[LEAPSECS] The Debate over UTC and Leap Seconds

Rob Seaman seaman at noao.edu
Tue Aug 10 15:58:54 EDT 2010

I think there was some confusion over the context of subsequent replies to this thread, so I'm starting over with Poul-Henning's reply to Steve's first message.

On Aug 10, 2010, at 8:03 AM, Poul-Henning Kamp wrote:

> In message <20100809222912.GB8288 at ucolick.org>, Steve Allen writes:


>> The Debate over UTC and Leap Seconds


>> is the title of a paper from the AIAA last week with contribution

>> from P. Kenneth Seidelmann


> That is what we normally call "Argument of a Party".

Or a white paper. U.S. astronomy is waiting this week for Friday's release of the report on the every-ten-years "Decadal Survey". The input to that survey included numerous white papers presenting the opinions of quite divergent groups:


It isn't remarkable that different parties have differing opinions. What is remarkable is that the process that has been followed in the ITU for the past ten-plus years has relentlessly pursued one and only one option against steadfast dissent.

By contrast, note the six-part process ("proposed approach") of Finkleman, et al:

1) A collaborative summary of pros and cons is promoted. (That is, a trade-off matrix for an engineering study.) They provide an initial attempt at this ("a summary is started") "for consideration by all those users affected by the change". The table in the paper is intended as a conversation starter, not a final position.

Given the responses from Poul-Henning and Warner, it appears that it has already begun to serve this purpose...

2) Organizational responsibility for UTC should be reconsidered. Are the implications of Coordinated Universal Time really limited to "radiocommunications"?

3) How about formally raising the question of the legal framework of timekeeping, instead of the speculation we have repeatedly engaged in on this list? One suspects that any lawyer would advise that ignoring legal issues does not make them go away.

4) If a change to civil timekeeping is made that completely reinvents the notion of Universal Time, perhaps the timescale should (quite logically) be called something else?

5) Consensus should be sought *before* implementing a change. Any change should be introduced only after a prudent review period. The only thing radical here is that such suggestions would seem radical.

6) Civil timekeeping is a fundamental standard whose definition should be freely available to all. Everybody owns or uses clocks, not just radiocommunication engineers.

Are these controversial positions? By all means, improve the trade-off matrix. Personally, I feel it gives unwarranted weight to "points favoring change". Others will feel differently. By discussing the issues that characterize the problem definition (rather than batting heads incessantly over a controversial proposed "solution") a diverse community is *more* likely to reach consensus - and to do so more quickly.

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