You may not think about him much, but Nicolaus Copernicus changed your life 500 years before you were born.
Before Copernicus, people still thought the earth was the center of the universe. Copernicus rearranged the solar system and put the sun in the center, with all the planets orbiting around it. After Copernicus, Earth became just another planet.
Did Copernicus rush out to publish his findings? Did he roam around the streets of 16th-century Poland declaring his revolutionary remapping of the solar system? Nope. He kept it between himself and a handful of his colleagues for 30 years. Copernicus only saw his findings in print for the first time as he lay on his deathbed.
Copernicus knew the Church would not tolerate his work. He knew that he lived in a Europe that would never believe the Earth belonged anywhere but the center of the universe. He knew the persecution he would face if he ever tried to remove Earth from where the Church believed it to be.
Today, when we talk about the history of science, we refer to the period following Copernicus’ findings as the Copernican Revolution. His remapping of the planets transformed our perception of who we are and what our place is in the universe.
We don’t talk as much about the ignorance of the Church anymore, though there was plenty. We don’t talk as much about the resistance that Copernicus faced.
In the end, the Church lost. Ignorance of science and reason lost. History is unforgiving to those on the wrong side of it. And history is a most reassuring consolation when we are surrounded by unrestrained, unreasonable and willful ignorance.
The Trump administration is boasting ignorance towards science as we speak. It is denigrating scientists’ work beyond their imagination. Evidence and reason are no longer of value. Our new administration, it seems, wants to ignore facts and instead believe whatever makes it feel most comfortable.
In its first week, the Trump administration put the Environmental Protection Agency in a chokehold. The EPA is barred from awarding any new contracts or grants, and its scientists are forbidden to communicate with the media about their findings.
The same goes for the Department of Agriculture, the Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of the Interior – all are told to limit their engagement with the public when it comes to communicating scientific facts.
Such behavior is unconscionable and unwarranted for a 21st-century administration. Perhaps this would be acceptable when the 16th-century Catholic church imprisoned Galileo, but a 21st-century government ignoring basic truths is appalling.
Climate change does not care for your comfort. Rising sea levels will not displace fewer people because we are uncomfortable with the idea of it. If we do not vaccinate our kids, it will put their lives in danger – along with the children around them. That is a fact.
I am scared about what will happen to the environment in the immediate future. I am worried for the millions who will have to relocate because of the effects of climate change. I care for the children that might fall fatally ill because their parents refuse to vaccinate them. I will stand up for – and alongside – all scientists who find themselves at a disadvantage because of this administration.
Yet I find solace in history, because I know what became of Copernicus. I know what Galileo is remembered for, and I know what the Church – in regards to his findings – is remembered for. I know that no matter what an ignorant administration may throw at science and reason, it will prevail. It always has.
Anzar Abbas is a Laney Graduate Student from Karachi, Pakistan.