The Pseudoscience Wars

The Pseudoscience Wars

Immanuel Velikovsky and the Birth of the Modern Fringe

Book - 2012
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Properly analyzed, the collective mythological and religious writings of humanity reveal that around 1500 BC, a comet swept perilously close to Earth, triggering widespread natural disasters and threatening the destruction of all life before settling into solar orbit as Venus, our nearest planetary neighbor. Sound implausible? Well, from 1950 until the late 1970s, a huge number of people begged to differ, as they devoured Immanuel Velikovsky's major best-seller, Worlds in Collision, insisting that perhaps this polymathic thinker held the key to a new science and a new history. Scientists, on the other hand, assaulted Velikovsky's book, his followers, and his press mercilessly from the get-go. In The Pseudoscience Wars , Michael D. Gordin resurrects the largely forgotten figure of Velikovsky and uses his strange career and surprisingly influential writings to explore the changing definitions of the line that separates legitimate scientific inquiry from what is deemed bunk, and to show how vital this question remains to us today. Drawing on a wealth of previously unpublished material from Velikovsky's personal archives, Gordin presents a behind-the-scenes history of the writer's career, from his initial burst of success through his growing influence on the counterculture, heated public battles with such luminaries as Carl Sagan, and eventual eclipse. Along the way, he offers fascinating glimpses into the histories and effects of other fringe doctrines, including creationism, Lysenkoism, parapsychology, and more--all of which have surprising connections to Velikovsky's theories. Science today is hardly universally secure, and scientists seem themselves beset by critics, denialists, and those they label "pseudoscientists"--as seen all too clearly in battles over evolution and climate change. The Pseudoscience Wars simultaneously reveals the surprising Cold War roots of our contemporary dilemma and points readers to a different approach to drawing the line between knowledge and nonsense.
Publisher: Chicago ; London : The University of Chicago Press, 2012, ©2012.
ISBN: 9780226304427
0226304426
Characteristics: x, 291 pages : 1 ill. ; 24 cm

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ReidCooper
Jul 18, 2013

A fascinating and well-written case study in the History & Philosophy of Science, Gordin does a great job of presenting one of the more curious publishing controversies of the mid-20th Century. Using this one case to illustrate broader issues of defining what is and is not "science", the book examines the role of the public and state in science-related debates. The truth of Velikovsky's claims being beside the point, Gordin is remarkably neutral and polite even as he indirectly makes it clear that Velikovsky was basically a crank. Late in the book, he wonders why concerns about the use of science were focused on fringe elements like this or parapsychology, rather than the risks to public well-being caused by, for example, corporate-funded "research" designed to confuse the public about scientifically established links between tobacco and cancer. Ultimately, Gordin questions the very term "pseudoscience" as little more than a rhetorical move.

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