Galileo finds himself back in the news

Recently I’ve been interviewed twice about Galileo for broadcast news outlets. BBC Radio 4 was interested in my view of Galileo’s trial by the Inquisition, while New York City’s Channel 13 wanted me to discuss the significance of his book The Starry Messenger, published in 1610 to announce his startling telescope discoveries.

Although Galileo has been dead more than 350 years, his lilting name remains synonymous with the imagined rift between science and faith. The BBC series “Science and Religion: The Phony War,” produced by Dan Tierney and presented by Nick Spencer, will air sometime this summer (2019). I didn’t have to travel all the way to London for the interview, but only as far as the recording studio at the BBC’s New York office in lower Manhattan. For nearly an hour, I sat in a tiny room, wearing headphones and speaking into an ultra-sensitive microphone. Every time I shifted in my chair, Dan or Nick complained of a tiny but audible squeak, and asked me to repeat myself. I learned to hold so still that the motion sensor judged the room unoccupied, and the lights switched off automatically.

Galileo’s books, which were both famous and infamous in his lifetime, have since become valuable collector’s items. As such, they are increasingly attractive to thieves and forgers. “Galileo’s Moon,” an episode in the PBS series called “Secrets of the Dead,” describes the genesis of what was purported to be Galileo’s own proof copy of The Starry Messenger, complete with his hand-painted watercolors depicting the cratered face of the Moon. Producer Stephanie Carter interviewed me as a “talking head” in the library at Columbia University, where I got to fondle and page through a bona fide copy of the volume. I have no idea what snippets of my comments appear in the final cut, but I’ll find out when the program airs July 2 on Channel 13.