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.