Thursday, October 30, 2008


The site selection process for the Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT) has stirred up great controversy in Hawaii County. The process of an international group of scientists “deciding” where in the world to put their massive telescope, as though they have the power to put it anywhere they choose, has turned the TMT project into one of the key issues in the local election for the Mayor of Hawaii. Billy Kenoi is for the project and Angel Pilago is against it. The public dialog that has resulted from the TMT has left many of the supporters of astronomy in Hawaii wondering if their continued support is wise.

We applaud the amazing discoveries that the international astronomy community has made from their Mauna Kea telescopes and have considered ourselves one of the supporters of the many observatories in Hilo.

Last week we were at an “Astrotalk” at the University of Hawaii in Hilo to hear about the progress of the refurbishment of UHH’s Hoku Ke`a telescope atop Mauna Kea. The new director of the scope “entertained” us with the story of how he was able to get the base of the telescope building expanded beyond its current footprint against the advice of the engineers involved. The purpose of the story may have been to impress us with his will power and commitment. These traits would be important in the achievement of one of his goals which is the amazing feat of supporting a “local” in getting a PhD!

After the talk we felt compelled to express our distaste for his very low opinion of locals and inform him that there were already many “locals” with PhDs. We also explained that our understanding was that it was not legal for any refurbishment project on Mauna Kea to expand the footprint of the existing buildings by even one centimeter and that we expected him to learn about and follow the laws while director of the University Telescope. Another official of the University interrupted stating that it was irrelevant to insist that the laws be followed as “the people of Hilo would starve to death” if it were not for the “trickle down” economics coming from astronomy money spent in Hilo. This individual said he had been doing community outreach for the University for the last 20 years.

We left that meeting wondering what the benefit the town of Hilo was getting from having hundreds of astronomers living here and getting paid four times the average local salary. Are we really going to starve to death if all the telescopes on Mauna Kea are shut down?

We have come to think that the University of Hawaii community outreach person has it backwards. It is the astronomers that make the big salaries and gain international acclaim because of the sacrifices the people of this island of Hawaii are making to keep the sky dark at night for their telescopes.

It is the astronomers who will be unemployed and looking for work and food if these telescopes are shut down, not the “locals”.

Since moving to Hawaii we have been obsessive about making sure we help keep our light pollution down to support the astronomy efforts on Mauna Kea so it is a shock to discover how poorly we are thought of by the astronomy community and that they think they are doing our community of Hilo a favor rather than the other way around.

As the Thirty Meter Telescope issue rages on, those of us in Hilo that once sat on the fence about adding yet another telescope upon the fragile summit of Mauna Kea are wondering if it might be time to turn the porch lights up on high so the astronomers can get a better view of what the locals have been doing to support them and their income and acclaim over the last 20 years.

Here are some links to additional information:


Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for reporting this. I have stuck my neck so far out for astronomy and the TMT, that it just angers me to know that there are astronomers who look down on us locals. How can this be?

Anonymous said...

I am flabberghasted. I have been here for over 13 years and never knew the Astronomy people had so little regard for the locals. No wonder the Hawaiians want them off that sacred mountain. They desecrate it with their himakamaka thumb up their ass attitude. Bom bai, Pele may have something to say about this.

Anonymous said...

It is amazing how "educated" people can all of a sudden turn things around to make us feel as if they are our saviours. Lets see, people who concrete the world or people who keep the land clean and fertile. I don't see the people of Hawaii looking for more concrete, but we always see "educated" people searching for what the locals have kept pure. Who needs who? Wake up locals, and turn it back around on them. Keep the astronomy program going but only if they beg and ask for your blessing without being proud. THEY NEED YOU. Modern man thinks progress is to take away the land and concrete it. Next time you fly into Los Angeles, look at the land which once was pure and clean and ask yourself if it is progress you see. It will not stop unless we "uneducated" people stop it so our kids can have a place to enjoy without "progress"

Anonymous said...

What a ridiculous line of reasoning.
Sounds like you are advancing this line of reasoning to taint peoples thinking against a project that will greatly benefit our insular island economy without doing any harm whatsoever. Grow up folks.

PS The telescopes are NOT in Hilo so why do you believe you should have any say at all?

Anonymous said...

As an outsider, local politics here in Hilo, and in Hawaii County is all backwards.

As an outsider, I can't complain; I don't belong.

As a resident, I don't like it, but that's my choice to be a resident.

All one needs is more perspective.

Anonymous said...

My name is David James, and I am the Director of the Hoku Ke`a telescope, and it was I that gave that AstroTalk a few weeks ago.

I am so sorry that you mis-understood what I said concerning both the size of the building and the relationship of the new telescope to the local community.

What I actually said, was that the building footprint was **not** changed or increased because it was against the law for one, and the Office of Mauna Kea Management and the University of Hawai`i at Hilo's planning offices had informed us that we were **not allowed** to change the footprint of the Observatory by one single millimeter -- which we did not !!

The mountain rangers, and Mr Ed Stevens, stopped by the construction site regularly to make sure that we were adhering to the regulations and laws, which I am happy to say, that we did.

The new building is EXACTLY the same size as the old one (which house the 24-inch AirForce telescope). If you want independent verification of this, you may contact the local contractor, Mr Gerald Yamada, or the project manager Mr Dan Kaniho (

Second, I did **not** say that there were not PhD graduates among the locals, nor did I imply any disdain for the locals whatsoever.

What I did say, was that in astronomy in particular, and in the physics sciences, people of Hawaiian descent are very under-represented, and I wanted that position to change. I did however report that there was not one single PhD-level astronomer or Professor of Hawaiian heritage in any US college or University, which unfortunately is true.

In fact, I specifically came to the UHH to help provide an educational resource to our local students, with the direct goal of getting more local students into jobs which demanded strength in physics and mathematics. I am also applying for National Science Foundation money to provide stipend-support for internships specifically designed for people of Hawaiian descent, so that we can work together to provide more science/mathematics education to our local kids. I want the UHH to be able to boast the claim of the first professional astronomer/professor at the PhD-level, of Hawaiian heritage, in an American college or University.

If anyone would like to discuss these issues with me further, please contact me, and I will gladly listen to your opinions and thoughts,


Anonymous said...

Aloha my name is Kenyan Beals and I am the University of Hawaii contact that facilitated and organized this talk. I would like to clarify that I was not the individual that you were speaking to after the presentation to which you refer to in your article. The individual you were speaking with, besides Dr. James, is an instructor at UHH but does not have any connection to the University of Hawaii Institute for Astronomy Outreach Department. Our outreach efforts have facilitated four years of the AstroTalk series here in Hilo and have given many people the opportunity to learn about the research, science, and opportunities that Mauna Kea and the Island of Hawaii have afforded the astronomy community.

As an individual that has lived here my entire life and that has worked very closely with Mauna Kea for the last eight years I am very offended to be wrongfully referred to in this article. If you would like to discuss our outreach efforts in more detail please feel free to contact me at

Kenyan Beals

Anonymous said...

What a ridiculous line of reasoning.

Wow, this is exactly what I am talking about. We can't have an opinion without it being ridiculous. Maybe our opinion should count for something, but if you think it is ridiculous then take your telescope elsewhere and see if it is not our land that you need. In the future try not to insult the very people who's land you need. And for your information, the mountain is in Hawaii. Do you just think it is Hilo that the locals count as theirs. Try to be a little humble next time. We in Hawaii can sustain ourselves without you. Try to sustain yourself in Los Angeles without government help. Thanks.


Anonymous said...

It seems that the author of this blog has failed to take into account the right and responsibility of an individual to "save face" and explain oneself.

I have relearned this lesson as a result of this blog post.

We learn from mistakes; if not, we repeat them.

Thank you for this lesson.

Anonymous said...

You are in denial. Open your eyes and your mind. What I posted is not hard to understand. If you would just take other people's opinion and try to understand instead of insulting them just because you don't want to reason, then just agree to disagree, but please, stop the insults. This is a great blog and maybe if you don't understand you should just find elsewhere to blog. You have learned nothing and your response is a nonresponse. Open your heart and try to love others. Remember to protect the land and help your fellow man. Try to look in the mirror and improve yourself everyday. Remember that you can always learn from others. Even from a local. Felix

Anonymous said...

In response to David James comments about Hawaiian Ph.D.s in Astronomy, this announcement from UH Institute for Astronomy "Dr. Paul Coleman (Institute for Astronomy)
"Dr. Paul Coleman (Institute for Astronomy)
"Kanaka Maoli Astronomy: Then and Now"
Bishop Museum, Wednesday, April 21, 2004, 7 p.m., Atherton Halau

The University of Hawaii Institute for Astronomy (IfA) is pleased to announce that they are co-sponsoring, together with the Bishop Museum, a public talk entitled "KANAKA MAOLI ASTRONOMY: THEN AND NOW". The talk, which is about Hawaiian Astronomy, will be given by IfA faculty member Dr. Paul Coleman. It is one of several special events that have been planned to celebrate "Astronomy Week in Hawaii" which began on Sunday April 18 with an Open House at the Institute for Astronomy and ends on Saturday April 24 at AstroDay 2K4 at the Prince Kuhio Plaza in Hilo.
The talk will be held at 7:00 p.m. on Wednesday April 21, 2004 in the Atherton Halau at the Bishop Museum. Prior to the talk the Bishop Museum will run Planetarium shows beginning at 5:30 p.m. Refreshments will be served after the talk.

Dr. Coleman, will speak about the ancient, as well as modern, Hawaiian traditions concerning astronomy in Hawaii. He will also talk about the history of European astronomy in Hawaii beginning with Captain James Cook, who visited our islands to observe the transit of Venus.

Dr. Coleman, who is a native Hawaiian, was born on Oahu and is a graduate of St. Louis High School. He received his Ph.D. in physics from the University of Pittsburgh, while working for the National Radio Astronomy Observatory. "
Let us hope his Ph.D. thesis was better researched than his ad hoc remarks about native Hawaiian scholarly achievements. Or maybe he just assumed Hawaiians were too dumb to get a Ph.D. in Physics. Geez, they both work for the same organization, how can somebody be so obtuse?

Anonymous said...

Right on Lizard King - what's even more sad/pathetic is that Dr. Paul Coleman is listed as an affiliate on the UH Hilo department listing in Dr. James' own building about 50 feet away from his office! Guess he never reads his own hallway. Even a sophomore like me can figure that one out!
Maybe he was just looking for a Hawaiian last name. Auwe! Such a malihini

Anonymous said...

This is extremely frustrating.Whenever there is a proposal to diversify our economy some group comes out of the woodwork to stop it.

What is even worse is the fact NONE OF THESE GROUPS have ever provided acceptable alternatives to diversify our economy.

Anonymous said...

Not here even a year and already you speak for the locals. Unreal.

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