Review: Kepler-22b – hype or new home?

The 18th meeting of the astronomy twitter journal club was all about science hype. The topic was suggested when the Kepler team announced the discovery of Kepler-22b – the exoplanet the media immediately christened “Earth’s twin”. There’s some more information and links for this story in our Preview post, and you can also read the full Transcript of the discussion. Onto the review…

From the abstract: “Although there is no evidence that Kepler-22b is a rocky planet it is the first confirmed planet with a measured radius to orbit in the Habitable Zone of any star other than the Sun.” Does that statement justify the hype? – @astronomyjc

Seems clear that much hype from the media at least. Main issue is whthr or not this is good for Astronomy or not – @wikimir

don’t think so, we have also HD 85512 b and Gliese 581 d. Both are confirmed too. – @AdrianusV

Crying wolf and the press release

To be fair, press release didn’t claim it’s an Earth twin – that was media hype after the fact. – @ DrMRFrancis

Though I do worry that when we do finally find a true ‘Earth-twin’ the public won’t care because media cried wolf before – @astronomyjc

Part of the problem is that soundbites are easy, but determining actual habitability takes background and nuance. – @ DrMRFrancis

To be fair, Kepler team: “major milestone on the road to finding Earth’s twin” is more measured than media’s reaction. – @Paul_Crowther

i think the press release would have been better without the words “Earth-like planets”, “Earth’s twin” and a Earth-looking pic – @antisophista

I think the press release was adequate, but the artists impression took over the narrative in the media. – @mgruberb

Astronomical politics?

The main issue is that news is more political than scientific. Kepler struggles to get mission life extended – @antisophista

There’s definitely anger around at possible political playing:

I think planets like Kepler-22b, HD 85512 b and Gliese 581 will make it easier to get budgets for Kepler successor. – @AdrianusV

I think the accusation is mostly unfair. Reasonable to promote the science, esp. in the face of ending the mission. – @ DrMRFrancis

Kepler extension would extend detection stats in orbital radius/period, slightly in radius? add uniquely to primary mission numbers – @NGC3314

stephane udry’s comment: “The Kepler people really sound […] as car dealers. They need a mission extension […]” – @antisophista

Science has the responsibility not to sacrifice truth for the sake of funding and politics. Whatever the truth might be … – @mgruberb

Plato people are angry bcse their proposed mission got turned down by ESA partly bcse some of the decision makers believe “Kepler will do it all”. Hence when exaggerated results appear it’s not surprising they are angry. “all publicity is good publicity” but risk of damagng Keplers reputation in other scientists eyes, just when they need more funding. Plato mission take on Kepler 22b can be found here: “@PLATOMissionCon: PLATO Newsletter #2”@Matt_Burleigh

Seems like we still haven’t addressed if this kind of coverage is ultimately good for us or not – @wikimir

it’s not about whether it is good for “us”. it is good for some astronomers and bad for others… – @antisophista

I think this kind of publicity is good for astronomy. Makes exoplanets more closer to ‘your neighbourhood’ – @AdrianusV

I think it *can* be good for astronomy, but we need better/more accurate media coverage. People should know about exoplanets! – @ DrMRFrancis

and people do. exoplanets are sexy. but why is there a press release for every exoplanet (so it feels at least) – @antisophista

The ultimate price to pay for stuff like this is people’s trust, not a few million to keep funding a mission. – @mgruberb

Science press releases aren’t inherently bad, but hard to control media narrative once release is out there. We want ppl to know! – @ DrMRFrancis

IMO press release writing is rarely if ever so naive at to create SURPRISING hype. – @StephenSerjeant

Are you blaming Kepler-Team for doing bad science? bad PR? Or are you blaming the media? Tweets sound a little bit confusing – @astrodicticum

I think the cnsnss is that it was the media that overhyped the situation, not Kepler. Press release seemed measured – @wikimir

I for one am saying that a press release was not warranted for this finding even if the science itself looks solid – @antisophista

How *should* you handle such a discovery? “We found an exciting planet. But PLEASE dont be excited?” Thats silly… – @astrodicticum

well… following your path, we should write a press release for every single paper we publish. – @antisophista

Why not? If you think your research is good, tell the world! I have no problem with that. – @astrodicticum

what would we have to see to confirm we’d found a true ‘Earth-twin’? – @astronomyjc

We can define Earth-like. We can’t know what is definitively habitable tho – @wikimir

Venus and Mars are Earthlike: if we find exoplanet analogs to them, we’d justifiably wet our pants with excitement. – @ DrMRFrancis

See: The 123 Steps for Identifying Habitable Worlds Earth-like can be defined, apparently- @AdrianusV

“Habitable” is going to remain ill-defined until we find actual life. I don’t find myself caring that much. – @ DrMRFrancis

there are other earth-like planets in habitable zones. 22b is not the first one. it’s the first around a sun-like star. – @antisophista

Ok, if we agree that Kepler 22b has been overhyped, how could a story like this be better managed in the future? – @astronomyjc

“how could a story like this be better managed in the future” Just the facts, ma’am? – @AdrianusV

These stories are being managed…directed. That’s the problem. Overhype is the goal. – @billhousley

not sure. any exoplanet is a hot topic and any such press release (on exos) will lead to a media hype – @antisophista

I don’t have a clear answer. I’m not a journalist or PR person, but I want people to know about cool science *even if* that science isn’t paradigm-busting or truly “new”. Kepler-22b is exciting – can we share that without hype? – @ DrMRFrancis

But THIS conversation is why Kepler-22b is interesting: so much to think about, so much to learn. Why people need to know. – @ DrMRFrancis

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1 Response to Review: Kepler-22b – hype or new home?

  1. The attention attained and way it is capturing the publics attention can only be good for Space exploration.

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