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Modern scientists, following in Galileo’s footsteps

Posted on 29 September 2011 by Tom Smerling

This blog post also serves as the Intermediate Rebuttal to the climate myth Climate 'Skeptics' are like Galileo. The short URL for this rebuttal is

Some climate change skeptics compare themselves to Galileo, who in the early 17th century challenged the Church’s view that the sun revolves around the earth and was later vindicated.

The comparison to Galileo is not only flawed; the very opposite is true.

1.   Galileo was suppressed by religious/political authority, not scientists.     Galileo was not suppressed or “outvoted” by other early scientists.   Many scientific contemporaries agreed with his observations[2], and were appalled by his trial.[3]  Galileo was persecuted by the religious-political establishment – the Catholic Church, which in 1616 ordered him to stop defending his view of the solar system, which contradicted church dogma.  After Galileo published his famousDialogue, the Roman Inquisition tried him in 1633 for defying Church authority, and found him guilty of suspected religious heresy, forced him to recant, banned his books and sentenced him to house arrest for life.[4]   Galileo died eight years later.[5]

2.   Science is evidence-based; the most vocal skeptics are belief-based.  The key difference between Galileo and the Church concerned Galileo’s “way of knowing,” or epistemology.  How is knowledge attained?    

Medieval scholarship and Catholic Church dogma relied on the authority of Aristotle and a literal interpretation of the Bible to place earth at the center of the universe.  

In contrast, Galileo’s views were not based on an infallible authority.   His conclusions flowed from observations and logic.  Galileo’s evidence- and logic-based method of inquiry later became known as the scientific method.

The vast majority of vocal skeptics are not engaged in climate research.   The common bond uniting them, observers note, is an ideological belief system:   Government regulation is bad, so problems that may require regulation must be resisted.[6]   From there, they search for ways to cast doubt on the science.[7]   Unlike Galileo and modern scientists, they do not change their view when presented with new evidence, because their position derives not from open-ended scientific inquiry, but from strongly-held ideological convictions.

In contrast, climate science applies the scientific method pioneered by Galileo.    Scientists make observations, form logical hypotheses, then test their hypotheses through experiments and further observations.   They follow the evidence wherever it leads.

The Church’s attack on Galileo and the skeptical assault on climate science are far from unique.   History is full of examples where new scientific findings threatened powerful vested interests – whether religious, financial or ideological -- and provoked a furious backlash.   

3.  The discovery of global warming overturned an age-old belief; the skeptics seek to restore it.   In arguing that the planets revolve around the sun, Galileo was challenging an idea that had dominated Western thought for over 1400 years.    Ever since Ptolemy (90-168 AD) codified Aristotle’s “geocentrism,” most philosopher/scientists had accepted the common sense view that the earth is the center of the universe, with the sun and planets revolving around us.

Similarly, the prevailing view throughout history was that people, through our own actions, could not possibly alter earth’s climate on a global scale.   Even into the 20th century, the overwhelming majority of scientists maintained, in science historian Spencer Weart’s words,

the widespread conviction that the atmosphere was a stable, automatically self-regulated system. The notion that humanity could permanently change global climate was implausible on the face of it, hardly worth a scientist's attention.[8]

Some say climate science’s first “Galileo moment” came in 1896, when Swedish scientists Svante Arrhenius, after years of laborious hand calculations, predicted eventual global warming due to CO2 emissions.[9]    Others point to 1938, when a British steam engineer named Guy Stewart Callendar, after poring over old CO2 and temperature records, stood alone before the Royal Meteorological Society to argue that global warming was already happening.[10] 

Arrhenius and Callendar were ahead of their time, and failed to persuade others.   In both cases, the scientific establishment found their calculations oversimplified and their evidence incomplete, certainly not convincing enough to overturn the ancient view that global climate was impervious to human acts.

Mainstream scientific opinion was slow to change.    During the post-war science boom in the 1950’s, early computers and advanced methods allowed scientists to directly investigate objections to Arrhenius’ and Callendar’s view.[11]   Using the new digital computers, Gilbert Plass found that more CO2 could indeed block more heat.[12]   Hans Suess analyzed radioactive isotopes to detect ancient carbon in the air, presumably from fossil fuels.[13]    Roger Revelle and Suess discovered that the oceans could not quickly take up additional CO2.    David Keeling built the first sensor capable of accurately measuring atmospheric CO2 – just as Galileo had invented a more advanced telescope – and found that the CO2 level was indeed rising.  

From 1960 to 1990, the evidence kept accumulating, from areas of study as far afield as geology, astronomy and biology.   As the gaps in knowledge were filled, one-by-one, most scientists changed their views and gradually formed a new consensus:  significant anthropogenic (human caused) global warming was likely.[14]  

By 2000, the evidence was overwhelming.

The hypothesis proposed by Arrhenius in 1896—denied by almost every expert through the first half of the twentieth century and steadily advancing through the second half—was now as well accepted as any scientific proposal of its nature could ever be.[15]  

The climate pioneers were vindicated.

Galileo rebuttal timeline

Critics of climate science, backed by the alarmed fossil fuel industry,[16] sprang into action in the late 1980s, when the mounting evidence led to calls for international action to limit CO2 emissions.   They did not argue, like Galileo, for a revolutionary hypothesis based on new evidence, because they could not agree on one among themselves.[17]    They produced little new evidence.   Instead, they searched for flaws in others’ research, and launched a public relations campaign to sow public doubt.    

Unlike Galileo, climate skeptics were not trying to overturn an ancient view. Their goal was the opposite:   to restore the  age-old conventional wisdom, that, by itself, “human activity was too feeble to sway natural systems”[18].     In clinging to this old view, the skeptics' stance more closely resembles that of the Catholic Church, which fought Galileo’s views for another 100 years after the scientific establishment had embraced him.

4.  Climate scientists, not skeptics, are being dragged into court     Armed with ideological certainty, backed by powerful financial and political interests, skeptics have sought to not only discredit the science but impugn the researchers’ honesty.   Unfounded accusations of deception and conspiracy fly freely,[19] and some climate scientists even receive death threats.[20]   These attacks, according Dr. Naomi Oreskes, “have had a chilling effect...   Intimidation works.”[21]

In April 2011, personal attacks on scientists took a more ominous turn, when Virginia’s Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, a fierce climate skeptic, launched a criminal fraud investigation of a prominent climate scientist, Dr. Michael Mann.[22]   Multiple investigations by independent scientific bodies have found no trace of wrongdoing  in Mann’s work, and a Virginia judge dismissed Attorney General’s subpoena request for lack of evidence.    Yet, as of September 2011, Cuccinellis’ crusade continues.[23]  

If Galileo were alive today, watching climate scientists being dragged into court on baseless charges, is there any doubt whose side he would take?

[1]  On Sept 7, 2011, at the Republican presidential debate in Simi Valley, Texas Gov.. Rick Perry, became the highest level politician to invoke the Galileo comparison.

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.

 The founders of Australia’s “Galileo Movement” claim that global warming is a “fabrication,” and

 cite as inspiration Galileo Galilei, the 17th century astronomer and father of modern science, who challenged the dogma of the Roman Catholic Church to report the Earth orbited around the sun.

[3] personal communication, Spencer Weart, 9-17-2011.

[4] Wooton, David.   Galileo: Watcher of the Skies, Yale University Press, New Haven (2010), p. 224-5.

[5] Galileo died on January 8, 1642 at age 77.

[7] See Oreskes, Naomi and Erik M. Conway.  Merchants of Doubt, Bloomsbury Press, New York (2010)

[12] Dr. Spencer Weart’s excellent history of this period can be found in overview at, with more details at, the linked timeline and other articles.

[13] Weart, Spencer.   The Discovery of Global Warming, Harvard University Press, New York (2004), p. 26

[14] Weart, p. 164.

[15] Weart, p. 191.


[19] Oreskes and Conway, page 4, 198-213. 264.


[21] Oreskes and Conway, p. 264-5.


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Comments 1 to 49:

  1. The wittiest Galileo comment came from Carl Sagan: "They laughed at Galileo. But they also laughed at Bozo the Clown". I also heard Professor Richard Somerville of the Scripps Institute say recently; "99% of people who think they are the new Galileo, just arn't."
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  2. Just a small "nit". "Heliocentrism" is the theory that the sun is the centre of the solar system, advanced in classical times by Aristarchus of Samos. Aristotle and Ptolemy rejected heliocentrism in favour of an earth-centred model. The post suggests the reverse in Point 3.
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  3. In any case the established norm is to burn fossil fuels and keep burning them, if anyone is 'Galileo' it's those that want to change that norm.
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  4. In Siderius Nuncius, Galileo suggested that the dark areas of the moon were water. In this we now know that Galileo was wrong. Galileo was a scientist, making observations and from them making testable propositions. Some of these propositions were famously correct. Others were wrong and proved to be so by later science. I have yet to see any testable propositions from the self-proclaimed Galileos of climate scepticism that have stood-up to scientific scruitiny.
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  5. Yeah, Galileo was hardly the model scientist this article incidentally makes him out to be. He believed tides were proof of heliocentrism despite that even by his own inertial explanation of tides, there should be one high tide per day, not two. The idea that tides were caused by the moon, as argued by Kepler he ridiculed as superstitious nonsense (although as we know, that theory was consistent with observations, because it was the right one!) The main reason for his suppression by the church, too, was not his heliocentrism per se, but the fact that in his polemic for it, he had a thinly-veiled portrayal of pope Urban VIII as a dunce.
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  6. I've mentioned this before elsewhere, but I really can't recomend strongly enough "The Sky's Dark Labyrinth" by Stuart Clark for a very readable trace through the worlds of Kepler, Galileo and all the gang... to flesh out the historical context and facts around this story; also enlightening for today's debates (AGW, evolution etc.)
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  7. 'Virginia’s Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, a fierce climate skeptic, launched a criminal fraud investigation of a prominent climate scientist, Dr. Michael Mann.' You could also mention the highly irregular 2006 congressional hearing into the 'Hockey Stick' and the oddity of the recent Charles Monnett investigation.
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  8. [ Note to Mods: Footnote links are broken. First, the anchor names don't match, e.g. "#_edn5" in the link versus "#_ednref" in the anchor. Second, the <a> tag for the anchor needs to use the "name" attribute, not the "href" attribute, and without the # symbol. <a href="#gohere" >link</a> <a name="gohere" >anchor</a> ]
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  9. #5 @Harald Why couldn't the sun create two high tides a day even if there were no moon?
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  10. One of the take-aways from Galileo's encounters with the Catholic Church: Never mock the Pope during an Inquisition.
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  11. On a somewhat related note, the BBC is running an article on the 150th Anniversary of John Tyndall's publication of "On the Absorption and Radiation of Heat by Gases and Vapours, and on the Physical Connexion of Radiation, Absorption, and Conduction" The comments section reads a bit like the Most Used Arguments section of SkS. Sad.
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  12. pbjamm@11, I gave up on the BBC forum a long time ago. they have a huge troll and AGW denier infestation and seem to have no interest in dealing with it. One of the house rules is not off-topic, so that immediately should mean most of the posts should be deleted..... So to avoid being OT,I really hope that people pay attention to the text in the green box: If Galileo were alive today, watching climate scientists being dragged into court on baseless charges, is there any doubt whose side he would take?" Anyone wish to hazard a guess who the advisors are for the "Galileo Movement" in Australia (whose sole purpose is not science but to oppose the carbon tax)?
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  13. Let's see, 400 years: we've seen one Galileo, one Newton, one Einstein, one Hawking. All of a sudden everybody who has a 'different' view of established science claims to be another Galileo. What are the odds of that? And even here there is a 'skeptic' view: Scientific evidence available to us within the last 100 years that was not available during Galileo's confrontation shows that the Church's position on the immobility of the Earth is not only scientifically supportable, but it is the most stable model of the universe and the one which best answers all the evidence we see in the cosmos. By 'skeptic' logic, these folks are the real Galileo and mainstream physics (you know, most of us on earth) are the oppressors. Only on the internet.
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  14. Dear “Google” Galileo: five reasons we know why you are not a scientific genius
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    Moderator Response: [muoncounter] Please avoid link-only posts. Provide some context so readers may decide if they want to follow your link.
  15. The Galileo argument is so ridiculous it's hard to take seriously. I'm going to make a prediction. The recent discovery that neutrinos appear to be traveling faster than the speed of light will somehow be used by AGW skeptics.
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  16. Jim @ 15... Oh, believe me, it already is. The phrase I've seen a dozen times already is, "See! Relativity was accepted science until just a week ago."
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  17. One of the factors that prompted the Church to take action against Galileo was because he published some works in Italian rather than the customary Latin. Had Galileo restricted his science to the cognoscenti he likely would have been left alone. Unfortunately, this history is again being played out. Those climate scientists who restrict their publications to scholarly journals are mostly left alone, but those who indulge in public outreach risk being harassed, or worse. I think it's a stretch to identify anyone in climate science with Galileo, either in terms of their stature as scientists or the amount of persecution they are suffering. However, if I had to nominate somebody, I would submit James Hansen.
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  18. muoncounter wait a minute, I'm confused. We have some (AGW) deniers claiming that they're like Galileo and some other (heliocentrism) deniers claiming that Galileo was wrong. If the latter are right, the former are right that they're are like Galileo but wrong on AGW. Conversely, if AGW deniers are right, the heliocentrism deniers are wrong and this means that going against the estabished science is not enough to be like Galileo. Hence, either you're wrong like Galileo or you're not like Galileo just because you're a denier of something. Right? :) Anyway, although I'm quite familiar with scientific denialism, the link you provided is new to me. Thank you.
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  19. Excellent. Should have been done much earlier. Love the time line. I think that that is a standalone item for SkS... bigger expanded and hyperlinked... everything. so.... missing last evidence... 5. The Vatican recognizes GW and disruptive CC.... and that we should act. Vatican on climate: Pray for science
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  20. Riccardo#18 I'm glad you figured that out. What next, a proof that 1 = 0?
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  21. muoncounter maybe 2+2=5 The Lukewarm? Ok, wildly offtopic, sorry :)
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  22. Actually, muon, if "1" is not applied to anything, it is effectively the same as "0."
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  23. Ok, it's practically impossible to completely drain "1" and "0" of semiotic content (it would involve brainwashing anyone who's ever used the signs), but in theory it is possible.
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  24. #2 - Shoeymore and #8 -- Spherica Thanks for catching the terminology error (Aristotle's geocentrism, not heliocentrism.) and footnote glitchs. These things creep in sometimes during revisions. We'll investigate and correct asap.
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  25. 1. “Galileo was suppressed by religious/political authority, not scientists.” So, suppression of some scientists by other scientists is OK? 2. “Science is evidence-based; the most vocal skeptics are belief-based.” Science is ever evolving. I would bet a years salary (any takers?) that what everyone currently thinks is the end-all-be-all in climate science turns out to be wrong within the next five years. When it comes to "beliefs," reliance on every computer model requires the "belief" they may be right. "Evidence-based" refers more to "observation-based," and yet that is not what we witness, as an example, in the latest study from Trenberth regarding the "missing heat." 3. “The discovery of global warming overturned an age-old belief; the skeptics seek to restore it.” Hmmm….an ice age 12,000 years ago and it’s been getting warmer since (with a couple of minor exceptions). What “age-old” belief are you referring to? The “skeptics” are actually suggesting CO2/AGW theory may turn out to be the next, “age-old” belief overturned. 4. “Climate scientists, not skeptics, are being dragged into court.” And yet, David Suzuki, James Camerson and Google CEO Eric Schmidt have said they would like to see skeptical scientists tried as criminals. The only climate scientist I know of who may potentially be dragged into court is Michael Mann. And really, if Galileo were alive today, do you seriously think he would be standing beside Sukuki, et al? My best guess is he would be saying if you can prove me wrong, bring it on. And isn't that what science is all about?
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    Moderator Response: [Albatross] If you are going to attribute words to people, in this case the much respected Dr. Suzuki, you should please make sure that they are accurate. This is what he said in 2008. "What I would challenge you to do is to put a lot of effort into trying to see whether there’s a legal way of throwing our so-called leaders into jail because what they’re doing is a criminal act..". Note, he said "leaders" not scientists as you claim. Also, we have been in the so-called Holocene for about 10 000 years now, the last glacial peaked about 20 000 years ago, not 12 000 as you claim. Finally. Trenberth has written numerous papers since his 2009 "missing heat paper", a paper that has been misrepresented countless times by "skeptics" and those who deny AGW. I suggest you read this post by Dr. Trenberth here at SkepticalScience on the matter, as well as this post.
  26. saltspringson... 1) No one is suppressing quality science. 2) Yes, I would take you up on that bet, providing you're defining this as saying CO2/AGW will be overturned in the next 5 years, and we are betting your salary level and not mine. 3) No, we have been on a gradual cooling trend for the past 6000 years (See: Miller 2010). 4) I think that would make Michael Mann the Galileo of our day.
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  27. saltspringson Lack of evidence based science??? You are joking right? -detailed Spectroscopic databases -Satellite observations -Oceanographic observations -Ocean Chemistry studies -Atmospheric chemistry observations -Ice Core Data -Multitudenous different forms of geological and paleoclimate observations. You realise don't you that the primary evidence for AGW is the simple fact that the Earth has been that warm before. Climate models are not the main 'evidence'. The most basic predictions about warming can be done with pencil & paper. What the climate models are for is trying to refine the detail of the projections - how fast/slow, regional characteristics etc. Its a weird skeptic fixation that it is just about the models.
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  28. Saltspringson@25 Re: your point 3 - The belief in a stable, self-regulating climate was overturned when a majority of scientists accepted the geological evidence of multiple former ice ages such as could only have been caused by substantial long-term (geologically speaking) global cooling and warming phases. The first scientific paper showing evidence of ice ages and temperature changes was presented by Ignaz Venetz in 1821 to the Swiss Natural Science Society. Jean Charpentier did not believe Venetz until shown the geological evidence at first hand. Charpentier promoted Venetz' discoveries but in turn was not believed by Louis Agassiz until Charpentier showed him the evidence at first hand in 1836. Louis Agassiz, a fossil expert, published his first paper on glaciers, ice ages and 'global cooling' in 1837 and devoted the rest of his life to studying and promoting the evidence of ice ages. Multiple lines of evidence of former ice ages and of their causes is the foundation of climate change science. In 1895 the list of possible causes (solar changes, orbital changes etc.)was found not to sufficiently account for the global temperature changes which could trigger or end ice ages. And then Arrhenius published his demonstration that CO2 was the primary missing factor. The fact of former ice ages is often used by climate change skeptics who think they are disproving climate change science thereby. Evidence which strongly supports a theory cannot, according to common sense logic, be used to refute it. Acceptance of ice ages as fact implies acceptance of climate change as fact. Is this an acceptable alternative to the phrasing which you criticize? - The discovery of the ice ages overturned an age-old belief that the climate is naturally stable in the long term; the skeptics seek to restore that belief.
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  29. Albatross @ 12, One of the Galileo Movement's main mouthpeices here in Australia, Andrew Bolt, has just lost a court case. Two of his articles were found to be unlawful under the Racial Discrimination Act. The articles were about perceptions of Aboriginality. Though this does not tie directly to his ACW denial writing, it has his exposed him as a writer now on record for distorting facts, employing spurious evidence and falling to disparaging and inflamatory language.
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  30. @25 Saltspring Person- You seem to be unaware of the religious aspect of global warming rejectionism. Both Spencer and McKitrick are signatories to the Evangelical Declaration on Global Warming, Cornwall Alliance Signatories stating among other things that: 1.We believe Earth and its ecosystems—created by God’s intelligent design and infinite power and sustained by His faithful providence —are robust, resilient, self-regulating, and self-correcting, admirably suited for human flourishing, and displaying His glory. Earth’s climate system is no exception. Recent global warming is one of many natural cycles of warming and cooling in geologic history. and 1.We deny that Earth and its ecosystems are the fragile and unstable products of chance, and particularly that Earth’s climate system is vulnerable to dangerous alteration because of minuscule changes in atmospheric chemistry. Recent warming was neither abnormally large nor abnormally rapid. There is no convincing scientific evidence that human contribution to greenhouse gases is causing dangerous global warming. Which leads to your point 1 about scientists suppressing other scientists. McKitrick and co-author MacIntyre have conducted the primary attack on Michael Mann's Hockey stick. Their statistical tools have been shown to be corrupt: Summary of Analysis of M&M with links to peer reviewed publications at the same time- someone was attempting the equivalent of a DoS attack on Hadley by flooding them with FOI requests. SkS discussion of 'ClimateGate' Was this McIntyre's doing? So the question is who started trying to suppress who first? What other suppression do you have in mind? Is there any supression currently going on? The rest of your points have been addressed by others, but I'll add that for there to be a change of opinion in 5 years, the data ought to be on the ground now, bedcause it will take time to replicate it and explore it. So what's your unrecognized smoking gun?
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  31. Stevo @29, Thanks. You made me look closer at the Galileo Movement, and what I read is very interesting/disturbing. Look who the advisors are for the Galileo Movement in Australia: Professor Tim Ball Warwick Hughes Professor Fred Singer Professor Dick Lindzen Bill Kininmonth Professor Bob Carter Professor Ian Plimer David Archibald Professor Peter Ridd Professor Garth Paltridge Dr Vincent Gray Dr Jennifer Marohasy Jo Nova Des Moore John Nicol David Flint Andrew Bolt John McLean David Evans Pat Michaels Joe D'Aleo Viscount Monckton [Source] Their purported guiding principles ironically include: "Honesty: rely on factual data, ensure decisions are based on facts; Fact based science: protect and use science, a key to human progress, objective and fair decisions and freedom" and under "Purpose and Aims" ironically include: "Protect science and restore scientific integrity" Sounds great does it not? But, there is a very big problem with those proclamations, because unfortunately those lofty ethics and goals do not seem to be endorsed or even practised by several of their advisers, as has been demonstrated multiple times here at SkepticalScience and elsewhere. Some of the names on that list shocked me. What are Drs. Lindzen and Gray thinking?
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  32. Jennifer Marohasy is endorsing these proclamations? What a joke. This is a brave new world we live in. Aldous Huxley must be chuckling in his grave but, really, that's sad. And there are countless people like Saltspringson who buy into the snake oil these charlatans sell. Better keep up the work on SkS.
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  33. #31, no shock at all. The phrase is: 'the usual suspects'. Climate populism is directed (sort of) by a small group of recurring names who operate in an internet hall of mirrors. The Galileo Movement is just one such mirror. Utterly boring. #15, the denialists pounced on that off topic as of shortly before the neutrino's arrived and are boring every decent man stiff with it. Of course not a shred of knowledge is involved. Nor asked for. As of today I call any mention of the CERN experiment offending, it being deliberately off topic re AGW. Protests against this will be met with a charge of stupidity - because it is one or other.
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  34. I've read through the comments and can't find anyone who's proposed what, to me, seems the biggest reason for ridiculing the 'Galileo was right', 'Einstein was right', 'Copernicus was right', 'whatsisname was right', memes. Let's assume for the sake of argument -- because that's because some would like us to believe -- that Galileo was a maverick with a theory that kicked against the consensus. Well then, just because one -- at the time seemingly -- maverick theory turns out to have been right, it doesn't mean that all other maverick theories are, by definition, also right. Since Galileo's time there have been many tens of thousands -- perhaps millions -- of maverick theories proposed which have been shown to be plain wrong. The fact that one, two, ten, or fifty turned out to be both correct and were ridiculed by the consensus when first proposed, does not provide any support to the idea that 'sceptic' climate scientists should be listened to on the basis that they're 'modern-day Galileos'. Leaving aside what they say for the moment, based just on statistical probability, we can be pretty certain that history will coral them with the tens of thousands of mavericks who were wrong. On the other hand if, in the very unlikely event, their ideas are correct, then statistical probability -- based on thousands of past examples -- tells us that we can be pretty certain that their ideas will gradually win through and history will put them in their rightful place. Perhaps on the pedestal alongside Galileo?
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  35. Can anyone provide references for heliocentric views of the Earth's climate? By this I mean climate data averaged from the point of view of the Sun vice the Earth - not that variations in solar activity influence the climate (another argument entirely...) One of the strange things about 'climate' vs. 'weather' is the day/night and seasonal cycles cause use to do all kinds of averaging that could wash out import effects. There is no day-night cycle, nor seasons from the point of view of the sun... It seems reasonable to me to (at least) consider a case where the reference point of the analyses corresponds to the largest contributer to Earth's energy balance. Galileo would be proud...
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  36. 35, guinganbresil, The temperature of the earth, from the point of view of the sun, is a constant 255˚K (-18˚C, or -0.4˚F), consistent with the amount of energy delivered by the sun to keep it at that temperature. The sun cannot directly "see" the surface temperature of the earth (which is now over 288˚K). Those emissions are blocked (got this whole greenhouse gas thingy going on here). A scientist living in the sun could infer surface temperatures by looking at the spectrum of radiation emitted and doing some special calculations that take into account an understanding of how things work (much as scientists on this planet need to do to tease out the data you'd like to see). Or better yet by sending a probe to the planet. The sun could infer that the surface of the planet is warming, if it had accurate enough detection methods, because it would see that the temperature of the earth for the past thirty years or so is very slightly below what would be expected. That's a sign that the planet is absorbing more radiation than it is emitting (i.e. appears slightly cooler than it should be).
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  37. 34 - John Russell I think you are right - there's a great deal of selection bias going on. I personally don't like either this posts attitude to Galileo, nor the Galileo 'movement's etc. For starters, if Galileo hadn't been so bloody minded and therefore become a semi-martyr, he'd have gone down in history as a fine instrument maker with a great imagination for measurement. In a more moderate (less hero-oriented) history Kepler is the one with a slightly idealistic theoretical bent, but who was prepared to the the hard slog on Tycho Brahe's data to set up the phenomenology for Newtons theories. Kepler stood up to just as many religious barriers - only not Catholic ones; and, lets face it, the Vatican is the ultimate symbol of power to stand upto... these days we see the Protestants as a push-over even though they where a pretty blood-thirsty lot in Galileo's time. The whole Galileo story being scrapped over here is just a 'mythology' we use to ground modern - enlightenment based science. I'm all for that; but it must be seen for what it is. If anyone should be compared to any of the 'heroes' of the past... it's those folks who spend 10s of years up to their back-sides in snow or mud gathering data, or designing better satellites, or sweating over the last 0.00x% systematic error in some small, new measurement which fits into the whole corpus of knowledge. A few, very few, people have the breadth to put together the big picture, a few more contribute to communicating that picture - the rest is sophistry.
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  38. #34 John Russell -- Your point about mavericks is well taken. I wish we could quantify it somehow. E.g. Even for a short time period estimate the percentage of maverick ideas that are proven right, vs. those that end up in the dust bin. No doubt, it's tiny. However, I'm not sure there's a way to fit that argument fits in this particular rebuttal. The main point is not that the majority is usually right. In fact, climate is an example where some early mavericks were, in fact, proven largely correct. I think it is worth pointing out that mavericks proven right is a rare exception, though it gets complicate to try to shoehorn that into this particular rebuttal. But the larger point is not "are mavericks usually wrong, or right?" but "what is the basis of, and merit to, their position?" What do they bring to the table? Are they bringing fresh data, a new discovery, observation, new or analysis that withstands scrutiny? Or are they just coming with cherry-picked data and rhetorical ploys to try to sway opinion? As Weart stresses, the scientific establishment was correct in rejecting Arrenhius and Callendar, not because they are mavericks, but because their evidence just wasn't strong enough...yet. #37 les There are indeed different views about Galileo's contribution. Certainly his defiant, a bit in-your-face style -- not just his view of Copernicanism -- provoked the Pope, and it the dramatic trial elevated him to mythic status. And you're right that modern science -- increasingly a collaborative, rather than individualistic enterprise -- is far closer to the quiet, methodical style of Kepler et al than the "Hero Scientist" myth. However, few science historians -- even those who adamantly reject the hero myth -- would go so far as to dismiss Galileo as nothing more than a "fine instrument maker with a great imagination for measurement." His proto-scientific methodology, while not wholly unique, was a clear break with the traditional reference to classical texts. Who knows. Perhaps I've succumbed to the "Biographer's Syndrome" of overly identifying with their subjects. But I suspect that Galileo's methodology -- more than his semi-martyrdom -- is what prompted A. Einstein to dub Galileo "the father of modern physics—indeed of modern science altogether," and Stephen Hawking to state, "Galileo, perhaps more than any other single person, was responsible for the birth of modern science."
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  39. Tom makes an excellent point. Someone, maverick or not, may very well be right about a subject and at odd with accepted ideas on that subject. However, it takes more than the correct insight to convince others, it takes sufficient evidence. Science is not a game of "I told you so 20 years ago." If the evidence supports accepted ideas better than new ones, they will remain in place until more evidence is acquired. It is possible that some true skeptics are right about the role of CO2 in climate, but they have so far furnished no evidence near sufficient enough to overturn the current, painstakingly acquired model of Earth climate.
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  40. Tom, les, The 'Galileo was persecuted, but right' meme should be paired with the 'just because it's the consensus doesn't make it correct' meme. They both spring from the same cherry-picking of history and both are very popular with those in denial. Being persecuted does not make you right, any more than agreeing with the majority somehow makes you wrong. And, by definition, once you've been proved right and everyone suddenly agrees with you, you're in the consensus; and then it's those that don't agree with the new consensus that suddenly become the mavericks. What makes someone either a 'Galileo' or a part of the consensus, is just where you choose to draw a line for the start and end dates. The arbitrary nature of which shows up exactly why these memes are so utterly flawed! Galileo was Galileo and trying to make serious comparisons in support of any take on climate science is just plain bonkers.
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  41. Tom Smerling @38, while I cannot speak for Einstein or Hawking, it is absolutely true that Galileo invented modern science with his detailed observations of bodies in motion. That, far more than his astronomical observations and writings marked a break with past practice and dependence on authority rather than observation as arbiter of knowledge.
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  42. To be the "next Galileo", it is not sufficient that you be a maverick, that your theories are contradictory to the consensus, that you are laughed at. You must also be correct. That's a rather higher standard.
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  43. John R#40: "Being persecuted does not make you right," Let's not give those in denial a pass on that. Persecution? Really? Giordano Bruno was persecuted. Having to publish a paper (of dubious value) in a minor journal rather than in Nature doesn't come close. "any more than agreeing with the majority somehow makes you wrong." And yet you often hear that on the denial blogs. To agree with the majority position is said to have 'drunk the Kool-aid' or to be somehow incapable of independent thought. As if it is impossible to independently review the evidence and conclude that the majority opinion is correct. Example: The FT is drinking climate KoolAid -- by none other than our friend RPJr.
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  44. Question for all: What should be the #1 point to make in an SkS "basic" rebuttal (this rebuttal is "intermediate")? i.e. Given just one shot, what is single succinct " killer" argument you would use to puncture the Galileo Gambit? My original draft "brief rebuttal" was simply this: "The comparison is exactly backwards. Modern scientists follow the evidence-based scientific method that Galileo pioneered. Skeptics who oppose scientific findings that threaten their world view are far closer to Galileo’s belief-based critics in the Catholic Church." Can we do better, in light of the comments above? Along these lines, Rational Wiki has a concise rebuttal to the "Galileo Gambit" (their term). The generic form is: “They made fun of Galileo, and he was right. They make fun of me, therefore I am right." The essence of their rebuttal: "There is no necessary link between being perceived as wrong and actually being correct; usually if people perceive you to be wrong, you are wrong. . . [nothwithstanding] the selective reporting of cases where people who were persecuted or ostracized for beliefs and ideas that later turned out to be valid." It's worth checking out, at It concludes with that delicious, but perhaps unuseful, Carl Sagan quote about Columbus, Fulton, the Wright Brothers.....and Bozo the Clown!
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  45. @Tom, I think Rational Wiki's rebuttal is a more concise version of my point: 'being persecuted doesn't make you right; supporting the consensus doesn't make you wrong'. To that I'd add (with thanks to KR, above) "demonstrating the evidence to support your theory trumps both". That's what I'd say to anyone who plays the Galileo card.
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  46. If you have not already done so, I highly recommend that you take a gander at Chris Mooney's "Memo to Rick Perry: Galileo Was a Liberal" posted on DeSmog Blog. To access Mooney's article, click here.
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  47. 38 - Tom Smerling My "instrument maker" remark was, obviously, an exaggeration to offset the exaggeration of the Galileo's 'uniqueness' myth - and I mean 'myth' in the sense of stories we develop and tell our selves to help us understand systems of thought - not 'myth' in the popular sense of fiction. I'm not saying he wasn't one of the greats - just that, in the potted histories we tell, his position is a bit exaggerated for for convenience. And to illustrate the point. "what prompted A. Einstein to dub Galileo "the father of modern physics—indeed of modern science altogether," and Stephen Hawking to state, "Galileo, perhaps more than any other single person, was responsible for the birth of modern science."" Of course, both Albert and Stephen are/where theoretical physicists; not historians of science / philosophy of science (let alone experimentalists!). Of course, knowing they're part of the story, they support and promulgate the received narrative of their disciples... Still, how often do people, correctly, point out that just because some skeptic is a science X, doesn't make him/her knowledgeable in climate modeling or what ever... Clearly the 'skeptics' comparing them selves to Galileo shows a very poor understanding of history... Still, history doesn't really repeat it's self although, as they say, it might rhyme.
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  48. Climate "skeptics" claim that they are like Galileo and the scientific community is equivalent to the all-powerful Catholic church of the middle-ages, who suppressed scientific enlightenment with religious dogma. But it's easy to see through this idealogical-driven skeptic's assertion. The fact is climate scientists are the persecuted Galilean messenger and the church’s political dominance has shifted to global financial and fossil fuel monoliths, with the pseudo-sceptics playing the spoilers role. Those in the middle-ages had the perfectly valid excuse of scientific ignorance. So what’s our excuse?
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  49. Les "Clearly the 'skeptics' comparing them selves to Galileo shows a very poor understanding of history". But maybe it gives a very clear understanding of the egotism/rightious victim mentality that they embrace so whole-heartedly
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