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Velikovsky's Challenge to Science

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(L to R) Donald Goldsmith, Irving Michelson and Immanuel Velikovsky at the 1974 AAAS meeting

"Velikovsky's Challenge to Science" is the name of the 1974 American Association for the Advancement of Science meeting, held on February 25, 1974, at the St. Francis Hotel, San Francisco. It was billed as part of the AAAS 140th Annual Meeting, and summarized thus:

"'Velikovsky's Challenge to Science': From his study of historical records, Immanuel Velikovsky has concluded that close encounters between earth and the planets Mars and Venus occurred at about 1500 B.C. and 775 B.C. This suggestion has met with great disbelief from most astronomers, though public interest in Velikovsky's ideas has continued to maintain the controversy. What are the arguments for and against Velikovsky's suggestions? How has the scientific establishment dealt with his work. Can any nonscientist make contributions to the advancement of scientific thought, or is the day of the independent scholar now over -- at least in astronomy?"[1]




After reading the first issue of Pensée, scientist and past-president of the AAAS, Walter Orr Roberts suggest a symposium on Velikovsky's works in a July 18, 1972 letter to its editor, Stephen L. Talbott.[2] Talbott wrote to Roberts on November 15 mentioning that the symposium suggestion had been passed along to astronomers Carl Sagan and (the late) Gerard Kuiper. Roberts replied on January 3, 1973 that Sagan had written to him endorsing the idea, but that they both felt "heavily burdened down with other tasks that we do not feel able to take any major initiative in arranging such a symposium."

On June 1, 1973, the AAAS's Science magazine invited proposals for the 1974 annual AAAS convention, and the editors of Pensée, through AAAS member C.J. Ransom, proposal a symposium titled "Venus -- A Youthful Planet?". A decision to hold a symposium was made, though a July 9 letter of the review committee in the AAAS stated they were unable to accept this particular proposal.

The conference was organized and sponsored by the Astronomy Committee of the AAAS: Donald Goldsmith, Assistant Professor Astronomy, State University of New York (Stony Brook), Owen Gingerich, (Harvard professor of astronomy and the history of science, Harvard University), Ivan King, Professor of astronomy, University of California (Berkeley).

Speakers and program

Monday, February 25. St. Francis, California West. 8:30 a.m. Chairman: Ivan King

Norman W. Storer:The Sociological Context of the Velikovsky Controversy
Peter Huber:Early Cuneiform Evidence for the Existence of the Planet Venus
Immanuel Velikovsky:  The Challenge to Accepted Idea
J. Derral Mulholland:Consideration of Dynamics
Carl Sagan:Venus and Dr Velikovsky
Irving Michelson:Mechanics Bears Witness

A brief reply: Immanuel Velikovsky

7:30 p.m. Informal Discussion. Chairman: Donald Goldsmith. Discussants: Norman Storer, Peter Huber, Immanuel Velikovsky, J. Derral Mulholland, Carl Sagan and Irving Michelson, plus other interested participants.

Scientists Confront Velikovsky, book cover

Recordings, transcript and proceedings

An audio recording was made available by the AAAS.[3] A transcript of the Morning and Evening Sessions was made by Lynn E. Rose.[4] Most of the papers resulting from the symposium were published in the book, Scientists Confront Velikovsky (edited by Donald W. Goldsmith) which additionally includes a Forward from Isaac Asimov, and a new paper from David Morrison. It does not include the presentations from Velikovsky himself, or the one from Irving Michelson, which appeared in Pensée.

Main article: Scientists Confront Velikovsky


David Morrison, who contributed to the conference proceedings (but did not take part in the conference itself), notes that:[5]

"Keay Davidson (1999)[6] describes the symposium as part apology to Velikovsky for previous slights from astronomers, and part an effort to reassure the public of science’s basic fair-mindedness. The confrontation of the patriarchal Velikovsky and his young, brash critic was a clash of egos on both sides. Sagan aimed his remarks, published in extended form in Scientists Confront Velikovsky (Goldsmith 1977), primarily at the public and science journalists. By most accounts he was the hands-down winner. Many people credit this debate as the beginning of the end for the Velikovsky cult, which is today reduced to a handful of obscure cranks."

The magazine Pensée noted:

"Thus, the San Francisco Chronicle's Charles Petit wrote of "the thoroughness with which a panel of scientists dismissed and refuted the ideas [Velikovsky] has developed during the past 35 years," and described Velikovsky's refusal to accept such dismissal as "dogged." George Alexander of the Los Angeles Times announced that "the consensus was that Velikovsky came off a poor second in the debate."
"That consensus, however, was not a matter of unanimity. Norman Melnick of the Examiner noted that "The verdict is not yet in on Immanuel Velikovsky." Science writer James Hazelwood of the Oakland Tribune acknowledged that Velikovsky, in trading verbal punches with his detractors, "gave at least as much punishment as he received."[7]


  • Donald W. Goldsmith (Editor), Scientists Confront Velikovsky (1977), Cornell University Press, ISBN-10: 0801409616, ISBN-13: 978-0801409615
  • Kronos: Scientists Confront Scientists Who Confront Velikovsky. A continuation of Velikovsky and Establishment Science, Vol. IV, No. 2 Winter 1978. Kronos Press. ISBN: 0-917994-06-X

Limited Bibliography of Symposium News Accounts

Source: "San Francisco, February 25, 1974", Pensée Vol. 4 No 2: (Spring 1974) "Immanuel Velikovsky Reconsidered VII"

  1. "Scientists in Collision," Newsweek, 25 February 1974, p. 58.
  2. Melnick, N., "Brightest Stars in Science are Here," San Francisco Examiner, 25 February 1974, p. 58.
  3. Alexander, G., "Controversial Author, Scientists in Collision," Los Angeles Times, 26 February 1974, part II, p. 6.
  4. Hazelwood, J., "A Clash of Scientists," Oakland Tribune, 26 February 1974, p. 13.
  5. Melnick, N., "Maverick Rips Scientists on Origins of Universe," San Francisco Examiner, 26 February 1974.
  6. Petit, C., "Scientific Collision at the St. Francis," San Francisco Chronicle, 26 February 1974.
  7. Sullivan, W., "Writer Collides with Scientists," New York Times, 26 February 1974.
  8. Shurkin, J., "Blaze of Glory for an Old Man," Philadelphia Inquirer, 27 February 1974.
  9. "Velikovsky and the AAAS: Worlds in Collision," Science News, 2 March 1974, p. 132.
  10. Boffey, P., "'Worlds in Collision' Runs into Phalanx of Critics," The Chronicle of Higher Education, 4 March 1974, p. 1.
  11. "Theories Disputed," Kansas City Star, 6 March 1974, p. 6c.
  12. Chedd, G., "Velikovsky in Chaos," New Scientist, 7 March 1974, p. 624. Chedd's article is reprinted in full in this issue of Pensee.
  13. Gillette, R., "Velikovsky: AAAS Forum for a Mild Collision," Science, 15 March 1974, p. 1059.
  14. Foley, C., "'Heretic Scientist Relies on Ancient Lore," London Observer, 21 March 1974.
  15. "Phenomena, Comment and Notes," The Smithsonian, April, 1974, p. 6.


  1. AAAS 140th Annual Meeting Program, San Francisco, February 24 - March 1, 1974. Mathematics and Physical World: Velikovsky's Challenge to Science p.23
  2. "The Genesis of a Symposium", Pensée Vol. 4 No 2: (Spring 1974) "Immanuel Velikovsky Reconsidered VII"
  3. Science, Vol 186. 6 Dec 1974. p951. #186-74 "Velikovsky's Challenge to Science". Available from AAAS as 5-inch open reels or as cassettes.
  4. Transcripts of the Morning and Evening Sessions of the A.A.A.S. Symposium on "Velikovsky's Challenge to Science" held on February 25, 1974 at the Velikovsky Archive. Retrieved 21 Oct 2008
  5. David Morrison, "Carl Sagan's Life and Legacy as Scientist, Teacher, and Skeptic", Skeptical Inquirer magazine, Jan/Feb 2007. Online at Committee for Skeptical Inquiry website
  6. Davidson, Keay. 1999. Carl Sagan: A Life. New York: Wiley. ISBN 9780471395362
  7. "Velikovsky's Challenge to Science", Pensée Vol. 4 No 2: (Spring 1974) "Immanuel Velikovsky Reconsidered VII"
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