Scientific Reaction to Velikovsky - Symptomatic of Climate Science Debacle
There are striking comparisons with current climate change science dogma and the treatment of Immanuel Velikovsky and his unconventional scientific views by the entrenched scientific community many years ago.
Many years ago, a colleague approached the President of the University with our plan to hold a conference on the ideas of Immanuel Velikovsky. He angrily rejected the plan saying he would not allow anything on campus associated with that charlatan. The President was a physicist and Velikovsky had challenged prevailing scientific views.
In some ways, it doesn’t matter whether Velikovsky was right or wrong. The problem was the reprehensible actions of the scientific community. His treatment holds many lessons for today’s debate over climate change.
The extent and complexity of the corruption of science practiced by the relatively few scientists who hijacked climate science is starkly revealed by comparison. By deliberately misusing both climate science and basic science these scientists quickly established their views as the prevailing “truth” through the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). In the same way Velikovsky was marginalized, without any serious scientific debate, they effectively isolated anyone who challenged either part of their false science.
Dogma Replaces Dogma
Western science and religion battled for hundreds of years. Many conflicts involved new ideas and science’s final victories were considered turning points in the fight for people’s beliefs. In winning, science became more dogmatic than the religion it replaced!
Gradually, focus shifted from a conflict with religion to the rejection of new ideas by established practitioners of prevailing scientific views (“the science is settled”).
Historically, new scientific ideas were vigorously resisted and their proponents attacked by religion. That process is now at work within the scientific community. Typically, most people neither care nor understand the significance of new ideas. Copernicus put the Sun at the center of our solar system, but for most people it really doesn’t matter as long as the sun rises and sets.
A critical change in the adoption and infiltration of new ideas came with government-controlled education. From kindergarten through university, education became indoctrination.
Graduation is bestowed once you’ve demonstrated a grasp of current “truths”. Questioning those truths poses a threat to your advancement. The problem with this approach is that it restricts advancement of knowledge and impedes understanding. This is particularly true of science. Consider the general reaction to Gore’s comment about global warming theory that “the science is settled.” Real science is anchored in its laws, everything else (theory, hypothesis, conjecture) is rightfully subject to serious scrutiny. By its very nature, science challenges every theory. The only “settled science” is the scientific law upon which all science rests.
Rapid spread and lack of understanding of the anthropogenic global warming (AGW) theory occurred because without adequate scientific scrutiny it quickly became part of school curricula. This was exacerbated because knowledge of science is necessary, but the subject was mostly covered in social sciences. It reflects the political nature of the subject and resulted in extensive indoctrination of ignorance. Graduates of this ignorance now control education, science and politics at all levels. True scientific inquiry was replaced with a claim of scientific “consensus”.
The Velikovsky Affair
Velikovsky was a Russian medical doctor with a lifelong interest in providing possible explanations for events recorded in historic records. A multi-linguist, he read original works from several middle-eastern cultures. He was on sabbatical in the US researching a book when World War II began. He stayed and began producing works on what the science establishment categorized as catastrophism. Putting his ideas into a negatively-labeled category was part of the plan of attack on his ideas from mainstream scientists. First, cast his ideas in a negative light, then ridicule them without any real scientific scrutiny.
Consider the pejorative nature of this quote from Wikipedia. “Velikovsky began to develop the radical catastrophist cosmology and revised chronology theories for which he would become notorious.” Why “radical” or “notorious”? Such terms are judgmental adjectives used because Velikovsky dared to suggest there is another interpretation of the evidence.
His views became problematic when Macmillan published Worlds in Collision in 1950. The book immediately became a best seller. There were several problems for establishment thinking:
Catastrophic events were contrary to the prevailing philosophy of uniformitarianism.
He was trained in medicine not geology or astronomy.
He was Russian, a serious problem in the McCarthy era.
He dared to suggest that historical records were of actual events – an idea problematic in climate science even today.
Worse, he used the Bible as a source of evidence. Wikipedia comments again show the bias. “Even before its appearance, the book was enveloped by furious controversy, when Harper’s Magazine published a highly positive feature on it, as did Reader’s Digest with what would today be called a creationist slant.” Ah, the dreaded anti-science word creationism.
He was not indoctrinated by formal education in academic science – the bastions of dogmatism and intellectual tunnel vision.
His ideas did not conform to established astronomical views on planetary motion.
He published his ideas in popular magazines and trade books that went directly to the public who might challenge official science.
He followed success of World’s in Collision with another bestseller Ages in Chaos.
His work was interdisciplinary at a time of specialization. Worse, it blended science with the humanities and the social sciences.
Velikovsky’s story is fascinating, but my focus is on the reactions of the establishment, especially of Harlow Shapley. He had a checkered career apparently shaped by his rigid thinking and personal animosities. After graduating from Princeton, he worked at the Mount Wilson Observatory, then Harvard College Observatories. He attended the Institute on Religion in an Age of Science, which is at best a most pointed title. He was influential in forming government funded science institutions including the National Academy of Sciences. The latter has an ignominious part in the global warming debacle.
Macmillan was the only publisher in history who surrendered a best seller at peak sales. Shapely denied any involvement in the action. Velikovsky subsequently exposed his role in a letter to the Harvard Crimson. Macmillan was vulnerable to Shapley’s threats of curtailing academic textbooks because that was their major source of income. As with all these matters, the action is blameworthy, but the cover up compounds the error. Velikovsky discusses the events in Stargazers and Gravediggers.
Velikovsky’s major ideas built on the claim that Earth has experienced natural global disasters throughout its history. The major cause of natural catastrophes was brushes with other objects in the solar system and beyond. It’s probably thanks to Velikovsky that Walter and Luis Alvarez were able to propose the claim that a collision with an asteroid 65 million years ago led to extinction of dinosaurs. The father/son connection serendipitously allowed cross-discipline discussion between physics and geology. The intellectual isolation of specialization has undermined the ability to understand.
Science is the Ability to Predict
In the end, Velikovsky succeeded because he passed the ultimate test of science: the ability to predict. More important, his predictions were in contradiction to prevailing views.
He made many and, apparently, none has proven incorrect to date. An interesting one was his prediction of the temperature of Venus which was almost double what the prevailing view and what was found in textbooks.
These same textbooks incorrectly use Venus as an example of runaway CO2 induced Greenhouse Effect.
The failure of that University President to approve a conference on Velikovsky was symptomatic of the dogmatic, closed minds that pervade modern science, particularly in the fields of climate and climate change sciences.
The few scientists involved with promoting the AGW debacle deliberately exploited and practiced the same dogmatic repression of contrary views as had that University President in thwarting the Velikovsky conference.
These actions indicate dogmatic scientists viewed this as a battle, but their battle was against the search for truth. As Aeschylus said, “In war, truth is the first casualty.”