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A Call To Action
The following is excerpted from remarks which Dr. May delivered at the Velikovsky Symposium, Lewis and Clark College, August 18, 1972:
The time has come for all those who believe that Immanuel Velikovsky has something to say to the scientific and academic world in general, to depart from a defensive attitude, stand up, be counted, and insist that he be heard. With the publication of the May issue of Pensée, the Velikovsky hypothesis has been subjected to ventilation in a major way for the first time in five years. One thing should be clear above all: the cause of truth cannot afford another five years of hibernation and small gains. For a long time there has been an academic underground made up of individuals convinced in their own minds that Velikovsky's work deserves examination, dissection and empirical investigation. Many in the underground have concluded that Velikovsky is correct, in broad outline and in most of the details. But with a few sterling exceptions, instead of making themselves heard in his behalf, they have left unrisked their own personal academic reputations by not associating themselves with an unorthodox theory, while being complacently confident that the normal procedures of science would insure an eventual vindication of his concepts.
Whatever the causes, the fruitful debate which they have expected has not occurred. Only recently have there been signs that a revival of academic interest is on the horizon. The continuing focus of Pensée, the increasing response of recognized scholars, the holding of a full-scale three day conference at Lewis and Clark College in August, Velikovsky's invitation to the NASA Ames Research Center, and the increasing tempo of curiosity on the university campuses are all hopeful indications. What is needed now is a program of follow-up in order to prevent a new recession of attention and to give the emphasis on Velikovsky the kind of sustained momentum which alone can assure that the academic world will not once again sweep under the rug the challenge he presents.
The first step is to analyze why it is that a revolutionary interdisciplinary thesis such as Velikovsky's seems fated to meet an automatic rejection and refusal to consider the evidence presented for it. Velikovsky himself has suggested a few of the reasons. Without undue repetition, let me point out some of the false assumptions bearing on the practical problems of overcoming the obstacles we face:
1. It is generally assumed that if a new theory is true, it will be accepted in time. Since the triumph of truth is inexorable, there is little one individual can do, except for research, to shorten the process by ? Which science sifts the chaff from the wheat. Certainly research is essential, but this view overlooks the personality and political differentials which propel the course of scientific consideration in reality. Even if it were true, it must be remembered that the time-span involved may be decades or indeed centuries. We have by no means reached the stage of computerizing scientific value-judgments; nothing happens automatically in science when egos and reputations are at stake.
2. Another assumption is that if an old theory (such as uniformitarianism) is false, it would have been exposed before now, especially with the information explosion of the past few decades. This is the past tense of the first attitude. Actually, the rush of new data has piled up more problems and encouraged more specialization and less willingness to place evidence in larger patterns. This in itself has increased reliance on the accepted assumptions.
3. Still another assumption is that if a new theory is true, it will attract adherents who will bring it to the attention of the academic community. In other words, if Velikovsky were correct, he would have some friends. He does have friends, but they have not made themselves heard as well as they might have done, despite a number of commendable efforts. Unfortunately, a few voices raised now and then can be ignored easily. What is needed is a sustained effort.
4. Finally, it is believed that if a new theory is true, it will be presented in the customary language of science with plenty of charts, graphs, and mathematical formulae. Regardless of the content, validity, or rationality of an argument, most scientists hesitate to take it seriously unless they see it in a familiar form. This is unfair to Velikovsky, but it does serve as a challenge to his readers to do the necessary testing, quantifying, computerizing, graphing and theoretical development. As an indictment it is unfair because of the scope of his thesis. No one man could investigate fully all of its ramifications in even one field, much less in the many disciplines Velikovsky has had to enter.
The Velikovsky case presents a curious historical reversal. Three centuries ago Galileo received condemnation because he departed from the ancient texts and authorities acceptable for his day and turned to the instruments of empirical investigation. To his opponents, the discovery of truth was less important than the sanctity of the prescribed method. Today, the testimony of the human record is likewise being arbitrarily excluded by those in science who insist, like their predecessors in the seventeenth century, that there are proscribed sources and prescribed methods of investigation and any information contained outside the conventional norms cannot have any bearing on the truth. In both cases the error is the same: an a priori rejection of evidence. Obviously, the true attitude of science ought to be that all sources of information should be welcomed, tested, and evaluated. Surely methods suitable for discovery are a lot less confining than those required for verification. Many discoveries in science have been made accidentally or by insights gained from the oddest conjunction of facts. If all clues furnished by nature were excluded at the outset, there would exist no theories to test. Yet Velikovsky has constructed a rational and internally consistent hypothesis derived from unconventional sources and the tests he has offered in support of it have passed muster by being subsequently confirmed, generally by accident. Up to what point can science continue to refuse such an approach the courtesy of a thorough examination?
All of these facile attitudes mentioned, and many more could be listed, point out a salient reality which confronts us. The academic world is waiting for an insistent demand to be made upon it before it will take Velikovsky seriously. If it sees no smoke, it assumes there is no fire. It is up to us to provide the illumination which can clarify the sloppy thinking presently obscuring the real issues.
Let me suggest several directions which might prove fruitful:
1. Continued research by individuals and groups is an obvious requirement. In this regard, applications to the standard providers of research funds should not be overlooked. Grants from private foundations and government sources have in the past underwritten the most peripheral studies; indeed, some agencies seem to be looking for unconventional proposals so long as one can present a prima facie case that the project has serious intent and is promising of results.
Likewise, petitions should be made to the program committees of the various academic societies requesting a session devoted to certain aspects of Velikovsky's works. If the petitioners suggest in advance the names of those willing to present papers on both sides of the question, there is likelihood the suggestion will receive favorable action.
These activities do not rule out the need for less formal and unsponsored work. In the May issue of Pensée there was reported the work of Dr. Mary Buckalew at North Texas State University, who is constructing an index of Velikovsky's deviations from accepted theory, and others who are working on a series of charts and a compilation of verified prognosis. Still others should embark on similar undertakings.
2. It is necessary to organize. Already this is beginning to happen. The Cosmos and Chronos groups on many university campuses furnish a core. (For information contact Dr. C.J. Ransom, Physical Sciences Division, Cosmos and Chronos, P.O. Box 12807, Fort Worth, Texas 76116.) Now it is imperative to work toward some form of national institutionalization. It is not even too early to envision the formation of a new interdisciplinary academic society with dues, annual meetings, a newsletter, and eventually a scholarly journal. Though it would probably require a sizable endowment to get started, the necessary interest exists to achieve success.
3. On another level, it is important also to keep the glare of publicity focused on the academic world for its refusal to give Velikovsky a hearing. This is unfortunate, but it is an operational necessity. Unless efforts are made to inform the news media that Velikovsky has a constituency, they will continue to miss the hottest news story of the century. No one is suggesting that outside pressure can or should force the academic world to accept conclusions that it is not compelled to acknowledge by use of reason and the scientific method, but outside pressure can perform a constructive role in forcing the community to consider alternative explanations it is bent upon ignoring. Also a congressional investigation by the appropriate committees of Congress might well throw considerable light on the issues. Given public demand, achieving an investigation is not out of the realm of possibility.
Singly none of these measures will guarantee results. All of them together could. Perhaps they seem militant. They are. Perhaps some of them seem farfetched based on past experience. Yet all are attainable if a fraction of those who follow Velikovsky in the academic world and in the general public alike would determine to make their voices heard in his behalf.
Dr. Joseph May is an assistant professor of history, Youngstown State University (Ohio).