Perry and Galileo

| Thu Sep. 8, 2011 12:35 PM EDT

Talking about climate change last night, Rick Perry argued that the science was unsettled: "Just because you have a group of scientists that have stood up and said here is the fact — Galileo got outvoted for a spell." James Fallows explains why Perry is all wet:

Until this evening's debate, the only reason anyone would use the example of Galileo-vs-the-Vatican was to show that for reasons of dogma, close-mindedness, and "faith-based" limits on inquiry, the findings of real science were too often ignored or ruled out of consideration. And Perry applies that analogy to his argument that we shouldn't listen to today's climate scientists? There are a million good examples of scientific or other expert consensus that turned out to be wrong, which is the point Perry wanted to make.

Sure, Perry could have used any of those other examples. But how many people have heard of Alfred Wegener's critics?

If you hang around in crackpot chat rooms occasionally, you'll notice that a common trope is the one about the lonely scientist who was mocked for years but then turned out to be right. Why, just look at Einstein! It doesn't really matter if Einstein really was mocked or not. It just matters that there have indeed been scientists whose work wasn't initially appreciated by the mainstream establishment.

This is also, it turns out, a common trope in the climate denial community. Basically, Perry was saying that Ross McKitrick is a modern-day Galileo. Richard Lindzen is a modern-day Galileo. Lord Monckton is a modern-day Galileo. And Andrew Montford is their prophet. No matter that Perry almost certainly doesn't recognize a single one of these names. They exist, and his fans know them. So while Perry's analogy may seem misguided to you and me, my guess is that he got his point across just fine to the only audience he cares about: potential Republican primary voters. They think of themselves as lonely and oppressed fighters for the truth, just like Galileo. Who better for Perry to invoke?