Having just read Michael Gordin’s piece on Velikovsky, I was more than a little surprised when I received in the mail today a copy of Immanuel Velikovsky’s Worlds in Collision.
For various and sundry reasons, I am one of the “very few people under 50” who not only has heard of Velikovsky but also has read, albeit quickly, his Worlds in Collision. And I was not looking to acquire one.
The copy that arrived today came from a retired academic’s collection. He had been trained as a physicist in the 1950s. Sometime between finishing his Ph.D. in physics and getting a job he decided that he preferred the history of science. This was the late 1950s when it was easier to dscipline swap, so he looked for and got a job teaching in a history department where he spent the next 45+ years teaching the history of science. No, you haven’t heard of him because his magnum opus remains unfinished—in the mid-1960s he had a contract offer if he could trim the manuscript to 900 pages! Between then and when he retired, the manuscript continued to expand. The draft now occupies the better part of a shelf, where it languishes unfinished.
I don’t know exactly what he thought of Velikovsky, but I can say he read his copy carefully. He underlined numerous passages throughout the text.
If I had to guess, I would say he enjoyed and perhaps approved of the book. He was eager to purchase his copy, which according to the inscription on the inside front cover he did shortly after it appeared in 1950. He also cut out and saved George E. Sokolsky’s attack on the scientists who threatened to boycott Macmillan.
Sokolsky hadn’t read the book but based on his reading of excerpts published in Collier’s Magazine he claimed that Worlds in Collision was a “fantastic book.” In damning prose he condemned the scientists who had bullied Macmillan into transferring the book Doubleday:
So, it appears from what can be learned about it that certain scientists, including leading astronomers, threatened Macmillan with a boycott on their textbooks if they did not rid themselves of Professor Velikovsky’s book. Of course, what the learned and liberal professor wanted really was the total suppression of a book which opposes their dogma. Scientists tend to become dogmatic like theologians, whom they denounce as dogmatic.
He was just getting started. Sokolsky continues: scientists think that “anyone who does not belong to their particular trade union should be silenced.” Moreover, as professors they are hypocrites.
They file petitions and make a terrific clamor if one of their number is kicked out of a university for teaching what most decent folks still regard as lies. But let someone else, outside the American Association of University Professors say something which points up the professors as bluffers, and they, the professors, try suppression. Academic freedom benefits only professors.
Judging by the discolored pages, it seems Sokolsky’s editorial has been there for a number of years.
Less coincidentally but equally interesting, included in the same parcel was a copy of the Phrenological Journal from 1879 that included an article about “Medical Quackery.”
[Posted at PACHS]