The publication of Immanuel Velikovsky's Worlds in Collision in 1950 was an event: the book was an instant best seller and launched Velikovsky on a long career as a writer and public figure opining on questions of science, history, myth, and more. But at the same time, Velikovsky and his theories – which claimed that ancient mythological and religious writings revealed Earth's hitherto unknown history of natural disasters and cosmic near-misses – were vigorously attacked by scientists, who saw them as unscientific nonsense.
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.
Introduction: Bad Ideas
1 The Grand Collision of Spring 1950
2 A Monolithic Oneness
3 The Battle over Lysenkoism
4 Experiments in Rehabilitation
5 Skirmishes on the Edge of Creation
6 Strangest Bedfellows
Conclusion: Pseudoscience in Our Time
Abbreviations and Archives
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.
"What is the difference between science and pseudoscience? As the publisher of Skeptic magazine and the Skeptic columnist for Scientific American I am frequently asked this question. Believe it or not, it'a a hard question to answer. Michael Gordin's The Pseudoscience Wars is the best single volume I have come across in my vast reading on the topic. He clearly and succinctly captures all sides on the debate, is rigorous in his research and fair to both believers and skeptics, and his narrative reconstruction of the Velikovsky affair makes for gripping reading. The Pseudoscience Wars is destined to become a classic in science literature."
– 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
"Michael Gordin has written a wide-ranging, elegant, lucid, and informative book. By situating Velikovsky and the Velikovsky affair in the context of scientific denunciations of several sorts of 'pseudoscience,' and by vividly presenting the broader intellectual and cultural contexts of the many skirmishes, he has given us a far richer and more persuasive account of 'pseudoscience' than we have ever had. His readers will learn much about the sciences and their place in contemporary culture from his brilliantly illuminating book."
– Philip Kitcher, author of The Ethical Project
"Those who are interested in how bad ideas start, how they diffuse, how they covet and resist confrontation, and how they wax and wane in popularity over time will find much food for thought in this gripping book."
"Scholarly and highly readable [...] Gordin's historical analysis of pseudoscience remains disturbingly relevant."
"A slyly funny writer [...] Make no mistake: Gordin's sympathies are not with the occult. His fascination with pseudoscience is more like a negative method: the experts define the boundaries of their domain by fending off the quacks. For Gordin, pseudoscience is an instrument by which he takes the temperature of the past [...] . The Pseudoscience Wars is a relatively slim volume, but Gordin siphons into it an overwhelming amount of information."
– New Republic