Recently my colleagues and I announced the discovery of a remarkable planet orbiting a special kind of star known as a pulsar. […] we had discovered a planet made of diamond.
[…] our research received amazing attention from the world’s media. The diamond planet was featured in Time Magazine, the BBC and China Daily, to name but a few.
I was asked by many journalists about the significance of the discovery. If I were honest, I’d have to concede that, although worthy of publication in Science, in the field of astrophysics it isn’t that significant. […] it isn’t that important.
And yet the diamond planet has been hugely successful in igniting public curiosity about the universe in which we live.
In that sense, for myself and my co-authors, I suspect it will be among the greatest discoveries of our careers.[…] The attention we received was 100% positive, but how different that could have been.
How so? Well, we could have been climate scientists.
Imagine for a minute that, instead of discovering a diamond planet, we’d made a breakthrough in global temperature projections.
[…] 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.
[…] Before long our credibility and findings would be under serious question.
[…] It may come as a big surprise to many, but there is actually no difference between how science works in astronomy and climate change – or any other scientific discipline for that matter.
We make observations, run simulations, test and propose hypotheses, and undergo peer review of our findings.
We get together […] and discuss and debate our own pet theories, […]
If you are a solid state physicist, an astronomer, or doing laser optics, the world is happy to celebrate your discoveries, use them in new products such as WiFi, and wonder about the growth in knowledge and technology.
[…] 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.
The scientific method is universal. If we selectively ignore it in certain disciplines, we do so at our peril.
If you are interested in science and science communication, read this article by Matthew Bailes.