A criticism of the history lesson in the first new Cosmos

From: Dr. Juan E Cabanela Ph.D.
Date: Mon, Mar 10, 2014 at 5:08 PM
Subject: A criticism of the history lesson in the first new Cosmos

As an astronomer, I found the science generally good although the asteroid field and Kuiper belt were way too crowded with objects, I’ll call that artistic license…  I do find myself disappointed that care was not (apparently) taken to present the history more accurately.

A fairly good blog post at Science 2.0 by Hank Campbell

http://www.science20.com/science_20/blog/cosmos_spacetime_odyssey_review-131240

presents the case that the Bruno story as presented in Cosmos is patently false.  The pertinent quote is as follows:

> Then suddenly we get a claim that Giordano Bruno is responsible for the concept of the universe – because he read ‘banned’ books. Lucretious wasn’t science – there was no scientific evidence for his claim that wind caused earthquakes or worms spontaneously generated – it was philosophy, and his book was not rare in 1600 AD, people were also not martyred for reading it, and yet we get told a philosophical belief in infinity was what got Bruno into trouble.
>
> It’s an immediate disconnect for people who know science history because it smacks of an agenda. I instead object because it is flat-out incorrect. To claim that Bruno promoted the concept of the universe, a “soaring vision”, despite persecution, while simultaneously being hired over and over by the institutions we are told were oppressing him, makes no sense. That segment of the show makes it sound like he was a devout Christian tormented by reason rather than what he was – a cultist who engaged in confirmation bias to pick and choose anything that matched his beliefs.

I don’t quite agree that the cartoon was trying to say Bruno invented the idea of a universe, just the idea of an infinite universe.  And at the end of segment, Tyson does state Bruno was not a scientist because he didn’t have any evidence to back up his claims, so his claims could have fallen into the dustbin of history as many other scientific claims have.  But those are quibbles with Mr. Campbell.  I do agree with him in that if what he says about the history of Bruno is accurate (I am not a science historian and can’t fully assess it), then the picture presented of Bruno seems to be distorted and not an truthful reflection of the history.

Juan

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