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Five Reasons Why Rejecting Climate Science Does Not Make You Galileo

Galileo pioneered the scientific method.

SCIENCE AF STAFF
2 NOV 2017
 

Climate deniers love to compare themselves to "the father of modern science", Galileo Galilei.

In one famous instance, U.S. Senator for Texas Ted Cruz lamented the fact that climate deniers like himself have been branded heretics.

 

"Today, the global warming alarmists are the equivalent of the flat-Earthers. It used to be [that] it is accepted scientific wisdom the Earth is flat, and this heretic named Galileo was branded a denier," said Cruz in an interview with the Texas Tribune in 2015.

Cruz isn't the first climate denier to make this erroneous comparison, and he won't be the last. In fact, the analogy is so common that there's even a name for it: the Galileo Gambit. 

Just this week, Senator Roger Wicker drew on the over-used Galileo Gambit during the Senate Committee hearing for the head of NASA. In a show of party loyalty, Senator Wicker defended President Trump's nominee Jim Bridenstine from other members on the committee who found issue with Bridenstine's climate denial.

"Let me say something about scientific consensus: It hasn't always been right," Wicker said.

"Galileo challenged scientific consensus, [Nicolaus] Copernicus challenged scientific consensus at their peril, and it turns out they were right, but they were alone for a while."

Here are five reasons why Cruz and Wicker are wrong in comparing their rejection of climate science to the plight of Galileo:

 

1. Galileo did not prove Earth is round.

Cruz's comparison between climate alarmists and flat-Earthers is not only ridiculous, it is historically inaccurate. Even in medieval times, scientists and intellectual thinkers had enough evidence to consider the world round. In fact, historians theorize this has been an accepted scientific fact for nearly 2,000 years. 

Plus, Galileo had nothing to do with that discovery. Galileo is renowned for his theories of celestial motion, which contradicted the religious idea that Earth was the center of the universe. His ground-breaking theory, which is often credited for launching the scientific revolution, posited that Earth and all the other planets in our solar system revolve around the sun.

2. Galileo was not branded a denier of accepted scientific wisdom.

When Galileo published his theory on celestial motion, it was met with vitriole from the Catholic Church, who saw Galileo's findings as a direct threat to religious doctrine. The Church declared Galileo a heretic and placed him under house arrest for the remainder of his life.

Yet many of Galileo's contemporaries agreed with his evidence-based methodology and were appalled by his subsequent trial and arrest. His friend and fellow mathematician Johann Kepler wrote this to Galileo about the censorship of science:

 

"After a tremendous task has been begun in our time, first by Copernicus and then by many very learned mathematicians, and when the assertion that the earth moves can no longer be considered something new, would it not be much better to pull the wagon to its goal by our joint efforts, now that we have got it underway, and gradually, with powerful voices, to shout down the common herd, which really does not weigh arguments very carefully?"

Therefore, it's historically inaccurate to say that Galileo was branded a denier of science when - in reality - he was branded a denier of foundational religious beliefs held by the Catholic Church.

3. The Galileo Gambit is an illogical fallacy.

The Galileo Gambit essentially asserts that if the establishment criticizes your opinion on a scientific matter, you must be right. If you follow this logic, it means that in order for a scientific idea to be accurate, it has to be rejected by the vast majority of scientists.

Obviously, this is not how the scientific method works.

 

The scientific method is based on empirical or measurable evidence, not on how many scientists disagree with you. Even still, many climate deniers continue to see themselves as intellectual skeptics, like Galileo.

Which brings us to our fourth point...

4. Climate change deniers are not skeptics.

Many climate deniers, like Cruz, like to think of themselves as skeptics, and not deniers. 

"Climate change is not science. It's religion," Cruz told Glenn Beck in 2015.

"Denier is not the language of science…Any good scientist is a skeptic; if he's not, he or she should not be a scientist. But yet the language of the global warming alarmists, 'denier' is the language of religion, it's heretic, you are a blasphemer."

For once, Cruz is sort of right. The terms "skeptic" and "denier" have been conflated by popular media, but in reality they are very different. The Committee for Skeptical Inquiry puts it best:

"Proper skepticism promotes scientific inquiry, critical investigation, and the use of reason in examining controversial and extraordinary claims. It is foundational to the scientific method. Denial, on the other hand, is the a priori rejection of ideas without objective consideration."

So a person who claims that "climate change is not science" and persists in ignoring the robust evidence that proves their opinion is wrong, falls into the category of denier. Whereas someone like Galileo, who used empirical evidence to support a controversial hypothesis, is most certainly a skeptic.

5. Everything we know about Galileo suggests he would have stood by the scientific method.

Galileo is considered the pioneer of the evidence-based scientific method and the "father of modern science." So, it's pretty safe to assume that if Galileo were alive today, he would be appalled by the baseless counter-arguments put forward by climate deniers. Given his loyalty to the scientific method, it is far more likely that he would agree with the 97 percent of scientists who accept the science behind human-caused climate change.

In a letter to the Grand Duchess of Tuscany in 1615, Galileo wrote this about his critics:

"Showing a greater fondness for their own opinions than for truth they sought to deny and disprove the new things which, if they had cared to look for themselves, their own senses would have demonstrated to them. To this end they hurled various charges and published numerous writings filled with vain arguments, and they made the grave mistake of sprinkling these with passages taken from places in the Bible which they had failed to understand properly, and which were ill-suited to their purposes."

Sounds familiar, right? The passage could easily be applied to modern day climate deniers.

 

Given all five points, it is obvious that Galileo should not be a shining beacon for climate deniers. In fact, it is more logical to compare Galileo to modern day scientists.

And climate deniers? They hold a far greater resemblance to the dogmatic Church of the 1600s.