On reflection, and in response to a torrent of near- identically phrased outraged mail: I shouldn't have called Gov. Rick Perry's reference to Galileo during this week's Republican debate "flat-out moronic." That's mean talk that I shouldn't use about anyone, and I'm sorry.
I should just have said that his comment seemed ill-thought-out, weird, and self-defeating, for exactly the reasons I set out the first time through.
The Galileo story has its many twists, but its plainest symbolism is the tension between science and religious/bureaucratic orthodoxy. The plainest symbolism is all you can apply when you make an offhand allusion during a debate, as Gov. Perry did when saying "Galileo got outvoted for a spell" to defend his skepticism about climate science. Most members of today's world scientific community would apply the Galileo analogy in exactly the opposite way. (Ie, scientists saying something that much of established religious/bureaucratic orthodoxy would rather not hear.)
You can make a reverse-backflip argument, as many of Perry's supporters have, that today's international scientists are in fact the counterparts to the 17th century inquisitors of the Vatican, and that Gov. Perry and the dissident scientists he relies on (none of whom, on being questioned twice, could or would he name) are the real counterparts to brave Galileo. Fine. But if you want that case to be convincing to an audience beyond existing believers, you had better be prepared to make the case, rather than just throwing out an allusion. Especially when, as I pointed out the first time, there are so many less complicated historical examples with which to make the same point.