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That was an awesome post. You are completely right on. The funny thing is, I was just telling my boyfriend about a feminist blog I was having trouble with. I was upset because the blogger, whom I usually love, was being needlessly confrontational on a subject which I feared could turn off would-be feminists. And then I read your blog and it put in writing everything I was feeling perfectly. So thank you.


Lovely post, Greta, as always. I think there's an element of selection bias which fuels people's desire to think this way: looking back on history, they see many stories of stubborn contrarians who resisted the scientific establishment and won out in the end. They don't see the far greater number of stubborn cranks who resisted the scientific community but were completely wrong, and were of course forgotten because they failed to convince anyone. As a result, they mistakenly think that being a contrarian is a sure sign that you're on to something.

Nurse Ingrid

Yes to Ebonmuse's comments. I also think there is a very American tendency to romanticize the role of rogue, outsider or underdog. We all grew up on those movies where the scrappy sports team wins against all odds, and we all secretly picture ourselves on that team. It's the same type of thinking that leads white male Christian Republicans to claim that they are actually an oppressed minority in this country. Deep down, they all want to think they're the Bad News Bears or something.

Jon Berger

The Onion had an article which beautifully illustrates Ingrid's point -- and due to the fact that their search feature is almost as good as their writing, here it is:


Greta this post was great. Truly. I am pysched. I never got a chance to respond to your equally awesome "Shameless Self Promotion" day, so I decided to take you up on that this morning by posting a little diddy that's indirectly relevant to yours. Thanks for the read..

The word heretical can be defined as contrary to the chartered traditions of the Church, and heliocentrism is the notion that the sun is the center of our solar system. Is this idea at arms with anything the Bible actually says, or was it at arms with the power structure's interpretation of scripture at that particular time?

Earlier notions of heliocentrism are found nearly two thousand years before Galileo. The Greek astronomer Eratosthenes used geometry to calculate the distance of the sun and moon from Earth as well as their approximate size, leading to the conclusion that because the sun was so massive it must be the center of the solar system.

Possibly due to rigid interpretation of Psalm 19:6, which states poetically from the vantage point of an observer on earth that the sun "...rises at one end of the heavens and makes its circuit to the other," the Church had declared Earth the center of the solar system. Whereas Eratosthenes and Galileo backed their hypotheses with demonstrable reasoning, the Church had nothing to back its position except self-exalted authority. The two rogue thinkers built their case on sound observation and it is now commonly known that major objects like our sun keep minor objects like planets in orbit. In fact, human knowledge has so progressed that even the average seventh grade student knows Earth revolves around the sun.

As with many other positions, the Church's stance was not justified by scripture or science. It was based on religious tradition and unfortunately for Galileo, although factually correct his observations were in opposition to their tradition. As opposed to discussing ideas and inviting synthesis, the Church added Galileo's "Dialogue on Two World Systems" to their Index of Prohibited Books and it remained there until the mid-nineteenth century. Albeit too late for Galileo to enjoy, in 1981 the Vatican formally admitted the Italian scientist was right with the resulting lesson being that religious tradition and truth are not inherently synonymous...

* continued @


This was brilliant. Ever since I posted about neurplogical disorder denialism, I have gotten inundated with emails from all sorts of denialists. One of the most common threads seems to be, "just because everyone seems to believe it (including most scientists in whatever field is being discussed) doesn't mean they're right." Indeed, but it also doesn't mean they're wrong either. I will be pointing some quacks this way, unless you object. . .

Greta Christina

Point away, DuWayne. I'd be honored.


I mass mailed the nuts that email me, a link. Is it wrong to create a mailing list of denialists and conspiracy nuts? I mean they all mailed me first. In any case I have. I am pointing them towards all sorts of good sites, to edumucate themselves. Thanks.


This is really a great piece but I have one caveat.

When someone says "if people are this pissed off at what I say, then I must be doing my job", they don't always mean that pissing people off proves they're right. Sometimes they mean that evoking a passionate response can lead to thinking (or rethinking). This idea is predicated on the assumption that people don't challenge their own ideas but that if you "get under their skin" they might have to think about their ideas in order to defend them.

Of course, some people do think that an angry response indicates that the responder is unable to respond rationally which means they have no rational basis for their ideas so they are wrong and I'm right. This is of course the problem you refer to....


Every once in a while, you read something that really nails it. Thanks for putting words to the idea.

John Logsdon

That was an amazing and insightful post. Thanks.


Fantastic post. I now have a sign on my door in Halls that says "Galileo wants his cloak back" as a rebuttal to the girl who keeps giving me HIV denialist leaflets. Does this make me a gadfly, or just condescending?

Brian York

Another thing that's worth considering about the whole Galileo business -- the church had a point too (and, as I recall, this came up with Copernicus as well). One question which was asked of Galileo was "If it's the Earth that's moving, why don't we see the stars appearing to change position due to parallax?" And, well, Galileo didn't have an answer to that. Neither did Copernicus. It was only later that the real solution was found -- we don't see parallax in the stars because they're *so* far away that they *don't* appear to move with the Earth's motion (unless you look at them with a very good telescope, of course, as was discovered in the late 1800s).

The basic point here is that, during Galileo's era, *no one* understood the real scale of even the solar system, much less the Galaxy/Universe. And, as a result, there were important details that the heliocentric theory *couldn't* explain. It's important to remember that the debate wasn't just a matter of the obviously right side and the obviously wrong side. There were good points on both sides, although the heliocentric theories were better overall (in hindsight, anyway).

Inquisitive Raven

A couple of points here. 1) Galileo himself apparently fell prey to the Gadfly Corollary. Naming the defender of geocentrism "Simplicio" in a dialog between him and a heliocentrist is not a way to win friends and influence people. IOW, even if you're right, it doesn't do to alienate your supporters, in this case Pope Urban VIII.

2)Galileo was going up against the religious establishment. Granted, the religious establishment and the scientific establishment were pretty much the same at the time, but it makes a difference in how things played out.

Paul W. Oxby

Copernicus had the good sense to die on the day his heliocentric theory was first printed. As I.R. points out, Galileo was his own worst enemy. He profoundly embarrassed his friends and patrons in the Church and they only narrowly saved Galileo from the fate of Giordano Bruno, being burnt alive at the stake.

Paul W. Oxby

Copernicus had the good sense to die on the day his heliocentric theory was first printed. As I.R. points out, Galileo was his own worst enemy. He profoundly embarrassed his friends and patrons in the Church and they only narrowly saved Galileo from the fate of Giordano Bruno, being burnt alive at the stake.

Tom Foss

Excellent post! The opening reminds me of one of my favorite quotations from my favorite Pope--Alexander Pope:
"The Vulgar thus through Imitation err;
As oft the Learn'd by being Singular;
So much they scorn the Crowd, that if the Throng
By Chance go right, they purposely go wrong."

Rowan  Harkins

This Galileo fallacy/gadfly corollary is merely an extrapolation of argumentam sub canem - or the martyr/underdog fallacy - a sub-category of the appeal to emotion. Its antithesis being the 'last man standing' fallacy. {Chesterton and Priest]

prefabrik evler

Fantastic post. I now have a sign on my door in Halls that says "Galileo wants his cloak back" as a rebuttal to the girl who keeps giving me HIV denialist leaflets. Does this make me a gadfly, or just condescending?


Me Too


@Rowan: The term "underdog" is an Americanism from the late 1880s and is not translated back into Latin as "sub canem", which would be literally "[moving] underneath a dog". "Sub" takes the accusative case ("canem") when motion is implied, and the ablative case ("cane") when rest is implied.

In neither case however does the idiom make sense in Latin, and nor is the fallacy one of the traditional logical fallacies. If anything, these are flip sides of the argumentum ad populum, playing off of trust or distrust of what's popularly held to be true.

Karlin Klavin

It is a fine line to walk. There are even tricky tactics where mainstream humps start a false resistance movement so that it will be discredited, and resistors will just give up resisting - the Bill C 51 protest movement in Canada was just that [it wasn't such a bad bill afterall].

There are a lot of good and true evils of the mainstream to resist though. You mentioned the evil of American health care, for one. The economics of concentrating wealth into so few hands, as in the farce of trickle down economics, is another.

The big evil that I am resisting now is "fossil fuels as the only energy" - renewable energy is a perfectly good idea, as are electric cars [the batteries are NOT a big problem by the way]; the power of oil money is getting in the way of the "electrification" movement.

So, we do have work to do, but you make a very very good point that we cannot allow ourselves to lose sight of reason and just go "anti-mainstream" on everything.


I have been guilty of this. I read some opinion I agree and repeat it as, excuse this example, as gospel.I have since learned to think before I speak on matters I have not researched.


hi I am looking at similar issue as expressed by you here. But I want somewhat deeper in depth perspective.
What you said may appear profound, but it is not providing any ready-made answers. How would we know that AIDS denialist are not right? and are just hoaxes?

Another important thing is I am looking for the fictions, plays which try to deal with this issue...
some examples are "An enemy of the People", "Semmelweis" or Arrowsmith...can anybody here suggest few more...pls email me about them @ npk_107_at_gmail_dot_com

there is no "_" in the email address...I just added it to prevent spamming.


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