The maverick inventor, ex-Microsoft executive and ‘patent troll’ is battling Nasa on its asteroid data and exploring pizza science
Nathan Myhrvold is the former chief technology officer of Microsoft, founder of the controversial patent asset company Intellectual Ventures and the main author of the six-volume, 2,300-page Modernist Cuisine cookbook, which explores the science of cooking. Currently, he is taking on Nasa over its measurement of asteroid sizes.
For the past couple of years, you’ve been fighting with Nasa about its analysis of near-Earth asteroid size. You’ve just published a 33-page scientific paper criticising the methods used by its Neowise project team to estimate the size and other properties of approximately 164,000 asteroids. You have also published a long blog post explaining the problem. Where did Nasa go wrong and is it over or underestimating size?
Nasa’s Wise space telescope [Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer] measured the asteroids in four different wavelengths in the infrared. My main beef is with how they analysed that data. What I think happened is they made some poor choices of statistical methods. Then, to cover that up, they didn’t publish a lot of the information that would help someone else replicate it. I’m afraid they have both over- and underestimated. The effect changes depending on the size of the asteroid and what it’s made of. The studies were advertised as being accurate to plus or minus 10%. In fact, it is more like 30-35%. That’s if you look overall. If you look at specific subsets some of them are off by more than 100%. It’s kind of a mess.