Taco Cowboy quotes a report from Science Magazine: Nathan Myhrvold, ex-CTO of Microsoft, is accusing NASA of providing bad statistics on asteroid size. Mr. Myhrvold alleged that scientists using a prominent NASA space telescope have made fundamental mistakes in their assessment of the size of more than 157,000 asteroids they have observed. In a paper posted to the arXiv.org e-print repository on 22 May, Myhrvold takes aim at the Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE), a space telescope launched in 2009, and a follow-on mission, NEOWISE, which together are responsible for the discovery of more asteroids than any other observatory. Yet Myhrvold says that the WISE and NEOWISE teams' papers are riddled with statistical missteps. "None of their results can be replicated," he tells ScienceInsider. "I found one irregularity after another" Myhrvold says the NASA teams have made mistakes, such as ignoring the margin of error introduced when extrapolating from a small sample size to an entire population. They also neglected to include Kirchhoff's law of thermal radiation in their thermal models of the asteroids. Based on his own models, Myhrvold says that errors in the asteroid diameters based on WISE data should be 30%. In some cases, the size errors rise to as large as 300%. "Asteroids are more variable than we thought they were," he says. He has submitted the paper to the journal Icarus for review. However, the WISE and NEOWISE teams are standing by their results, and say that Myhrvold's criticism should be dismissed. "For every mistake I found in his paper, if I got a bounty, I would be rich," says Ned Wright, the principal investigator for WISE at the University of California, Los Angeles. Wright says that WISE's data match very well with two other infrared telescopes, AKARI and IRAS. To find out how accurately those infrared data determine the size of an asteroid, scientists have to calibrate them with radar observations, other observations made when asteroids pass in front of distant stars, and observations made by spacecraft up close. When they do that, Wright says, WISE's size errors end up at roughly 15%. Wright says his team doesn't have Myhrvold's computer codes, "so we don't know why he's screwing up." But Wright archly noted that Myhrvold once worked at Microsoft, so "is responsible in part for a lot of bad software."
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