Nathan Myhrvold stirs up an asteroid argument

Image: Nathan Myhrvold
Nathan Myhrvold shows off a fragment of the Chelyabinsk meteorite in his office at Intellectual Ventures in Bellevue, Wash. (GeekWire photo by Alan Boyle)

BELLEVUE, Wash. – Millionaire techie Nathan Myhrvold is used to stirring up controversy over issues ranging from patent licensing to dinosaur growth rates, but now he’s weighing in on an even bigger debate: the search for potentially hazardous asteroids.

In a 110-page research paper posted to the ArXiv pre-print server and submitted to the journal Icarus for peer-reviewed publication, Myhrvold says the most comprehensive survey of near-Earth asteroids ever done, known as NEOWISE, suffers from serious statistical flaws.

“They made a set of numbers that look right, They have what Stephen Colbert calls ‘truthiness.’ But that doesn’t mean they are right,” he told GeekWire today during an interview at the Bellevue headquarters of Intellectual Ventures, the company he founded.

On the other side of the debate, NEOWISE’s principal investigator, Amy Mainzer of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, says it’s Myhrvold’s numbers that don’t look right.

“The paper contains multiple mistakes, including the confusion between diameter and radius (which is by itself enough to render the results wrong),” she wrote in an email to GeekWire. “Nonsensical asteroid diameters are presented throughout by the author.”

Mainzer noted that Myhrvold’s paper has not yet gone through formal peer review.

Get the full story on GeekWire.

By Alan Boyle

Mastermind of Cosmic Log, contributing editor at GeekWire, author of "The Case for Pluto: How a Little Planet Made a Big Difference," president of the Council for the Advancement of Science Writing. Check out "About Alan Boyle" for more fun facts.

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