Tuesday, 19 February 2008

We are the champions - national pride in Science

Recent discovery of a stellar system that contains two planets that closely resemble Jupiter and Saturn, and thus offer great similarity to our own solar system has resulted in quite curious `national' observation.

Most of the Polish newspapers and TVs have reported this under the titles of "Polish scientist discover a Solar-like star system". One TV news programme has even suggested that the Polish team should get Nobel Prize for the discovery. (To be fair, they have asked a researcher from Oxford and he clearly replied NO).

On the other hand most of the US news agencies and papers have not reported ANY Polish involvement. For example in the Reuters newsfeed we find

Scientists and amateurs find new solar system

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Astronomers and amateur stargazers have used an unusual technique to find a solar system that closely resembles our own and say it may be a new and more productive way to scour the universe for planets -- and life.

They said technique, called microlensing, shows promise for finding many more stars, perhaps with Earthlike planets orbiting them.

"We found a solar system that looks like a scaled-down analog of our solar system," Scott Gaudi of Ohio State University, who led the study, told reporters.

The new solar system, described in Friday's issue of the journal Science, has two planets of similar size and orbit to Jupiter and Saturn. It is the first time microlensing has been used to find two planets orbiting a single star.

Let's have a look at the original paper, published in Science. The author list is quite impressive - and one can find both Scott Gaudi and many Polish astronomers there, as well as many others.
B. S. Gaudi, D. P. Bennett, A. Udalski, A. Gould, G. W. Christie, D. Maoz, S. Dong, J. McCormick, M. K. Szymanski, P. J. Tristram, S. Nikolaev, B. Paczynski, M. Kubiak, G. Pietrzynski, I. Soszynski, O. Szewczyk, K. Ulaczyk, L. Wyrzykowski, The OGLE Collaboration, D. L. DePoy, C. Han, S. Kaspi, C.-U. Lee, F. Mallia, T. Natusch, R. W. Pogge, B.-G. Park, The µFUN Collaboration, F. Abe, I. A. Bond, C. S. Botzler, A. Fukui, J. B. Hearnshaw, Y. Itow, K. Kamiya, A. V. Korpela, P. M. Kilmartin, W. Lin, K. Masuda, Y. Matsubara, M. Motomura, Y. Muraki, S. Nakamura, T. Okumura, K. Ohnishi, N. J. Rattenbury, T. Sako, To. Saito, S. Sato, L. Skuljan, D. J. Sullivan, T. Sumi, W. L. Sweatman, P. C. M. Yock, The MOA Collaboration, M. D. Albrow, A. Allan, J.-P. Beaulieu, M. J. Burgdorf, K. H. Cook, C. Coutures, M. Dominik, S. Dieters, P. Fouqué, J. Greenhill, K. Horne, I. Steele, Y. Tsapras, From the PLANET and RoboNet Collaborations, B. Chaboyer, A. Crocker, S. Frank, and B. Macintosh

Now, the question is: is it acceptable that the reporters would pick the nationalistic elements in the story and openly wave the flags of discoverers? In the light of the truly multinational cooperation that has led to the discovery it seems a bit parochial. This is the humanity effort to discover, possibly, other beings in the Universe!

But on second reflection I thought of the positive, role model building side of such national pride attitude. Yes, the Americans have the right to claim success. So have the Poles. And so have the New Zealanders, Koreans and many others, judging by the affiliations of the team members. Science should use any available vehicle to promote rational thinking and scientific attitudes, and the model offered by sports reporters is a good one. We are the champions! Everytime we discover anything!

And for me the most uplifting part of the news is that indeed, some members of the team were genuine AMATEUR SCIENTISTS. This is the flag I would choose to be counted under.

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