Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Doin' Astronomy (and Science in General)...

I recently listened to two AstronomyCast podcasts that have some relevance to those who follow this blog.

Here's a summary of some of the major points, but one should really listen to these to get some of the important details. I've added some supplemental comments in red.

Ep 147: How to Be Taken Seriously by Scientists
Academic credentials are not a requirement to contribute in astronomy, even amateurs can make significant contributions.

Things to do to be taken seriously
  1. Do your homework. Find out what others have done.
  2. “Prove your idea”. (ACK! Science doesn't prove anything - it can only disprove or demonstrate agreement to some level of precision.)
  3. Mathematically, observationally and experimentally test the idea. (A huge amount of astronomical data is freely available online which can be used for testing some ideas. Much of it is in specialized professional file formats that require some study to use properly.)
  4. Determine what is necessary to test the idea.
  5. Get feedback. Get involved with local astronomy clubs. Sometimes professionals participate in these. Online forums have a number of professionals.
The big mistakes made by 'cranks':
  1. Science isn't about emotional reactions to ideas.
  2. They didn't do the math. You can't use words to prove a mathematical concept. (I do much of the math that the cranks/crackpots don't/won't/can't do, or don't what their 'fans' to see.)
  3. They don't do the experiment.
  4. They don't make predictions (or they make very imprecise predictions)
  5. They use the media for reporting their results. Professional journals or conferences are the proper place.
  6. Using all capital letters in the subject lines of their e-mail messages
  7. They self-publish books on their theory.
Many professional astronomers don't have funding for travel, conference fees, etc. They pay it out of their own pockets.

All scientists have the same rules. (And many of the cranks today try to target the rules that define science.)

Some things they missed:
* The web site lists arXiv as a peer-reviewed journal. ArXiv is NOT peer-reviewed. They require a sponsor for first-time submitters, but the sponsor is not required to review the paper.

Ep 146: Astronomy Research from Idea to Publication
A capsule summary:
  1. Get an idea
  2. Search existing literature
  3. If you require resources, such as observing time on specialized instruments or time on a supercomputer, you can seek grant money. The downside is this can take months for approval and only 1 in 5 get funding through the peer review process. If you can do the work with your existing computer system, most astronomers do it after hours.
  4. You get your data from an observation(s) or computer runs. Then you must do the data analysis. There are a number of standard steps that must be done with raw data from an instrument, such as cosmic ray removal, correction for instrument effects. Sometimes when your analysis is complete, the results don't match your expectations.
  5. Write paper and submit to journal
  6. Peer review process. It will often be done by someone who is knowledgeable in the field. Take their comments seriously.
  7. You may have to do several rewrites before the paper is accepted for publication

1 comment:

rspeir said...


Just read your The Cosmos in Your Pocket: How Cosmological Science Became Earth Technology. This is the quality I have come to expect from one whom I believe could/should(?) be instructing. Thanks. It's just plain good - of course well-written, keeps one's interest (but then, I like science history anyway!), well-organized and easy-to-follow line of thought and formula development. Yes, I am a creationist and your point in the Introduction to me and my fellows is well-taken. Personally, I think we appeal too often to a blissful ignorance of the distant cosmos secretly hoping that the truth of it does not come to light and....what? Dismantle our pet theories? What should a creationist have to fear anyway? If God created everything, how can a study of the deep cosmos do anything but lead us further into that truth? Conclusion: Our appeal to ignorance is unscientific and we ought to be engaged in a major course correction regarding this issue. Point well-taken. Overall, I like the pedagogical spirit of the paper. As I was always the first one with my hand up in class asking questions and anxious to drink in more knowledge, this is a piece I have saved and will definitely refer to again and again. Thanks!