Mijn eerste kennismaking met Velikovsky was een negatieve. Het was allemaal onzin, wat die man beweerde, vernam ik uit diverse boekjes. En toen ik in 1974 twee boekjes van mijn goede vriend Han kreeg, ‘Ages in Chaos’ en ‘Earth in Upheaval’, spraken ze me niet bijzonder aan, ook omdat het nogal ver van mijn bed was. Ik was in die tijd net opgehouden met mijn studie Culturele Antropologie aan de Universiteit van Leiden in het derde jaar zonder diploma als drop-out hippie en de boeken waren tamelijk zware kost (ondanks wat over het algemeen beweerd wordt).
Een paar jaar later zag ik bij een kennis een boek van Velikovsky staan in zijn schamele boekenkast. Hij bleek het geleend te hebben van zijn onderbuurman, maar hij vond het te ingewikkeld, ook al omdat het in het Engels was, en hij was er niet door heen gekomen. Ik mocht het boek, ‘Worlds in Collision’ van hem lenen. Dit is het eerste boek, dat twee jaar vóór ‘Ages in Chaos’ was verschenen. Pas nu begreep ik, wat het uitgangspunt van Velikovsky was en ik herlas de twee andere boeken van Velikovsky. Ik raakte geïnteresseerd en begon ze ook aan te schaffen, want ondertussen waren twee nieuwe delen verschenen. In 1979 kocht ik ‘Peoples of the Sea’, in 1980 mijn eigen exemplaar van ‘Worlds in Collision’, in 1981 ‘Ramses II and his Time’, in 1982 het datzelfde jaar verschenen ‘Mankind in Amnesia’, in 1983 ‘Oedipus and Akhnaton’ en in 1984 kocht ik een Sigwick & Jackson uitgave van ‘Ages in Chaos’ ter vervanging van de uit elkaar gevallen Abacus editie. Van Han kreeg ik in 1984 ook het door hem in 1979 gekochte ‘The Velikovsky Affair’ van Alfred de Grazia (2e ed. 1978). Ook besprekingen van het werk van Velikovsky verzamelde ik, zoals bijv. Pauwels en Bergier, ‘De Dageraad der Magiërs’, wat achteraf gezien mijn eerste kennismaking met het werk van Velikovsky was geweest. Een ander boek was Fred Warshofsky’s ‘Het Rampschip Aarde’ uit 1978. In 1982 maakte ik een studie van het boek ‘Blinde vlekken in onze kennis (De onbekende aarde waarop we leven)’ van Friedrich Böschke uit 1975 (Ned. 1976), waarin in het laatste hoofdstuk ‘volslagen onzin en reële mogelijkheden’ ook Velikovsky wordt besproken.
Een van de projecten, waaraan ik werkte, was getiteld: ‘De Velikovskyaanse revolutie’, met de ondertiteling ‘d.m.v. antwoorden aan de astronoom Carl Sagan, de bioloog en evolutionist Stephen Jay Gould, en alle andere misverstaanders – ter lering ende vermaek, voor een ieder die belangstellend is naar de geschiedenis van de aarde en de daarop wonende mensheid.’ De eerste opzet van deze inleiding op het werk van Velikovsky omvatte een inleiding over de gevolgde wetenschappelijke methode, een eerste deel over ‘De mythe van de Harmonie der Sferen’ (The Myth of Celestial Harmony), wat dus een beschrijving is van wat in ‘Worlds in Collision’ en ‘Earth in Upheaval’ staat en astronomie, biologie (evolutietheorie), geologie, antropologie, psychologie, mythologie en theologie omvat. En een tweede deel met de reconstructie van de oude geschiedenis, zijnde de ‘Ages in Chaos’ serie. Dit was natuurlijk veel te veel en in een nieuwe opzet wilde ik me beperken tot het eerste deel en daarin hoofdzakelijk tot de antwoorden aan Sagan en Gould. Een ander project was getiteld: ‘De Mythe van het Einde der Tijden’ of ‘Het Einde van de Wereld’, waarvan ik enige stukjes heb gebundeld tot een aflevering (nr. 15). Een ander project was Mozes (nr. 13). Een filosofisch getinte beschouwing is getiteld ‘En de tijd schrijdt langzaam voort’ (nr. 16), terwijl een mystiek getint bijdrage ‘God wikt en de mens beschikt’ is genaamd (nr. 17).
In 1984 behaalde ik mijn diploma aan de Haagse Sociale Academie, maar ik was al geruime tijd werkloos en daarin bracht ook een diploma geen verbetering, want het sociaal-cultureel werk was vrijwel geheel weg bezuinigd en mijn diploma was in feite waardeloos. Vanaf het begin van dat jaar was ik bezig met een uitgebreide studie van Velikovsky en de Egyptologie in de bibliotheek van het Museum van Oudheden (Papengracht, achter het Museum), waar ik de aantekeningen voor de papyrus Ipuwer maakte (nr. 14), en schreef ik het artikel over de bespreking van Beekman (nr. 11). In dat jaar verscheen ook het boekje van J. Broekhuis, ‘De tien plagen en Egypte’ (Kampen 1984), dat ik 16 oktober 1984 kocht en bewaar met de Trouwrecensie ervan. In dat boekje las ik op de laatste bladzijde (p. 70) de opmerking: ‘Een opvolger van Amenemhet I is Sesostris III. Een 100 jaar na zijn voorganger kwam hij aan het bewind. En nu zou, volgens Velikovsky, onder deze farao Jozef onderkoning geweest zijn.’ Aangezien Jozef buiten het tijdvak valt, dat door de ‘Ages in Chaos’ bestreken wordt, was ik benieuwd hoe Broekhuis aan deze informatie was gekomen, wilde hem schrijven of bellen, maar dat is er niet van gekomen. Evenmin kwam er veel van een kritische bespreking van dit flutboekje in mijn ogen: de opvattingen van Velikovsky worden deels belachelijk gemaakt en deels slecht besproken. Het is duidelijk, dat Broekhuis niet spreekt vanuit een degelijke bestudering van het werk van Velikovsky, maar zich baseert op vluchtige aantekeningen. Een serieuze bespreking had zijn boekje ook een wat omvangrijker aanzien gegeven. En in Trouw vraagt de recensent zich af, of Broekhuis niet beter met zijn vingers van Velikovsky had af kunnen blijven. Nu lijkt het, alsof Velikovsky de boel moet redden voor Broekhuis. [Zie verder de bespreking, die ik aan dit boekje zal wijden. (nr. 18)]
Ook wilde ik toen komen tot de oprichting van een Nederlands Velikovsky Genootschap (NVG; Engels: Dutch Velikovsky Society: DVS), die tot doel had te komen tot de oprichting van een (Nederlands) Instituut voor Interdisciplinaire Studie (het Velikovsky instituut), en stelde daartoe een brief aan mevr. Velikovsky op, die niet verder kwam dan de eerste regels: ‘Al jarenlang ben ik een bewonderaar van het werk van dr. Velikovsky en sinds enige tijd heb ik zijn werk tot middelpunt van mijn studie genomen. Momenteel probeer ik te komen tot een korte samenvatting [van zijn werk], die bedoeld is voor publicatie als inleiding voor een breder publiek. Door deze betrokkenheid op het werk van uw man is bij mij het idee gegroeid om te komen tot de oprichting van een Nederlands Velikovsky Genootschap (NVG).’
Ook voor andere benaderingen van een inleidend boek maakte ik opzetten, zoals voor een project genaamd ‘The Velikovsky Threat’. De inleiding gaat over de furore rond ‘Worlds in Collision’, over wetenschap in het ruimtevaarttijdperk (space age). Hoofdstuk 1. Het ondermijnen van de fundamenten van de wetenschap. 2. Werelden in botsing: de nieuwe theorie van de aarde (de kosmologische theorie van Velikovsky). 3. Aarde in beroering: verdere onderzoekingen naar het verleden van de aarde. 4. Broca’s brein: antwoord aan Carl Sagan. 5. De mythen van het ruimtevaarttijdperk: antwoord aan Daniël Cohen. 6. Antwoord aan Stephen Gould.
In 1986 kwam een eind aan mijn studie van Velikovsky, doordat ik me om schoolde tot computerprogrammeur en als zodanig aan het werk ging voor een aantal jaar. Hieraan kwam een dramatisch einde in 1989, waarbij ik door een diep dal ging. Hierna begon ik met het bestuderen van mythen, maar al snel (in 1991) verscheen het boek ‘Centuries of Darkness’ van Peter James en anderen, dat ik in mei 1992 kocht. [Ook kocht ik – in 1991 – het anti Velikovskyboek van Henry H. Bauer, ‘Beyond Velikovsky. The history of a public controversy’ (Urbana-Chicago 1984).] Dit werd het begin van een hernieuwde poging om een boek te schrijven, weinig pretentieus genaamd ‘Velikovsky-aantekeningen’. Ondertussen ging mijn onderzoek naar de betekenis van mythen door, resulterend in enorm dikke pakken met aantekeningen. Het eerste deel was onder de werktitel ‘De betekenis van mythen’, het tweede deel was genaamd ‘De Sphinx en de Phoenix’.
Sprookjes hebben te maken met mythen, iets wat eenvoudig te concluderen is, wanneer men het sprookje van de wolf en de zeven geitjes vergelijkt met het verhaal van Kronos (Saturnus), die zijn zeven kinderen wil opeten en in plaats van de zevende een steen krijgt, zoals ook de wolf een steen in zijn buik krijgt.
In 2001 kwam ik door mijn interesse voor sprookjes via detachering te werken bij het Meertens Instituut in Amsterdam, waar me ook al snel de gelegenheid werd geboden om ‘in huis’ mee te doen aan een studie Etnologie aan de UVA, waaraan ik officieel in 2002 begon en die ik met succes voltooide in 2005 (master / doctorandus in de Algemene Cultuur Wetenschappen) (zie voor details https://robscholtemuseum.nl/cor-hendriks-project-boekenoogen/).
Ondertussen was mijn werkzaamheid bij het Meertens Instituut beëindigd (omdat de drie jaar grens was bereikt) en werd ik na een korte tijd in het Sieboldhuis in Leiden geplaatst bij het Leidse Warenhuis, waar ik het na drie jaar voor gezien hield en besloot mijn eigen koers te varen en full time verder te gaan met mijn onderzoekingen. In 2010 maakte ik een download van het gehele Velikovsky-archief, maar tot een integratie van al dat materiaal met wat ik zelf heb verzameld kom ik nu pas.
Ondertussen zijn sommige van de bovengenoemde zaken al door anderen aangepakt. De antwoorden aan Sagan en Gould bijv. zijn behandeld door Charles Ginenthal. Ik heb PDFs van zijn werk bijgevoegd. Van de Gould-Velikovsky affaire is een PDF op het internet te vinden; voor de Sagan-Velikovsky affaire moet je meer moeite doen en daarom heb ik er zelf een PDF van gemaakt (met excuses), die hieronder te vinden is. In het begin van dit boek wordt een goede introductie voor het werk van Velikovsky gegeven (vanuit het standpunt van een aanhanger). Door Cochrane wordt het boek als volgt omschreven: The ponderous and tedious ‘Carl Sagan and Immanuel Velikovsky’, 1990/1995 (448 pp.), compiled by Charles Ginenthal borrows heavily from the earlier Kronos volumes while adding little of merit to the discussion.
Voor een meer onpartijdige kijk op de hele Velikovsky affaire is er het boek van Michael D. Gordin, getiteld ‘The Pseudoscience Wars: Immanuel Velikovsky and the Birth of the Modern Fringe’ (te koop als E-book voor 11,93) uit 2012, waarvan ik alleen de eerste pagina’s heb gelezen (die ik hieronder toevoeg, eveneens met excuses voor de eventuele edit fouten van mij; voor de noten, zie de originele tekst https://www.coursehero.com/file/17680435/0927-Introduction-Bad-Ideas/). (Voor een sceptische bespreking, zie https://skepsis.nl/pseudowetenschap/.) Ook heb ik een PDF met een review door Ev Cochrane bijgevoegd.
Introduction: Bad Ideas
No one in the history of the world has ever self-identified as a pseudoscientist. There is no person who wakes up in the morning and thinks to himself, “I’ll just head into my pseudolaboratory and perform some pseudoexperiments to try to confirm my pseudotheories with pseudofacts.” As is surely obvious, “pseudoscience” is a term of abuse, an epithet attached to certain points of view to discredit those ideas, complemented by “pseudoscientist” to designate the practitioner. Just as no adherents of a religious doctrine ever really consider themselves “heretics,” alleged pseudoscientists have a very specific understanding of their activities. To their minds, they are doing science, full stop. This does not mean they are necessarily correct – lots of people are mistaken about what they are actually doing – but it should give us pause to think a bit harder concerning what the word “pseudoscience” really does. Does, not means. “Pseudoscience” is a term, I maintain, without real content, and yet the notion performs active work in the world, separating off certain doctrines from those deemed to be science proper. On the imagined scale that has excellent science at one end and then slides through good science, mediocre science (the vast majority of what is done), poor science, to bad science on the other end, it is not the case that pseudoscience lies somewhere on this continuum. It is off the grid altogether. [1; see https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/pseudo-science/] The process of demarcating science from non-science is a central and quite general aspect of all scientific activities, but pseudoscience attracts particular vehemence as compared to, say, non-science. Scientists rarely spend much energy arguing that the Catholic Church or Vietnamese literature is pseudoscience; they are just not science and devotees of those domains are quite happy with that designation. Pseudoscience is different. This is a combative notion deployed to categorize (and its users [p. 2à] hope, weaken or eliminate) doctrines that are non-science but pretend to be, aspire to be, or are simply mistaken for scientific. The effect of this demarcation through use of the moniker “pseudoscience,” when it works, is to preserve the accepted boundaries of knowledge from intrusion.  In the end, pseudoscience is a bad idea. I do not mean that one should not practice phrenology, astrology, or what have you, but that the very notion of “pseudoscience” lacks a core. Although pseudoscience is a fairly common epithet, it is not exactly universal. Scientists do not just call anything they do not like “pseudoscience.” They are perfectly happy to declare many of their peers’ work to be “bad” or “substandard” science. “Pseudoscience” is used in a targeted way, at certain times, and against specific enemies. This implies that there is no unified pseudoscience; the various doctrines labeled “pseudosciences” over the last two centuries actually have very little in common with one another besides being hated by assorted scientists. Ever since the term was introduced into the English language – at roughly the same moment as the word “scientist,”  which is surely no accident, for how could you mimic a category that does not exist? – skirmishes over designating certain fields as pseudosciences have escalated and de-escalated along with the general perception of the threatened or secure status of science. The Oxford English Dictionary tells us the term, meaning “a spurious or pretended science,” entered the English lexicon in 1796 to refer to “alchymy,” and then popped up again around 1823 concerning blazonry (the interpretation of heraldic insignias), of all things.  Surely those two fields were not related then, as they are not now. We are faced with a variant of the classic story of three blind men encountering an elephant. One holds the tail, and thinks it is a piece of string; another grabs a leg, and thinks he is holding a tree; the third holds the trunk, and believes he grasps a snake. Only, in the case of pseudoscience, they really are holding a piece of string, a tree trunk, and a snake. There is no elephant. What unifies the so-called pseudosciences is that scientists in various fields have chosen to ostracize them in this particular way (as opposed to declaring them incorrect scientific theories). It is a core argument of this book that individual scientists (as distinct from the monolithic “scientific community”) designate a doctrine a “pseudoscience” only when they perceive themselves to be threatened – not necessarily by the ideas themselves, but by what those ideas represent about the authority of science, science’s access to resources, or some other broader social trend.  If one is not threatened, there is no need to lash out at the perceived pseudoscience; [p. 3à] instead, one continues with one’s work and happily ignores the cranks. This means that we can examine the history of debates over pseudosciences past in order to explore not what disqualified a particular doctrine (say, astrology ) from membership in the scientific club, but rather to understand science and what scientists thought about their standards, their position in society, and their future. Pseudoscience, as historian of science Mark Adams points out in an essay on the history of eugenics, is “less interesting as a mode of historical explanation than as an object of historical study; it is not part of the solution, but part of the problem.”  Each use of pseudoscience is tied intimately to its historical context. If you want to know what science is or has been, show me the contemporary pseudoscience.  This book examines a specific contentious period for the status, of science – Cold War America, from the late 1940s to the late 1970s, by exploring a series of debates over what counted as real science. (I exclude the cases of so-called pseudo-medicine or quackery, which is a vastly larger topic and quite amenable to a similar investigation. ) These “pseudoscience wars,” as I call them, raised scientists’ anxiety over the incursions of “pseudoscience” among their students and the public at large to a fever pitch. Before 1950, debates over pseudoscience ran hot, but they did not in general exhibit the character of conspiracy theorizing. During the pseudoscience wars, doctrines that were relegated kicking and screaming to the “fringe” began to respond by deploying new arguments against the establishment, claiming not just that mainstream science was incorrect or incomplete (as, for example, in the controversies over J.B. Rhine’s parapsychology experiments in the 1930s), but that scientists were engaged in a conspiracy to suppress new knowledge. It was no accident that this transition unfolded in the early 1950s, when America was gripped in the frenzy of McCarthyist red-baiting and nationwide panic about conspiracies to undermine the West. Through the contingent juxtaposition of a new bout of disputes over the boundaries of science and this tense domestic Cold War context, features of the paranoid style of the moment became rooted into the discourse of the fringe, a pattern that has stuck with us long after the passing of anti-Communist hysteria.  Arguments from the fringes of science today carry some of the last vestiges of this particular moment of American history, fossilized in amber. This transformation was large, but it began with a specific controversy over one work and its author, and the chapters below will follow both from 1950 to 1980 to show how this one controversy carried along other pseudo-[p. 4à] science conflicts with it, as a mishmash of diverse doctrines began to gel, if not into a single pseudoscience (for there is no elephant), certainly into the coherent conflict of the pseudoscience wars. It started with a book and a man. The book was Worlds in Collision, and the man was Immanuel Velikovsky (1895-1979 ). If anyone has ever been tarnished by the accusation of pseudoscientist, it is Immanuel Velikovsky, a Russian-born psychoanalyst who arrived on American shores in 1939 after several convoluted peregrinations. In many of the accounts of this man and his life, the word “pseudoscience” crops up.  He has been variously dubbed one of the “deans of modern pseudoscience,”  the “first grand wizard of the Universal Order of Mass Pseudo-Scholarship,”  “an almost perfect textbook example of the pseudoscientist,”  one of the “triad of pseudoscience gurus” (along with L. Ron Hubbard and Charles Fort),  and “the very model of a crank.”  These allegations were not uncontested, and his supporters – who began to assemble in force by the mid-1960s – insisted with Frederic Jueneman that “Velikovsky’s efforts are not the labors of a pseudoscientist, because his work has touched on too many things which preemptively have been proven correct, or with furthered knowledg[e] might be proven one way or another.”  But Velikovsky was not just a combatant in the pseudoscience wars. He and his doctrines were ground zero. At this point, you may very well be scratching your head. Depending largely on your age, the name Velikovsky recalls fond memories of college, waves of outrage, or a complete and utter blank. In my informal (and profoundly unscientific) polling of individuals over the last few years, I have almost never found a person under the age of fifty who has heard the name. (The exceptions were astronomers, intense science-fiction fans, or aficionados of scholarly arcana.) And yet, in the 1970s, his writings were mainstays of college bookstores, and the man himself cycled through campuses, the pages of popular journals, and the columns of newspapers. He was, as such things go, a household name, a celebrity from the world of scientific controversies whose books went through over seventy editions in English alone during his lifetime (and were translated into dozens of languages). In April 1950 the Macmillan Company published Worlds in Collision, which rocketed to the top of nonfiction best-seller lists nationwide.  In this book, Velikovsky argued that ancient mythological, scriptural, and historical sources from a variety of cultures contained repeated homologous descriptions of major catastrophes: rains of fire, immense earthquakes, [p. 5à] tsunamis, dragons fighting in the heavens. These passages had long been interpreted by rationalist readers as metaphors or ecstatic visions. Not so, argued Velikovsky: when compared and synchronized, they pointed toward real and massive global catastrophes. Velikovsky tracked two of these: one that happened around 1500 B. c., during the Exodus of the Children of Israel from Egypt; and another in the eighth century B. C., which changed the length of the year from 360 days to its current 365¼ days, stunning the prophet Isaiah and depicted in Homer’s Iliad as the battle between Athena and Ares. This was the first salvo of the pseudoscience wars, an invasion into the heavily fortified domain of American science, at the time enjoying peacetime prosperity and elevated prestige due to its triumphs during World War II. The incursion was not completely without warning – earlier attempts to dissuade Velikovsky or his publishers from releasing the book had broken down, a failure of diplomacy – and the defensive maneuvers were rapid and, in retrospect, surprisingly vigorous. Scientists expressed significant doubts about the reality of such catastrophes in historical times, but the greatest sticking point was his mechanism for their occurrence. Velikovsky claimed that the first (at the time of the Exodus) was caused by a comet that had been ejected from Jupiter and almost collided with Earth, remaining trapped in gravitational and electromagnetic interaction with this planet on two separate incidents separated by fifty-two years, raining petroleum from its cometary tail, igniting the heavens, and tilting Earth’s axis. Eventually, the comet stabilized into the planet Venus. Thus, Earth’s nearest planetary neighbor was a comet born in historical times, as attested by proper interpretation of the records of the collective memory of humanity. Venus’s movements had, however, displaced Mars, which threatened Earth in the second series of catastrophes. Velikovsky’s arguments presupposed a reformulation of geology, paleontology, archaeology, and celestial mechanics, not to mention ancient history. From the point of view of the defenders of science on the front line, Velikovsky had not only set up beachheads in their domains, but he incited a fifth column of humanist intellectuals and the broader public, who eagerly read his book and called for scientists to take his arguments seriously. This they were not about to do, and after a series of literary volleys – including a threatened boycott of Velikovsky’s publisher – Worlds in Collision was transferred to a more commercial press and the guns began to go silent. The beachhead remained, however, and Velikovsky dug in during the 1950s, attempting to recruit allies among mainstream scientists through [p. 6à] a series of renewed diplomatic overtures to broker a longer-lasting peace. For the most part, scientists ignored these efforts, opting instead for a return to normalcy, as if Velikovsky were not continuing to launch his books across the demilitarized zone. In the mid-1960s, hostilities re-erupted, but this time not because Velikovsky rolled out his tanks for another assault. Rather, insurgents behind the scientists’ own lines – undergraduates at their institutions, the “counterculture,” and even humanist academics – marched forth under Velikovsky’s colors, in many ways appropriating for themselves a cause that was different from the author’s own. For two decades, a heated debate persisted in the United States: Was Velikovsky right? Had the discoveries of the space age confirmed or refuted his picture of the solar system’s history? Counterinsurgency measures, and even one high-level attempt to negotiate with Velikovsky’s forces at the American Association for the Advancement of Science annual meeting in 1974, came to naught, and the quagmire deepened. Unlike in 1950, however, this time there was no clear front line. The pseudoscience wars persisted as low-intensity conflicts, and they burned in a plethora of redoubts of American culture. And then, sometime in the early 1980s, Velikovsky dropped out of the collective consciousness, and his name is now a distant memory – when it is a memory at all. The war did not so much end as fade away. A main emphasis of the pages that follow is on finding out why he became well known in the first place. How did Worlds in Collision assume such a prominent position in the public imagination? Why was Velikovsky the target of so much ire from the scientific community? And what does his story tell us about science in American culture during the height of the Cold War? This is not a biography of Velikovsky, or an attempt to debunk him or exonerate him, or even a judicious weighing of the arguments in favor of and against the picture of the world that he built up in many writings over the course of his career. An interested reader can turn to many other places for such accounts.  Rather than merely reprise the Velikovsky debates – as fascinating as those are – I mean to explore this notion of the “pseudoscience wars.” Every chapter after the first (which lays out the context of the controversy over Worlds in Collision) juxtaposes Velikovsky’s case with that of one or more purported pseudosciences: Freudianism, Welteislehre, Lysenkoism, eugenics, parapsychology, creationism, orgone theory, ancient astronauts, and finally contemporary debates about science and public policy. In order to see how different theories became imbricated with his, set the stage for the reaction to his ideas, or in some instances provided [p. 7à] an alternative trajectory toward greater legitimacy than he ever achieved, I will at times veer rather far off the Velikovskian path. This book is primarily an exploration of the concept of pseudoscience in postwar American culture, and for that purpose Velikovsky provides an exceptionally sharp analytical lens, one that enables us to scrutinize science by looking at that which scientists reject as resembling themselves, but not quite. I take Velikovsky and other struggles over so-called pseudoscience as entry points into what philosophers have called the “demarcation problem.” The term “demarcation problem” was coined by a young Austrian philosopher named Karl Popper [see https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/popper/] in 1928 or 1929, a decade after he had already begun to muse over what differentiated what he considered the most impressive scientific achievement of his day – the confirmation in 1919 of Albert Einstein’s general relativity through the measurement of the deflection of starlight around the sun during an eclipse – and a rather more local scientific practice: psychoanalysis. Popper was distinctly impressed with the audacity of Einstein’s case. This physicist boldly set forth a quantitative prediction of the consequences of his theory, as if daring scientists to prove him wrong. Had the deflection not been measured, so Popper reasoned, Einstein’s general relativity would have been proven wrong, and the theory would have died. With Sigmund Freud’s and Alfred Adler’s psychoanalysis, on the other hand, Popper saw something different. These doctrines did not thrive on prediction, but on confirmation: they would examine a case of neurosis, and then explain it in terms of their own theoretical framework (Oedipus complex or inferiority complex, say). The difference between the two examples interested him, and by the late 1920s he believed he had come up with a solution to demarcate science from non-science; “pseudosciences” were doctrines that claimed to be sciences but failed a crucial test. Popper’s demarcation criterion was publicly articulated in a 1953 lecture at Peterhouse, one of the constituent colleges of the University of Cambridge, and published in his 1963 volume Conjectures and Refutations. Ever since, its popularity has grown, and it has been widely quoted to me (especially by undergraduates) as a solution to the problem of how one identifies a pseudoscience. According to Popper, “the criterion of the scientific status of a theory is its falsifiability, or refutability, or testability.” [20; see https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/doing-good-science/drawing-the-line-between-science-and-pseudo-science/] The notion is appealing in its simplicity. For a variety of technical philosophical reasons, it is not possible to simply confirm that a theory is true; all we can know is that we have another confirming instance of what we suspect [p. 8à] to be true. (This was, for example, Popper’s problem with psychoanalysis: its claims were amply confirmed, but he considered the bar for what counted as confirming the theory to be set unacceptably low.) All that we can say about scientific theories, Popper argued, is that they were not yet shown to be false. Thus, science progresses by advancing claims and subjecting them to rigorous efforts at falsification. A statement that claimed to be scientific but was immunized from such rigorous examination by ad hoc hypotheses or vague articulation was, for Popper, unfalsifiable, and would thus be clearly marked as pseudoscientific. The problem with this elegant proposition is that it utterly fails. First, there is a logical conundrum: How do you determine whether a theory has been in fact falsified by a particular experimental result? Suppose you are using a mass spectrometer to test a specific claim about the composition of a compound and get an anomalous result. Is the claim now proven false, or is your mass spectrometer on the fritz? In practice, we do not actually test single statements, but rather groups of statements and assumptions that travel together, embedded in our instruments and experimental setup.  The clarity of falsifiability thus becomes a lot murkier. The standard also proves problematic in that this is not what scientists actually do when they conduct experiments or make observations. What Popper dismissed as the “unscientific” generation of ad hoc hypotheses to immunize a theory turns out to be one of the most common practices of scientific work. It would be silly to toss out a theory just because you found a single experimental result at variance; better to assemble more data and reserve judgment.  Second, the falsifiability criterion does not perform the task demanded of it. If all a theory has to do in order to count as a scientific is make bold claims that might be proven false, then many doctrines widely deemed pseudoscientific pass muster. This was true even of older doctrines, like alchemy, which had their heyday before Popper wrote, but became even more problematic after falsifiability achieved broad currency. Now that there was a standard, advocates of fringe doctrines just had to make sure they met it. Creationists, for example, routinely make predictions about what kinds of geological structures one should find; parapsychology is nothing but a series of falsifiable statements; and, as we shall see, Velikovsky staked a great deal on the predictive claims of his cosmic catastrophism. Even more embarrassing for Popper’s bold attempt, many sciences, such as the more “historical” sciences of evolutionary biology and geology, explain natural phenomena with tools and theories that do not fit [p. 9à] nicely into Popper’s schema, despite various Procrustean attempts to save the situation. Popper’s falsifiability test provides a poor map of the kingdom of pseudoscience. The criterion is neither necessary for demarcation nor, as it turns out, sufficient. If Popper – despite his popularity outside the realm of philosophy of science (where falsificationism has been long abandoned) – is no help, could we come up with another bright line to distinguish the scientific from the pseudoscientific? After the 1962 publication of Thomas Kuhn’s widely read historical-philosophical manifesto, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, many looked to his central argument of paradigms as a possible site of demarcation. According to Kuhn, science consists of periods of stasis (“normal science”), in which scientists solve puzzles within the framework of a general schema of reasoning, which he called a paradigm. As anomalies – experimental findings that prove difficult to reconcile with the dominant paradigm – pile up, occasionally a rupture occurs (“paradigm shift”), and the old paradigm is replaced by a new one, and normal science then continues apace in this framework.  Kuhn rarely invoked the demarcation problem – when he did it was to criticize Popper’s solutions – and for good reason.  If paradigms by definition decide what is scientific and what is not, then any statement outside the paradigm could conceivably be designated pseudoscientific. The only problem is that the later paradigm would also meet that criterion and thus be ruled out of court, which is a nonsensical result. Likewise, individuals that are widely accused of being pseudoscientific could simply claim that they represent a new paradigm, and thus are not to be judged within the frame of reference of contemporary science. They not only could do this; they in fact did and do, as the case of Velikovsky demonstrates. In the 1960s and 1970s, Kuhn lived in Princeton, New Jersey, and taught at the town’s eponymous university. Immanuel Velikovsky also lived there (although with no university affiliation), and he offered Kuhn the opportunity to use his personal files to examine the scientific status or merely the history of his revolutionary claims. “You may have access to all these papers,” Velikovsky wrote Kuhn, “whenever you wish.”  Kuhn, for his part, studiously avoided commenting on the Velikovsky affair.  Lynn Rose, a philosopher of science at the State University of NewYork-Buffalo and an extremely vocal supporter of Velikovsky’s theories, damned Kuhn for his silence. “It is questionable whether Kuhn would be able to recognize a scientific revolution even if there were one in his back yard. As a matter of fact, he has already overlooked a ma-[p. 10à]jor scientific revolution right in his own back yard,” he quipped. “Kuhn will perhaps be remembered, if at all, as the orthodox and unimaginative student of scientific revolutions who lived for a number of years in Princeton, New Jersey, never even noticing the Velikovsky Revolution that was centered there.”  And, meanwhile, some Velikovsky acolytes tried their own hand at remedying Kuhn’s silence with Kuhnian readings of cosmic catastrophism. 
Even if Kuhn was no help, the transformation in the academic field of the history and philosophy of science that his book wrought opened a new avenue to potentially cracking the demarcation problem. Since Popper’s strictly semantic and logical formulation would not hold water, maybe aspiring demarcationists should look instead to the community of science as a whole and observe (with a philosophical eye) how it decided what was scientific and what was not. What ensued post-Popper were a series of attempts to create not a single demarcation criterion, but a host of checklists. These consisted of characteristics that seemed to belong to many of the doctrines deemed pseudoscientific (assuming there was an elephant), from which a number of rules or properties, something like family resemblances, were extracted. These could be ticked off when trying to determine whether a candidate theory was pseudoscientific or not.  Such criteria included, for example, isolation from the scientific community, vigorous resistance to criticism, exaggerated claims of revolutionary innovation, the invocation of supernatural forces – and, yes, unfalsifiability. No individual characteristic was either necessary or sufficient for demarcation, but if you garnered “enough” of them, you could be suitably tossed into the dustbin of crankishness.  The same problems bedevil this approach as Popper’s: How do you know when you should tick off a criterion, when the alarm has in fact been tripped? And, more problematically, quite a few of these characteristics are displayed by perfectly legitimate (if somewhat cantankerous) representatives of the scientific community, and plenty of supposed pseudosciences met the test of “scientific naturalism” (Velikovsky, for example). Demarcation eludes us once again. By the late 1970s, philosopher of science Larry Laudan had had enough: “The fact that 2,400 years of searching for a demarcation criterion has left us empty-handed raises a presumption that the object of the quest is nonexistent.”  Pseudoscience was a problem, he suggested, but it might not be amenable to a philosophical solution. In a 1983 article – controversial in that it appeared in the context of legal wrangling over the scientific status of creationism and whether it should be taught in the public schools – [p. 11à] Laudan laid out what a proper demarcation criterion ought to do in order to be worthy of the name: “Minimally, then, a philosophical demarcation criterion must be an adequate explanation of our ordinary ways of partitioning science from nonscience and it must exhibit epistemically significant differences between science and nonscience.”  By Laudan’s estimation – and that of many philosopher colleagues – there was never going to be a simple criterion such as Popper had imagined, and checklists were simply collections of Popperian-style criteria. Laudan has come under his own share of criticism, and debates continue decades later on this question, but even his most vocal critics concede that “we should not expect a sharp, bright pinline of demarcation.”  Meanwhile, Laudan insisted on a transformation of language: “If we would stand up and be counted on the side of reason, we ought to drop terms like ‘pseudoscience’ and ‘unscientific’ from our vocabulary; they are just hollow phrases that do only emotive work for us.”  As “pseudoscience” gained currency as a term of abuse, one finds a wave of attempts beginning largely in the 1980s among academic observers of science (if not among scientists themselves) to find alternatives to the term. Some of these contenders continue to be popular: unorthodox science, non-establishment science, cryptoscience, parascience, emerging science, protoscience, unconventional science, and anomalistics.  (One does find people self-identifying under these categories.) At the same time, it became increasingly clear that “pseudoscience” picked out different phenomena from frauds or hoaxes – those displayed levels of conscious insincerity that appeared to be wholly absent in the often – cited cases of alleged pseudoscience.  Another common term, “pathological science,” is also inappropriate. Coined by Nobel Laureate Irving Langmuir in an often-cited 1953 lecture, this described scientific claims that hovered on the edge of perception, faint effects that drifted perilously close to experimental error and were magnified by wishful thinking.  Pseudoscience must also be distinguished from “anti-science,” movements such as those of the 1970s arguing that scientific and technical reasoning were leading civilization down the wrong path. As science studies scholar Helga Nowotny observes, this was not pseudoscience’s domain, for “in many ways, the pseudosciences aspire to become scientific.”  And despite the popular (in the sense of populist) character and participatory nature of many alleged pseudosciences, the notion also has to be separated from “amateur science,” which is ordinary science performed by those other than professionals. 
[p. 12à] What if we have been looking for demarcation in the wrong places? Philosopher Philip Kitcher, for example, has recently suggested that we should focus on the people who advocate the doctrines, not the “pseudosciences” themselves. “Pseudoscience isn’t marked out by any clear criteria that distinguish it as a body of doctrine,” he writes. “It is simply what pseudoscientists do in their more-or-less-ingenious pretenses.”  That is to say, there are certain individuals who simply resist contrary evidence or refuse to revise their views, and those individuals have a psychological predisposition to advocate certain doctrines. Some people with this recalcitrant mind-set enter the sciences, and if they are lucky they become partisans of an accepted domain of science. But if they end up in a more dubious domain, such as UFOlogy, their natural predisposition combines with a degree of intense advocacy as they “pretend” to be scientists. The more you probe them, the more they reiterate the same arguments or dodge various objections. In such instances, one would often find that values, rather than epistemic concerns, motivated these individuals. There may very well be such a psychological profile that can be picked out, but it is hardly a demarcation criterion, and Kitcher does not intend it as one. For how would you know in advance that someone with these characteristics was advocating in a disingenuous way without investing the time to interrogate them and uncover the pretense? (It is the whole point of demarcation criteria to save the time and effort involved in such investigations.) It may serve in particular instances, but it leaves the general philosophical project in limbo. Among this plethora of distinction-making, one rough area of consensus emerged among the philosophers, historians, and science watchers: whether or not you believed that a category of pseudoscience existed, there was certainly no bright line to demarcate science from pseudoscience. Martin Gardner, the writer who probably did more than anyone else in the postwar period to turn discussions of alleged pseudoscience into debunking crusades, observed of rigid attempts to demarcate that “clearly no such criteria are precise. Pseudoscience is a fuzzy word that refers to a vague portion of a continuum on which there are no sharp boundaries.”  But even calling it a continuum makes the problem seem simpler than it in fact is. As noted earlier, pseudoscience is presumed to be beyond the bounds of even the most incompetent execution of proper science. Even those philosophers who continue the quest to demarcate now start from the assumption that “the boundaries separating science, nonscience, and pseudoscience are much fuzzier and more permeable than Popper (or, [p. 13à] for that matter, most scientists) would have us believe. There is, in other words, no litmus test.”  And this should not surprise us, for if there is indeed no elephant of pseudoscience, but rather the characteristics that are used to pick out certain doctrines as pseudoscientific were all created for specific ends, then why should we expect unity?  We are reduced to a variant of Justice Potter Stewart’s famous dictum about obscenity: We know pseudoscience when we see it.  But do we really? If the historically intertwined narratives that follow indicate anything, it is that people cannot pick out pseudoscience unproblematically. Although every individual seems certain that he or she is doing an admirable job of demarcation when surveying the realms of knowledge, consensus is hard to find. For example, astrology and phrenology were once considered sciences and only later were cast out as pseudoscientific, so they clearly at one time passed the Potter Stewart test. (If you believe these fields were always “pseudosciences,” then you have a problem here.) So what do we do? Should we stop this effort altogether? Scholar of rhetoric Charles Alan Taylor, who analyzes efforts at demarcation, encapsulates our dilemma: “To say that the ‘demarcation game’ should not be played by philosophers’ rules need not entail that it should not be played at all. It is a game which can be (indeed is) played in practical, rhetorical terms every day.”  But how do we play this game – and by “game” I do not minimize the seriousness of the issue – if we must? We are confronted with what I call the central dilemma of pseudoscience. Imagine a bar that separates out “reasonable” hypotheses and scientific claims from those that are unacceptable or “fringe.” (This is a bar set by consensus of the scientific community, not a sharp philosophically rigorous demarcation criterion.) One could set that bar pretty high, allowing only relatively uncontroversial, well-established scientific claims through, but then one would hamstring innovation. Such a high bar might have excluded Albert Einstein’s special theory of relativity, Gregor Mendel’s notions on heredity, or Alfred Wegener’s continental drift. Without new ideas, we are mired in intellectual stasis. On the other hand, one could set the bar relatively low, letting in all sorts of unconventional ideas. The problem with a low bar, of course, is that it is impossible in advance to distinguish many unconventional but promising notions from what some might call “crankish” ones. Calibrating the exact level of this metaphorical bar is the central dilemma, and it is inescapable in any scientific venture. This point is well expressed by science-fiction author and avid debunker of fringe claims L. Sprague de Camp: “Thus orthodoxy acts as a kind of filter for new ideas. Ideally it [p. 14à] would provide just enough resistance to them to make their proponents extend themselves to confirm them, and to show up weaknesses of those that were not sound, but not enough resistance to suppress any valuable new discovery.”  It is not simply enough to allow everything in and just sort out the good ones afterward, for the expenditure of time detracts from other scientific projects, and investigation generates publicity that many scientists would rather not give these doctrines.  Every discussion of demarcation at its core hinges around this fundamental tension between innovation and crackpottery. Despite the ubiquity of the central dilemma, it would be a mistake to walk away thinking scientists rack their brains about whether the bar should be set high or low. Scientists spend remarkably little time and effort attempting to characterize pseudoscience in any philosophically coherent way.  Yet we nonetheless must pay attention to this topic, even if scientists fail to do so explicitly, for two reasons. First, as philosopher Paul Thagard has argued, even if a bright line cannot be constructed, it is important for science policy and scientific literacy to have a healthy debate about what is considered to be science and what is not.  The second reason is yet more significant: even if scientists do not overtly argue about the definition of pseudoscience on a daily basis, sociologist Thomas Gieryn notes, “demarcation is routinely accomplished in practical, everyday settings.” That is, “demarcation is not just an analytical problem: because of considerable material opportunities and professional advantages available only to ‘scientists,’ it is no mere academic matter to decide who is doing science and who is not.”  Since this is a weighty social and political problem – not least because defining “science” is the crux of important legal disputes, such as those surrounding the teaching of evolution in public schools in the United States – as well as an intellectual one, I argue in these pages that we should subject these categories to historical analysis, in order to see how they have been articulated at a particular time and place, and their implications for the present. In this, I concur with leading historian of creationism Ronald Numbers: ”As a historian I am much more interested in how persons and parties used ‘science’ and ‘pseudoscience’ to further their ends than in judging whether they employed these labels appropriately by the standards of the 1990s.”  The point is no less true two decades later. But why undertake the study of such matters, when there is so much accepted science that begs for sustained historical investigation? As was [p. 15à] once said in the context of psychoanalysis: ”A successful pseudoscience is a great intellectual achievement. Its study is as instructive and worth undertaking as that of a genuine one.”  I agree with this statement, but I do not mean it in the same way. A pseudoscience is indeed an achievement, but it is not achieved solely by those who espouse the doctrines (as the quotation would have it). Rather, pseudosciences are the products of actions and categorizations made by scientists, and particularly important products at that. But if it is conceded that the topic of demarcation must be discussed – and I believe that there are few topics more significant for understanding the place of science in society and culture – why structure the story largely around Immanuel Velikovsky? There are a few specific features of Velikovsky’s case that make this story rather different, and potentially more illuminating, than a history of phrenology or mesmerism or parapsychology.  Consider what scientists and philosophers have often portrayed as the usual pattern by which pseudosciences are labeled: some practitioners (mainstream or not) advance controversial claims; these are debated within the scientific community and (sometimes) by the public at large; and then the new doctrine is either accepted or it is demonized, labeled pseudoscientific, and cast out of respectability. Velikovsky’s case is more interesting. He was trained as a medical doctor and a psychoanalyst, so he was not completely outside the scientific community, although he was certainly not a trained astronomer or geologist. But from the moment of publication of Worlds in Collision in April 1950, Velikovsky was branded a crackpot. There was no careful consideration, no engaged debates about the book’s status within the scientific community. Velikovskianism was, so to speak, born pseudoscientific. This makes his instance a particularly intriguing locus of inquiry, since the positions of scientists on the issue of demarcation were quite explicit and heated – more so than in the “standard” variant described above – raising buried assumptions to the surface.  There is an additional attraction to the Velikovsky case, again best illustrated by a quotation interpreted against the grain of the author’s intentions. Velikovsky supporter Frederic Jueneman at one point objected to analogies that looked at the controversy as in some way analogous to the Galileo affair (a popular touchstone for many fringe doctrines) or any other historical exemplar. Rather, he “would venture to say that the case of Velikovsky is unique in the annals of scientific inquiry. To my knowledge there has never before been in the history of rational thought such [p. 16à] a massive documentation of the events relating to a single individual, his adversaries, and the sociological pot-boilers which have been written defending his views.”  The crucial point for Jueneman was the focus on a single individual, but that is neither that unique in the history of science (or pseudoscience) nor part of my project here. The real issue is a term he let slip casually: documentation. Massive documentation. Immanuel Velikovsky believed that he had produced a scientific and historical doctrine of world-changing significance, one built on careful attention to scraps of evidence buried in the mythologies of humanity. He organized the writing of his books and his campaign in their defense around similar methods: gathering large amounts of historical data, quoting it extensively, and circulating copies of correspondence to establish his positions, whether about the nature of Venus or the perfidy of Harvard astronomers. Such assiduous attention to detail demanded a phenomenal memory and a rather comprehensive personal archive. The former he was born with; the latter he built over the decades and stored at 78 Hartley Avenue in Princeton, New Jersey, where he lived from 1952 until his death in 1979. In 2005 Firestone Library at Princeton University announced that it had acquired the papers of Immanuel Velikovsky, cataloged them, and opened them to researchers. The name “Velikovsky” dislodged a memory from the browsing of bookshelves in the public libraries of my childhood, and I decided to spend a few hours looking at some of these documents. A few hours turned into a few weeks, months, years. The Velikovsky Papers are one of the most comprehensive personal archives I have ever seen. They consist of sixty-five linear feet of material: drafts of manuscripts, fan mail, hate mail, correspondence with publishers, with friends, with enemies, and much, much more. The Velikovsky archive was not only what he used to wage his own battles in the pseudoscience wars; to the historian, it is an unprecedented entry into how a demonized theory was built from the ground up, and then torn down by both internal and external assaults. It chronicles the process of demarcation in practice with microscopic detail, and most of the book that follows is drawn from its pages. There are, however, some obvious challenges of writing history out of the archives of a single man, especially an archive that was constructed to be a weapon in his quest for legitimacy, and it is necessary to be candid about them. Velikovsky assembled this archive, which means that the evidence itself bears the impression of his own idiosyncrasies. Obviously, I can only use what Velikovsky chose to keep, not what he discarded, and one [p. 17à] might suspect that Velikovsky deliberately sanitized the archive to present a rosy picture. Considering, however, the massive quantity of negative and downright slanderous material that he retained (some of which he preserved so future historians would excoriate his critics, but other parts present the man himself in a petty or vindictive light), it is hard to believe that what one finds in the archive is only what Velikovsky consciously chose to keep.  Based on descriptions of the household during the 1970s, piles of these documents were scattered around the house, and any systematic purge of “compromising material” seems quite improbable. Nonetheless, the Velikovsky archive is not a random or disinterested find (like a vein of ore in a mountainside or the holdings of the Library of Congress), but a specific slice through the documents that passed through his life. Within that slice, I have made my own cuts, focusing on the issue of demarcation above all, and leaving aside detailed inquiry into other fascinating questions like the nature of his fan base, the dynamics of publishing on the fringe, and many other topics that await their historians. Velikovsky thought of this archive as a repository for future historians of science. He wrote to George Sarton, the first president of the History of Science Society, about the richness of his documentation already in 1950, when it was still in its infancy: “For the historian of science, the files that I possess with the reactions of those who made efforts to suppress the book will be of great interest. And since you are a historian of science, I am writing this letter to you.”  Over the years, Velikovsky asked his correspondents to send him copies of anti-Velikovsky letters by third parties so he could store them, because the “archives should have all the material that may interest the future historian of science.”  In the end, he hoped “to make it accessible to all working in the field of history or sociology of science.”  It is clear, therefore, that Velikovsky wanted it open for research. (At one point, as he wrote to the archivist of Boston University, he had a plan for four duplicate archives: one in Western Europe, probably in Edinburgh, because he had studied there; one in Eastern Europe, probably at Moscow University, for the same reason; one in the Middle East, in Jerusalem; and one in the United States, location unspecified. ) To anthropomorphize for a moment: the material wants to be used. But will the fact that these documents were gathered by Velikovsky in the first instance distort the book that follows? Well, of course – but no more than any archive would, whether assembled by a single person or a government agency or a municipality. The same point holds in more extreme instances. Historians routinely use records of the Inquisition, for [p. 18à] example, or Stalinist coerced confessions – if you read them carefully, you can sift historical information while being aware of the limits.  There is no view from nowhere, at least not among the flotsam and jetsam of the past. There is even a virtue to the kind of distortion one finds in Velikovsky’s case: the structure of the archive itself is a kind of evidence; since Velikovsky used it for his own purposes, what he retained shaped his own arguments, and we can read some of his intentions out of how he filed the material.  One could, of course, maintain a bottomless skepticism about Velikovsky’s assertions about his life – for example, did he really have a medical degree from Moscow University? – but most of his doings are quite well corroborated by outside sources. When there is cause to be suspicious of certain documents or assertions, I note it, and when corroboration (or refutation) can be had from other persons, I provide it. Complete reliability, however, will elude us here, as it does (to a less noticeable degree) in all history. In the interest of preserving the tenor of the original disputes, I need to reiterate one point: I do not set out to debunk Immanuel Velikovsky and his theories. Such works already exist in profusion, and you will find citations to them throughout this book. I also do not intend to defend Velikovsky from attack, though I provide citations to the writings of those who do so. It is impossible to write about this debate without raising the arguments for and against his cosmic catastrophism, since whether the events Velikovsky hypothesized really happened was the central question, but in doing so I do not pretend to resolve them.  My goal is historical: to chronicle what happened, to explain when possible why, and to reveal the passions excited by calling something “science” across this temporal period. That is where the bar for this history is set, and I trust it is neither too high nor too low.
Een uitstekende review van het boek is te vinden op https://www.lrb.co.uk/v34/n21/steven-shapin/catastrophism.
Een andere review is From Visionary to the Fringe
Immanuel Velikovsky’s strange quest for a scientific theory of everything
By Paula Findlen
Charles Ginenthal a.o. – Stephen J. Gould and Immanuel Velikovsky Essays in the Continuing Velikovsky Affair
Charles Ginenthal – Carl Sagan & Immanuel Velikovsky
Ev Cochrane – Michael Gordin’s The Pseudoscience Wars Immanuel Velikovsky and the Birth of the Modern Fringe