The overwhelming reaction of the sixteenth century scientific community to Copernicus’ new book On the Revolutions, first published in 1543, was contemptuous rejection.
The Greek astronomer, Aristarchus of Samos, had proposed in the third century B.C. that the Earth was the third planet from the Sun, and not the center of the universe. The crazy idea that the massive Earth, the archetypal example of something totally immovable, was tearing around the Sun at 18 miles a second had been clearly disproved in ancient times. The Earth motion notion was clearly contrary to the scientific consensus, a consensus established for centuries.
The science was in! Copernicus was an Earth-center denier!
The attacks against Copernicus are astoundingly similar to the attacks on scientists like myself who are critical of anthropogenic global warming (AGW). The great Copernican scholar, Edward Rosen, who was a distinguished professor at the City University of New York, compiled a wonderful source of original documents on Copernicus in Copernicus and the Scientific Revolution. Rosen records that a friend of Copernicus sent a copy of On the Revolutions to Pope Paul III, the man to whom Copernicus had dedicated his great work. Paul III gave the book to his personal theologian Bartolomeo Spino who, we are told, “planned to condemn it” but died before he could do so. The task of criticizing Copernicus was transferred to Spino’s close friend, the Dominican Tolosani, who penned the following:
The book by Nicholas Copernicus of Torun was printed not long ago and published in recent days. In it he tries to revive the teaching of certain Pythagoreans concerning the Earth’s motion, a teaching which had died out in times long past. Nobody accepts it now except Copernicus. [The Pythagoreans had proposed a non-mathematical Earth-motion theory before Aristarchus.]
[Copernicus is] an expert in mathematics and astronomy, but he is very deficient in physics. … Hence, since Copernicus does not understand physics … it is not surprising if he is mistaken in this opinion and accepts the false as true, through ignorance of those sciences … it is stupid to contradict a belief accepted by everyone over a very long time for extremely strong reasons, unless the naysayer uses more powerful and incontrovertible proofs, and completely rebuts the opposed reasoning. Copernicus does not do this at all. For he does not undermine the proofs, establishing necessary conclusions, advanced by Aristotle the philosopher and Ptolemy the astronomer.
Aristotle absolutely destroyed the arguments of the Pythagoreans. Yet this is not adduced by Copernicus in his ignorance of it.
Almost all the hypotheses of this author Copernicus contain something false, and very many absurdities follow from them. … For by a foolish effort [Copernicus] tries to revive the contrived Pythagorean belief, long since deservedly buried, since it explicitly contradicts human reason.
Notice that Tolosani “refutes” Copernicus by referring not to the observations — in predicting planetary positions, Copernicus was twice as accurate as Ptolemy — but to the opinions of Aristotle. What is striking about the AGW controversy is that the believers in human-caused warming do exactly the same: they cite the opinions of the authorities rather than the evidence.
Al Gore, in his recent op-ed for the New York Times, cites “every major National Academy of Sciences report on climate change” and “the thousands of pages of careful scientific work over the last 22 years by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.” Even when Gore cites actual data — “from a global perspective, it was the second-hottest January since surface temperatures were first measured 130 years ago” — he always cites the manipulated temperature data, never the raw data (which show no significant warming).
Who are you going to believe: Gore, or your lying eyes? Gore writes: “January was seen as unusually cold in much of the United States.” Yeah, it was. We Americans saw it. Sadly, Gore was just following the example of the leading climate “scientists,” who themselves never ask us to look at the raw data, but instruct us to read — and bow down before — the “peer-reviewed papers.”
The motto of the Royal Society of London, the world’s premier scientific society, is Nullius in verba — which they translate as: “Take nobody’s word for it.” Yet these days the Royal Society itself is asking us to accept AGW, and the only evidence they give is — you guessed it — “peer-reviewed papers.”
Hopefully the Royal Society and the National Academy of Sciences will one day return to their roots and behave as scientific academies.