Headline July 21, 2018/ " 'SPACE YARD SPINS' "


EARLIER THIS YEAR - Icarus published Dr. Myhrvold's first paper on how reflected sunlight affects measurement of asteroids at the shorter infrared wavelengths measured by WISE.

It accepted lengths and posted a second paper last month containing Dr. Myhrvold's criticisms of the NASA asteroid data.

Among them is the case of copied numbers.

The Neowise researchers' model was calibrated with diameters for about a hundred asteroids that have been measured by radar, visiting spacecraft or when an asteroid passed in front of a distant star.

WHEN the scientists reported their findings, they did not include the estimates produced by their models, which would have given a sense how good the model is. Instead they included the earlier measurements.

Other astronomers agreed that the Neowise scientists were not clear about what numbers they were reporting.

"They did some kind of dumb things," said Alan W. Harris, a retired NASA asteroids experts who was one of the reviewers of Dr. Myhrvold's second paper.

Dr. Myhrvold has accused the Neowise scientists of going into a NASA archive of planetary results, changing some of the copied numbers and deleting others without giving notice.

"They went back and rewrote history,"he said. " What it shows is even this far in, they're still lying. They haven't come clean."

Dr. Harris said he did not see nefarious behavior by the Neowise scientists, but agreed, "That's still weird." 

RANCOR AND REPLICATION : the tussle has spilled from scientific journals and conferences into contentious letters from lawyers.

Dr. Myhrvold filed Freedom of Information requests for information and algorithms that he said would be needed to properly check the Neowise findings.

Dr. Myhrrvold said NASA and Congress should delay planning for the proposed Newcom  spacecraft, because it could suffer from the same shortfalls as Neowise.

"Why does it get to avoid further scrutiny and just get money directly from Congress?" he asked. He also said a ground-based observatory, the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope, already under construction, would accomplish much of Neocam's mission.

In his email, Dr. Wright said Dr. Myhrvold had taken an "adversarial approach." Dr. Myhrvold, in turn, noted Dr. Wright's earlier disparaging comments.

This rancor perplexes other asteroid researchers.

"It's a strange story," Dr. Morrisson said. "I've never experienced anything like this in my field."

The editors of Icarus now anticipate a rebuttal by Dr. Mainzer after she initially passed on an invitation several months ago to write one.
In follow-up research, Dr. Myhrrvold wants to show how the work of Neowise could be better done.

He has started collaborating with Jean-Luc Margot, the chairman of the earth, planetary and space sciences department at U.C.L.A. and a colleague of Dr. Wright's.

[Dr. Myhrvold has also given $350,000 to the university, his alma mater. The money will support graduate student research in Dr. Margot's department, although not necessarily on asteroids].

Dr. Margot said that in preliminary work, he and his students had already reproduced some of Dr. Myhrvold's results.

Unlike Dr. Myhrvold, Dr. Margot said he had productive conversations with Dr. Wright and others from Neowise.

"I have not detected any discomfort," Dr. Margot said. "I start from the assumptions that everyone wants the best out of the data."

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