This is almost certainly not going to be a very coherent or conclusive post because of the nature of its contents. One of my commentators doubted the truth of Galileo’s belief in astrology and offered up the old lame excuse of historians of science who don’t want their heroes to have feet clay (“no it can’t be true that Newton was an alchemist” or “Kepler only believed in astrology when he was young and naïve but he abandoned it as a mature scientist”) saying that he only did it for the money. As
Ms Dr. Higgitts Higgitt correctly pointed out if that were the case why did he then cast detailed horoscopes for himself and his daughters? The commentator then asked for sources for the claim that Galileo was a practicing astrologer. I duly supplied some and included a paper by the historian of astrology Nick Kollerstrom. The commentator immediately responded with the information that according to Wikipedia Kollerstrom is a Holocaust denier and the question why then should we trust him as an authority on Galileo’s astrology?
Now I have to admit that I only knew Kollerstrom as a historian of astrology whose work is accepted by the history of science community and gets quoted by them without reservations. I also know that which I have read of his has hand and foot and appears to be in order. I never ever thought of looking him up on Wikipedia or Google and was not aware of his apparent Holocaust denial. If it is true, and it seems to be, that he is a holocaust denier then he is a scumbag but does his being a Holocaust denier invalidate his work as an astrology historian as my commentator seemed to imply? Even if his work on Galileo’s astrology is valid, which I think it is, should I/we refuse to quote or recommend it on ethical grounds? If he were a car salesperson I certainly wouldn’t buy a car from him. Where should I draw the line? Not to use his work would be difficult as he is co-editor with Nicolas Campion of the collected and annotated English edition of Galileo’s astrological papers, as far as I know the only such edition in any language. The papers mostly in the form of correspondence are not collected together but distributed throughout the official collected works of Galileo.
Of course Kollerstrom is not the only academic whose personal beliefs or behaviour in other areas make contact with his work ethically questionable. Where do we draw a line? How should I react? I live just down the road from the city of Nürnberg, The Reichsparteistadt (that is the home-base of the Nazi Party) where the laws depriving the Jews of their civil rights were issued (Die Nürnberger Gesetze) there is much here to keep the memory of the Holocaust very much alive. I detest and despise Holocaust deniers but I can’t answer my own moral questions. Do you have any thoughts, answers, rules of conduct, behaviour for me in this situation?