Richard Milton o Velikovskim w książce „Alternative Science”

Z braku tzw. (brzydko) wolnych mocy przerobowych, zamieszczamy ten tekst wyjątkowo w oryginale. Jest to fragment Rozdziału 10. świetnej książki  Richarda Miltona pt. „Alternative Science: Challenging the Myths of  the  Scientific Establishment„, Park Street Press, 1996
Rzuca on sporo światła na zakulisowe manewry, które doprowadziły do takiej atmosfery otaczającej postać i dzieło Velikovskiego, jaką znamy po dziś dzień. Sprzeniewierzenie się świata nauki, kłamstwa, ostracyzm i cierpienie. Velikowsky jest tylko jednym z wielu, których to spotkało. (wytłuszczenia – nasze)

Guardians of the Gate

Men do not get what they deserve
but what they resemble.
~ Jacques Riviere

In Chapter 5, I pointed to a pattern that recurs in the investigation of phenomena that are dissonant with the current scientific paradigm, involving the ridicule, ostracism and punishment of the discoverer. A key figure in these proceedings is the actor who casts himself or herself in the role of the people’s protector or saviour from the machinations of charlatans, false prophets and weirdos of every sort.

In the seventeenth century this figure would very likely have been a Witchfinder General; today, mercifully, we no longer consign people to the flames to reduce our cognitive dissonance. But, as we saw in Chapter 4, we still burn people’s books to achieve the same end. And the present-day book burner turned out to be none other than an agent of the government itself — the US Food and Drug Adminis­tration. Many people may draw comfort from the reflection that Wilhelm Reich’s books were burned more than thirty years ago in 1960 — it couldn’t happen today. Sadly, however, the spirit of Salem is still alive and as recently as 1981 when Professor Rupert Sheldrake published his concept-shattering A New Science of Life, editor of Nature, John Maddox, ran an editorial saying the book was ‚the best candidate for burning there has been for many years’.

Orwell’s Thought Police are all too real. They do not ride sinister black motorcycles nor throw people in jail (although, as we have seen, even that is not unknown). But their powers to punish those who step out of line can be very real. And their effects on the community are no less profound because these individuals are often self-appointed. It is not our political thoughts they police, but the current paradigm.

Today, the Paradigm Police crop up in a variety of unremarkable guises. Most often, it is to style themselves as myth busters of one sort or another or as the guardians of the gates of unreason who we met at the end of the last chapter. Whatever their guise, the Paradigm Police are invariably present wherever innovators and discoverers of the new are derided and attacked. Their methods, their beliefs and their motivations are thus of considerable interest to anyone who wants to understand the taboo reaction in science.

The Paradigm Police are sometimes harmless, because their intemperate behaviour negates any effects they might have. One of the most common characteristics of the authoritarian person is an inability to control or moderate his or her reaction to being confronted by cognitive dissonance. The need to attack the offending agent of dissonance, by any and every means to hand, makes such a person overwhelmingly intemperate and intolerant and gives the game away. But in other cases, the effects of this policing can be very destructive and very far reaching.

One of the best-documented modern examples of the Paradigm Police in action is provided by the case of Dr Immanuel Velikovsky, the American psychologist whose 1950 book Worlds in Collision caused a storm of controversy in the US academic world. In 1963, the magazine American Behavioral Scientist thought the way in which Velikovsky was mugged by the scientific community of sufficient interest to devote a special issue to three papers on the subject, one by Professor Alfred de Grazia of New York University and two others by Ralph Juergens and Livio Stecchini. The papers, together with additional material were published in book form under the title The Velikovsky Affair.

According to de Grazia, Velikovsky’s book

gave rise to a controversy in scientific and intellectual circles about scientific theories and the sociology of science. Dr Velikovsky’s historical and cosmological concepts, bolstered by his acknowledged scholarship, constituted a formidable assault on certain established theories of astronomy, geology and historical biology, and on the heroes of those sciences. Newton himself, and Darwin were being challenged, and indeed the general orthodoxy of an ordered uni­verse.

What must be called the scientific establishment rose in arms, not only against the new Velikovsky theories but against the man himself. Efforts were made to block the dissemination of Dr Veli­kovsky’s ideas, and even to punish supporters of his investigations. Universities, scientific societies, publishing houses, the popular press were approached and threatened; social pressures and professional sanctions were invoked to control public opinion. There can be little doubt that in a totalitarian society, not only would Dr Velikovsky’s reputation have been at stake, but also his right to pursue his enquiry, and perhaps his personal safety.

As it was, the ‚establishment’ succeeded in building a wall of unfavourable sentiment around him: to thousands of scholars the name Velikovsky bears the taint of fantasy, science-fiction and publicity.

The central theme of the book that caused such a furore is that between the fifteenth and eighth centuries BC the earth underwent a series of global catastrophes. Parts of the surface were heated until they melted and the seas boiled and evaporated. Some mountain ranges disappeared while others were thrown up elsewhere. Con­tinents were raised, causing global flooding. Velikovsky supported this picture of worldwide catastrophe with a wealth of quotations from such ancient sources as the Hebrew Bible, the Hindu Vedas, Roman and Greek mythology and the myths and legends of many ancient races. He also supported it with physical evidence from geology and palaeontology.

The cause of these tremendous upheavals, according to Velikovsky, was an extraordinary series of astronomical events. He brought for­ward evidence to suggest that in the past there have been collisions or near collisions between planets in the solar system and that the earth itself experienced a collision with the tail of a comet that ended up as the planet Venus. These events, said Velikovsky, were responsible for repeated changes in the Earth’s orbit and the inclination of its axis. Interactions between the magnetic fields of the earth and other planets played a major role in these events.

The story of what happened when the book was published was told by Ralph Juergens in his article ‚Minds in Chaos’. Velikovsky first signed a contract for a book on this subject with Macmillan Company in 1946. By 1950, the book was ready for publication. In January of that year Harper’s Magazine published two articles condensed from the book, under the heading ‚The day the Sun stood still’, and the magazine was a sell-out. Papers in America and abroad reprinted the articles and further popular articles followed in Reader’s Digest and Collier’s Magazine. Most of the articles were highly sensationalised and Velikovsky threatened to disown the articles unless they were toned down.

When these sensational stories caught the public imagination, the scientific establishment began to react. Just before the book was to be published, Macmillan received two letters from Harlow Shapley, professor of astronomy at Harvard University. In the first Shapley described his astonishment that Macmillan should even consider a venture into the ‚black arts’, but expressed his satisfaction that the publisher had come to its senses and decided not to publish after all. When the firm wrote back to explain that Shapley was the victim of a rumour and that publication was to go ahead as scheduled, Shapley (who had still not seen the manuscript) replied that: ‚It will be interesting a year from now to hear from you as to whether or not the reputation of the Macmillan Co. is damaged by the publication of Worlds in Collision. He ended by saying that Velikovsky’s background should be investigated as it was quite possible that the book was ‚intellectually fraudulent’.

In February 1950, an issue of Science News Letter which was edited by Shapley, printed denunciations of Velikovsky’s ideas by five scientific authorities in the fields of archaeology, oriental studies, anthropology, geology and with Shapley himself speaking for astronomy. This broadside was published to coincide with the publication of the book —which none of the critics had yet seen.

Perhaps if Velikovsky’s book had been of a purely speculative nature then academics would merely have dismissed it as fantasy and not troubled themselves about its content. But Velikovsky backed up his theories with immensely detailed scholarly research in many dif­ferent disciplines — history, anthropology, geology, astronomy and biology being only some. In fact, he displayed a grasp of his subject that was clearly beyond some of his most vociferous critics, with the predictable consequence that they did not reply to or even address the scientific issues raised, but instead attacked him personally.

In the next few months, newspapers around the country were barraged with abusive reviews contributed by big-name scientists. Virtually none of the reviewers confronted the scientific issues but simply derided Velikovsky. Paul Herget, director of the observatory at the University of Cincinnati, concluded that the book’s astronomical ideas were ‚dynamically impossible’ but offered no reasoned explana­tion of this conclusion. Californian physicist H.P. Robertson wrote, `This incredible book . . . this jejune essay [is] too ludicrous to merit serious rebuttal’, thus saving himself the trouble of writing any such rebuttal. Nuclear physicist Harrison Brown told the readers of the Saturday Review of Literature that the list of errors in fact and conclusion contained in Velikovsky’s book would fill a thirty-page letter, although he neglected to specify even one of them.

Despite (perhaps because of) this campaign, the book went to the top of the best-seller list and stayed there for twenty successive weeks. However, in May, when book sales were at their peak, Velikovsky was summoned to Macmillan’s offices and told that professors in certain large universities were refusing to see Macmillan’s salesmen. This was a serious threat to the company because a substantial part of its rev­enue derived from the sale of textbooks to universities. In addition, letters had been received from scientists demanding that Macmillan cease publication. Macmillan told Velikovsky that they had no alternative but to respond to this commercial pressure and that they had worked out a deal under which Doubleday would take over publication of the book. Doubleday had few textbook titles and so was relatively immune to academic blackmail.

On 11 June 1950, the New York Times carried an article by columnist Leonard Lyons who broke the news.

The greatest bombshell dropped on Publisher’s Row in many a year exploded the other day. . . . Dr Velikovsky himself would not comment on the changeover. But a publishing official admitted, privately, that a flood of protests from educators and others had hit the company hard in its vulnerable underbelly — the textbook division. Following some stormy sessions by the board of directors, Macmillan reluctantly succumbed, surrendered its rights to the biggest money-maker on its list.

Lyons went on to report that the suppression had been engineered by Harlow Shapley of Harvard, although Shapley later denied this to Newsweek. Other scientists were not so shy about admitting their part. Paul Herget said, ‚I am one of those who participated in this campaign against Macmillan’, while Michigan astronomer Dean McLaughlin wrote, ‚Worlds in Collision has just changed hands . . . I am frank to state that this change was the result of pressure that scientists and scholars brought to bear on the Macmillan Company.’

Even after the change of publisher, ripples of the affair continued to be felt. James Putnam, the editor who had been twenty-five years with Macmillan and who had bought Velikovsky’s book, was summarily dismissed. And Macmillan sent a representative to placate the power­ful American Association for the Advancement of Science at its annual meeting in Cleveland in December. Charles Skelley, for Macmillan, duly appeared before a committee specially appointed to study means for ‚evaluating new theories before publication’ — in other words, scientific censorship.

As well as behind-the-scenes pressure on Macmillan, there was also ‚nobbling’ of senior academics who took Velikovsky’s book seriously. According to Alfred de Grazia:

Several scientists and intellectuals who attempted [Velikovsky’s] defence were silenced or sanctioned severely. I. Bernard Cohen, Professor of the History of Science at Harvard University, wrote sympathetically, almost enthusiastically, of Velikovsky’s work in the advance summary of his address before the American Philoso­phical Society in April 1952, but changed his approach markedly in the published version of his address in the Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society (October 1952).

Perhaps Professor Cohen was referring to the pressure that had been applied to him to change his mind when he wrote in the same issue of the Proceedings his view that, ‚Any suggestion that scientists so dearly love truth, that they have not the slightest hesitation in jettisoning their beliefs, is a mean perversion of the facts.

At the time that Velikovsky wrote, astronomers believed that the planet Venus was an old planet, that its surface was cool like the Earth’s, and that its atmosphere consisted largely of water vapour or carbon dioxide. When he had completed the manuscript of the book in 1946, Velikovsky had tried to enlist the help of scientists in con­ducting experiments that would crucially test his thesis. He made three specific predictions relating to the planet Venus, all of them in principle falsifiable by experiment. First, he said that if Venus were a relatively young planet, its surface temperature would still be very hot. Second, that it would be enveloped in hydrocarbon clouds — the remains of a hydrocarbonaceous comet tail. And third, that it would have anomalous rotation movement, perturbations remaining from its settling relatively recently into orbit.

In 1953, while addressing graduate students at Princeton Uni­versity, Velikovsky suggested two further testable phenomena: that the Earth’s magnetic field reaches as far out into space as the Moon’s orbit and is responsible for the libratory or rocking movements of the moon. And he suggested that the planet Jupiter (from which he said the Venus-comet had originated) radiates in the radio frequency range of the electromagnetic spectrum.

These predictions were taken by scientists of the 1950s as being tantamount to proof of Velikovsky’s ignorance, insanity or both. Harlow Shapley refused to become involved in any experimental research to confirm his ideas. When, for instance, it was suggested that Shapley might use the Harvard observatory to search for evidence of hydrocarbons in the Venusian atmosphere, Shapley replied that he wasn’t interested in Velikovsky’s ‚sensational claims’ because they violate the laws of mechanics and ‚if Dr Velikovsky is right, the rest of us are crazy’.

Within little more than a decade of publication, all of Velikovsky’s key predictions were confirmed by experiment. The Mariner spacecraft of 1963 determined that the surface temperature of Venus is in the region of 800 degrees Fahrenheit and that the planet’s fifteen-mile thick atmosphere is composed of heavy hydrocarbon molecules and possibly more complex organic compounds as well.

In April 1955, Drs B.F. Burke and K.L. Franklin announced to the American Astronomical Society their accidental discovery of radio noise broadcast by Jupiter. In 1962, the US Naval Research Laboratory in Washington and the Goldstone Tracking Station in southern California announced that radiometric observations showed Venus to have a slow retrograde motion. In the same year, the Explorer satellite detected the Earth’s magnetic field at a distance of at least twenty-two Earth radii, while in 1965 it was reported that the tail extends at least as far as the moon’.

Considering that the main thrust of science’s attack on Velikovsky was a personal attack on his integrity, the behaviour of some of his most vociferous critics in the scientific community makes interesting reading. In August 1963, Harper’s Magazine which had carried the original announcement of Velikovsky’s theories, now did a retro­spective piece pointing out how all his main predictions had been borne out. The author of both articles, Eric Larrabee, made a reference which drew a thunderous response from Donald Menzel, director of Harvard College Observatory. At the height of the controversy a decade earlier, Menzel had tried to shoot Velikovsky down by cal­culating that for his astronomical theory to be right, the Sun would have to have a surface potential of 10 billion billion volts. Obviously, said Menzel, this is impossible so Velikovsky must be wrong. By an extraordinary chance, in 1960, V.A. Bailey, emeritus professor of physics at Sydney University (who knew nothing of the Velikovsky controversy) claimed to have discovered that the Sun is electrically charged and has a surface potential of 10 billion billion volts — exactly the value calculated by Menzel.

Feeling that Bailey’s discovery made him look foolish, Menzel now sent off a strongly worded response to Harper’s and a letter to Bailey in Australia asking him to revoke his theory of the electric charge on the Sun as it was assisting the enemy.

According to Ralph Juergens:

Professor Bailey, taking exception to the idea that his own work should be abandoned to accommodate the anti-Velikovsky forces, prepared an article in rebuttal to Menzel’s piece and submitted it to Harper’s for publication in the same issue with Menzel’s. Bailey had discovered a simple arithmetical error in Menzel’s calculations, which invalidated his argument.

It is equally interesting to see how the Harvard astronomer dealt with the fact that most of Velikovsky’s predictions had been confirmed. On the radio emissions from Jupiter, he wrote that, since most scientists do not accept Velikovsky’s theory then it follows that ‚any seeming verification of Velikovsky’s prediction is pure chance‚. As far as the high surface temperature of Venus is concerned, Menzel argued that ‚hot is only a relative term‚. Later in the article he referred back to this statement saying ‚I have already disposed of the question of the temperature of Venus’. Actually, in 1950, Menzel had estimated the temperature of Venus to be about 120 degrees Fahrenheit when it is really more like 800 degrees. On the extent of the Earth’s magnetic field, Menzel wrote that Velikovsky ‚said it would extend as far as the moon; actually the field suddenly breaks off at a distance of several earth diameters’. In fact, Menzel was wrong; the field had been detected as extending at least twenty-two Earth radii a year earlier by the Explorer satellite.

To their credit, a few scientists did support Velikovsky against the climate of hysteria and intimidation including Princeton’s Professor H.H. Hess, who was later chairman of the National Academy of Science’s space board. In 1962, Princeton physicist Valentin Barg­mann and Columbia astronomer Lloyd Motz wrote a joint letter to the editor of Science magazine calling attention to Velikovsky’s priority in predicting Venus’s high surface temperature, Jupiter’s radio emissions and the great extent of the Earth’s magnetosphere, but Science’s editor, Dr Philip Abelson, was not interested in Velikovsky. Instead, he printed a letter from science fiction writer Poul Anderson satirising Velikovsky on the grounds that science fiction writers and hoaxers also made fantastic predictions that were sometimes verified. When the editor of Horizon magazine wrote to Abelson protesting at the exclusion of an article by Velikovsky, Abelson replied:

Velikovsky is a controversial figure. Many of the ideas that he expressed are not accepted by serious students of earth science. Since my prejudices happen to agree with this majority, I strained my sense of fair play to accept the letter by Bargmann and Motz, and thought that the books were nicely balanced with the rejoinder of Anderson.

Scientific American showed that it had not moved on editorially since it ridiculed the Wright Brothers fifty years earlier. The magazine had refused to carry advertising for Worlds in Collision and in 1956 it carried a strongly critical article by physicist Harrison Brown. When Velikovsky asked for the right to reply he was told by Scientific American editor Dennis Flanagan that:

I think you should know my position once and for all. I think your books have done incalculable harm to the public understanding of what science is and what scientists do. There is no danger whatever that your arguments will not be heard; on the contrary they have received huge circulation by scientific standards. Thus I feel that we have no further obligation in the matter.

De Grazia highlights an essential issue from this reply when he points out that the editor has picked up a misapprehension common among scientists: that the media of the general public can substitute for the scientific media. Not only is this idea false but, as de Grazia points out, scientists themselves insist upon a distinct separation of the two types of media.

Overall, the attitude of science and scientists during the Velikovsky affair was best summed up by Laurence Lafleur, associate professor of philosophy at Florida State University. Lafleur wrote to Scientific Monthly in November 1951 proposing seven diagnostic criteria that would enable anyone to spot the difference between a crank and a scientist. He concluded that Velikovsky qualified as a crank ‚perhaps by every one’ of them. Lafleur’s seven criteria are examined in detail in the next chapter, which is devoted to the question of how to tell a real crank from a real innovator. As far as the present examination of the activities of the Paradigm Police is concerned, the last word should go to Professor Lafleur, since it so accurately sums up the central credo of the ‚guardians’ of science:

The odds favour the assumption that anyone proposing a revolu­tionary doctrine is a crank rather than a scientist.

powiązane wpisy:
Velikovsky – Zderzenie światów – o polskim wydaniu książki
Zderzenie Światów – Immanuel Velikovsky – Tłumacz, Piotr Gordon, o swojej przygodzie z książką oraz napisany przez niego wstęp do polskiego wydania


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