Planet X is back in the news everyone, or at least, is trying to be:
Now that you've read that, let's do a little remembering, because this article is a case study on how modern science - and the reporting of it - is not working. First, we note the reference to the Oort cloud, one of "orthodox astronomy''s" many dogmas. This is supposedly a cloud of space debris and space junk floating out beyond the orbit of Pluto, that accounts for the orbits of comets and their wildly eccentric orbits. According to this theory, the gravitational field of "passing stars" kicks this debris into the wild orbits that comets are seen to have. Now enter planet Tyche, a planet supposedly four times the size of Jupiter, that is responsible for kicking a bunch of this debris into orbits where statistical analysis can trace them back. Once this is done, so the idea runs, one ends up with a particular region and a very strong gravitational field of a super-large planet way out there kicking new comets into orbit.
Whether there is or is not an Oort cloud doesn't interest me. What interests me here it that the alternative explanation - Dr. Tom Van Flandern's revival of the nineteenth century Exploded PLanet Hypothesis - is not even mentioned in the article as the alternative explanation for the origin of comets. And this reflects the impasse to which science, and science journalism, has come.
I can only envision two scenarios here, as to why Dr. Van Flandern's work was not even mentioned. The first is that the "journalists" here simply were lazy in their research. They went on line, searched a few places to follow up on the story, found the contacts, and did a quick phone or email interview with them, and that was that. The second scenario ties into the first, and that is, that when the interviewed scientists were asked about the hypothesized planet Tyche and the whole Oort Cloud, they simply did not mention that there were any alternatives at all.
The loser in this whole exchange? The public, who would never even know, from reading this article, that there are scientists who not only question the existence of Planet X, but also scientists who question the whole hypothetical foundation upon which some scientists posited the existence of Planet X, namely, the Oort cloud!
It is symptomatic of a wider problem, especially in the physics community. One hears over and over of the favorite dogmas, the idolization of Einstein, the promotion of string theory, and so on, but never hears of the alternative views (and there are alternatives to string theory); there are even respected scientists who have questioned the whole Einstein edifice...but when is the last time you heard of Herbet Ives of Bell Laboratories? On and on we could go. For science to work again, and for people to become genuinely interested in it again, I submit it must start acting less and less like a religion, a kind of secular version of churchianity, and more like what it claims to be: an inquiry into truth, a revealing of God's handbook, nature, and an honest inquiry into truth. Not all ideas or hypotheses are of equal merit, but it is time for a Protestant Reformation in the hallowed halls of the scientific magisterium and its priesthoods and solemn orders. It's time to allow people to know the major alternatives and to form their own conclusions.