBC said that Pluto's status suffered a blow, instead of the dwarf planet itself suffering.

What the hell is the problem? Big deal...we've reclassified Pluto. It's a damn label to help science better communicate. This is how it works. The general public (and apparently science reporters too) can't seem to grasp the concept of classification. This is a human-made abstraction to help us better understand natural phenomenon. There is no true least not in this simplified outline form. Classifications are supposed to be refined, changed, tweaked, tanked, overhauled, etc. over time. This is part of doing science!

Maybe you're saying - 'relax, they're just having fun'. I understand that...yeah, sure it's cute. But if this style of reporting misrepresents how science is done, then I don't find it so cute.

Besides, if people are really worried about the feelings of a planet (dwarf or otherwise), maybe they should ask Earth.

UPDATE: Add SEED magazine to the list too. Apparently Pluto " kicked out of the brotherhood of planets and demoted...". Sucks to be you Pluto! Oh wait, Pluto is an inanimate body of rock and ice.


CJR said...

My objection is that the new 'classification' is just as arbitrary and scientifically uninformative as the old one...

Brian said...

yeah, i'm not sure if this classification is the 'answer' ... but, I think simply the exercise of re-classifying can keep science from getting complacent ... the old adage that controversy breeds progress