[LEAPSECS] Regarding the ITU's very immodest proposal

Rob Seaman seaman at noao.edu
Tue Feb 12 11:39:59 EST 2008

Some days I feel like my shadow's casting me...

In the Fall of 1999, Judah Levine contacted an astronomer regarding
our community's interest in seeing leap seconds continue. The
astronomer contacted the U.S. National Observatory (NOAO), and its
director, or one of his or her minions, contacted me to look into it.
I say "his or her", because NOAO is a complex institutional entity
with facilities both north and south of the equator, covering both
nighttime and solar astronomy, the optical and the infrared, and with
several sister organizations such as the Space Telescope Science
Institute. So at this late date I don't recall who passed Levine's
email on to me, and the tale doesn't depend on it.

As of a year ago there were 116 subscribers to the original LEAPSECS
mailing list. The subscribers aren't available for the current list,
but I presume the count remains several dozen. So, for more than
eight years, several dozen people have been interested enough in the
question of civil timekeeping to continue posting and reading posts
that are often fractious and tedious. This is quite remarkable.

Over all that time, it has been unclear exactly what entities are
pushing the inane initiative to eliminate leap seconds. So, when I
say "ITU", it is indeed eminently true that I'm implicating a drab
body of unimaginative technocrats, but I simply don't know who better
to address. And this tale doesn't depend on it.

My point remains the same. Timekeeping is important (else why are we
all here?) and any change to timekeeping standards deserves the best
planning activities we can muster. Going out of your way to avoid
planning such a transition is laughably pathetic and potentially
criminal. Without a plan, what possible basis is there to claim that
risks won't increase dramatically when we start pretending the two
types of time ("atomic time" and Earth orientation) are one and the

That Steve's suggestion is being subjected to criticism is a good
thing. Why not invest in a formal trade-off study between several
candidate options, including but not limited to: TI, UTC w/o leaps,
and UTC with leaps? (A good trade-off study always includes the
status quo.) Either the "ITU proposal" (misattributed or not) will
triumph in a fair trade-off comparison - or it won't.

I have to believe that the funding agencies in the U.S. would look at
a proposal to conduct such a trade-off study quite favorably. Surely
European funding could be identified as well. It is precisely the
constant rush to judgement that has kept such obvious studies from
being conducted before now. And it is precisely such studies that can
provide a mechanism to form a durable consensus among the factions
represented on this mailing list.

...Some days the sun don't shine


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