December 17, 2003

Is the Debunking Glass Half Full or Half Empty?

What do you do when Glenn Reynolds in a story debunking politicized environmental reporting, repeats one of the hoariest myths around of scientific persecution by religion. He's spot on in his linking, no argument there but the truth is that Galileo had a religious trial for his religious and unscientific views. The problem of Galileo's trial is important because it directly bears on the problem of the hockey stick and other politically convenient science that Reynolds is complaining about.

Galileo, like today's global warming partisans, was a man in a hurry. He believed in a theory, like warming theorists today do, for which he thought the evidence was persuasive, but that there was no definitive proof at the time (and simple definitive proof would not be found until 1838 long after Galileo's death in 1642 when the parallax problem was finally solved).

Galileo turned out to be right in the end but he insisted that religious authorities change their interpretation of scripture in advance of the evidence. That was a religious matter and properly put the whole issue before the Inquisition. The sin of the Church was that Galileo, being an impatient, abrasive, abusive man, succeeded in exceeding their tolerance and his temperment played an important part in his conviction. That's no way to run a court system and the 1979 examination of the problem settled the question of judicial malfeasance (if you need it in another language other than french or italian, use the fish).

The fact that Galileo was running in advance of the evidence and created a 400 year rift between western science and western faith in the process should be a cautionary tale and put us on our guard against scientists who seek to do the same today and run ahead of the actual evidence for their position. Some will ultimately be proven right, others wrong. But all will corrode the proper ethic of science and that's a real shame.

Posted by TMLutas at December 17, 2003 02:25 PM