(c) Norman Sperling, January 21, 2014
We astronomers KNEW we didn't know what Comet ISON was going to do. We knew its brightness was extremely unpredictable. We knew that fizzling was one major possibility.
This time, as if in a unified front, practically all astronomers told practically all media the same thing. They told it so emphatically and so uniformly that the media had no choice but to tell that to the public, though the media strongly prefer concrete certainties. The public was well served.
So this time there's no backlash against Science, no criticism, praise for the correctness, and praise for the videos and graphics.
What a stunning contrast to the Kohoutek debacle of 1973. Initial computations - wildly optimistic - predicted brilliance, which the media trumpeted. So telescope companies ramped up production, especially because maximum brightness coincided with the holiday season. The media largely ignored later cautions, and the comet's dimness left Science seeming "wrong", and companies with expensive warehouses full of every scope they expected to sell for the next *year*.