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Pseudoscience

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Immanuel Velikovsky has been called a crank and charlatan, and his work labelled as pseudoscience. He's also been called a genius (see also main article: genius) Even before Velikovsky's first book, Worlds in Collision (April 1950) appeared, Harvard astronomer Harlow Shapley was describing Velikovsky as a crank, and his pamphlet, Cosmos Without Gravitation (1946) as "crank literature",[1] although the recipient, Ted O. Thackrey noted that Shapley had not read Velikovsky's manuscript for Worlds in Collision, nor taken the trouble to examine Velikovsky's evidence.[2]

Contents

Overview

Henry Bauer

In his book, Beyond Velikovsky, author Henry Bauer writes:[3]

"Just as from personal inquiry I believe Velikovsky to be a pseudo-scientist, so also on the basis of my personal inquiries I believe in the existence of Loch Ness monsters ("Nessies") and of sea serpents. [..]
".. we can 'conclude with an unusually high degree of safety that Velikovsky's theories are pseudoscientific nonsense'.[4] [..] But all this confident labeling does not help those of us who want to make up our minds on the basis of evidence rather than on the basis of someone else's opinion. [..] We are familiar — in principle at least — with the fact that one man's sense is another's nonsense. [..] The important point is that it is not easy to be certain — objectively speaking — whether or not a particular individual is a crank. I do believe that Velikovsky is a crank in the matter of gravitation, but I also believe that others have labeled him a crank in the matter without sufficient evidence, without a properly informed view of the whole affair.
"One can indeed legitimately call Velikovsky a pseudo-scientist in the sense that he is not a scientist and his work does not fall within the scope of what we mean by scientific activity, but that does not necessarily mean that Velikovsky is not right. [..]
"I call Velikovsky a pseudo-scientist because that is a commonly used term. It has surely become clear in the preceding discussion how careful one had better be in using that term, defining and qualifying it as appropriate to the particular case. Pseudo-scientist, crackpot, crank — these are pejorative terms. If we can show an idea to be wrong, why not leave it at that? Why insult the man who put forward the idea?"

Paul A. Sukys

Professor of Philosophy, Art History, Law and Legal studies at North Central State College, Paul A. Sukys, writes:

"There seems to be some disagreement over whether the labels 'science' and 'pseudoscience', as used in the title of this article ["Velikovskian Catastrophism: Science or Pseudoscience?"], are appropriate in relation to determining the value of Velikovsky's work. [..] In a short statement, [Trevor] Palmer suggests that the question of whether Velikovsky's work can be considered science or pseudoscience is no longer at issue. He supports his position be saying that, since Velikovsky's work can be submitted to scientific scrutiny, it must be scientific - period. It is true that Velikovsky's work is open to scientific scrutiny and, if that is the only way to determine whether something is science rather than pseudoscience then the case is closed at that point. However, simply determining whether a theory is subject to scientific scrutiny is not sufficient as a standard for establishing whether a theory is scientific or pseudoscientific. The actual issue is whether a scientist's work has survived that analytical investigation. Determining whether Velikovsky's theories have endured such a systematic inquiry is the process of establishing whether a theory is science or pseudoscience. That is the point of asking the question and that is the objective of the analytical process."[5]

Velikovsky's comments

Velikovsky himself stated:

"I do not claim infallibility. Establishment scientists, despite their proclaimed idealism, deserve to be labeled pseudo-scientists. In science, claims are accompanied by proof; in pseudo-science proof is omitted and any discussion that questions the dogma is suppressed. In the discoveries of the Space Age there is now an independent proof of the claims made in Worlds in Collision and Earth in Upheaval."[6]

It is also reported that he thought that:

"... science should not be discussed in pseudo-scientific terms. He said one newspaper with a circulation of 700,000 had wanted to print an article on his work but the reporter assigned to interview him hadn't read any of his books."[7]

Then associate professor of philosophy at Florida State University Laurence Lafleur, wrote an article "Cranks and Scientists" that appeared in the November 1951 issue of Scientific Monthly:[8] Velikovsky recalls in Stargazers and Gravediggers that Lafleur:

".. established seven criteria for the diagnosis of a crank. [..] The seven tests were made, and the verdict was: 'He qualifies as a crank by almost every one of these tests, perhaps by every one.' [..] The tests are not from a textbook on sociology or psychology but were prepared by Lafleur ad hoc. Name-calling cannot substitute for an argument [..]
"To make his point even stronger, Lafleur stated that to assume that planets can be charged proves "scientific ignorance" and "bad logic," and this can be seen from the fact that "even relatively small charges can be detected with an electroscope, and the earth's surface is not charged. [.. But] The earth may be charged to many billions of volts, and the electroscope will not show it. This is also a rudiment of science."
"Next Lafleur stated that planets are not magnetic bodies, for if they were, spectroscopic observation would show it. [..] Besides, Earth, one of the planets, is a magnet, as all of us know."[9]

In Science magazine, it is reported that:

"Velikovsky told the AAAS meeting that he was at first dismayed to find that scientists were not at all interested in hearing such things [his ideas], even though he proposed tests that might establish the accuracy of his ideas"[10]

Other opinions

Time Magazine

Time Magazine, "The Year in Books", Monday, Dec. 18, 1950:

"Equally astounding, and to many critics equally fictitious, was Immanuel Velikovsky's pseudo-scientific Worlds in Collision, an explanation of mythological and Old Testament miracles that turned academic scientists from coast to coast purple with wrath."

Stephen Jay Gould

Evolutionary biologist, Stephen Jay Gould wrote that

"... Velikovsky is neither crank nor charlatan — although to state my opinion and to quote one of my colleagues, he is at least gloriously wrong."[11]

Martin Gardner

Science writer Martin Gardner wrote that: "Dr Velikovsky is an almost perfect textbook example of the pseudo-scientist -- self-taught on the subjects about which he does most of his speculation, working in total isolation from fellow scientists".[12]

Velikovsky notes that "In the Summer of 1942 I mailed the first two chapters of my historical work to Professor Harry A. Wolfson at Harvard University; he gave them to Professor Robert H. Pfeiffer, an authority on the Old Testament [..] Of great help to me was Dr. Walter Federn, Egyptologist.."[13] In April 1946, Velikovsky met and sought the opinion of astronomer, Dr Harlow Shapley who suggested he contact Professor Lynn Thorndike of Columbia.[14] And there are many others.

Lloyd Motz

American astronomer Lloyd Motz wrote that:

"Fully aware of the great gap in his knowledge and understanding of physics and astronomy, Velikovsky came to me in the early part of 1950, before Worlds in Collision appeared, and asked to be tutored in astronomy, a request that I had to reject. I agreed, however, to discuss his ideas critically and point out where he was wrong. This led to a series of interviews, telephone conversations, exchanges of letters, debates, and confrontations in journals. Two things were immediately clear to me: (1) Dr. Velikovsky was neither charlatan nor crank.. (2) he had only the vaguest understanding of such basic physical principles as conservation of angular momentum, gravity, and entropy."[15]

Brian Martin

Current Professor of Social Science at the University of Wollongong, Australia, Brian Martin wrote:

".. Mulkay (1969)[16], who uses as a test case the example of the scientific community's response to Velikovsky, who for modern science is an eminent and almost archetypal "crank". The scientific community's response - involving refusals to test predictions, attempts to repress publication, and vicious personal attacks without offering an opportunity to reply (de Grazia, 1966; the journal Pensée) can only be ascribed to norms by stretching the imagination and the explanatory principles. But by utilising the idea of the intense commitment of the scientific community to paradigms - commonly agreed upon principles of explanation and practice - the outrage of scientists at Velikovsky makes much more sense."[17]

Richard P. Brennan ("cult")

"... here is Richard P. Brennan, disposing of Velikovsky anew in his 1992 Dictionary of Scientific Literacy. The historian "garnered a cult following" according to Brennan, who goes on to link "Cultish fads like Velikovskianism" with "Dianetics, now called Scientology.[18] Not content with this absolutely unfounded association, Brennan takes pains to minimise the strengths of Velikovsky's analysis and emphasise the weaknesses"[19]

References

  1. Letter, "Harlow Shapley to Ted Thackrey" February 20, 1950. At the Velikovsky Archive
  2. Letter, "Ted O. Thackrey to Harlow Shapley", March 7, 1950. At the Velikovsky Archive.
  3. Henry H. Bauer, Beyond Velikovsky: The History of a Public Controversy, 1984, University of Illinois Press, ISBN: 978-0-252-06845-4. "Pseudo-Scientists, Cranks, Crackpots"
  4. Scientific American. Mar. 1956, pp. 127, 128, 130, 132
  5. Paul Sukys, "Velikovskian Catastrophism: Science or Pseudoscience?", SIS Chronology and Catastrophism Review, 2007. pp.27, Footnote #1. ISSN 0953-053
  6. Immanuel Velikovsky, "Cultural Amnesia: The Submergence of Terrifying Events in the Racial Memory and their Later Emergence" (keynote address) "Velikovsky and Cultural Amnesia", Symposium May 9-10, 1974
  7. "Velikovsky shrugs off controversy", Lethbridge Herald: Thursday, May 9, 1974 - Page 25
  8. Laurence Lafleur, "Cranks and Scientists", Scientific Monthly, November 1951, vol. 73, issue 5. 284-290
  9. Immanuel Velikovsky, "Stargazers and Gravediggers", 1983, "The AAAS Is Alerted To Act"
  10. "Velikovsky: AAAS Forum for a Mild Collision (News and Comment", Science 15 Mar 1974: Vol. 183, Issue 4129, pp. 1059-1062. DOI: 10.1126/science.183.4129.1059
  11. Stephen Jay Gould, "Velikovsky in Collision", Natural History, March 1975; Reprinted in Ever Since Darwin: Reflections in Natural History, New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 1977, pp. 153-159
  12. Martin Gardner, Fads and Fallacies in the Name of Science, 1957, Courier Dover Publications, ISBN 0486203948, 9780486203942, 373 pages. "Ch.3 Monsters of Doom", pp.31
  13. Immanuel Velikovsky, "Stargazers and Gravediggers", 1983, "The Long Way"
  14. Immanuel Velikovsky, "Stargazers and Gravediggers", 1983, "At Mademoiselle"
  15. Lloyd Motz, "A Personal Reminiscence", Aeon II:6 (1991)
  16. Mulkay, M.J. (1969), 'Some Aspects of Cultural Growth in Natural Sciences', Social Research, 36 (1), pp. 22-52.
  17. Brian Martin, "The Determinants of Scientific Behaviour" SIS Review Vol II No 4 (Spring 1978). [The Determinants of Scientific Behaviour Online here]
  18. Richard P. Brennan, Dictionary of Scientific Literacy, New York, Meridian, 1972. pp.37-39
  19. Wilfred Cude, The Ph.D. Trap Revisited, published by Dundurn Press Ltd., 2001, ISBN 1550023454, 9781550023459. p.149333 pages

See also

  • Isaac Asimov, "CP" (on crackpots such as Velikovsky), Analog Science Fiction/Science Fact, Oct 1974
  • Henry H. Bauer, "Pseudo-Scientists, Cranks and Crackpots" in Beyond Velikovsky: The History of a Public Controversy, 1984, University of Illinois Press, ISBN: 978-0-252-06845-4
  • Paul Sukys, "Velikovskian Catastrophism: Science or Pseudoscience?", SIS Chronology and Catastrophism Review, July 2006
  • Paul Sukys, "Velikovskian Catastrophism: Science or Pseudoscience?, Part II: Thagard, Feyerabend, and Hempel", SIS Chronology and Catastrophism Review, July 2007
  • Charles Ginenthal, "Pseudo-scientists, Cranks, Crackpots and Henry Bauer", The Velikovskian, Vol 1 No 1 (1993)
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