The Pseudoscience Wars: Immanuel Velikovsky and the Birth of the Modern Fringe

Michael D. Gordin. Univ. of Chicago, $29 (312p) ISBN 978-0226304427
Princeton historian Gordin provides an often compelling but sometimes plodding account of the scientific and cultural impact of Immanuel Velikovsky’s book, Worlds in Collision, which soared to the top of bestseller lists in 1950. The book claimed that various physical upheavals of a global character have been caused by extraterrestrial agents that, he argued, could be identified. For example, sometime around 1500 B.C.E., a massive comet was ejected from Jupiter and became trapped in the earth’s gravitational and electromagnetic fields, wreaking such havoc as the catastrophes described in the biblical stories of Exodus. Scientists fiercely rejected Velikovsky’s claims, but, Gordin argues, he ushered in a popular belief in pseudoscience. Gordin (Red Cloud at Dawn) provides a detailed historical sketch of the writing of and reaction to Worlds in Collision, and Velikovsky’s impact on the scientific community and popular culture. Gordin explores how other fringe scientists often embrace Velikovsky’s ideas, and the independent development of creationism, eugenics, and parapsychology. Gordin points out that pseudoscience is the shadow of science, for science will always exclude some domains and findings as outdated, incorrect, or irrelevant. Pseudoscience, he concludes, can be removed from contemporary science with better peer review of journal articles and books and with more scientific literacy. Agent: Christy Fletcher, Fletcher & Co. (Oct.)
Reviewed on: 06/11/2012
Release date: 09/01/2012
Genre: Nonfiction
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