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Open letter to science editors

 

FORUM

A Classroom Experiment

H. B. Keller
Associate professor of physics
St.  Olaf College

Editor's Note: In May, 1967, Dr. Velikovsky delivered the Honors Convocation address at St.  Olaf College (Minnesota).

Several years ago I arranged an interim lecture and discussion group for some 25 juniors and seniors at St. Olaf College to appraise the ideas and criticisms of the writings of Immanual Velikovsky.  The group was broadly organized by discipline and included majors from the natural sciences, the behavioral sciences, history, philosophy, and religion.  The only prerequisite for registration was satisfactory completion, by each student, of at least one advanced course in his major.

It was not the objective of this interim course to convince the students of the correctness of Velikovsky's ideas, but to expose them to the controversy surrounding the man and his work.  To help this process along, I invited seven faculty representing six different disciplines, to meet with the group one at a time, to discuss whatever topics or deal with whatever questions the students might wish to raise relative to the issue.  Further, I required each student to prepare, at the end of the month, a critique on a topic of his own choosing, but centered on some subject relevant to the controversy.

From a behavioral point of view, the outcome of the interim followed what seemed to be a predictable pattern: The visitors revealed a good deal of hostility toward Velikovsky, while the students struggled to approach the whole matter objectively.  The students did not always agree with Velikovsky's methodology and conclusions; however, their papers were well researched and their conclusions drawn without bias.  I felt I could ask little more.

The highlight of the interim was a conference call to Velikovsky during which students pressed him to comment at length on their questions.  I have always felt that we tried Velikovsky's patience with that call, for the students tried for nearly an hour to trip him up.  He responded thoughtfully and in detail to all their questions; it was a stimulating experience for all concerned.

For myself, I was disturbed by the hostility that most of the visitors had for Velikovsky, the man and his work.  It may be, in fact it is likely, that Velikovsky is not correct in detail; however to reject his work without a fair hearing is, in my judgment, a disservice to the disciplines that were represented.  The experience suggested to me a need to re-evaluate my own faith in the objectivity of scientists and the scientific method.

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