The other day, Ball wrote a misguided piece at WUWT that pushed Velikovsky, mostly as a martyr that the scientific elite threw to the lions, so to speak. To defend himself against the accusation that he supports Velikovsky's crackpot ideas, Ball does the obvious. At least the obvious to a denier and conspiracy fruitcake like Ball. He says he doesn't support him then gives the reasons why he does. That works - not. If you don't believe me, here's the full thing. My edited highlights follow.
The reaction to my recent reference to Immanuel Velikovsky was knee-jerk, ill-informed, and a classic example of scientific elitism. I suspect that like so many such reactions they are by people who read or know little about the events and issues involved.Probably not, Tim. Not here, anyway. I've read some of Velikovsky's dross and I've read many critiques of it. I know which side science will fall on every time, because it is so obvious which side scientific evidence is on. Barely knee jerk but astonishment that anyone these days takes Velikovsky seriously and claims to have some expertise in science.
I was admonished for using him as a poor example because he represented “pseudo-science”. Who and how do you determine that someone or their work is pseudo-science? In this case, it is simply the endless repetition of half-truths because Velikovsky’s education and scientific affiliations don’t support the claim.As the recent example of Ben Carson, superlative surgeon and total dingbat creationist show, you can be a genius at one thing and so, so, so wrong on something else. And, as Orac explains often, most physicians are not scientists. They are often not even scientifically trained in the same sense that, say, a physicist or a climate scientist are. This is not to do down many doctors, just to point out that they are not trained as scientists even though we like to think they are.
There is little doubt that the major reason for the charge of pseudo-science was his interest in and use of ancient records. The biggest sin of all was use of the Bible while trying to determine similar descriptions of physical events across different cultural references.No, his biggest sin was to be so uncritical about those ancient records. He cherry picked and did not use the available evidence when it contradicted his thesis. To have ignored references to Venus that predated the events Velikovsky said led to the creation of Venus out of Jupiter shows precisely what sort of pseud we are dealing with here. Velikovsky, I am told often, is a great scholar. He is very sloppy.
As a result of Velikovsky’s research, done with thoroughness and precision, he discovered anomalies that didn’t fit the prevailing sequence of events.Oh, boy. It wasn't done with thoroughness and precision. He seems to have had a version he set out to prove correct. There is a hint that there was a religious aspect to this but I am not convinced by that argument. Whatever, confusing hydrocarbons and carbohydrates is childish stuff.
This reconstruction and comparison of historical data to analyze natural events was no different than earlier examples. The use of older star tables compared with the precise observations of Tycho Brahe were used by Johannes Kepler to confirm the Copernican heliocentric system.I would be ashamed to have written this passage because even Ball must have known how wrong it was. Brahe and Kepler used the best available observations of the planets and stars - measurements - not stories. If Ball thinks the Bible is a record of scientific observations then... Oh, wait. He probably does.
A colleague and I approached the President of our University with a plan to hold a conference on the ideas of Immanuel Velikovsky. He said he would not allow anything on campus associated with that “charlatan.” The President, Harry Duckworth was a physicist and Velikovsky committed the cardinal sin of challenging prevailing scientific views. We knew through questioning that Duckworth knew little about Velikovsky or his science. He simply repeated the gossip without question. The objective of our proposed conference was to show that it didn’t matter whether Velikovsky was right or wrong.So there was a deeper, antiscientific agenda, hey, Tim? Of course it matters if Velikovsky is right or wrong and you are hardly going to get a physicist to back down when the immutable laws of physics demonstrate with extreme clarity why Velikovsky is wrong. You have to pity the poor old scientists who had to explain again and again just why Velikovsky could not be right and to get your own colleagues to come up to you and suggest that you just undermine all that scientific understanding by showing it doesn't matter. I know Tim is writing this rubbish to his agenda, but he wants the rest of humanity to take him seriously, he needs to be a little more critical of his own thoughts. They stand no scrutiny whatsoever.
Velikovsky’s treatment holds many lessons for today’s debate over climate change. The scientific communities condemnation of him was the same as today’s claim by AGW proponents that the science is settled.I agree with the first half of the second sentence - scientists at the time behaved badly. I do not agree with the sentiment in the second half.
See Orac, ad nauseam.
• This meant he was not indoctrinated by formal education in specialized academic science – the bastions of dogmatism and intellectual tunnel vision.This also meant he had little understanding of the subtleties of the subject. It did not mean he was lacking dogmatism and tunnel vision. And this is at the time when Plate Tectonics was being developed.
• He claimed that historical records were of actual events. They were similar to proxy data in climate, which suffer the same disdain from self-professed ‘hard’ climate scientists.Well, this is a distinct problem. Some records are more reliable than others and those that support one another, reporting the same event for example, are more useful still. When one claims the Earth stood still, either Klaatu or magic did it because there is an enormous problem with the physics of it, so it isn't a surprise that the physicists were sniffy about Velikovsky. I would be. And not being a physicist, he didn't have to worry about the actual physics of this.
• His ideas did not conform to established astronomical views on planetary motion. For example, he correctly anticipated the retrograde rotation of Venus.And they still don't, even though he lucked onto the retrograde rotation of Venus. But a lucky prediction doesn't make you an expert. Not everything he predicted turned out correct and not everything had anything like reliable evidence to support the prediction.
• His work was interdisciplinary at a time of specialization. Worse, it blended science with the humanities and the social sciences. As one person explained, “Dr. Velikovsky’s work crosses so many of the jurisdictional boundaries of learning that few experts could check it against their own competence.”Not sure who the person was but being wrong in several disciplines is clearly something to be celebrated according to Tim Ball. In the real world, wrong in humanities is still wrong.
• Many of Velikovsky’s claims proved correct including the higher temperature for Venus; the radio waves from Jupiter; and the nine advanced claims he made in writing at the request of the New York Times before the moon landing, all of which were confirmed by the evidence.And many haven't, but there you go. Following the link in this does not take you to the list, just one of them, about water being found on the Moon. So what, I hear you cry. Indeed.
Velikovsky's first book, World's In Collision, was initially published by MacMillan but a concerted effort by scientists ensured that they dropped the hot potato and left it for someone else to pick up.
Carl Sagan led the open assault on Velikovsky with the arrogant and scientifically elitist title book “Scientist’s Confront Velikovsky, which implies that Velikovsky is not a scientist.I have a copy of the book. It is slim, accessible and fully referenced. The biggest section is Sagan's and it is also one with a set of calculations that demonstrate the foolishness of Velikovsky. As for the elitist title, what else could they have called it since it was a clear indication of what the contents were, scientifically based refutations. And as for Velikovsky not being a scientist - that much is obvious from reading his own writings.
|Carl Sagan (left) with Immanuel Velikovsky (right)|
Sagan is a bit of a pariah for deniers. He opposed nuclear weapons and promoted the greenhouse effect, if you like, and he was a phenomenally good science communicator, for which he met much envy. But the biggest envy comes from deniers and Ball, true to form, denies bit time:
His claims about the temperature and role of CO2 on Venus was wrong. His claim that CO2 is causing global warming was wrong, yet like all scientific elitists he blindly ignores the facts.There we have it: Tim Ball thinks he's one of the scientific elite because he blindly ignores the facts. Case closed.
Well, it should be. For some unknown reason, when Tim Ball has a kick at the late Stephen Jay Gould, he omits the fact that Gould was a Marxist and therefore must have let his leftist ideologies seep into his science (I am not sure that Ball wouldn't be right here, but it is hard to disentangle Gould's politics of revolution from the emerging ideas of catastrophism that did become somewhat mainstream in the seventies and eighties).
Ball should be more alert to the fact that science does take on board odd ideas. Witness Alvarez's comet collision wiping out the dinosaurs idea, something that, according to Ball, would have been impossible for the mainstream science elite to accept, but accept it they did, and remarkably quickly. Within ten years, I was reading of fanciful ideas of periodic extinctions and a companion star to the Sun that churned up the Oort cloud every 25 million years or so. Ideas that might seem extreme are rapidly absorbed into scientific mainstream when and only when they yield insights and gain the necessary evidence. Velikovsky did not achieve this because there were perfectly adequate explanations for the fanciful ideas he put forward, and there was counter evidence readily available that said even his best wasn't good enough. Astronomical records of Venus predate Velikovsky's suggested origin.
Anthony Watts suggests we can learn something from the Velikovsky affair. Perhaps he can see what the rest of the world learnt a long time ago. In case he reads this (and I expect he doesn't), the message is that blokes sitting in armchairs and searching the Internet (or in Velikovsky's case, sitting in a library for several years) and coming up with a world changing theory are highly unlikely to be right but not for the reasons that Watts and Ball think. It's because they don't have their ideas shot down before the get the chance to let the world know how much of a genius they are. Science, as I have said before, it like a puzzle and all the bits needs to fit together to work properly. You can't just invent something to make your explanation work. There is no X that makes it happen. Einstein got caught out with his cosmological constant.
Let me leave one little learning moment to Stephen Jay Gould:
The Velikovsky affair raises what is perhaps the most disturbing question about the public impact of science. How is a layman to judge rival claims of supposed experts? Any person with a gift for words can spin a persuasive argument about any subject not in the domain of a reader's personal expertise. Even von Daniken sounds good if you just read Chariots of the Gods. I am in no position to judge the historical argument of Worlds in Collision. I know little of celestial mechanics and even less about the history of the Egyptian Middle Kingdom (although I have heard experts howl about Velikovsky's unorthodox chronology). I do not wish to assume that the nonprofessional must be wrong. Yet when I see how poorly Velikovsky uses the data I am familiar with, then I must entertain doubts about his handling of material unfamiliar to me. But what it is a person who knows neither astronomy, Egyptology, nor geology to do—especially when faced with a hypothesis so intrinsically exciting and a tendency, shared, I suspect, by all of us, to root for the underdog?The Tim Ball Velikovsky affair illustrates a problem with deniers too. How thin skinned they are? I begin to wonder if they were all rather spoiled as children, that they learned to cry when something went wrong in order to get what they wanted. More ice cream, Tim? Now please stop crying.
But all deniers seem to be like it. Monckton threatens writs. Watts snips comments, then makes cowardly comments behind that shield of impenetrability. The commentariat at WUWT bay like hounds at a dog fight. But they whimper when shown up to be the fools they truly are. When Tim Ball was called out as supporting Velikovsky, he could have just ignored it, or written that Velikovsky was a nutcase with no supporting evidence. But he didn't. He showed his true colours and supported not just Velikovsky but his ideas.
If you want to see what caused the fuss and see how wrong it is, here is Velikovsky's Worlds In Collision (pdf)
You can buy the book Scientists Confront Velikovsky on Amazon.com
Sou has her own take on Tim Ball's nonsense
Watch Carl Sagan deal with Velikovsky in Cosmos (if you're reading, Tim, watch all the way to the end - you'll learn something):