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Challenge to the Integrity of Science
Euan W. MacKie
Editor's Note: On January 11, 1973, a British scientific journal, the New Scientist, published an article by Dr. MacKie, "A Challenge to the Integrity of Science." We reprint here some excerpts from that article:
The essence of Velikovsky's method might be described as combining evidence from various historical sciences and following where this seemed to be leading, often with great intuitive leaps and quite uninhibited by existing theory or interdisciplinary boundaries. He in fact assumed that the validity of his basic theories allowed him to select and correctly re-interpret an enormous quantity of otherwise unrelated material. This is an analytical method which can be valid if the initial premise is granted but one which is not often practiced today by scientists and scholars. Moreover, when one takes into account that the catastrophic hypothesis went against all established theory, and that it made many deductions which the knowledge of 1950 appeared to disprove, it is perhaps not altogether surprising that the majority of scientists at that time particularly those with no training in the handling of historical evidence found the thesis of Worlds in Collision incredible.
Nevertheless, such understandable scepticism hardly explains the violence of the reaction against the book and its author, from certain quarters of the scientific establishment in the United States in the years following its publication. So outrageous were some aspects of this reaction when compared with the strictly rational ethic which is supposed to govern the scientist in his evaluation of new work that the situation eventually attracted the attention of the psychologists. An entire special issue of the American Behavioral Scientist (September, 1963) was devoted to this extraordinary story and this material was later expanded into a book, The Velikovsky Affair (1966).
Clearly, it is difficult to evaluate a work of this kind ... The problem is rendered more difficult by the increasing specialization of most scientists and scholars who are ill-equipped to judge a work like Velikovsky's—except in so far as it touches their own fields. Obviously they cannot be expected automatically to take on trust Velikovsky's interpretations in other fields. Yet it may be equally true that his new theory may have given him the fresh insight required to undertake these reinterpretations. It would be just as scientifically naive to suppose that the harsh treatment received by Velikovsky makes his theories more plausible as it would be to assume the opposite. Probably the only satisfactory and practicable attitude is to base one=s judgment on the capacity of a new theory to anticipate discoveries in the fields it concerns. No one could deny that if it makes enough predictions that are verified by subsequent testing (either by accidental discoveries or deliberately arranged experiments) then it must be regarded as plausible and admitted as such .
Velikovsky has achieved a remarkable success in forecasting otherwise unexpected scientific discoveries. For this reason alone it is difficult to see how there can be any further justification for refusing to consider and actively to test his ideas—no matter how unpalatable they may seem.
PENSEE Journal III