Friday, November 1, 2013

Statement of Purpose

It is with great joy and a heavy heart that I open this blog with a statement of purpose.

Science is a wonderful thing, and a wonderful process. It has in many ways lifted us as a species out of the darkness. It is unmistakably the reason for the longer (relative to almost all of our species' existence) lifespans we now enjoy and many of the new comforts around us.

It has also provided many illuminating truths for their own sake, pure science, delighting countless billions with answers and images many of our ancestors literally would have died for, and in some cases did.

These achievements are often hard-won, presenting the scientist with difficulties of many kinds. Besides the factors that should make science difficult – that the truth is sometimes elusive and more complex than we initially envision – the requirements for success may be constrained by pragmatic factors. I created this blog to suit one immediate purpose, which is to record some of the work I performed in analyzing data collected by the Kepler spacecraft. 2½ years ago, I found myself, upon reading the initial Kepler results, filling spreadsheets with data to find some answers that weren't explicit in the publications before me. This analysis became a bit of a hobby, and as time passed, I realized that what I was doing started to verge on actual research worthy of sharing. This was not my original plan or conceit, but came as I shared my results with a handful of professionals and amateurs online.

"Scientist" has been in my official job title several times, and I hold a Ph.D. with a double major, but in no field related to space science. I wouldn't dare attempt serious work in many fields of study, but this particular Kepler work seemed, initially, to be so purely statistical in nature that it was forgiving in my relative state of ignorance about astrophysics. And so I went forward, aided and encouraged by a few astrophysics or Earth sciences insiders, and was able to put forth my work regarding earthlike planets on, first in 2012, then again recently.

While I hoped to submit this work to a journal, I've found the burdens of this to be hard to justify. That's not to discount the benefits of the peer review process, which is a principle of high merit, and one in which I have taken part in my earlier fields of study. However, I'm simply faced with the option now of engaging the publication process to the detriment of my other obligations, using this blog as a "vanity press" for my work, or setting it aside unreported. And so, I will post my results over the next couple of days and try to make this a wise and worthwhile decision, where the ideas may reach interested parties and stimulate further work, or their own correction, as appropriate.

While a blog, and more generally self-publication of any kind, runs the risk of many egregious scientific sins (notably, going far off the rails without accepting or heeding necessary adjustment), it also offers some opportunities for a profoundly wider audience than research journals usually afford. I hope to make the best of the latter advantage and minimize the former risk, and maybe help find ways to make these modern media a more useful tool for science.