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Cambridge 38, Massachusetts

February 20, 1950

(Not for publication. HS)
Mr. Ted Thackrey
The Compass
New York City, New York

Dear Ted:

Somebody has done you dirt. They got you to republish Larrabee’s article from the January Harper’s Magazine. Collier’s also has given this crank a great run, and several other presumably reputable publications have handled the stuff with a flat pen.

In my rather long experience in the field of science, this is the most successful fraud that has been perpetrated on leading American publications. To me the article seems so transparent that I am surprised that Harper’s and Macmillan would handle it. I am not quite sure that Macmillan is going through with the publication, because that firm has perhaps the highest reputation in the world for the handling of scientific books.

A representative of Max Ascoli’s magazine. The Reporter, called me up a few weeks ago and asked me to write a refutation or comment. My colleague Mrs. Cecilia Payne-Gaposch-kin has written such a paper for The Reporter, and I suppose it will be forthcoming soon. I enclose a copy. It occurs to me that The Compass might like to republish (with permission) this comment from an American astronomer of the highest standing.

A few years ago this Dr. V. sent me a copy of his pamphlet “Cosmos Without Gravitation.” I filed it away with the other crank literature that comes to a scientific laboratory. We could dig out several equally plausible writings, mostly published at the author’s expense. We have the publications of the Flat Earth Society—desperately sincere. We have the theories on the origin of the solar system by the Fuller Brush man of Florida. We have the writings of the men who unfortunately were unable ever to go to school, but have herewith overthrown the theories of Einstein (as Dr. V. has overthrown Darwin and Newton and all the rest).

A number of astronomical groups have talked about this business, and their sad conclusion generally is that we are in an age of decadence where nonsense stands higher than experiment and learning.

Of course one should not pay any serious attention to these matters, and I certainly would not have done so if The Compass had not reprinted, apparently with a straight face, the Larrabee article.

This man Dr. V. came to me in New York several years ago and asked me to endorse his work so that he could get it published. I pointed out to him that if he were right then all that Isaac Newton ever did was wrong. Nevertheless we seem to have built up a civilization, and the hotel in which we were standing, on account of the contributions of Newton and others of his kind.

You know, of course, that I personally am a sympathetic friend of the thwarted and demented, and have no high respect for formalism, and none at all for orthodoxy. But this “Sun stood still” stuff is pure rubbish, of the level of the astrological hocus-pocus, except that Dr. V. has read widely as well as superficially and can parade a lot of technical terms which apparently he has not mastered. But if he had mastered them, who would want to publish his stuff!

Sincerely yours,

Harlow Shapley

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