Guest opinion: Dr. Tim Ball
Melanie Phillips’ article in The Times was highlighted with other information on WUWT that speaks to the loss of integrity in climate science and science in general. It is well-stated and germane but overlooks part of a larger problem that pervades the history of science. It involves a group that establishes themselves as the authority on a particular area of science. They then attack anyone who questions their prevailing wisdom. They control the curriculum in schools and universities and extend their control through professional societies. They establish themselves as a scientific elite who reject an idea and/or the author, thus blocking the very essence and dynamism of science. It is another form of “the science is settled” and “the debate is over.” Proponents of the anthropogenic global warming (AGW) knew that most scientists would accept without question their claims because they were the scientific elite. Most elitists in the AGW crowd were the new fangled computer modelers. I watched the takeover of climatology by the modelers. They quickly became the keynote presenters at conferences. Pierre Gallois summarized the situation with what is still true for most people today.
If you put tomfoolery into a computer, nothing comes out but tomfoolery. But this tomfoolery, having passed through a very expensive machine, is somehow ennobled and no-one dares criticize it.
The history of science is replete with examples of how the greatest hindrance to scientific advance is scientific elitism. Science is its own worst enemy. Even those who finally succeed in getting their new ideas accepted pay a very high price. The opposition to the AGW hypothesis confronted the political agenda and scientific elitism. As a result, science is as dogmatic as any segment of society, including religion. Judith Curry is now very aware of what happens to someone who dares to question. It is even worse if the person once supported the elitist views.
The reaction to my recent reference to Immanuel Velikovsky was knee-jerk, ill-informed, and a classic example of scientific elitism. I suspect that like so many such reactions they are by people who read or know little about the events and issues involved. I also suspect because it occurs all the time, that definitive opinions are based on a minor matter unrelated to the whole story. As G. K. Chesterton explained,
The thing which the world suffers just now more than from any other evil is not the assertion of falsehood, but the endless repetition of half-truths.
I was falsely accused, along with Anthony Watts, of “pushing“ Velikovsky.
I was admonished for using him as a poor example because he represented “pseudo-science”. Who and how do you determine that someone or their work is pseudo-science? In this case, it is simply the endless repetition of half-truths because Velikovsky’s education and scientific affiliations don’t support the claim.
“he learned several languages as a child, was sent away to study at the Medvednikov Gymnasium in Moscow, where he performed well in Russian and mathematics. He graduated with a gold medal in 1913. Velikovsky then traveled in Europe and visited Palestine before briefly studying medicine at Montpellier in France and taking premedical courses at the University of Edinburgh. He returned to Russia before the outbreak of World War I, enrolled in the University of Moscow, and received a medical degree in 1921.”
Upon taking his medical degree, Velikovsky left Russia for Berlin. There, with the financial support of his father, Velikovsky edited and published a pair of volumes of scientific papers, translated into Hebrew, titled Scripta Universitatis Atque Bibliothecae Hierosolymitanarum (“Writings of the Jerusalem University & Library”). He enlisted Albert Einstein to prepare the volume dealing with mathematics and physics.
The Einstein/Velikovsky correspondence is fascinating reading. Much of his discussion with Einstein involved the topic of the role of electromagnetic effects on celestial mechanics. As editor of Scripta Universitatis, Velikovsky hired Einstein to prepare the physics and math section. The attacks on Velikovsky did not influence Einstein; he knew the man and his science. As open-minded scientists, they didn’t agree on everything. For example, Velikovsky predicted that Jupiter was a major emitter of radio waves. Prevailing wisdom said it was too cold and inactive to emit such waves. When the Jodrell Bank antenna was turned on it was swamped by radio waves from Jupiter. As a result, Einstein agreed to pursue other Velikovskian claims but passed away within weeks of making the commitment.
There is little doubt that the major reason for the charge of pseudo-science was his interest in and use of ancient records. The biggest sin of all was use of the Bible while trying to determine similar descriptions of physical events across different cultural references. Everybody knows that until there is data accurate in space and time, it is impossible to understand natural mechanisms. This is the same reason H.H. Lamb gave for creating the Climatic Research Unit (CRU).
“…it was clear that the first and greatest need was to establish the facts of the past record of the natural climate in times before any side effects of human activities could well be important.”
As a result of Velikovsky’s research, done with thoroughness and precision, he discovered anomalies that didn’t fit the prevailing sequence of events.
Velikovsky searched for common mention of events within literary records, and in the Ipuwer Papyrus he believed he had found a contemporary Egyptian account of the Israelite Exodus. Moreover, he interpreted both accounts as descriptions of a great natural catastrophe. Velikovsky attempted to investigate the physical cause of the Exodus event, and extrapolated backwards and forwards in history from this point, cross-comparing written and mythical records from cultures on every inhabited continent, using them to attempt synchronisms of the historical records, yielding what he believed to be further periodic natural catastrophes which can be global in scale.
This reconstruction and comparison of historical data to analyze natural events was no different than earlier examples. The use of older star tables compared with the precise observations of Tycho Brahe were used by Johannes Kepler to confirm the Copernican heliocentric system. Kepler was deeply interested in Astrology. Some observe that his three laws of planetary motion are widely separated in extensive pages of astrologic and religious reasoning. Does this make Kepler or several other prominent people in the history of science, pseudo-scientists?
From times immemorial, astrology has been a determining factor in the decisions and actions of men of all ranks and stations. At the begin of the 17th century, great scientists as Tycho Brahe, Galileo Galilei, Johannes Kepler and Pierre Gassendi – now best remembered for their roles in the development of modern physics and astronomy – all held astrology in high esteem.
Velikovsky didn’t espouse astrology, but he did many things that challenged the prevailing views of the mainstream scientific community. Worse, he fit many of the prevailing prejudices rampant in society at the time.
A colleague and I approached the President of our University with a plan to hold a conference on the ideas of Immanuel Velikovsky. He said he would not allow anything on campus associated with that “charlatan.” The President, Harry Duckworth was a physicist and Velikovsky committed the cardinal sin of challenging prevailing scientific views. We knew through questioning that Duckworth knew little about Velikovsky or his science. He simply repeated the gossip without question. The objective of our proposed conference was to show that it didn’t matter whether Velikovsky was right or wrong. The problem was the reprehensible actions of the scientific community. Velikovsky’s treatment holds many lessons for today’s debate over climate change. The scientific communities condemnation of him was the same as today’s claim by AGW proponents that the science is settled.
The complexity of the corruption by the few scientists who hijacked climate science is revealed by comparison. They quickly established their views as the prevailing “truth” through the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) by deliberately misusing climate science, but also misusing basic science. They isolated anyone who challenged either part of their false ‘offical’ science in the same way Velikovsky was marginalized.
The Velikovsky Affair
As the brief biography shows, Velikovsky was a Russian medical doctor with a lifelong interest in providing possible explanations for events recorded in historic records. As a multi-linguist, especially in ancient languages, 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 produced works on what the establishment categorized as catastrophism. This contradicted the mainstream philosophical view of uniformitarianism. The latter holds that change is gradual over long periods of time and evolved from Charles Lyell and James Hutton. Darwin took a copy of Lyell’s Principles of Geology with him on HMS Beagle.
Labelling Velikovsky a catastrophist was part of the attack on his ideas from mainstream science. An earlier quote from Wikipedia said,
Velikovsky began to develop the radical catastrophist cosmology and revised chronology theories for which he would become notorious.
Why use the pejorative and subjective adjectives “radical” or “notorious”? All he did was suggest with evidence that there is another interpretation of the official evidence.
His views became problematic for the science community when in 1950 Macmillan published Worlds in Collision. The book became a bestseller thus creating several problems for the science community. Here is a synopsis of issues that provide context to the threat of Velikovsky to the establishment.
• He was trained in medicine, not specifically in geology or astronomy.
• This meant he was not indoctrinated by formal education in specialized academic science – the bastions of dogmatism and intellectual tunnel vision.
• He was born and lived in the Soviet Union; a serious problem in the McCarthy era.
• He claimed that historical records were of actual events. They were similar to proxy data in climate, which suffer the same disdain from self-professed ‘hard’ climate scientists.
• He aggravated them more when 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.” There it is, the dreaded anti-science word creationism.
• Catastrophic events were contrary to the prevailing philosophy of uniformitarianism.
• His ideas did not conform to established astronomical views on planetary motion. For example, he correctly anticipated the retrograde rotation of Venus.
• He published his ideas in popular magazines and trade books that went directly to the public who might challenge official science. Galileo did the same when he published in Italian rather than Latin.
• The threat was compounded when he followed the success of Worlds 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. As one person explained, “Dr. Velikovsky’s work crosses so many of the jurisdictional boundaries of learning that few experts could check it against their own competence.”
• Some acknowledged the scholarship of his work. “Gordon A. Atwater, curator of the Hayden Planetarium, wrote to the Macmillan Company that, “the theories presented by Dr. Velikovsky are unique and should be presented to the world of science in order that the underpinning of modern science can be reexamined….I believe the author has done an outstanding job. In fact, he has gone beyond what normally be expected of a single individual.”
• Many of Velikovsky’s claims proved correct including the higher temperature for Venus; the radio waves from Jupiter; and the nine advanced claims he made in writing at the request of the New York Times before the moon landing, all of which were confirmed by the evidence.
Velikovsky’s story is fascinating because of his innovative thinking and accuracy of his predictions. It is a disturbing story because of establishment reactions and despicable unjustified behavior, so typical of scientific elitism. Harlow Shapley was a leader among the elite scientific establishment. He had a checkered career apparently shaped by his rigid thinking and personal animosities. He worked at the Mount Wilson Observatory, then Harvard College Observatories after graduating from Princeton. 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 (NAS). As we know, the NAS had an ignominious role in the global warming debacle. Shapley’s involvement is summarized here;
With the first reviews of the book, the publisher Macmillan came under fire from astronomers and scientists. But sales of Worlds in Collision skyrocketed, and it quickly soared to the top of the bestseller lists. Dr. Harlow Shapley, director of the Harvard Observatory, branded the book “nonsense and rubbish,” but without reading it. A letter from Shapley to Macmillan threatened a boycott of the company’s textbook division. The astronomer Fred Whipple threatened to break his relations with the publisher. Under pressure from the scientific community, Macmillan was forced to transfer publishing rights to Doubleday, though Worlds in Collision was already the number one bestseller in the country. Macmillan editor James Putnam, who had been with the company for 25 years and had negotiated the contract for Worlds in Collision, was summarily dismissed.
This triggers comparison of the Climatic Research Unit (CRU) gangs activity in hounding editors and getting them fired.
Macmillan was the only publisher in history who surrendered a bestseller at peak sales. Macmillan was vulnerable to Shapley’s threats of curtailing academic textbooks because that was their major source of income at the time. As with all these matters, the action is blameworthy, but the cover-up compounds the error. Shapley denied any involvement in the action. Velikovsky subsequently exposed Shapley’s role in a letter to the Harvard Crimson.
The discussions between Einstein and Velikovsky centered on electromagnetism. After publishing his Theory of Relativity Einstein turned his attention to the Unified Field Theory. This is not the place to talk about the growing awareness of the importance of electromagnetism in weather and climate. It is the place to identify the openness and originality necessary for science to advance and the reaction of elitist scientists who challenge any who research such phenomena.
Carl Sagan led the open assault on Velikovsky with the arrogant and scientifically elitist title book “Scientists Confront Velikovsky, which implies that Velikovsky is not a scientist. Sagan was more wrong on fundamental issues than Velikovsky. His “nuclear winter” claim proved incorrect. His claims about the temperature and role of CO2 on Venus was wrong. His claim that CO2 is causing global warming was wrong, yet like all scientific elitists he blindly ignores the facts. Instead, he belittles the person who dares to ask questions and looks at old answers in different ways. Sadly, historically, if it weren’t for such people science would not advance. It is dogmatism identical to how the church promoted and protected the Ptolemaic system for 2000 years.
As Michael Goodspeed explains,
It has been said that no great advance has ever been made without controversy. More than 5 decades after the Velikovsky firestorm, questions first posed by Velikovsky can no longer be ignored. At stake here is not just the billions of dollars NASA has wasted chasing chimeras, but the very integrity of scientific exploration. Also at stake is the ability of the sciences to attract and inspire new generations. And nothing is more inspirational than a sense of being on the edge of discovery.
No matter the outcome of this long-standing battle, the time of reckoning is at hand. The voice of Velikovsky’s ghost WILL be heard.
None of this is helped by Stephen Jay Gould’s snide, scientific elitist, and inaccurate comment about the mainstream response.
“Velikovsky is neither crank nor charlatan — although to state my opinion and to quote one of my colleagues, he is at least gloriously wrong … Velikovsky would rebuild the science of celestial mechanics to save the literal accuracy of ancient legends.”
That is not what he was doing at all. If you want more information on the Velikovskian example of scientific elitism, I suggest you read Velikovsky’s version of the events in “Stargazers and Gravediggers.” I also recommend the 2003 book by his daughter Ruth titled, “Immanuel Velikovsky The Truth Behind the Torment.” But if you consider those sources biased then watch for the upcoming publication on Velikovsky by Joe Fone titled “On The Shoulders of Heretics.”
Addition by Anthony. For the record I’ve never supported Velikovsky’s ideas in the book [“Worlds In Collision”], contrary to what Dr. Gavin Schmidt thinks. But I DO support discussing them in the context of learning, something Dr. Schmidt himself has proven he does not support by his own cowardly actions in person, and by email – Anthony Watts