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The Pseudoscience Wars: Immanuel Velikovsky and the Birth of the Modern Fringe Hardcover – September 26, 2012
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(Michael Shermer, publisher of Skeptic magazine, monthly columnist for Scientific American , author of The Believing Brain)
“Few issues loom more important today than the boundaries and authority of scientific expertise. How do the boundaries get created and reinforced, and what work do terms like ‘pseudoscience’ do in the debates? By delving deep into one of the earliest border skirmishes of the modern age—the fascinating, beguiling case of Immanuel Velikovsky, his heterodox theories of human history and cosmic evolution, and the firestorm of protest they elicited from the scientific community—Michael Gordin offers us a roadmap of the modern fringe. Scouring extraordinary sources with his keen analytic eye, Gordin reveals the roots of today's pseudoscience wars. Engrossing and illuminating.”
(David Kaiser, author of How the Hippies Saved Physics: Science, Counterculture, and the Quantum Revival)
"Gordin . . . is remarkably evenhanded. . . . This won't put an end to the debates that rage between legitimate scientific research and other fringe doctrines, but it does lay the Velikovsky affair to rest with fairness and clarity and will help to put into perspective many of the controversies swirling around today's scientific landscape. A good read for those interested in the history of science or pseudoscientific theories."
"Scholarly and highly readable. . . . Gordin's historical analysis of pseudoscience remains disturbingly relevant." (Nature)
About the Author
Michael D. Gordin is professor of history at Princeton University and the author of a number of books, including Red Cloud at Dawn: Truman, Stalin, and the End of the Atomic Monopoly. He lives in Princeton, New Jersey.
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Top Customer Reviews
Expressing no overt opinion of IV's ideas or the speculations behind them, Gordin instead places them in their contemporary setting and examines how and why they provoked the types of responses they did. He presents only a thumbnail biographical sketch of IV, focusing on his background and the events of his life only as they pertain to the development of his ideas and how they color his (IV's) reactions to the reactions his books produced. He then follows how those reactions changed over time, both within and without established, academic science and the larger world.
Gordin uses Velikovsky as a template of a sort for the reception of, and reaction to, other ideas and ideologies that have arisen in the past 60 or so years and shows how Velikovsky's supporters and critics have influenced the examination of those other ideas. This is really a fascinating read.
And it is also a very good read. Gordin's writing is scholarly without being at all obscure and his straightforward, matter-of-fact prose serves his purpose here very well. His subject is interesting and engaging; his style doesn't have to be.
This is, I think, an important book for those interested in the history and culture of science in specific, and ideas in general, particularly in the ways that serious academics act and react to popular and populist ideas that claim to contradict or attack their work. Highly recommended here.
Immanuel Velikovsky (1895-1979) was a Russian born Jewish psychiatrist who established a practice of psychiatry and Freudian psychoanalysis in Palestine from 1924 to 1939. He published several papers in medical journals, in which he was first to suggest that specific changes in EEG (electroencephalogram) were diagnostic of epilepsy.
Although an admirer of Freud, Velikovsky set out to disprove the latter's claim, that Moses was a follower of the Pharoah Akhenaton or Pharoah himself, as Freud suggested in "Moses and Monotheism". Velikovsky postulated the theory that Akhnaten was the model for Oedipus in Greek mythology. This began a second career of research and writings in archeology, biblical investigation, and cosmology in which Velikovsky tried to change the accepted chronology of ancient Egyptian kings and dynasties by interpreting or misinterpreting ancient documents (Eg: the Ipuwer papyrus, Mesopotanian cuneiforms etc).
In 1939, Velikovsky travelled to New York, ostensibly to do research for his planned book "Oedipus and Akhnaton" but remained permanently in the USA after the WWll broke out.Read more ›
Philosophically, Gordin's book is extremely interesting for its approach to (what we philosophers call) the "demarcation problem." How do you distinguish -- demarcate -- that activity we call science from non-scientific pretenders? Common examples in the second category include alchemy, astrology, phrenology (studying the shape of skulls), creation science, and science under the Nazi regime and Lysenko in the Soviet Union. More controversial or difficult cases include Freudian psychology, Marxism, and evolution by natural selection ("Darwinism").
A classic attempted solution to this problem is from the Austrian-British philosopher Karl Popper. Popper said that "falsifiability" was the crucial feature: If your hypothesis makes predictions that can be empirically refuted, then (and only then) is it science. Even today, scientists offer this solution when creation science (and intelligent design, a descendent better adapted to our regulatory environment) rears its head. But contemporary philosophers of science generally agree that refutation isn't as clear-cut as Poppers solution assumes.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
"The Pseudoscience Wars" by Professor Michael Gordin is a non-Velikovskian look at the controversies surrounding Immanuel Velikovsky, a Russian-born psychoanalyst and polymath... Read morePublished 12 months ago by Ashtar Command
I can hardly add any new praise of this book than the other reviewers.Published 13 months ago by NBrockmeier
As Gordin reminds the reader, Velikovsky is virtually unknown to those under 50. But there was a time when his Worlds in Collision (1950) was selling a thousand hardback copies a... Read morePublished 21 months ago by Anson Cassel Mills
Virtually no one under the age of 45 has ever heard of Immanuel Velikovsky; almost everyone over 45 has heard of him, has an opinion about his ideas, and still discusses these... Read morePublished 22 months ago by Roger D. Launius
This book is a detailed history of the publication-related and scholarly battles surrounding Velikovsky's Worlds in Collision. Read morePublished 22 months ago by William Ashcraft
Gordin's book provides a competent and dispassionate account of Velikovsky, as noted in other reviews. Read morePublished on December 29, 2013 by Kenneth J. Dillon
This book should be read by anyone with an interest in Velikovsky who has also read "The Velikovsky Affair" (1966), "Stargazers and Gravediggers" (1983), "Cosmic Heretics" (1984),... Read morePublished on August 31, 2013 by c.leroy
An eye opener to those who dismiss science as not being critical of itself. It puts self-declared scientific heretics into perspective, telling how we benefit (then and now) from... Read morePublished on December 29, 2012 by Amazon Customer