NASA Asteroid Theory Update: When Bad Science Critics Bad Science

By , UniversityHerald Reporter

Nathan Myhrvold, CEO of Washington-based Intellectual Ventures Bellevue has made available online a 110 pages long review which has not yet been through a study examined by experts unassociated with the research before it was published. 

Last May 22, ex-Microsoft Exec Myhrvold fired question at the Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE), a 2009 model space telescope and its follow-on mission, NEOWISE in a paper posted at e-print repository. Myhrvold claimed that the WISE and NEOWISE team findings are puzzled with statistical blunders.

In Astrophysical Journal, WISE and NEOWISE teams claim to found out the diameter of asteroids with a better than 10 percent accuracy. But Myhrvold plead that they made errors by disregarding the margin of error when estimating an entire population from a small sample size. The scientists have also neglected to comprise Kirchhoff's law of thermal radiation in their thermal asteroid prototypes.

Myhrvold said that errors in the asteroid diameters based on WISE data should be 30 percent based on his own models. However, the size errors grew to as large as 300 percent, he said in journal Icarus.

But WISE and NEOWISE teams are taking stand by their results and state that Myhrvold's censure must be dismissed. The Principal Investigator for WISE at the University of California, Los Angeles Ned Wright, explained that WISE's statistics go very well with other two infrared telescopes, AKARI and IRAS. According to Science Mag report, to test the accuracy of those infrared data in determining the size of an asteroid, scientists must calibrate them with radar annotations. Wright noted that by doing so, WISE's size inaccuracy end up at roughly 15 percent.

Amy Mainzer, the chief investigator for NEOWISE at the Pasadena Jet Propulsion Laboratory, pointed out various specific misinterpretations in Myhrvold's claims. For one, he confounded diameter for radius, Science Mag cited.

But Myhrvold snapped that his errors are being fixed, which are cosmetic and do not modify the point of his criticism. He then accused the NEOWISE scientists as defensive because many are caught up in a proposal for a futuristic asteroid-hunting telescope, NEOCam.

For Wright, his team does not have Myhrvold's computer codes, "so we don't know why he's screwing up." Then Wright cunningly noted that Myhrvold previously worked at Microsoft, therefore "is responsible in part for a lot of bad software."

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