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Open letter to science editors


Asimov in Confusion
L.M. Greenberg

In October 1969, Isaac Asimov published a brief essay titled "Worlds in Con­fusion".  It appeared in Fantasy and Science Fiction and was reprinted in The Stars in their Courses (1972).  "Worlds in Confusion" was Asimov's belated contribution to the "critical" literature on Worlds in Collision.

A sampling from "Worlds in Confusion" should suffice to show the reader the true merit of Asimov's criticism.

ASIMOV.- "Let's not think of . . . gigantic catastrophes.  Let's not think of altered orbits, of oceans leaving their beds and slopping over the continents.  Let's not think of the great results of Earth's suddenly [sic] stopping its rotation when Joshua commanded the Sun to stand still." Instead, consider what would have happened to Joshua and his troops.  "Not only would Joshua's soldiers all have fallen down and rolled for a thousand miles, but the energy of rotation would have been converted into heat and have melted the Earth's crust."

WRONG: Repudiated in toto by Sagan himself at the AAAS Symposium and again in Scientists Confront Velikovsky (p. 64); Cf.  The Velikovsky Affair, p. 231, no. 20; C. J. Ransom, The Age of Velikovsky (pp. 9-10).

ASIMOV.- "There are many limestone caves in the world [with] many stalactites and stalagmites ... They are quite brittle.  If the Earth had stopped its rotation at the time of the Exodus, or if it had even slightly changed its period of rotation, every one of those stalactites and stalagmites would have been broken."

WRONG.- This argument, borrowed from Martin Gardner's Fads & Fallacies in the Name of Science (p. 29), sounds convincing but is quite erroneous.--See Pensee I (May, 1972), p. 15; Pensee II (Fall, 1972), p. 18; Pensee III (Winter, 1973), pp. 48-50; Also repudiated by Sagan, Ibid.

ASIMOV.- "Can it be that Velikovsky doesn't know the difference between 'hydrocarbon' and 'carbohydrate'? ... Can a cloud of gasoline vapor precipitate as a sugar-like compound?  This, I'm afraid, is chemically impossible."

WRONG.  While "carbohydrates cannot be precipitated from hydrocarbons ...there was a possibility for the Venusian hydrocarbons to produce carbohy­drates by reacting with the Earth's upper atmosphere" (Wong Kee Kuong, "The Synthesis of Manna," Pensee III, pp. 45-46, where six different processes are outlined for the conversion of hydrocarbons into carbohydrates); Cf.  Wong Kee Kuong, "A Cosmoanalytic Interpretation of Venusian Fragrances" (unpublished manuscript); M. G. Reade, "Manna as a Confection," SIS Review 1:2 (Sp ring, 19 76), pp. 9 ff.

ASIMOV.- "Can cometary tails really blaze up if they pass through Earth's atmosphere?  Can they really cause rains of fire?  No, sir, not a chance.  Those comet tails are just about the thinnest gas you can imagine."

COMMENT.- With regard to Venus, Asimov is playing a semantic game with the word "comet".  The question is not whether any currently observed comet could cause such fires, but whether the atmosphere of Venus as a proto-planet could have done so.  At the least, Asimov's analogy is inappropriate [Cf.  C. J. Ransom and L. H. Hoffee, "The Orbits of Venus," Pensee 111, pp. 22-24; Pensee 111, p. 44; M. K. Wallis, "Comet-Like Interactions of Venus with the Solar Wind," Cosmic Electrodynamics (April, 1972)].  Also, there is the dis­tinct possibility that Asimov's generalization about comets is WRONG.  Cer­tain evidence suggests that various fires, occurring in the United States during the month of October in 1871, may have been due to a comet [See 1. Donnelly, Ragnarok: The Age of Fire and Gravel (1883, 197l ed.), pp.413, ­423; F. B. Jueneman, "Tales of a Comet," Industrial Research (Oct., 1973), p. 14] .

ASIMOV.- After quoting the following passage from Worlds in Collision ­"According to all existing theories, the angular velocity of the revolution of a satellite must be slower than the velocity of rotation of its parent.  But the inner satellite of Mars revolves more rapidly than Mars rotates."--Asimov goes on to say that "there is absolutely nothing in any astronomic theory I have ever heard of that relates the angular velocity of a satellite to the period of rotation of the planet it circles."

COMMENT.- Within the context of Worlds in Collision, Asimov is once again WRONG.  In a section of Worlds in Collision titled "The Origin of the Planetary System, Velikovsky was explicitly referring to "existing cosmo­logical theories", particularly the nebular and tidal theories (Cf.  W in C, pp. 10-12).

Concerning Asimov's remarks on hydrocarbons and Venus' atmosphere, see pages 42 and 1 13 in the articles by Velikovsky and Juergens elsewhere in this issue.

A final point of interest: Despite its obvious scientific errors, despite the repudiations by Sagan, "Worlds in Confusion" heads the bibliographical list found at the end of Scientists Confront Velikovsky(p. 179).  How reliable, then, is the remainder of the anti-Velikovsky literature on that list, especially the material by L. Sprague de Camp (Cf.  KRONOS III: 1, August, 1977, "L.  Sprague de Camp: Anatomy of a Zetetic") and Martin Gardner (CL Pensee 11, pp. 42-43)?

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