Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Why You Shouldn't Feel Sad for Pluto

DISCLAIMER: This will be an Unpopular Opinion Post. But, I feel it's only fair to get this opinion out in the open ASAP, so no one gets too invested in my blog only to be turned away by this bombshell of a revelation. It has to do with Pluto, so if you feel strongly in your heart that Pluto deserves all the pitying and nostalgia-fueled victimization it receives, you probably should skip this post, 'cause I reeeaally don't.


So, yesterday I discovered the most perfectly me t-shirt to ever be created by mortal man (well, I assume to be mortal, anyway).

My ire towards the fad of bemoaning Pluto's reclassification is very well known among my friends, twitter/tumblr followers, and my entire expository writing seminar last semester. There was a time where I was incapable of not reblogging asinine "Pluto's always a planet in my heart!" posts just so I could write long, slightly angry tirades about why this line of thinking was just plain bad. Shockingly, it got me little to no hate (except in one instance where I was told I should "just let it go") but quite a few messages of, "You totally changed my mind!" This isn't to say I never got any hate for correcting a popular-but-scientifically-inaccurate post, to be clear. One time I corrected a post that was trying to say something about the structure of an atom in relation to something tumblr-y, and holy crap, the original poster just went passive-aggressive ballistic on me. I still feel a little badly about that one, but their atomic science was just so wrong!

Anyway, Pluto. Why do I get a bee in my bonnet over a hunk of space rock that has a lot of sentimental value to an entire generation? Mainly because their stubborn nostalgia is anti-scientific and fuels into a really toxic mentality.

Bear with me on this, I swear I'm not overreacting.

The entire "fandom" of Pluto revolves around the notion that being a planet is the be-all-end-all for space objects (that aren't stars or nebulae or any other distinctly non-rocky-or-gas-giant-y object there is in the universe). They feel that Pluto has been robbed of some high-point status, and that's mainly because of the way astronomy is taught in elementary school: kids learn "My Very Enthusiastic Mother Just Served Us Nachos" (nee "Nine Pizzas"), maybe some description of what each planet is like, and that's that. When all you're taught is the names of the planets, it only makes sense that you think being a planet is the most important thing a space object could be, and then the outrage over Pluto kind of makes sense.

Except that really isn't the case at all, and the whole Pluto kerfuffle began over trying to combat that outdated way of looking at things. It can be traced to the Hayden Planetarium at the New York City Museum of Natural History and a team of scientists and staffers led by Neil deGrasse Tyson (that's the guy on the t-shirt at the top of this post, by the by, along with Bill Nye the Science Guy- again, most perfectly me shirt ever), who decided when renovating their planet exhibit that the whole notion of "planet" was a bit rubbish and sought to do away with it entirely. This was in part because they didn't want to have to re-renovate the exhibit any time soon because the International Astronomical Union was drawing closer and closer to reevaluating planetary status- and whether planetary status was even a meaningful thing at all. Rather than cater to the traditional set of planets, they instead sought to focus on classifications and groupings- arranging the planets in logical, meaningful groups rather than an arbitrary label of planet.

This reclassification caused people to go utterly bananas. 3rd graders sent in hate mail; a group claiming that the whole thing was a political conspiracy sprang up; and, in the earlyish days of Facebook, a slew of groups declaring "Pluto Is a Planet in my Heart!" came into being.

The thing is, there's just no reason why it's seen as such a bad thing, because really, this was one of the best things that could've happened to Pluto. Since we're already pretty committed to anthropomorphizing a hunk of space rock, let's step back and really look at what's going on here. Imagine, if you will, that you're forced to spend your existence thinking you're supposed to belong to a certain group, but you feel that you've got absolutely nothing in common with them and forever feel like the odd one out: that's Pluto with the planets. Pluto has nothing in common with the traditional planets at all, but it has everything in common with its new group, the trans-neptunian objects (TNOs), to the point that it's now the poster child of them. Seriously, rather than a sad tale of exclusion from an elite group, the story of Pluto is one of a wayward outsider finding where they truly belong- this is the stuff of dramatic and touching young adult novels, people!

It's always hard when a cherished aspect of one's childhood is challenged, I recognize that- but this disproportion response has gone on long enough, and it's painfully indicative that we teach science as a set of concrete facts rather than a growing, evolving body of knowledge that's constantly in flux as new discoveries are made. I'm tired of seeing "I love Pluto so much, I just want it to be a planet again!" instead of, "I love Pluto so much, I'm glad it's finally classified with like bodies in a way that actually makes some sense!", and I'm tired of people asserting what they learned as a kid as though it's unassailable. Science is a process, and in that process things get rearranged to fit in best with its kind- just like Pluto.

And that, friends, is why you shouldn't feel sad for Pluto, but instead feel overjoyed for it.

(And yes, I am a lot of fun at parties.)

No comments:

Post a Comment