Friday, August 25, 2006

Is Pluto Now a Planet Under Daubert?

We're fearful that the nuns at St. Robert's Elementary School would somehow track us down to rap our knuckles, were we to rethink any of the astronomical knowledge they so painfully imparted in our youth. So we're working on a declaratory judgment complaint, to secure a definitive ruling on Pluto's planetary status. We haven't retained an expert yet, but that hasn't stopped us from preparing a preliminary draft of his opinion.

Testing. The decision of the International Astronomical Union to expel Pluto from the ranks of official "planets" is essentially taxonomical, and so it does not lend itself to hypothesis testing in the usual sense. We do know that if we had been asked on a quiz how many planets there are, Sister Doloretta would have marked it wrong if we had answered "eight." Not only that. She would have mocked us for our ignorance. In front of the entire class.

Peer Review & Publication. This critically important factor weighs decisively in Pluto's favor. The published literature overwhelmingly classifies Pluto as the ninth planet. Plus they can't say something in a How and Why Wonder Book if it isn't true.

Rate of Error. This factor deserves little weight. The members of the IAU can't agree on Pluto's classification from week to week.

Standards. We expect the opposition to emphasize this factor. When they do, we plan to mention Uranus. Everyone will start to giggle, and the judge will get all flustered and forget what we were talking about.

General Acceptance. If it's all the same to you, we're going to accept whatever Sister Doloretta says.


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Fed. R. Evid. 702: If scientific, technical, or other specialized knowledge will assist the trier of fact to understand the evidence or to determine a fact in issue, a witness qualified as an expert by knowledge, skill, experience, training, or education, may testify thereto in the form of an opinion or otherwise, if (1) the testimony is based upon sufficient facts or data, (2) the testimony is the product of reliable principles and methods, and (3) the witness has applied the principles and methods reliably to the facts of the case.