When the subject of science came up during last night's Republican debate, all eyes drifted to Rick Perry. "Just recently in New Hampshire you recently said that weekly or even daily scientists are coming forward to question that human activity is behind climate change," John Harris from Politico asked the governor of Texas. "Which scientists have you found most credible on this subject?" Perry only named only one scientist: Galileo.
It was a metaphor to be sure, one meant to illuminate the idea that it took a while for science to agree that the Earth spins around the sun, instead of the other way around. "Galileo got outvoted for a spell," said Perry, in attempting to argue that the issue of climate change remains "unsettled." But what Perry fails to realize is the fact that the scientific community actually agreed with Galileo. It was the clergy who outvoted him, accusing him of being a heretic. "By the time Galileo was publishing on heliocentrism, the idea was already circulating and widely accepted in scientific circles, including Jesuits," explains Joshua Rosneau from the National Center for Science Education. "He wasn't outvoted by scientists, he was outvoted by the political and religious leadership of his country."
The example of Galileo would actually make a great metaphor for climate change scientists, not the deniers. Following his Galileo blunder, Perry parrots the familiar political reasoning behind brushing off the theory of climate change, one supported by the vast majority of environmental scientists--97 percent of them, in fact. Perry warns of putting "America’s economic future in jeopardy, asking us to cut back in areas that would have monstrous economic impact on this country." But a study by the National Academy of Science and funded by Congress said bluntly that the "the environmental, economic, and humanitarian risks posed by climate change indicate a pressing need for substantial action to limit the magnitude of climate change and to prepare for adapting to its impacts." Despite what Perry claims, climate change continues to be debated not by scientists but by politicians.
For what it's worth, the Catholic Church has apologized (many times) for their mistreatment of Galileo 400 years ago. The Vatican is even building a statue in his honor in their gardens. We can only hope that politicians don't wait that long to reach a consensus on the climate change debate.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.