Contributed by
Jun 17, 2008

One way I keep track of who's saying what about what and whom is through Google Alerts. You can enter a phrase, and whenever that phrase pops up on a website, blog, or whatever, Google sends you an email. I have a few set up, but one is keyed on my name, so I can find out when people link to my blog.

I got an Alert recently that was weird. It linked to this news article about the Mars Phoenix lander. That's interesting, I thought. I started reading, and I was caught by surprise by this:

The view of Phoenix descending beneath its parachute, the resolution so fine that even the parachute's tethers are visible against the Martian backdrop, "is hands-down my favorite picture of all time," says astronomer Phil Plait, who runs the explanatory "Bad Astronomy" Web site, on a video posted on YouTube.

Even Plait admits that's saying something, given the other magnificent images now widely available of multicolored Martian plains and swirling crescendos of galaxies and supernovas.

"This is what we do," explains Plait on his video. "This is what science does, but this is what people do, when we try."

I'm really happy that video is getting some press, of course! Still, it's kinda funny to be quoted in an article using stuff I said in my YouTube video about Phoenix. It seems weird. Ironic, even, since as a writer I do this too: quoting people who have made statements in other venues. It's perfectly fine (as long as context is provided and not quote-mined), but it sounds funny now that I'm on the other side of it.

It's odd how our feelings (I was quoted from something else! OH NOES!) can be in conflict with our intellect (it's a quote and it's fine) sometimes. This sort of cognitive dissonance can lead to all sorts of revealing information, though. In my case, I hope my intellect has won out. Emotions are great warning signs of something going on, but we do have to apply a little rational thought to make sure we don't let our non-rational thoughts take over.

So I'm glad the reporter liked the video, and I'm glad she helped spread the word. And I have to admit to a final irony: the video I made was all about the emotion I felt by watching a scientific triumph. Heh.

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