A new book on Galileo thumps the tub for “science,” with predictable results, says a reviewer:
In his new book Galileo and the Science Deniers, [Mario] Livio presents the famed astronomer’s life as a parable for our own time. He returns throughout the book to climate change, creationism, and rejection of public experts as examples of a “striking similarity between some of the religious, social, economic, and cultural problems that a person in the seventeenth century had to struggle with, and those we encounter in the twenty-first.”
All this is a stretch to say the least, based on a simplistic view of how science works and its role in governing human affairs. Strangely, this same naïveté is shared by science’s loudest critics, who claim to debunk science by unmasking its human side. By perpetuating the myth of a science free of human judgment and flaws, Livio ironically winds up giving fodder to this cadre of contrarians, gadflies, and cranks — who also have the notable habit of comparing themselves to Galileo…
On Livio’s account, the parallel between Galileo’s day and ours is plain: In both, there is widespread rejection of “the interpretation of the results” of scientific studies “almost solely on the basis of religious or political ideology.” Once one is in the grip of a theory like this, the contextual details hardly matter, only that both cases represent inadequate appreciation for science’s authority. All this, in other words, is based on an idealized vision — an ideology, one might say — in which science describes the world independently of human values, speaks in a unified voice across disciplines, and offers up unambiguous prescriptions for action. This bears little relation to scientific practices of the real world, the collection of human activities we can actually go out and observe.Tess Doezema, “You Are Not Galileo” at The New Atlantis
Even Galileo wasn’t “Galileo,” for crying out loud. And science isn’t well served by uncritical fans of the concept itself, apart from day-to-day realities.