2012 Election
Gov. Rick Perry, an ardent supporter of capital punishment, has presided over more inmate executions than any other governor in modern history. REUTERS

Texas governor Rick Perry used a curious metaphor to explain his much-scrutinized views on climate change during Wednesday's Republican presidential debate.

Perry has denied that there is sufficient scientific evidence that humans activity has caused climate change, noting that we're seeing it almost weekly or even daily, scientists who are coming forward and questioning the link. Debate moderator John Harris asked Perry to clarify which scientists he was talking about.

And then it got weird.

The idea that we would put Americans' economy at ... jeopardy based on scientific theory that's not settled yet, to me, is just nonsense, Perry, said. I mean ... and I tell somebody, I said, just because you have a group of scientists that have stood up and said here is the fact - Galileo got outvoted for a spell.

You may remember that Galileo Galilei was the 16th-17th century Italian scientist who posited that the earth orbited the sun, a theory that defied the entrenched belief that the earth was the center of the universe. He was subsequently convicted of heresy by the Inquisition and confined to house arrest.

Extending Perry's metaphor, scientists insisting that climate change both exists and is caused by humans would be the modern day Galileo, championing a theory that those in power are trying to suppress. And those who are trying to stifle this new scientific theory would be the politicians who repudiate the overwhelming scientific consensus supporting a link between human behavior and climate change -- politicians like Perry.

Galileo was not outvoted by fellow scientists but by the authorities for whom his theory was inconvenient or threatening -- namely, the religious hierarchy whose power was partially rooted in its professed infallibility. As Perry pointed out, the human-climate change link threatens the industries who would surrender profits to new regulations.

History vindicated Galileo, of course, and the priests who condemned him are now exposed as the reactionaries they were. Former Utah governor Jon Huntsman, Perry's rival for the GOP nomination, has criticized Perry's climate change denial by cautioning that casting Republicans as the anti-science party is not good for our future. Perhaps Perry should look to history to find the wisdom in Huntsman's words.