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Pseudoscience and history

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#1 Ira



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Posted 31 January 2013 - 10:28 PM

For those of you interested in how pseudoscience illuminates history, you might be interested in the slim volume "The Pseudoscience Wars: Immanuel Velikovsky and the Birth of the Modern Fringe" by Michael D. Gordin, a professor of history at Princeton University.

One chapter of the book shows how the history of Soviet genetics and eugenics set the political milieu for the reception of Velikovsky's book.

From the review:
"Other chapters seek to explain the historical context into which Velikovsky’s book was released and received—why such an obvious crank was worth getting upset about in the first place, apart from the fact that his book was selling extraordinarily well. Timing, Gordin maintains, was everything: “The American scientific community was at that moment in tremendous flux, having emerged from World War II with greater visibility, greater funding, greater prestige, and greater power than it had ever had before—and consequently significant anxiety.” Gordin spends pages and pages plodding through both the history of Soviet genetics and the successful re-imaging of eugenics, setting up the political precedent for Velikovsky’s charged reception."

In this context it becomes easier to understand Soviet scientist Iosif Shklovky's claim that Phobos was hollow and constructed of sheet metal by aliens, a claim which he may never have intended to be taken seriously, yet would have resonated with the hoopla generated by his fellow countryman Velikovsky's book. Indeed, he may have intended to poke fun at Velikovsky with that claim, but that is just speculation.

Shklovsky was a legitimate scientist, although nothing spread his fame like his claim about Phobos. He later co-authored a book about intelligent life in the universe with Carl Sagan, the first comprehensive discussion of the topic.


#2 llanitedave


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Posted 01 February 2013 - 11:58 AM

In fairness to Velikovsky, his book was part of what inspired me to go into science in the first place. It was a very engaging, well-written book for an 11-year old's imagination, and I was reading it with fascination.

And then, as I got deeper into it, little doubts started to enter my mind: "No, wait.. that CAN'T be right... this doesn't make sense."

I was brought up in the culture of "They wouldn't let them print it if it weren't true", and that book really showed me more than anything else the importance of independent verification.

#3 Ira



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Posted 03 February 2013 - 10:53 PM

Einstein apparently wrote in his correspondence about "Worlds in Collision":
“No, it really isn’t a bad book. The only trouble with it is, it is crazy.”
I think I need to find a copy to read. I never read it in the day.


#4 Kon Dealer

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Posted 04 February 2013 - 04:47 AM

So we can't talk about "climate science", then?

#5 Jarad


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Posted 04 February 2013 - 07:29 AM

Okay, having thought about this over the weekend, I have concluded that the best possible result is that we find a couple of pseudo-scientists we can all agree on and feel smug about how much more rational we are than they were. At worst (and much more likely), this will devolve into a round of name-calling as people disagree over whether a given hypothesis is real science or pseudo-science.

This forum is for discussing real science in a civil and fact-based manner, not putting down those who we think fell for pseudo-science. So I am going to lock this thread.



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