How is climate change like Copernicus?

An article in the latest issue of Physics Today puts modern contrived controversies into historical perspective. After all, this isn't the first time that humans have looked at the evidence supporting a profound paradigm shift in science, realized how badly it would screw with their deeply held social and political beliefs, and, then, soundly rejected the evidence.

The decision [whether to accept the new theory] was not exclusively, or even primarily, a matter for astronomers, and as the debate spread from astronomical circles it became tumultuous in the extreme. To most of those who were not concerned with the detailed study of celestial motions, Copernicus's innovation seemed absurd and impious. Even when understood, the vaunted harmonies seemed no evidence at all. The resulting clamor was widespread, vocal, and bitter.

Thus does science historian Thomas Kuhn describe the difficulties experienced by astronomers in convincing the public of the heliocentric theory of the solar system, which ultimately ushered in the scientific revolution. The "clamor" prevailed around the time of Galileo Galilei, more than a half century after Nicolaus Copernicus, on his deathbed, published the heliocentric model in 1543. Copernicus's calculations surpassed all others in their ability to describe the observed courses of the planets, and they were based on a far simpler conception. Yet most people would not accept heliocentricity until two centuries after his death.

Read the rest of this at Physics Today. It's a really fascinating piece, filled with neat science history about the controversy surrounding heliocentrism. There's also some information on another "controversy" where science ended up being debated through a political lens: Einstein's theory of relativity.

Via Steve Easterbrook

Image: Geocentrism FTL, a Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike (2.0) image from smailtronic's photostream