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Always Simplify Your Communication, Even if it is Rocket Science – The Saga with Pluto’s Name

By June 25, 2008 April 1st, 2018 No Comments
color solar system, 8 planets, with no pluto, as plutio was classified as a plutoid

Did you hear that The International Astronomical Union (IAU) declared Pluto a non-planet? They coined a new planet type, the “plutoid.” That means, our solar system is now 8 planets strong. And with this new planet type comes a very confusing, highly technical definition.

There is a BIG difference between being accurate and being understandable. You can ALWAYS simplify. And you should ALWAYS simplify, even when you are dealing with rocket science.

This brings me to two points 1) Making the Complex More Complex and 2) Simplifying the Complex.

1  MAKING THE COMPLEX MORE COMPLEX

Space.com’s Robert Roy Britt recently published an article to explain all of this. A plutoid is a name for dwarf planets like Pluto and Eris. If the word planet is adjacent to the word dwarf, isn’t it a planet then? What’s the difference you may ask?

Well, the official definition of a plutoid, according to the IAU press release of 11 June 2008 is:

“Plutoids are celestial bodies in orbit around the Sun at a semimajor axis greater than that of Neptune that have sufficient mass for their self-gravity to overcome rigid body forces so that they assume a hydrostatic equilibrium (near-spherical) shape, and that have not cleared the neighbourhood around their orbit.”

The IAU added in its press release, “The two known and named plutoids are Pluto and Eris. It is expected that more plutoids will be named as science progresses and new discoveries are made.”

I’m willing to bet several million dollars worth of Monopoly money that even astronomers with 10 PhD’s are baffled by this definition. You know what it is…a compromise. A compromise by the IAU Committee on Small Body Nomenclature (CSBN) to cover ever single contingency.

My assertion is supported by a NASA astronomer and Johns Hopkins Project Scientist in the Space.com article:

  • “This seems like an unattractive term and an unnecessary one to me,” said David Morrison, an astronomer at NASA’s Ames Research Center who, in 2006, said the IAU’s actions on Pluto have created major rifts among astronomers.
  • “Most of the people in astronomy and planetary science community had no idea this was going to come out,” said Hal Weaver of the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory.

2  SIMPLIFYING THE COMPLEX

Now the world has a really, really complex definition. So complex, you need a 23rd grade level education to understand what a Plutiod is exactly.

How do I know? The Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level Score (I wrote about this score a few years ago).  This means that students in the 23rd grade level can understand these 48 highly confusing words. For comparison, you graduate high school at the 12th grade, college at the 16th grade, masters at the 18th grade, and PhD anywhere after the 20th grade.

Space.com’s author Britt, makes it much easier to understand: “small round things beyond Neptune that orbit the sun and have lots of rocky neighbors.”

As stated in the beginning, there is a BIG difference between being accurate and being understandable. You should ALWAYS simplify, even when you are dealing with rocket science.

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Ira Koretsky

About Ira Koretsky

Ira Koretsky has built The Chief Storyteller® into one of the most recognized names in business storytelling. He has delivered over 500 keynote presentations and workshops in nearly a dozen countries, in more than one hundred cities, across 30 plus industries. His specialties are simplifying the complex and communicating when the stakes are high. He is also an adjunct professor in public speaking and storytelling at the University of Maryland's Business School. With over 25 years of experience, he is a sought-after global speaker, trainer, consultant, and executive communication coach.