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Open letter to science editors

 

A Letter to Science

Following Professor Irving Michelson's presentation, "Mechanics Bears Witness," an objection was directed at the audience by Professor J. Derral Mulholland. Michelson declined to respond. This non-exchange was described in Science (vol. 183, 15 March 1974, p. 1062) as follows:

"So that Velikovsky would not be entirely alone in his own defense, the session's organizers had recruited one scientist to say something good about his ideas. Irving Michelson, of the Illinois Institute of Technology, chalked some equations on a board which he indicated lent some plausibility to Velikovsky's ideas that the Earth could have briefly stopped rotating during one catastrophe. But when someone said one of Michelson's numbers was off by a factor of 1018, he shrugged, said, 'I'll let that go,' and that was that."

(Actually, the point in question was not Earth's rotation--which Michelson also discussed--but rather the interchanging of Earth's north and south poles. And the alleged factor of error was 108, not 1018.)

Michelson replied to the editors of Science with a letter which, as we go to press (two months later), Science has not published. We print the letter here by permission of the author:

"Gentlemen:

"In his account of the untidy debate featured as Velikovsky's Challenge to Science at the AAAS meeting in San Francisco, Robert Gillette (News and Comment, 15 Mar. 1974, p. 1062) omitted mention of the irrelevance of the outburst from the floor to which I responded 'I'll let that go.' Those who heard my presentation as symposium panelist were aware that it deserved no other reply; your readers are entitled to know a bit more, having been given what Gillette told them.

"It was not my purpose 'to say something good about' Velikovsky's ideas, any more than it was my purpose to say something bad. If there were others blindly committed as pro or con, my purpose was to perform not an act of faith but an act of objective scholarship--and I would still not venture to estimate to what degree my remarks, 'Mechanics Bears Witness,' were either good or bad for his ideas.

I did point out, among other things, that the energy required to turn the Earth's magnetic dipole through 180 (interchanging positions of north and south poles) happened to be equal to that of a moderately strong geomagnetic storm.

"In the discussion period someone who wanted to voice an 'objection' talked about the energy of a solar flare and the spatial attenuation at Earth's distance from the Sun--declaring that one of my numbers was therefore very wrong. The relevance of solar flare energy to the geomagnetic storm energy confined to the geomagnetic cavity surrounding the Earth is about as small as the Sun's distance from the Earth is large. At most, we can say that the sudden influx of charged particles from the Sun triggers geomagnetic storms--their energy is to the energy of the storm as the detonator energy is to the energy released by the bomb it activates.

"There had already been all too much acrimony, back-biting, and anger expressed in the Symposium--and too many long-winded replies to comments from the floor. For me to launch into a lecture explaining the difference between the Sun's solar flare and the Earth's geomagnetic storms to one who either knew it already or would never know it, while all others present wanted to get on to more meaningful discussion of real questions raised by my presentation, seemed inappropriate. I hoped that most others present knew this was my meaning in refusing to enter into heated or lengthy dialogue with an individual whose zealous opposition to Velikovsky outran his reason.

Sincerely yours,
Irving Michelson"

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