How Science Trumps Denial

Mario Livio in Nautilus:

There’s an old belief that truth will always overcome error. Alas, history tells us something different. Without someone to fight for it, to put error on the defensive, truth may languish. It may even be lost, at least for some time. No one understood this better than the renowned Italian scientist Galileo Galilei. It is easy to imagine the man who for a while almost single-handedly founded the methods and practices of modern science as some sort of Renaissance ivory-tower intellectual, uninterested and unwilling to sully himself by getting down into the trenches in defense of science. But Galileo was not only a relentless advocate for what science could teach the rest of us. He was a master in outreach and a brilliant pioneer in the art of getting his message across. Today it may be hard to believe that science needs to be defended. But a political storm that denies the facts of science has swept across the land. This denialism ranges from the initial response to the COVID-19 pandemic to the reality of climate change. It’s heard in the preposterous arguments against vaccinating children and Darwin’s theory of evolution by means of natural selection. The scientists putting their careers, reputations, and even their health on the line to educate the public can take heart from Galileo, whose courageous resistance led the way.

A crucial first step, one that took Galileo a bit of time to take, was to switch from publishing his findings in Latin, as was the custom for scientific writings at the time, to the Italian vernacular, the speech of the common people. This enabled not just the highly educated elite but anyone who was intellectually curious to hear and learn about the new scientific work. Even when risking offense (which Galileo never shied away from)—for instance, in responding to a German Jesuit astronomer who disagreed with him on the nature of sunspots (mysterious dark areas observed on the surface of the sun)—Galileo replied in the vernacular, because, as he explained, “I must have everyone able to read it.” An additional motive may have been that Galileo wanted to ensure that no one would somehow distort the meaning of what he had written.

Galileo also understood that while the Church had the pomp and magic of decades of art and music, science had the enchantment of a new invention—the telescope.

More here.

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