Galileo gambit

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They made fun of Galileo, and he was right.
They make fun of me, therefore I am right.

The Galileo gambit, or Galileo fallacy, is the notion that if you are vilified for your ideas, you must be right. It refers to Galileo Galilei's famous persecution at the hands of the Roman Catholic Church for his defence of heliocentrism in the face of the orthodox Biblical literalism of the day (though some alternative medicine proponents use Ignaz Semmelweis instead of Galileo). People use this argument repeatedly in response to serious criticisms that more often than not they just don't understand.

It is freakishly common among creationists and global warming denialists alike against the evil scientific consensus.


[edit] The fallacious fallacy

In reality, taking up the mantle of Galileo requires not just that you are scorned by the establishment but also that you are correct.[1] — that is, that the evidence supports your position. There is no necessary link between being perceived as wrong and actually being correct; if people perceive you to be wrong, you usually are wrong. However, the selective reporting of cases where people who were persecuted or ostracized for beliefs and ideas that later turned out to be valid has instilled a confidence in woo promoters and pseudoscientists that is difficult to shake. They really do forget the part where they have to prove themselves right in order to be like Galileo.

The fallacy as normally used relies, to a large extent, on misrepresenting the refusal of the scientific community to publish or engage with cranks as "censorship."

The gambit takes many forms, but in most cases someone using it to promote their ideas will highlight their perceived persecution. This supposed persecution is blown out of all proportion until an observer almost has no choice but to accept their ideas practically as a sympathy vote. Such tactics are used in the "documentary" Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed, which focused on several academics who supposedly lost jobs because they promoted intelligent design as a valid hypothesis. The film portrayed this as a violation of academic freedom, and played the persecution card extensively. Among those capable of indulging this gambit, mere opposition to their crankery alone may be sufficient to induce the belief that they are being persecuted, and hence, were right all along.

Cranks who use the gambit to claim persecution by "big science" often fail to see the irony in the comparison — it was the Catholic Church that censored Galileo, not the "scientific establishment."

An additional irony arises when we consider that if the maverick idea does manage to amass enough evidence to win over the majority, it will become the new consensus -- at which point, by the fallacy's own reasoning, the idea must become wrong! After all, a new "Galileo" might assert that the Earth is indeed the universe's stationary center (some actual people do assert this). The astronomers who would disagree and point and laugh, by the fallacy's line of reasoning, are just the Catholic Church all over again, and they won't have the last laugh (though taking this a step further, neither will the new "Galileo"; an alternating series of laughs will terminate only when the human race disappears). This kind of madness may be consistent with certain flavors of postmodernism, but then again, so is everything else.

[edit] The Galileo gambit in politics

A common usage of this fallacy in politics today is for a politician or other figure to "play the victim," pointing at people's opposition to their political program as evidence of its "soundness."

In the West, this dodge was first employed on a large scale by early Christians, many of whom deliberately entered into confrontations with the Roman state and then obtained martyr status when they were executed, all according to plan.[2] This allowed the Church to ask such questions as, "Would the Disciples die for a lie?"

Since the only way for anyone to counter the use of this dodge is to use it themselves, it has become commonplace for political groups to point to the actions of their opponents as evidence for the soundness of their own political ideas. A recent example is Sarah Palin's claims of "blood libel" after the Gabrielle Giffords shooting.

[edit] Quotes

As Carl Sagan put it:

But the fact that some geniuses were laughed at does not imply that all who are laughed at are geniuses. They laughed at Columbus, they laughed at Fulton, they laughed at the Wright brothers. But they also laughed at Bozo the Clown.

Another formal quote, apparently attributed to Robert L. Park, states:

It is not enough to wear the mantle of Galileo: that you be persecuted by an unkind establishment. You must also be right.

To quote Steven Novella of the NeuroLogica blog:

The chief problem with the Galileo gambit is the failure to understand the difference between a well-established scientific law and religious dogma.

A corollary of the Galileo Gambit:

Just because you're misunderstood does not make you an artist.

[edit] Examples

[edit] See also

[edit] External links

[edit] Footnotes

  1. One might argue that, since Nicolaus Copernicus was not persecuted for his theory (he died in 1543), it's just Galileo. (The difference here is Copernicus did not actively spread the idea, while Galileo did. Also, Galileo tended to provoke those holding the opposing viewpoint, and this often leads to one's ideas not getting the reception they deserve.)
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