Saturday, January 21, 2012

Using Galileo to push climate policy

Water conservationist Peter Gleick (and brother of a famous science writer) writes in Forbes magazine, starting:
When scientific findings have big consequences for policy and politics, anti-science ideology and denial flourish. Religious ideology led the Church to deny Galileo’s scientific findings about the motion of the planets and stars and has fed the continuing denial of evolution in favor of fundamentalist claims of creationism. Stalinist ideology denied the science of genetics and led to a crippling of Soviet agriculture and biology for decades. And a mix of anti-government, pro-fossil fuel, and anti-environmental ideology underlies current denial of human-caused climate change.
Those who use science to promote leftist political policies nearly always invoke Galileo and Darwin. If this history is really so important, then we should get it right.

The Church never denied any of Galileo’s scientific findings. You can read the Wikipedia Galileo affair for details. A historian disects the myth:
According to popular legend, when Galileo presented his telescope to senior cardinals/Jesuits/Aristotelian philosophers/the Inquisition (delete as applicable) they refused to even look through it. This tale has become a standard trope for when we want to attack anyone who won't accept 'obvious' evidence. As the last chapter of my book will be on Galileo, I thought I should try to nail down the primary sources for the legend. ...

So who refused to look through Galileo's telescope? According to the historical record, no one did for certain. The argument was over what they could see once they once they did look.
In particular, no one disputed the moons of Jupiter or the phases of Venus that Galileo discovered and published in 1610. The Church invited him to write a book on heliocentrism, as long as he presented the scientific arguments for and against. His book's main argument was that the motion of the Earth was proved by the once-a-day tides. The Church recognized that this argument was bogus. There are two tides a day, not one, and they are caused by the gravity of the Moon, not the motion of the Earth. The book ignored the Tychonic system, the leading geocentric system of the previous 40 years.

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