Science too often trivializes the profound, answering questions that are very different from the ones that were asked. To formulate a question suitable for scientific research too often requires us to forget what it was that we really wanted to know. ~Earon Davis
A couple of French astronomers with time on their hands and some computing power available have determined that it you tweak Mercury's orbit by very small amounts, chaos will ultimately occur in the solar system. Well, ok, and if I drop another planet in between the orbit of Earth and Mars, some bad things will also occur.
I'm not at all sure what the point of their exercise is supposed to be. Is this another one of those "had their been a slight variation in starting conditions, we wouldn't be here" scenarios? What is the mechanism for chaniging the semi-major axis of Mercury? And, since they were working in 5 billion year intervals, did they take into account that the sun will probably have gobbled up Mercury before it could pinballing around the inner solar system?
But the ultimate question is: What the heck was it they were trying to do in the first place?
There are lots of interesting questions about the solar system's orbital mechanics. For example, how did the asteroid belt come to be? Why didn't everything get kicked out of the belt by Jupiter's gravity? How did Uranus end up on it's side, and why is Triton orbiting in the wrong direction? Why do all the gas giants have rings while no rocky planet has them?
In other words, if you're going to spend a ton of time developing a program to model the solar system, why waste time fiddling with Mercury's orbit when you could be trying to determine the conditions that got the solar system to where it is now?
Well, maybe, just maybe because a couple of French astronomers were trying to get published in a prestigious magazine to enhance their own reputation. Of course, they submitted the information as a letter, not a paper, which I imagine avoids peer review.
Which brings us to a paper submitted by the Center for Research in Applied Phrenology (CRAP).
The paper, entitled "Deconstructing Access Points", was submitted for publication to The Open Information Science Journal by CRAP researchers David Phillips and Andrew Kent. And it was accepted for publication "after peer review", as long as Phillips and Kent supplied an $800 publication fee.
None of this would be hugely unusual except that Phillips and Kent were actually Phillip Davis and Kent Anderson, and their CRAP paper was actually a pile of nonsense generated by a computer program designed to generate phony research papers. The name of their "research" outfit was deliberately designed to send a huge hint to Bentham Publishing, the outfit responsible for the journal, that maybe their collective legs were being pulled.
Evidently, Bentham editors didn't care, as long as the check was good.
Bentham, of course, now claims that they knew it was a gag all along, and they were just stringing these guys along to find out who they were. Interestingly, the editor of the journal subsequently resigned. Evidently, he wasn't in on the investigation by his own staff.
Now, add these to the incident of the "missing link" fossil that was sort-of-but-not-very-peer-reviewed, and you have the makings of a disturbing trend. The pressure to publish, as I've said before, is huge. There is a lot of competition for research dollars, and getting published is one way to get hold of them. The problem is that getting published may not require that what is published have any particular scientific merit. Or, as in the case of the fossil, it may have merit not but justify the hype-filled conclusions.
Then there is the reputation factor. Jorge Hirsch, self-proclaimed genius, has determined that scientific reputation is determined by where you get published and how often you get cited. Interestingly, the h-index, as Hirsch has dubbed it, gives Hirsch a very good rating. Even more interestingly, the h-index takes no account of the quality, validity, or originality of the publications.
What's frightening is that there appear to be scientists to take this nonsense seriously.
At least the attitude that publishing anything is all the matters goes a long way toward explaining some of the whacko theorizing that has become the hallmark of the 21st century so far.
It might even explain dark energy.