Alfred de Grazia, 1966
In 1950, a book called Worlds in Collision, by Dr Immanuel Velikovsky, gave rise to a controversy in scientific and intellectual circles about scientific theories and the sociology of science. Dr Velikovsky's historical and cosmological concepts, bolstered by his acknowledged scholarship, constituted a formidable assault on certain established theories of astronomy, geology and historical biology, and on the heroes of those sciences. Newton, himself, and Darwin were being challenged, and indeed the general orthodoxy of an ordered universe. The substance of Velikovsky's ideas is briefly presented in the first chapter of this book.
What must be called the scientific establishment rose in arms, not only against the new Velikovsky theories, but against the man himself. Efforts were made to block dissemination of Dr Velikovsky's ideas, and even to punish supporters of his investigations. Universities, scientific societies, publishing houses, the popular press were approached and threatened; social pressures and professional sanctions were invoked to control public opinion. There can be little doubt that in a totalitarian society, not only would Dr Velikovsky's reputation have been at stake, but also his right to pursue his inquiry, and perhaps his personal safety.
As it was, the 'establishment' succeeded in building a wall of unfavourable sentiment around him: to thousands of scholars the name of Velikovsky bears the taint of fantasy, science-fiction and publicity.
He could not be suppressed entirely. In the next years he published three more books. He carried on a large correspondence. And he was helped by a very few friends, and by a large general public composed of persons outside of the establishments of science. The probings of spacecrafts tended to confirm - never to disprove - his arguments. Eventually the venomous aspects of the controversy, the efforts at suppression, the campaign of vilification loomed almost as large, in their consequences to science, as the original issue. Social scientists, who had been generally unaware of Dr Velikovsky's work, and its importance, and who had been almost totally disengaged, now found themselves in the thick of the conflict.
The involvement of the social and behavioural sciences in the scientific theories of Velikovsky was higher than had been earlier appreciated. The social sciences are the basis of Velikovsky's work: despite his proficiency in the natural sciences, it is by the use of the methodology of social science that Velikovsky launched his challenge to accepted cosmological theories. No one pretends that this method is adequate. New forms of interdisciplinary research are needed to wed, for example, the study of myth with the study of meteorites. Nor does one have to agree that Velikovsky is the greatest technician of mythology, even while granting his great conceptual and synthesizing powers.
Whatever the scientific substance, the controversy itself could not be avoided or dismissed by behavioural science. The politics of science is one of the agitating problems of the twentieth century. The issues are clear: Who determines scientific truth? Who are its high priests, and what is their warrant? How do they establish their canons? What effects do they have on the freedom of inquiry, and on public interest? In the end, some judgement must be passed upon the behaviour of the scientific world and, if adverse, some remedies must be proposed.
It was in this light that, in a special issue, the American Behavioral Scientist published three papers dealing with the Velikovsky controversy. The first by Ralph Juergens, recounts the story of Dr Velikovsky from its beginnings to the present; tells something of the man and his works. The second, by Livio Stecchini, analyzes the roots of the controversy in the scientific past. A third, by the editor, searches for means by which new discoveries may be brought into the corpus of science, and offers suggestions for reform of present procedure.
The American Behavioral Scientist did not enter the Velikovsky controversy heedlessly. The papers were read by a number of respected scientists and scholars, who did not necessarily share, of course, all of the views expressed by the authors, nor necessarily subscribe to Dr Velikovsky's views. They agreed, however, to the usefulness of their publication; their general help and encouragement in the original studies is now again gratefully acknowledged as the studies go to press in book format. Our thanks are owing to:
SALVADOR DE MADARIAGA,
LUTHER H. EVANS,
R. H. HILLENKOETTER,
HORACE M. KALLEN,
HAROLD D. LASSWELL,
HAROLD S. LATHAM,
Publication of the papers brought immediate response. Numerous scholars, both in the natural and social sciences, have written to the American Behavioral Scientist, commenting favourably, on the whole, upon the presentation of the matter to the scientific public. All documentation is being preserved, in the hope that the archives will be of use to future discussion.
The new material in the present book is considerable. Ralph Juergens has brought the story of the Velikovsky case up to date in a new paper. There is also a new paper by Dr Livio Stecchini, carrying on from his first paper, this time on the uses of historical data for astronomical theory. We publish here, too, Dr Velikovsky's own paper from the special issue of the American Behavioral Scientist.
The Velikovsky case is in no sense closed. There is no reason why it should be. Undeterred by the attacks upon him, and the obstacles placed in his way, Dr Velikovsky is pursuing his studies, and now has several books nearing completion: three on the substance of his theories, others of a general autobiographical character. He remains a faithful and indefatigable correspondent, and his letters point to new challenges.
It is our hope that the publication of these papers in the present volume will make it less easy for his new work to be suppressed, or lightly dismissed. We hope, too, that they will help scientists and interested laymen everywhere to rehearse the problems and to reform the errors of the vast enterprise of science.