One thing certain people seem to love to do in Vs. Debates is to drive the debate into the realm of trivial minutiae and personal attacks, in the hopes that they might be able to declare you wrong and evil with the main bone of contention if they can declare you wrong and evil with a sliver.

But, this does contribute to the educational aspect of the Vs. Debates, and not just in reference to the analysis of deviant psychologies that one gets by interacting with those on the other side of the Vs. Debate aisle. From particle physics to corporate law, the Vs. Debate has touched on many subjects over the years.

That sort of thing is why I was the one to reveal the existence of Hawking radiation to the ASVS folks way back in the day, why I had the pleasure of informing some SD.Netter named P_____k D___n that atoms don't whack each other like billiard balls, why I had to educate ASVS on Earth-standard timekeeping regarding midnights, why I had to explain that the sky isn't pitch-black under a full moon to some rabid 'tard at TrekBBS, and why I got to educate M____r of O___s on the finer points of geology and materials science a couple of years back.

Those are but a few of the examples that come to mind, and there are many more.

The point of this, though, is not to gloat. Well, actually, that's not completely true . . . there is about to be some gloating, but that's only secondary. I'm not always right, by any means, but I am right quite frequently.

That's why it never ceases to amuse me to see some random reference that confirms my position from some argument years beforehand. This happens all the time, of course, for some of them . . . such as the case of the guy from ASVS who claimed that no one ever picks a random contextually-large number (say, 1.2 million, or 1,374) to represent the idea of a large number, especially in semi-humorous situations. Just today, in fact, I was reading the novella from which The Shawshank Redemption was crafted, and the narrator character . . . well, I'll just quote it:

I had it in my cell for one night, and it was just as he described it. It was no tool for escape (it would have taken a man just about six hundred years to tunnel under the wall using that rock-hammer, I figured), but I still felt some misgivings.

This narrator was no mathematician, and neither is Stephen King. He wasn't performing integrations and using complex formulae to determine a precise rate at which one could pick and scratch his way through a wall that was ten feet thick. He just planted his tongue in his cheek and picked an arbitrary number that was quite large in the context required (that of average prisoner lifespans).

(Of course, it really kills the joke if you have to explain it, but obviously my opponents from the original ASVS encounter wouldn't have gotten the joke anyway.)

But I digress. The original point wasn't regarding Shawshank, but instead relates to the news of an object larger than Pluto being found well beyond Pluto's orbit, in the area of what we call the Kuiper Belt.

Of course, other objects have been found out there that were nearly Pluto-sized, and this has led to some debate on the question of how to quantifiably call something a planet, as there never has been a formal definition. On the low end of the scale we have little Pluto at 2300km, which already has seven moons in the solar system that are larger than it is. (Small as it is, though, Pluto has a moon even smaller.) And way out on the other end of the scale we have some of these mega-Jupiters orbiting other stars, some so large that they intrude into the scales we would normally associate with brown dwarf stars.

On the smaller-scale side of the debate, then, you have people who want Pluto downgraded from ninth-planet status into a Kuiper Belt Object. On the opposite side, you have people who want to see Pluto kept as a planet, and many many other objects(*) re-listed as planets, which would bring us rapidly to over a dozen planets. Then you get the middle-of-the-road and/or status-quo people, some of whom want to keep Pluto but leave out these funny-named other things, others of whom want to have Pluto as poster child for a pack of "minor planets".

(* That list would mean that our solar system would be composed of the following planets, at the very least:

But I digress . . . )

In any case, one of the involved astronomers talked with Space.com, and noted the following:

"It's something of an embarrassment that we currently have no definition of what a planet is," Basri said. "People like to classify things. We live on a planet; it would be nice to know what that was."

Basri would like to accommodate Pluto and those who can't fathom its demotion. He proposes that the murky lower limit for planet-hood get set at a diameter of about 435 miles (700 kilometers). That's roughly the bulk needed to allow gravity to shape an object into a sphere, depending on density. Smaller objects -- both asteroids and comets -- tend to look like potatoes or bell peppers.

The reason this amused me came back to an old argument I had with H_____r and M____r of O___s at Spacebattles. They tried to claim that a spherical body that looked very much like the Moon and/or Titan (at least before it cracked up and exploded) was actually a tiny object of just a couple of thousand meters, despite statements that things could be found 60km below the surface. I noted that it was spherical and per the episode had geological differentiation, and in regards to the shape said:

"It'll depend on density, of course, but this places a lower limit on the size of the planetoid of at least a few hundred kilometers in size."

Naturally, H_____r rejected that argument, giving the eloquent rebuttal of "I have no idea what the fuck you're babbling about here", slowly withdrawing (but never conceding) on the issue of size and eventually trying to redirect the argument toward a debate on the nature of fire, still desperately trying to prove his point. M____r of O___s, meanwhile, ran from the thread altogether, leaving S____e and other friends of M____r of O___s to jump in and fling ad hominems to try to distract people from the issues.

(You see now why I hardly trouble myself with group debates anymore, despite the possible benefits. It's like handing pearls to swine in most cases.)

In any event, you can imagine my pleasure at seeing a scientist give a more precise figure for low-end spherical planetoid development. Of course, I had no question in my mind that I was right on the matter, but it was nice to see yet another one of my old arguments confirmed in print.


Author said...

(EDIT: The use of partial names is designed to thwart both of the standard attack patterns SD.Net denizens use in reference to names. If you don't use names, you're accused of offering "made up info about nameless opponents". If you use names, you're accused of "being obsessed with" whoever you mention.

So, I've used a slightly modified version of the method used in old novels (i.e. a person's first letter of the named followed by an underlining), since I'm simply a man with a nice long memory.)

Anonymous said...

I know the feeling. I've debated rabid warsies for so long, I can do it when I'm barely awake. Most of the old time rabids don't seem to have the stamina for long drawn out debates these days and aren't trying as hard as before and they're getting replaced with people that know even less about science or even how to debate itself.

I say let them spin their wheels. The only real improvement Wars has done over the years technically was the SL and the DS. Trek is always about getting faster engines over time, stronger weapons and shields. There will be more Trek and there's even Wars TV. Lucas is at the helm, at least in part so even that wouldn't show EU wanking from the later years. Just more of the same from the movies. But, I'd like to see a post nemesis show that introduces temporal weapons, like missles. Something krenim-like, just not the krenim's time ship. But, 400 years seems like an okay stretch of time between usage of temporal weapons starting and temporal investigations. Hell, it might even be why TI was started in the first place.