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September 13, 1997

Venus - A Young Planet?

Velikovsky Reconsidered

Several people have been in touch to ask about this, following my mention a couple of times earlier about Immanuel Velikovsky's work. Briefly, I read and got very excited about Velikovsky's books as a teenager, largely forgot about them when Establishment science seemed unanimous in dismissing him as a crank (in the days when I was more inclined to dutifully and uncritically accept what authoritative institutions said), and in more recent times had reason to look into the matter again, coming to the opinion that Velikovsky was probably right and the eminences wrong.

Very basically, in 1950 Velikovsky produced a book, "Worlds in Collision," that was the result of following the unthinkable premise that writers of ancient historic records might actually have know what they were talking about and have something valuable to tell us. In particular, when accounts from cultures world-wide all seem to corroborate and describe the same thing, they should be regarded as providing valid data against which we might wish to compare our scientific theories. His proposal, after ten years of applying this, was, in short, that Venus is a young planet not an old one, having evolved from a giant comet that made a close encounter with the Earth (circa 3,500 years ago) in the process of being deflected into its present orbit, and that at some time before that it originated by fission from Jupiter. He was greeted with a furor rage and derision seldom seen in the scientific community, although just about all of the concepts seen as heresies then--such as catastrophic events influencing the history of the Solar System; the origin of minor planets by fission from Jupiter-like proto-stars--have become progressively more respectable. One line of objections was that if such events had taken place within human history, the terrestrial geological and biological record should show evidence of it. Velikovsky obligingly produced book filled with such evidence, "Earth In Upheaval," in 1952, making no appeal to anything written by humans, but providing just nature's records. It was then argued that historical chronologies, calendar's, timekeeping methods would have been disrupted. Velikovsky's "Ages in Chaos," 1955, showed that indeed they had--everywhere.

Whether one agrees with these conclusions or not, there can be no excusing the behavior of the scientific establishment in its campaign of personal attacks, character defamation, distortion and suppression of facts, intimidation of publishers and dissenters, to get these views either withheld from the public or misrepresented to them. The director of a major planetarium and museum curator was summarily fired from both positions for simply writing a favorable review of Velikovsky's first book, and the editor who accepted the manuscript was forced to resign after 25 years with the company (Macmillan). A systematic campaign was conducted to discredit Velikovsky as a crank or charlatan--largely successful to this day.

I had an illuminating experience not long ago when I was on a panel dealing with dogmatism in science, along with a physicist and a geologist. Somehow we got onto Velikovsky, and I described and deplored the kinds of shenanigans resorted to above, suggesting that this had no place in science. The geologist was puzzled. "Why not?" he challenged. "What else are scientists supposed to do when they _know_ someone is wrong?" Well, they could always try showing him the thumbscrews and threaten an auto-da-fe, I suppose.

For a thorough and excellent look into the whole affair, I'd like to recommend a book called "Stephen J. Gould and Immanuel Velikovsky," edited by Dale Ann Pearlman, that I not long ago just finished reading. It's published by Ivy Press Books (1966), 65-35 108th Street, Suite D15, Forest Hills, NY 11375. With 800-odd pages and contributions by six writers of various specialties, it gives a chilling insight into just how nasty the halls of academia can get when their turf, prejudices, prestige, unconscious fears are threatened--or whatever else is going on. One of the contributors is a psychologist and offers some fascinating speculations on the psychological and social dynamics at work.

I have two main quibbles. First, the title is unfortunate. Just one fairly short paper deals with Stephen J. Gould, and from my reading he doesn't come out of it as especially a "bad guy" at all. The title risks sounding like an attack on a popular and capable figure whose works I, for one, continue to enjoy, and in this I think the book does itself a disservice. Second, the twelve separate indexes pertaining to the book's twelve sections need to be consolidated into one. Why this wasn't done is beyond me. But an informative and extremely thought-provoking read nonetheless.

 
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