Rick Perry’s Inane Miscue on Galileo and Climate Change

Galileo faces the Roman Inquisition who, without evidence, demand he recant his statements on heliocentrism.

The most head-exploding moment in last night’s GOP debate was this:

POLITICO: Gov. Perry, Gov. Huntsman was not specific about names, but the two of you do have a difference of opinion about climate change. Just recently in New Hampshire, you said that weekly and even daily scientists are coming forward to question the idea that human activity is behind climate change. Which scientists have you found most credible on this subject?

PERRY: Well, I do agree that there is — the science is — is not settled on this. The idea that we would put Americans’ economy at — at — at jeopardy based on scientific theory that’s not settled yet, to me, is just — is nonsense. I mean, it — I mean — and I tell somebody, I said, just because you have a group of scientists that have stood up and said here is the fact, Galileo got outvoted for a spell.

Let’s set aside that the U.S. National Academy of Sciences concluded its 2010 review of climate science saying these are “settled facts“: The “Earth system is warming” and “much of this warming is very likely due to human activities.”

It’s the Galileo line that drew all the attention.  The media may not be ready to offer a full-throated defense of climate science, but they know that Galileo was the scientist, that the Inquisition were composed of religious zealots analogous to Perry (who prayed for the EPA to stop environmental regulations), and Galileo didn’t get “outvoted.”

Invoking “Galileo” is Perry’s “dog-whistle” to the deniers, a name they like to invoke on their side, as laughable as that may sound — see “How climate science deniers spread doubt for political ends.”

NY Times Science reporter Henry Fountain has a piece that discusses this issue in more detail, “Historian Says Perry Misses Point on Galileo and Climate Change”:

On the surface, though, his example seemed to illustrate the opposite of the point that Mr. Perry might have been trying to make. Galileo, whose astronomical observations confirmed the Copernican theory that the Earth revolved around the Sun, was basing his assertions on empirical knowledge and faced opposition from the Roman Catholic Church, which supported the Ptolemaic view of an Earth-centered universe.

Mr. Perry, by contrast, has said repeatedly that he does not believe the empirical evidence compiled by scientists in support of climate change, but that he does adhere to faith-based principles.

Was Mr. Perry trying to depict Galileo as a maverick among scientific thinkers of his time? If so, the governor was wrong, says one historian who has studied the trial of Galileo.

“If Perry means to say that at some point some body of scientists said Galileo was wrong, that didn’t happen,” said the historian, Thomas F. Mayer, who teaches at Augustana College in Rock Island, Ill.

Galileo and Copernicus were long ago proved right, but even in Galileo’s day there were scientists who supported him, Mr. Mayer said. “His notions about science were not that far out there,” he said. “There were a lot of other scientists, especially in Rome, who more or less agreed with his scientific observations.”

Perhaps, then, Mr. Perry was referring to the church’s trial of Galileo on charges of heresy, in 1633, in which the astronomer was convicted and sentenced to house arrest. In that case he was “outvoted” not by other scientists but by church leaders….

It is also possible that by simply mentioning Galileo, Mr. Perry was trying to appeal to certain elements of his base. The conservative broadcaster Glenn Beck, among others, has likened climate change doubters to Galileo, in that, like him, they have had to stand up for their beliefs against institutional authority. “It was those who held power that tried to shut him down, just as those who are in power now try to shut up all who disagree now,” Mr. Beck said on his Fox News show in 2009.

Yeah, Glenn Beck is like Galileo — on the Bizarro planet of Htrae.

The bottom line is that Perry is the aspiring theocrat — see Texas Governor Rick Perry .  See also Texas Drought Now Far, Far Worse Than When Gov. Rick Perry Issued Proclamation Calling on All Texans to Pray for Rain.  And he is backed by those who want to put climate scientists on trial again — see The Inquisition of Climate Science: A Scientist Exposes the Business of Denial.  And now his nonsensical extremism has been exposed for all to see.

35 Responses to Rick Perry’s Inane Miscue on Galileo and Climate Change

  1. SecularAnimist says:

    What did Rick Perry mean by his reference to Galileo?

    What does Talking Tina “mean” by the things she “says” when you pull the string on her back?

  2. Michael Tucker says:

    It was most definitely an “…appeal to certain elements of his base.” Perry made no attempt to answer the actual question. Galileo might be the only scientist he can name but he is obviously familiar with this new anti-science ploy to link their nonsense with that famous giant of scientific inquiry. Yeah, the media might be weak on climate science but many of them, even some Republicans, are acquainted with the Galileo story.

  3. Rob Honeycutt says:

    What Perry doesn’t realize is that heliocentricity actually explained a nagging problem extremely well. The issue of “wandering stars.” At the time is was uncertain why some stars seemed fixed in space and others wandered around the sky.

    Similarly CO2 neatly explains a long list of paleoclimate problems, such as snowball Earth, glacial-interglacials, etc.

    Properly applied, the Galileo analogy would be of climate deniers being those who, decades after heliocentricity was well accepted, tried to say the church was actually right about a Earth centric universe… all without providing any theory that would answer the original problems.

  4. Chris says:

    Very true, the ironies in Perry’s analogy are headspinning. I think the above image needs dialog to reflect Perry’s brilliant insight. Here’s the image turned cartoon.

  5. Charles says:

    That Mr. Perry and other sceptics would invoke Galileo for their side is such a delicious irony–well, it would be delicious were this not so serious a matter and so telling of the appallingly poor levels of scientific literacy that abound.

  6. Helena says:

    I doubt Perry even knows what he’s talking about. That is the sound of someone BS-ing his way through the question. Best part: “Find out what the science truly is before you put the American economy in jeopardy.” Now only if he would heed his own advice…

  7. catman306 says:

    Please continue to pray for Texas even if the rains return there.

  8. Shaheer says:

    Perry knows its real. He has been trained in the art of manipulation and propaganda.

  9. EDpeak says:

    Well said, but…at some point, I wonder if we are helping the bad guys when we spend time and effort carefully debunking and de-constructing their more insane statements,

    I mean, what’s next? They will say “and reducing CO2 emissions will cause a billion people to die!” and we’re gonna do what, answer that no, NOT reducing will risk deaths? By even responding directly we give a statement more credibility. Take is a step further, if they say “reducing CO2 emissions will cause children to be molested, and will cause another holocaust against Jews and Native Americans” do we even “DIGNIFY” such madness by a carefully analyzed response? and carefully and rationally explain why it’s not a holocaust-causer or child-molester to reduce GHG? They WIN if we give too many of their most insane statement the dignity of a direct response…either no response and keep eye on the main issues, or a response that points at the psychological pathology of their ever more extremely insane statements..but a point by point carefully analysis of “no, cutting CO2 emissions is not equivalent to causing a holocaust” simply dignifies outrageous statements that maybe we shouldn’t dignify..and I’m wondering if we’re already there with their “we’re the Galileo” and our “no, you’re not, in fact you’re the analog of those who threatened him”?

    “When you are caught with your hands in someone’s pocket, shout ‘thief! thief!’ and point vigorously somewhere else” as Chomsky points out; because then if and when they deny it, and say “no, I’m not the thief!” you’ve already won an important battle: you’ve shifted the entire discussion away from the fact that YOU are a thief..the discussion changes to whether or not they are.

    Similarly if Hitler ran calling himself a “compassionate conservative” the media bit the bait and argued: “is he, or is he not Compassionate?” he wins, he has shifted away from “is he or is he not a deranged mass murderer?” they’ve shifted the debate to our defending science with “no, we are not equivalent to those who oppressed Galileo!” ok…but no matter how well argued and eloquent or even convincing our reply is, they win the battle of shifting the debate away from whether or not their denials is not only including witch hunts but threatens death and misery to untold millions..

  10. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    In Australia we have a ‘Galileo Society’ headed by one Alan Jones, a sort of down-market Rush Limbaugh clone, but with less charm. He has a solid following amongst Dunning-Krugerites and senile delinquents with varying degrees of dementia, and expresses himself quite eloquently as when he recently declared that the current PM, Gillard, ought to be placed in a sack and dumped at sea.

  11. Tim says:

    A theocratic governor who got an F in organic chemistry and a D in economics compares himself and a gaggle of corrupt propagandists for scientific obfuscation and disinformation with Galileo – arguably the first genuine scientist. That’s about what you’d expect from Rick Perry.

  12. Will Koroluk says:

    I worry about the same thing. If we keep dignifying the most inane statements, don’t we eventually end up granting them some tenuous form of substance? The denialists have been winning the war of words because they keep saying the same things over and over and over. But if the things we keep saying things over and over–even if they are rebuttals–only make us appear defensive.
    Far better, I think, is to report the science. A general article on a study today, then maybe an elaboration of some points tomorrow, then more points the day after. Then sum it up and move on to another study and report it. Report the science, over and over and over, and spend less time reporting the inanities circulating in the conservative blogosphere.

  13. John Mashey says:

    Well, Perry’s staff relies on various silly sources on climate, such as Peter Wood, of National Association of Scholars.

  14. prokaryotes says:

    “Yeah, Glenn Beck is like Galileo — on the Bizarro planet of Htrae.”

    ROFL :)

  15. Sasparilla says:

    The danger in all this is that most people won’t care about this remark or what it means. I doubt they will care too much what Perry will do with green energy or climate change if he just offers them a compelling vision of strong leadership to a growing economy (however wrong it obviously will be to us) compared to 4 more years of what we’ve had (sounds so much like 1980 doesn’t it?).

    It’s folks like us (not the mainstream) that look at his remarks and think how ridiculous he is or how easy a target he would be for Obama – barring an almost unimaginable (to the GOP primary voters) misstep he is the most likely GOP primary winner and as a presidential candidate to Obama he is extremely dangerous because of what he will be able to offer in contrast (and of course what he’ll do once in office).

  16. Scott says:

    haha, exactly.

  17. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    What a happy coincidence!! The National Association of Scholars shares just the same initials as the National Academy of Science. It’s a small world, after all.

  18. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    I reckon Beck et al are more akin to the ‘abstract scientists’ of Laputa, who impressed Gulliver with their attempts to build houses from the roof down, and turn human excrement back into food. And excrement, intellectual, moral and spiritual, is what the Right dishes up every day. However, they expect us to swallow it before it is mysteriously rendered back into food.

  19. Merrelyn Emery says:

    Yes, repetition is a critical tool and it’s one we have in our tool box at well.

    Every time there is a conversation about, or mention of, the latest disaster or weather extreme, we simply say “as predicted by climate scientists”.

    It would be easy to start a campaign about ‘the days of disaster’, ‘the era of extremes’ etc – “as predicted”. This simple repetition slowly seeps into the subconscious from where it is difficult to remove it or override it.

    Let’s capitalize on the fact that the scientists were right all along and the crows are now coming home to roost by linking the two. Nobody can deny their first hand experience for too long and even the most hard core denier is going to have a heap of trouble turning off that nasty insidious little tune in their mind that keeps on singing “as predicted”, “as predicted”. They’ve been sowing doubt for long enough: why shouldn’t we create a little doubt of our own? ME

  20. ginckgo says:

    Galileo also didn’t ‘stand up for what he believed’: when he was threatened with torture by the Inquisition, he said he would readily recant anything they wanted (and none of that “eppur si muove” rubbish). This is no mark against Galileo’s character – few people would stand firm in the face of torture, especially at his age; plus he had long since moved on to different investigations.

    And the inquisition’s trail against Galileo had little to do with his science; Galileo was perceived to be on the wrong side of the politics, the heliocentric issue actually interested the clergy rather than disturbed them.

    But I guess it wouldn’t be the first time that these people have a mythical view of history.

  21. otter17 says:

    Wow, I never knew that. I guess you can’t trust everything your high school science teacher tells you. I’ll have to read into that history some more.

    So, today we have a group of scientists whose research and results are at odds with established behavior and powerful groups. These scientists are being threatened and accused of wrongdoing without any evidence. Galileo would probably sympathize.

  22. Andy says:

    Maybe Perry is referring to that little known incident when Galileo operated as a shill for Sir Walter Raleigh’s tobacco company.

  23. a face in the clouds says:

    The follow-up question should have been: “How many fingers am I holding up?”

    It’s been a week of bad hair days for our governor. The night before the Bastrop fires the notorious Rice University marching band nailed him during its halftime show in Austin.* At Monday’s press conference in Bastrop he got blindsided by a reporter who suggested his presidential campaign was more important than the fires. Local and state fire officials then shoved him aside and made it clear he was not in charge.

    Now he is getting an earful from wealthy Republican neighborhoods west of Austin because they didn’t receive as much attention as Bastrop County. Seems there weren’t enough firefighters to go around. Reminds me of the time Perry’s hero, former Gov. Bill Clements, started emptying the mental institutions in an effort to balance the state budget. The next day his supporters were bellyaching about all of those crazy people sleeping on the lawn.

    Texas will never be the same again after this past summer. In fact it hasn’t been the same since the mid-90’s. Now we hear another bad year is ahead. People are wondering out loud: Which year will be the kill shot? Perry shrugs and calls it a cycle, but the cycles are spinning out of control. Perry replies with some nonsense his Daddy once said: “Oh, we’ll be okay, it always rains.” Yeah, like that time in the ’50’s when it never rained.

    *For folks reading this from abroad, the Rice University marching band parodied Perry during its halftime performance at the Rice-University of Texas football game in Austin. The Rice band has a storied history of fearless halftime shows, including the time they goose stepped while playing the Texas A&M fight song — in College Station.

  24. Lewis W. says:

    In order to claim the mantle of Galileo doesn’t one first have to be right?

  25. Jody says:

    Gov. Perry is correct in saying that “we would put Americans’ economy at — at — at jeopardy based on scientific theory that’s not settled yet”. Think of the hardships we will go through if the theory turns out to be correct. By not preparing for the effects of climate change, whatever the cause, you are putting the American in economy in jeopardy Mr. Perry. Call it prudent, long term insurance.

  26. S.B. Ripman says:

       This morning’s news is full of commentary about Rick Perry’s misuse of the Galileo analogy. All of them miss the point.  The situation is worse than they imagine.
       Some think Perry simply made a mistake, showing an ignorance of history.  Others think he overly stretched an analogy to make a point about standing up against prevailing opinion.  Others think he was using code to appeal to Glen Beck fans.
       They are wrong.  They miss the true import of what we witnessed.
       Think about it.  Perry is an experienced politician, and in this case was making his biggest appearance yet.  Would he make a dumb mistake … or might something more purposeful be going on?
        Perry knew exactly what he was doing.  It was carefully planned.  He was simply using the Karl Rove playbook first used so effectively by George W. Bush.  He followed it closely.  
       The first basic principle of the Rove philosophy of winning politics:  tell tremendously big lies.  The second:  tar your opponents with the most vile slander possible.  The third:  appeal to base emotion, never to intellect.  
       In this case the big lie is obvious:  that the global warming hypothesis is not overwhelmingly supported by science.  The slander is to compare the scientific establishment to the Inquisition. The base emotion component is self-evident.  Rick Perry’s use of these principles was like a fish in water.
       So this morning we should not be worried that one of the candidates is an ignoramus.  We should be worried that we are witnessing the rise of another Rove disciple … one who might be even more instinctively a Rovian than his predecessor.  The last one wounded the country horribly.  Another one would kill it.

  27. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    Endless repetition of a lie until it becomes accepted in the popular discourse as a truth was a standard technique recommended by Goebbels, and it is a standard technique of the Rightwing MSM brainwashing apparatus. In my experience it is one of the prime methods of operation of the News Corpse Evil Empire, along with crude projection, personal vilification and character assassination, appeals to greed and self-interest and a generally Manichean discourse where differences from the News Corpse ideology are motivated by pure evil (this is where the projection is strongest, indeed it becomes ludicrous).

  28. Pangolin says:

    Since the election of Ronald Reagan in 1980 it has been an agreed point of conventional wisdom that the people of the United States would rather hear a happy lie than a difficult truth.

    There is little evidence in the political world to dispute this. Note that even after the absolute, clear-cut disaster of Republican policies in 2008 46% of the electorate still voted for the McCain-Palin ticket.

    If fossil fuels are the cause of climate change and we are currently facing accelerating and obvious climate change effects we will have to stop burning fossil fuels. Perry and his backers are could very well be correct in thinking that people are still willing to deny this. They certainly are in Texas and Oklahoma.

  29. Merrelyn Emery says:

    Yes, all the more reason to fight back. For a simple effective strategy see reply to #9 above, ME

  30. Merrelyn Emery says:


    I am suggesting the repetition of a fact Mulga, not a lie. Can you please clarify your point as a reply? ME

  31. Snapple says:

    I get a little weary of constantly hearing about Galileo. That was 400 years ago.

    Recently, the Pontifical Academy of Sciences hosted a conference on Astrobiology to honor the anniversary of Galileo.

    Church-bashing plays into the hands of denialists. Church-bashing makes Christians who are scientifically ignorant assume that their church leaders do not accept global warming and that science is against religion.

    Fossil-fuel interests try to make people think that anthropogenic global warming is some kind of heresy. They even set up astroturf “religious” sites on the Internet.

    The main-line Protestants and the Pontifical Academy of Sciences and the Vatican say that man is causing global warming. The Vatican just had a conference on melting glaciers and probably will have more conferences on climate change.

    Did you listen to the Pope talk with the astronauts on the International Space Shuttle as he sat in the Vatican Library? It’s on Youtube if you google Benedict and astronauts.

    The astronauts talked about renewable energy on the International Space Station and how our atmosphere is so fragile.
    This was a very important event. Even NASA put it on their site.

    The Pope said that this was a dialogue and that he (the Church) wants to hear what the astronauts (scientists) say.

    Soon I will be giving a talk about the Pontifical Academy of Sciences to Catholic teachers. My boss, a very smart sister who teaches science, says the main thing for Catholic teachers is that they should have the confidence to teach the peer-reviewed science presented in our texts if they are challenged and that teachers should know that the Church supports evolution and anthropogenic global warming.

    If you bash the Catholic Church in your comments, this just confuses Catholic teachers, especially those who teach elementary school and may not have much science background.

    Our AP Environmental Science book cites people like V. Ramanathan and P. Crutzen. These are the same people that are members of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences.

    The Pontifical Academy of Sciences even invited Dr. Michael Mann to a conference in the past. I would not be surprised if he is invited again if more workshops on climate change are held.

    The Catholic Church is on the same page as the scientists, the Pentagon, and the CIA when it comes to climate change.

  32. Snapple says:

    Dr. Romm,

    If President Obama is so scientific, why did an FBI white paper just claim that nuclear winter was a KGB hoax and suggest that Paul Crutzen was an unwitting dupe. This was just when he was leading the Pontifical Academy of Sciences workshop on the melting glaciers.

    I have all the details here. I can’t believe the FBI could write such an ignorant report.

    Maybe someone here could find out how this happened.

  33. Joe Romm says:

    Finally. But do you know how long it took them to apologize for what they did to Galileo? Look it up. It’ll surprise you.

  34. Joe Romm says:

    Yes, Obama runs the FBI. He is responsible for the actions of every FBI agent. He is Super-President!

  35. Snapple says:

    Dr. Romm,

    When I complain about this FBI White Paper paper, the FBI don’t even answer. They act just like Cuccinelli’s deputy W. Russell.

    I think it is scary that the FBI is claiming that nuclear winter is a “KGB hoax” and trashing Paul Crutzen as a Soviet dupe right when he is leading the Pontifical Academy workshop on the melting glaciers.

    Maybe if you told the right people, the FBI would correct what they wrote.

    Maybe the FBI will admit their scientific error faster than the Vatican did with Galileo, but I’m not holding my breath.

    The President should have his science people make the FBI reevaluate this ridiculous paper. Dr. Holdren knows that nuclear winter is not a KGB hoax.

    There is no shame in correcting a mistake.