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Open letter to science editors

 

Velikovsky and the Media

  •  Chemical and Engineering News

  •  Industrial Research

  •  Analog

  •  Medical Tribune

When, in 1950, Velikovsky's Worlds in Collision became a bestseller, academia seemed to lose its self-control.  The scientific community, especially, directed a withering and nearly hysterical scorn at the gullibility of the media and the public for taking seriously such unscientific nonsense.  While thousands of reviews of the book were being written and while the public was making it the number one seller in the nation, those scientists calling for open-mindedness and a hard look at Velikovsky's conclusions were few indeed.  Science presented a united front against Velikovsky.

It is odd, is it not, that now with the increasing respect accorded to Velikovsky by researchers, the general media have paid relatively little heed?  Velikovsky's views remain much the same as in 1950; the same newsworthy ingredients are there, only now with this added element: prestigious institutions and leaders among scientists are calling—think how impossible this would have been only a few years ago—for the rehabilitation of Velikovsky and for intensive research bearing on his work.

One might hope that the relative silence of the popular press reflects a greater maturity, a reluctance to promote views which are not fully tested scientifically.  On the other hand, one cannot help wondering whether the bitter scorn directed at the press in the 50's achieved its desired effect all too well, stifling the presentation of scholarly views which have not received the official imprimatur of the scientific establishment, that is, which have not been received through "official" channels.

DO WE REALLY KNOW?

All this is not to say that the press has paid no heed to Velikovsky.  We cite a few recent items of interest, both popular and technical:

On the eve of the American Chemical Society's national convention, Chemical and Engineering News (April 9, 1973), an ACS journal, editorialized on "The Open Mind, ACS, and Velikovsky." Noting that "scientists can be just as cerebrally opaque as anyone else," editor Patrick McCurdy cited Velikovsky's case, as well as the creationist-evolutionist controversy.  Concerning the latter, McCurdy quotes a letter-writer:

"Why do scientists become so defensive when someone questions the present theory of evolution?  Science has always involved numerous conflicts in theory and interpretation, and it has been the intelligent resolution of these conflicts that has provided the mass of scientific knowledge we have today.  So then why do the evolutionists refuse to acknowledge the contradictions and disagreements both in and outside of their own ranks."

On the correctness of Velikovsky's views, McCurdy asks: "Do we really know?  We sometimes like to pretend that we've just about figured it all out.  Yet we still cannot fully and adequately explain such fundamental phenomena as gravity, magnetism, light, even electricity.  All we have really done is work out certain rules that work in a perhaps limited and local way."

In what appears to be a follow-up editorial in a succeeding issue, the editor of Chemical and Engineering News queries, "Is there an Integrator in the House?"  "Some scientists," he states, are apparently convinced that we already have established the basic framework that will give us all the answers.  In their view, it's only a matter of fitting in missing pieces in a puzzle whose main outline is already in place."  And, "The tendency to reject the unknown, the unfamiliar, the unexplained is a mental straitjacket that has imprisoned man throughout his time on earth."

Increasing specialization, claims the editorialist, has led to the formation of numerous separate theories with little to connect them.  "Now is the time to try to pull together the separate strands and concentrate more on cross-fertilized models.  It will take integrators to do that.  And there don't seem to be many around."

The earlier editorial brought some response, one reader remarking that "Combined with the theories of continental drift, oceanographic floor studies, etc., this [i.e., Velikovsky's work] leaves us in the position of not really knowing about this fascinating world of ours."  Another reader voiced his concern that "The rejection of the unknown before it is thoroughly examined is indeed a mental straitjacket that prevents mankind from obtaining the truth," while a third complained (without giving details) that "Velikovsky's ideas are too haywire to be useful" in stimulating new thought.

RARA AVIS

The March, 1973, issue of Industrial Research featured a five-page spread on "Velikovsky." Written by California chemist and Pensée contributor, Fred Jueneman, the article served as an engaging introduction to Velikovsky and his views. (With a controlled circulation of 90,000, IR's estimated readership is 350,000.  Those are "qualified scientists, engineers, and administrators in technically oriented organizations.")

Although the piece was intended to be introductory (and fulfilled its purpose quite well) it contains a few items worth repeating.  After mentioning the recent development of continental drift theory and plate tectonics, Jueneman writes that, "According to Velikovsky, however, this is an intricately contrived ad hoc explanation in support of Lyell's uniformity, whereas the continents were torn apart by cataclysmic events in the past, and such disruptions which twisted our globe could only have been caused by unusual and powerful extraterrestrial forces."  And on Mars: "Looking at today's Mariner 9 photographs, one is tempted to say, as reportedly did one of Coronado's party on viewing the Grand Canyon, 'Something has happened here."'

Noting that "Velikovsky believes that searching the sky is not merely an intellectual curiosity, but a means to penetrate into our own history," Jueneman adds, "I can see no better or more relevant reason for continuing the lunar program by NASA."

On Velikovsky the man, Jueneman has a distinct impression: "He is very set in his ways, exasperatingly slow and deliberate, and, as even his friends will admit, is not easy to get along with.  But it is best to overlook any foibles of this man, for he is also a rara avis, a bennu-bird, that appears occasionally in the guise of a natural philosopher, attempting to shed a little more light on our ignorance."

- - - - - - - - - - - - -

That same issue of Industrial Research contained an opinion poll (a regular monthly feature) dealing in this case with Velikovsky and the question, Are scientific journals conservative?  See elsewhere in the Review for the results.

                                        VENUS, VESUVIUS AND VELIKOVSKY

A rather interesting, if regrettably ill-informed, editorial dealing in part with Velikovsky appeared in the January, 1973, Analog magazine.  Editor Ben Bova, while remarking on scientists' unfortunate responses to "outsiders," passed off the substance of Velikovsky's work with wonderful ease: "Velikovsky's ideas hold about as much water as a well-worn cheese-cloth.  They're the result of trying to find one sweeping explanation for every strange and wonderful event that confronts us."  And further: "Is it reasonable to expect all this to happen so that the errant planet [Venus) can show up on cue for most of the miracles of Exodus?"

Well, after all, a single, unified theory explaining many different things is preferable to numerous separate theories if it can be made to stick, which is the question.  As to the "coincidence" which brought Venus to Earth's vicinity on cue for the Exodus, a reader wrote Bova explaining, "That's like saying it's a coincidence that Vesuvius chose to erupt just as the people in Pompeii were about to die of suffocation."

THE EXORCISM OF A HERESY

In his weekly column for September 6, 1972, Dr. Arthur Sackler, international publisher of the Medical Tribune, quoted Warren Weaver, who was in turn quoting Murray Gell-Mann: "Some of our most successful institutions are in trouble, under attack, and even despised, sometimes by intellectuals and frequently by educated young people . . . In our country, in particular, science is in ill repute . . . And that is not all.  We are seeing among educated people a resurgence of superstition, extraordinary interest in astrology, palmistry and Velikovsky; there is a surge of rejection of rationality . . ."

Unfamiliar with Velikovsky's work at the time, Sackler's curiosity was aroused.  After reading Velikovsky's books, he concluded that he had been taken in by Weaver and Gell-Mann (the latter had written in Physics Today, and Weaver in the AAAS Bulletin).  As he puts it: "I had swallowed hook, line, and sinker, the exorcism of a scientific heresy.  I had stumbled into the 'Velikovsky affair.' "

In an effort to exorcize the exorcism, Sackler set about writing five successive columns dealing with Velikovsky in the Medical Tribune—a publication which goes to half a million physicians internationally.  The rather lengthy columns ' admirably written, summarized Velikovsky's work, the "affair" and the evidences.  They were published during the latter part of June and July.  Reader response, according to Sackler's office, was almost exclusively positive.

PENSEE Journal V

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