Link: Exoplanet fatigue

1 minute read

Oliver Morton thought that the recent Proxima Centauri exoplanet news would be bigger; he ponders why he was wrong: “It will be a long time before you see another exoplanet on a front page”.

Various people suggested to me on twitter that the public has become a little blase about exoplanets, possibly because they have been a bit oversold. (One person suggested that astronomers may have cried wolf too often, which I mention mainly in order to link to this bit of brilliance from Mitchell and Webb). With regular announcements of planets more “earthlike” than the last — but with no evidence that any of them is actually remotely like the Earth — the fact that this one was nearer than any of the others hardly seemed like that big of a step forward.

It is a real challenge in the public communication of science to explain the interesting parts of incremental progress.

Sequencing new animal genomes is no longer newsworthy absent some additional and surprising scientific finding from them. Technology has progressed and new data are coming in, but each incremental data point is not advancing theory.

When the buildup of data starts leading to new scientific predictions and insights, that will make much more of an impact.