science under siege

The conflict between scientists and political leaders (secular and religious) in some countries is moving toward levels that were common centuries ago, writes British-Indian science journalist Anjana Ahuja. The coming change of government in the USA is but one example, though a surprising one.

Four centuries ago, Galileo caught the unwelcome attention of the Roman Catholic Church. In 1616, his conviction that the Earth went round the Sun, contrary to the geocentric view of the universe, simply irritated theologians; by 1633, the astronomer was under house arrest and forbidden from propagating his beliefs, a situation that prevailed until his death in 1642. It might have been worse for a heretic: he could have been burnt at the stake.

Scientists may well feel the heat from those in power once again. Donald Trump, US president-elect, established his anti-science credentials by declaring climate change a Chinese hoax. In Mike Pence, he chose a running mate who seems not to believe in evolution. One science blogger said Mr Trump’s cabinet looked as if his team had “made a list of all 300m Americans, ordered them by competency … and then skipped straight down to the bottom”.

Anjana Ahuja, “Echoes of Galileo in the populist retreat from reason“, Financial Times, 7 December 2016 (metered paywall).

Anjana Ahuja has a PhD in space physics from Imperial College London, and is now a contributing writer at the Financial Times. She is also a visiting lecturer in science journalism at City University in London.

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