Wednesday, May 30, 2012

And Yet the Legend Lives

Posted by Darin Hayton on 05/30 at 06:05 PM

Scott Huler is right to take the North Carolina legislature to task for trying to legislate whether or not ocean levels are rising: NC Considers Making Sea Level Rise Illegal. Yet like President Obama before him, Huler reveals his own ignorance when he invokes another tired historical myth. Contrary to what Huler would like, there is no evidence that Galileo ever uttered the words “eppur si muove.”

There is no evidence that Galileo said “And yet it moves.”

No information on whether the scientists on the panel, like Galileo, have stamped their feet and muttered “And yet it rises!” But there’s no doubt that NC’s legislative inquisitors will be classified along with Galileo’s papal persecutors and their own forebears who outlawed interracial marriage, as on the wrong side of history.

The earliest record of Galileo purportedly saying “And yet it moves” (as “eppur si muove” is often translated) occurred in Giuseppe Baretti’s Italian Library, in 1757. And yet it lives, like the mythical flat earth.

We might want to be lenient on President Obama when he referred to the flat earth. After all, he doesn’t pretend to have any historical or scientific expertise. Huler, by contrast, claims to explore “science, culture, and the relationship between the two.” We can and should expect more from him. An internet search would have turned up the Italian wikipedia page and the English wikipedia page as well as a number of other pages that dispel this myth.

Scott Huler’s profile at Scientific American

I fail to see how appealing to a problematic and easily refuted historical myth helps Huler’s point or serves the broader goals of Scientific American.

Postscript: North Carolina is not the first state to legislate the natural world. Both NewMexico and Illinois have legislated Pluto back into a planet.

[Reposted at my academic blog.]

Tags: galileo galilei, historical myths, scientific american, scott huler