December 26, 2001

Star Scam. Wired.com is running a story about one of my favorite semi-scams: The International Star Registry. As you may know, the ISR sells “naming rights” to stars for a sizable fee, for which buyers receive a parchment certificate (custom framing available) and a booklet with a map of the stars, with the newly personalized star circled in red. Of course, the big selling point is (as I’ve heard on the radio countless times this holiday season) is that this personalized star will be published in a book, and that book will be registered with the United States Government in the Library of Congress! Of course, the list never gets near the International Astronomical Union, the internationally recognized authority for naming celestial bodies (the FAQ I link to is definitely worth a look), meaning that the ISR basically has the power to write names in a book. (The Straight Dope did their usual effective takedown on the ISR a few years ago.)

Now, you would think that with this dubious pedigree an organization supposedly devoted to “quality programs and education services” would have nothing to do with it. However, I’m sorry to say that not only has PBS apparently accepted over $100,000 in donations from ISR (a fact trumpeted on the ISR site), but PBS returns the favor and gives ISR legitimacy by placing several links to ISR on the pbs.org site, as a featured merchant. I know that a non-profit takes its money where it can find it, but to accept it from an organization that essentially does nothing more than take advantage of people's interest in and ignorance of science and astronomy seems pretty low.

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