Bored(?) Former Microsoft Exec Calls Out NASA Over Statistical Errors On Asteroids

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Microsoft – Mark Twain, more accurately Samuel Clemens, once quipped there are “three types of lies: lies, damn lies and statistics” while there is an inherent humor there that most economists will surely understand, the former Microsoft exec seems to think that NASA is off on certain calculations and the Earth is more threatened by asteroids than once thought.

NASA got Matt Damon home leave them alone

Oh, I see the problem there. That was a movie and the NASA officials were, indeed, actors. For those of you who read about space on ValueWalk you’ll know I’m not shy in or unabashed my praise of NASA and its accomplishments of the last decade. I wish it the best with the James Webb Space Telescope and look forward to the images and discoveries if the thing can properly “assemble itself” as it whizzes through space. I have my doubts, but I’m a child of Hubble and the need for the space shuttle program to visit it on four occasions.

Without that luxury I can only be optimistic. I trust the agency to entertain me with beautifully commissioned space tourism posters that presently hang in my house, fund Deep Horizons as it passes Pluto to learn more about the origins of our solar system in its studies of Kuiper Belt Objects, put a man on Mars in my lifetime and protect our planet from asteroids…..

The last (latter) , however, seems to be something that former Microsoft chief technologist, Nathan Myhrvold is unwilling to do.

You may enjoy a co-ed softball league while the summer arrives or take the time to download an app that helps you fulfill your goal of really learning about birds and birdwatching in your semi-retirement.

The former Microsoft exec likes to read scientific papers and effectively correct them.

In 2013, Myhrvold took issue with  research about dinosaur growth rates that ultimately led researchers from Florida State’s paleontology department to issue a number of corrections. Now, the tech star has trained his sights of NASA and its statistical representations and descriptions of asteroids.

Microsoft  – Myhrvoid takes aim at NASA’s Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer spacecraft

While the spacecraft has been protecting us from asteroids since launched in 2009, Myhrvold doesn’t believe that the NEOWISE mission, which collects heat emission and other data about asteroids is being interpreted correctly.

NEOWISE is a continuation of the WISE mission and the former Redmond exec thinks the data is flawed, or at least its analysis.

“The bad news is it’s all basically wrong,” he told recently the New York Times recently. “Unfortunately for a lot of it, it’s never going to be as accurate as they had hoped.”

He believes that NASA has missed the mark in the measure of asteroids’ reflectivity of asteroids. This warning was made prior to the publication of a paper that is set for distribution soon.

“From the practical perspective of finding asteroids,” Myhrvold told the Times, “it’s really important that we know the distribution of diameters and the distribution of albedos.”

However, Ned Wright, the principal investigator for WISE at the University of California, Los Angeles recently told Science that Myhrvold is off his rocker.

“For every mistake I found in his paper, if I got a bounty, I would be rich,” said Wright.

Amy Mainzer, the principal investigator for NEOWISE at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. says that the Microsoft Man mistook radius for diameter in his “investigations” and that is certain to cause gross errors given that the latter is twice the length of the former by definition.

“Our team has seen the paper in various versions for many months now, and we have tried to point out problems to the author,” Science reporter Mainzer as having said. “We have strongly encouraged that the paper be submitted to a journal and peer reviewed. Instead, he released it without peer review.”

“We believe at this point it’s best to allow the process of peer review — the foundation of the scientific process — to move forward,” she also wrote to the NYT in defending the work of her team.

And that really is the crux, Myhrvold, who is not an astronomer really didn’t have a right to leak this and he’s not really a peer of the scientists behind the research and the paper that has still not been published.

If indeed he was mistaken and used the radius rather than the diameter of anything in the foundations of his criticisms, well, he should be held responsible.

If, however, he’s right…well, well-played young man.

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