Kepler Team Needs To Take PR 101

Data Leak: Galaxy Rich in Earth-Like Planets, Science

"NASA didn't plan it this way, but earlier this month a co-investigator on the Kepler satellite mission in the hunt for other Earth-like planets announced to a conference in Oxford, England, that "planets like our own Earth are out there. Our Milky Way galaxy is rich in this kind of planet." The announcement--which wasn't getting out until conference organizers posted a video online last week--was especially striking because it was largely based on Kepler data that team members had been allowed to keep to themselves for further analysis until next February. So, traditionally, such data would be released formally with all involved scientists onboard."

Claims of 100 Earth-Like Planets Not True, Space.com

"What Dimitar presented was 'candidates,'" said David Koch, the mission's deputy principal investigator at NASA's Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, Calif."These have the apparent signature we are looking for, but then we must perform extensive follow-up observations to eliminate false positives, such as background eclipsing binaries. This requires substantial amounts of ground-based observing which is done primarily in the summer observing season."

Kepler Scientist: 'Galaxy is Rich in Earth-Like Planets', Discovery News

"There's a bittersweet feeling to this announcement. Although the news is groundbreaking, it's a shame that it was leaked during a TED talk rather than being released via official channels from the whole Kepler team. Keith Cowing, of NASAWatch.com, goes one step further, pointing out that it's wrong for this news to be announced in the U.K., only for the news to finally break weeks later."

Keith's note: Ok, I am confused. The charts that Sasselov showed are not what you show when you are unsure of what your data is telling you. Indeed, one chart proclaims "Kepler space telescope - the first 700 planet candidates: The Galaxy is rich in small, Earth-like planets". There is no hesitation or equivocation, this is a declarative statement that comes across as a fact i.e. "the Galaxy *IS* rich in small, Earth-like planets". You certainly would need a lot of confirmed "candidates" in order to make such a bold claim in public.

Listen again to Sasselov's words: "You can see here [Chart] - small planets dominate the picture. The planets which are marked "like Earth" - definitely more than any of the other planets that we see. Now for the first time we can say that. There is a lot more work we need to do with this. Most of these are candidates and in the next few years - we will confirm them - but the statistical result is loud and clear - and the statistical result is that planets like our own Earth are out there." He says that the "statistical result is loud and clear" in other words he has data to back up his claims.

Is the Kepler team hiding something? Why is Sasselov talking about data that the Kepler team said that they did not want to discuss yet? Does Sasselov not understand what he is talking about? Or is this an issue with a scientist with a tendency to exagerate combined with less than perfect English skills? This was a public presentation by a key Kepler scientist speaking in that capacity. Did NASA PAO screen these materials before the presentation?

The Kepler folks seem to want to have things both ways. On one hand they want to tantalize us (and select audiences) with what they have found but yet at the same time they do not want to put their reputations on the line when people start taking their comments as fact. This project clearly needs to put some PR strategy in place.

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This page contains a single entry by Keith Cowing published on July 26, 2010 2:03 PM.

Galaxy 15 Stumbles Around GEO was the previous entry in this blog.

GAO Sides With NASA on Constellation Decisions is the next entry in this blog.

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