Risky Business
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Galileo Galilei
Galileo Galilei

As scientists, we’ve made sacrifices some might consider a hardship. Our training took years, plus many, many lab hours and nights spent on the computer – all for modest pay. But honestly, those sacrifices pale in comparison to our predecessors’, some of whom were persecuted, tortured and killed for their beliefs.

One major figure was a highly educated scientist known as Rhazes. He lived in Iran between 860 and 932 AD, and was regarded in Europe as one of the fifteen great sources of knowledge. Rhazes authored medical texts used by Western physicians until the rise of modern medicine. Yet, Rhazes was persecuted for his open mindedness and belief that religious fanaticism breeds war and hatred. For that, he was exiled multiple times.

Scientific giant Galileo Galilei was born in 1564 in Pisa, Italy. The mathematician disproved Aristotle’s dogma that heavier objects fall faster than lighter ones. Then, after hearing about the telescope, he made one without ever having seen it. Eventually he used a telescope to identify Jupiter’s moons, and began thinking Earth was not the center of the universe. He wrote in support of Copernicus’ theory that Earth was rotating around the sun. When denounced by the Catholic Church, Galileo stated the bible was irrelevant in scientific arguments, which got him lifetime house arrest.

Another persecuted scientist was Michael Servetus, a Spanish physician in the 16th century who discovered pulmonary circulation, but was burned alive by the Protestant Inquisition.

Even Albert Einstein was a victim. His theory of relativity and passivist stance brought him to Hitler’s attention. Fortunately, Einstein was in California when the Nazis seized his property and burned his books.

Without the courage of these early scientists, some of the greatest discoveries would have had to wait. What they endured highlights the importance of an intellectually open society.

 


For more information…

Notable Scientists: Life Sciences
A compilation of biographies of well known and influential scientists.

Rhazes (835-925 A.D.): Medical Scholar of Islam
A great article on Abu Bakr Mohammad ibn Zakariya al-Razi, know in the West as Rhazes. Additional information is available here and here.

Galileo Galilei
A biography of one of the most intriguing and revered of scientists. Another extensive biography of him is available here.

Henry Oldenburg
Henry Oldenburg is a much less well known man involved in science who was accused and jailed for treason simply for communicating with scientists around the world during a time of war for England. A great article on his arrest and imprisonment is available here.

Michael Servetus
The Servetus International Society was established in March 2003 and has a web page with a great deal of information about Michael Servetus, a Spanish physician who escaped the Spanish Inquistion only to be arrested, tortured and burned at the stake by the Protestant Inquisition in Switzerland.

Albert Einstein
Almost everyone has heard of Albert Einstein and has seen one of the many images of him. However, fewer people know about his life. The Nobel Prize Foundation offers this nice biography on him. Additional information is available on the Albert Einstein Web site.