Philadelphia Reflections

The musings of a physician who has served the community for over six decades

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Franklin Institute: Hawks and Galileo

Galileo's own little telescope, along with many beautiful and historic instruments of the time are owned by the Medici family in Florence. Their collection of paintings are in the Uffizi, but you have to go to Italy to see them. However, the instrument museum is undergoing repairs, and the Franklin Institute jumped at the chance to put the materials on display while the Medici's weren't using them. The exhibit is large and splendid, including a great many astronomical and surveying instruments which were copied from the Arabs but with exquisite Florentine workmanship. You aren't allowed to look through Galileo's telescope, but a copy is provided, focused on the nine moons of Jupiter. Galileo was angling for a patronage job, so he named the first four moons after individual Medici nobles, a process not too different from what can now be noticed on K Street in Washington, any day. The museum arranged telephone number for cell phones so you can walk around with a guided tour in your hand; pretty neat. Those who have seen the recent play called Galileo will know that the old gent really didn't invent the telescope, and the Dutch are pretty sour about him because they did. But he improved it quite a bit, making his famous astronomical discoveries possible, getting him into trouble with the Jesuits, and forcing his pal the Pope to put him under house arrest even though the Pope surely knew Galileo was right. The earth goes around the sun, not the sun around the earth, but Galileo was pretty snotty about it and probably deserved some sort of rebuke.

The Franklin Institute doesn't make a point of it, but the scientific method was discovered around that time, and around that neighborhood. It's unclear whether Galileo invented the scientific method or not, but no one else claims the credit so it's a possibility. Anyone who has taken a course in Physics knows that Galileo went to the leaning tower of Pisa and proved that nickel would drop just as fast as an anvil, and made many other fundamental discoveries beyond any serious challenge. The scientific method would be a much more fundamental discovery that the sun/earth issue, which belongs to Copernicus in any event. But Galileo's habit of overclaiming in the telescope invention sort of clinches everybody's determination not to give him credit for Science, unless serious proof is forthcoming, and maybe not even then.


While you are at the F. I. looking at this exhibit, it might be possible to look at the brace of red-tailed hawks who decided to build a nest on the window sill of the board room and bring up a family of real Philadelphia hawks. The young ones are bigger than you would guess, and fuzzy all over. The museum put up a monitor and displays the nest on the Internet. We patched it into this page, to save you the trouble. Hurry up, though. Galileo will be there for three months, but the hawk chicks will probably fly away in a few weeks.

Click here to see the Hawks Live

Originally published: Saturday, May 16, 2009; most-recently modified: Monday, May 20, 2019