Pluto demoted: Opposition in state legislatures

Protesters and counter-protesters in Seattle

Protesters and counter-protesters in Seattle

Last night I watched the BookTV airing of Neil deGrasse Tyson’s talk on his new book, The Pluto Files: The Rise and Fall of America’s Favorite Planet.

Sometimes I find his showmanship annoying — a distraction from the substance that I’m interested in.

This time I thought his presentation was wonderful. You can see the video here. You’ll especially want to see the questions from a couple grade school kids during the Q&A at the end.

The talk includes clear explanations of the issues in astronomy, and the process by which the scientists eventually settled on the now-prevailing classification of objects in our Solar System.

He also talks about public reactions, including letters he received from 3rd-graders.

In the context of current controversies over whether to teach evolutionary Biology (vs. a more forensic, rather than scientific, school subject on beliefs concerning “origins”) in the public schools of some states — including, for example, legislation introduced in Louisiana, Oklahoma, Mississippi, and Texas — I was particularly interested in the bills introduced in the California and New Mexico legislatures in opposition to Pluto’s loss of planetary status.

Here they are, as included as appendices in Tyson’s book (click on any of the pages below to see the book at

Pluto legislation: New Mexico (p. 1/2)

Pluto legislation: New Mexico (p. 2/2)

Pluto legislation: Texas (p. 1/2)

Pluto legislation: California (p. 2/2)


  1. Posted March 23, 2009 at 7:03 pm | Permalink

    Scientists have NOT settled on a classification system for our solar system. Only four percent of the International Astronomical Union voted to demote Pluto, and most are not planetary scientists. Their decision was immediately opposed by hundreds of professional astronomers led by Dr. Alan Stern, Principal Investigator of NASA’s New Horizons mission to Pluto. Both scientists and lay people are working behind the scenes to get Pluto’s demotion overturned or are ignoring it altogether.

    Even Tyson has come to admit that this debate is far from over.

    These state legislatures have more sense than those four percent of the IAU, who came up with the ridiculous definition in which a dwarf planet is not a planet at all, a definition that classifies objects solely by where they are while ignoring what they are.

  2. Posted March 23, 2009 at 7:23 pm | Permalink

    Thanks, Laurel.

    I wasn’t sure how to phrase that. I was in a hurry & wrote “the scientists eventually settled on the now-prevailing classification.” I don’t think that’s wrong, although I thought about making note of persisting disagreement — that there’s not consensus.

    There is, however, a “now-prevailing classification,” as far as I can tell, which was settled on by those scientists who came to agreement about it (I wrote “the scientists,” not “scientists”).

    Readers should click on Laurel’s name to see her blog, with lot’s of information on the issue from her standpoint.

    More to the point of my post, she also has an Illinois resolution posted there (although it seems incomplete there, with “Whereas” clauses but not the resolution clause).

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