Part 2, Sat, 26 Aug 2006 15:24:22.
And the follow-up, based on more e-mails to the DPS committee...
Following this vote and all the press attention (it's August, and the Silly Season) a bunch of planetary scientists in the US who didn't like the fact that their pet resolution failed, have started circulating a "petition" asking that the matter be "reopened." The DPS was asked to take a stand on this... and I commented:
The petition is an expression of unrest, but practically, think about it; what possible change can it effect? The only people who can take any action at all are the executive committee of the IAU, but remember, the result that came out of the IAU was NOT what the executive committee wanted -- thus for them to do anything at all but to quietly accept the vote would be seen, legitimately, as a violation of the IAU's own rules and as the executive committee dictatorially imposing its will, even if it were only to say that the issue was going to be revisited. Believe me, you had to be there to understand the passions on this issue among IAU members... and to be impressed with how well they did, given those passions.
I am reminded of my friends who [female dog] and moan about US politics but in fact are not registered voters. The fact is, dynamicists are more active in the IAU, and their presence won the day. On the other hand, at my Commission 16 meeting at this IAU the entire turnout of scientists who study planets and moons was FIVE PEOPLE. Out of a commission membership of over 200.
The disgrace is not in the IAU, but in the planetary sciences community who for more than a decade now have been studiously ignoring the IAU, refusing to spend the time working on its committees, often even refusing to come to give review talks about matters of interest to the wider astronomical community, too often refusing to attending the GAs (or parachuting in just for the one session they are interested in, without sticking around for the commission meetings and the opening and closing General Assemblies where these matters are voted upon), on the excuse that "I can't be bothered, I'm too busy." Fine. If you can't be bothered to do the scut work year in and year out to make the IAU and its commissions work (and believe me, it's time consuming work of the sort that is noticed only when it isn't done!), then you have no right to let yourself be bothered by what results you end up with when a vote at the IAU doesn't go your way. And you certainly have no right to critique a process that you weren't there to see.
The IAU is important for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that there is a real sense outside the US that the US dominates astronomy, and the IAU goes out of its way to balance this issue. For the Division for Planetary Science of the American Astronomical Society to do anything other than endorse the IAU will be seen as the US attempting to force its will on the world. Yet again.
I will note in passing, having sat on the original (stalemated) 19-member committee to make this definition, I have heard every possible definition; and I have heard every possible rebuttal to every possible definition. You can easily get a majority to agree that "something better" is possible, but you'll never get a majority to agree on what that "something better" is!
Though the IAU didn't end up exactly where I would have liked, either, I can live with what passed and in fact it's much closer to what I would want than I ever expected to get. I am satisfied that the procedure was as fair as the IAU could have made it, and that the final definition is one that will adequately allow the IAU's Division III to get on with its work.
And that, after all, is what was the vote was all about. It's an IAU document for IAU's purposes. The IAU knows (as it said explicitly at the GA) that it can't control the definition of words in all the world's languages, or how the general public uses those words. It can only define terms so as to determine how it goes about distributing its work load to appropriate committees and working groups.
Finally, a point that I think we scientists forget is that a definition is not a computer program. One can (and must) depend on common sense and good will to prevail over inadequate syntax.
Brother "... and incoming DPS chairperson" Guido
"For shame, gentlemen, pack your evidence a little better against another time."
-- John Dryden, "The Vindication of The Duke of Guise" 1684