March 10, 1977 Received March 18 – I.V.
I returned five days ago from an inconclusive and rather disappointing trip to Boston. Two days before I left, Larry Smarr called to warn me that there might be problems involved in gaining access to Dr. Shapley’s archives. As a result of his absence from Cambridge and poor planning on my part, he had only a short time to sponsor my activities. Despite Larry’s warning, I decided to risk the trip. Joan McMillan (Henry Zemel’s friend) had arrived from Colorado and Henry had made plans to motor down from Toronto to spend some time with her.
My first meeting with Clark Elliot, who is head of the University Archives, set the tone for the whole week. He stated that access to the archives required the permission of both Harlow Shapley’s family and the head of the Harvard College Observatory, the former for his personal papers, the latter for his public papers. An additional complication arose from the fact that they were not necessarily divided into those categories, the inference being that he, as Chief Archivist, would make the final decision. Even if I were granted access, it was further stipulated that this would only give me the right of sight and not of publication. When I informed him that I intended to see Dr. George Fields, the present head of the Observatory, to obtain the required permission for viewing the public papers, he advised me that it would be best to approach either the family or Dr. Owen Gingrich. The present Director had already denied access to materials going back as far as the 1920’s and would probably show greater sensitivity to matters relating to 1950. Dr. Gingrich, he advised me, had been a friend of the late Dr. Shapley and was close to his remaining family. If he cleared me, I should have no trouble gaining original access. Having little choice in the matter, I spent the rest of the week on interviews with Dr. Shapleys’ contemporaries and researching materials available to the public. I have made transcriptions of the most interesting elements in the taped materials and enclosed them as an appendix to this letter.
My interview with Dr. Gingrich has convinced me that I have very little chance of ever gaining access to Dr. Shapleys’ archives. He made his position fairly clear. Any materials that were used to cast Dr. Shapley in a negative light could very well cause the family to close the archives permanently and this he felt would cause great injury to future research. He would forward my request to Dr. Allan Shapley and said that he would take neither a positive nor negative stance to my request. I will write Dr. Shapley’s son, but I fear it is all a waste of time.
Gaining access to the Shapley archives neither guarantees the success or failure of my book. It does, however, extend the time horizon. As I informed you in our recent telephone conversation, I have received financial backing for my Pipeline Project and I am under a financial and moral obligation to spend most of my time pursuing it. In addition to this impediment , a movie script that I was working on in my doldrum period has caused great enthusiasm and I find myself a silent co-producer of a major film.
These events, in balance, are highly beneficial to my ultimate Velikovsky aims. As I informed you during my Princeton visits, I am not a professional author. My ambition, once I have finished my Pipeline Project, is to further your work in a manner that best suits my native capability. To that end, I have already accumulated a rather respectable tape library of approximately thirty books on Velikovsky-Shapley material representing approximately 240 hours of recorded material. In addition to that, I have a further 20 hours of notes and recorded interviews.
Before going further on this project and deciding the form my book will take and the time. I can effectively devote toil, it is important that I have some access to your materials. At present the circumstantial evidence surrounding Dr. Shapley’s attempt to suppress the publication of Worlds in Collision is well established in the two publications “The Velikovsky Affair” and “Velikovsky Reconsidered.” In particular the article by Kallen is as warm and convincing a document as one could want. To improve on this, the book must draw up a convincing psychological profile of Dr. Shapley. I am sure that his motives in the affair will never be totally clear, but the only materials I have at present supports a snap decision on your work, reinforced by contemporary social and political conditions. I feel that Dr. Shapley’s reaction, at base, was a psychological one paralleling the historical attitudes described by you in Worlds in Collision and ancillary speeches and writings and followed up competently by Stechini. I would like to see the conflict between you and Shapley as Stecchini saw the conflict between Whiston and Newton. To do this effectively may or may not require access to the archives. Without individuals who were contemporary to the affair. I would like to begin by reading by reading your unpublished biographical manuscripts and any other information relevant to the conflict. If you will grant me permission I can arrange for a reader to accompany me down to Princeton within the next sixty days.
I hope this letter has not depressed you. The Boston visit was not a complete disaster. Gingrich, although denying the possibility of Shapley’s opposition as a subconcious rejection of chaos, conceded that there might be an important tie between Dr. Shapley’s religious upbringing and consequent agnosticism (Gingrich would not believe that Dr. Shapley accepted an honourary Doctor of Divinity degree in his later years). Gingrich interprets any emotional reaction to your work by Shapley as a result of the wide use of Old Testament materials. On the brighter side, Larry Smarr reported the first debate on Velikovsky at the traditional Monday night dinner held for the fifty or so junior and senior fellows of Harvard. Apparently Professor Quine, who according to Larry is one of the leading logicians of our time, made a passing reference to Kronos on something about having failed to renew his subscription to Kronos. When the laughter had subsided, Larry spoke up and mentioned that he had indeed himself renewed his subscription to Kronos. An exchange followed in which Larry attempted to explain the ideas expressed in your works and Quine kept interrupting with sarcastic interjections. According to Larry, he let Quine get in deeper and deeper until the junior fellows started resenting his interruptions and asked Quine to desist. Apparently none of the junior fellows was acquainted with your work and developed an active interest in them during the course of the discussion. Only the senior fellows the “defenders of the faith” put up any opposition.
After a week in Boston, I wonder whether I should not accept a lesson implicit in Larry Smarr’s story and the Mosaic tradition—concentrate on the young and let the Gingriches and the Helen Hoggs fade away. At any rate, I feel more comfortable dealing with the sins of the sons, than the sins of the fathers
I want to thank you again for your cooperation and encouragement. I shall eventually put it to good use.
c.c. Dr. Larry Smarr
Excerpts from Taped Interviews — Boston Visit February 23-26, 1977
Interview with David Layzer February 23, 1977
David Layzer was at the Harvard College Observatory when Worlds in Collision was published. He returned in 1952 after an absence of two and a half years where he has remained to the present. He informed Larry Smarr, but did not state during the interview, that Dr. Shapley did not reply to Velikovsky’s book personally because he felt he lacked the expertise to do so and relied on such individuals as Payne Gaposchkin and others: Layzer had little regard for Shapley’s training as a mathematician or physicist.
On Shapley’s motivation for the attempt to suppress Worlds in Collision: “Of course the course that they took, even in that time, was clearly wrong that if it needed to be combatted at all was not to try to suppress publication but the idea was some sort of fuzzy idea that if something like that was to be published, it should be published by people who publish “porn.” It was a very naive and not very well thought out reaction.
Compares Shapley’s vendetta to Dr. Bok’s lifelong attack against astrology. Also discusses Dr. Manzelle’s three book crusade against flying saucers.
On Shapley: “Shapley also did not have what now a days would be considered an adequate scientific background... He came to astronomy from journalism. I don’t think he appreciated the way the physical sciences are constructed...”
On Shapley’s Personality: “He was very shy and kept his distance from people... All of his colleagues called him Dr. Shapley (Layzer recalls a gaff where one junior colleague called him by his first name); even now everyone in talking about him, after his death, refers to him as Dr. Shapley.”
On his large group of female assistants: “...Shapley believed... I remember him saying once... If you make a hundred observations it has some value, if you make ten thousand observations... then you have something solid and important...his central formula was to do things thoroughly... do routine tasks in a very thorough way.. .a sort of Draconian approach to science which nobody today would consider valid ...the other professors on staff were in a much inferior position to him... and had to work on their own (did not have access to personnel on the same scale as Dr. Shapley).”
On accomplishments for the Harvard College Observatory during his tenure period: “The instruments that were built during his tenure... were second rate.”
On his graduate teaching: “Shapley himself took a very small part in that P.H.D. program. He gave no courses... not even advanced courses.”
On political power: “He very much enjoyed being part of the scientific aristocracy he considered himself one of the most distinguished American astronomers.”
On his motives for radical political activity: “During the Second World War he was very disappointed not to be given a position of great responsibility. He felt left out.”
On reasons for excluding Shapley: “His scientific talents were very limited. He did not in fact have the professional respect of the community of physicists. It was quite clear that what was not needed was not the ability to put fifty women to work reducing plates, but somebody who could organize modern physical scientists.”
Layzer ends by stating that he was an energetic man who wanted to be involved and a position of responsibility during the war would have kept him quiet politically. “He was a man, like Henry Wallace, interested in a better world and more justice but he didn’t put them into effect very well at the Observatory. He paid his female assistants very badly... he kept as much power as he could possibly do but in principle he was a very democratic man...all for world peace, disarmament... certainly pacifist.”
On his bureaucratic accomplishments: “He was available. Many highly protective scientists are not willing to give up (their successful practice).”
Layzers’ comments on the anti chaos argument: “Shapley’s feelings about order were not overly strong. His arch rival Hubble was the one who really saw the universe as cosmos and Shapley until his dying day would never agree to Hubble’s view of the universe, which was almost instantly accepted by all contemporary astronomers i.e. that the universe is basically isotropic and homogenous in all directions... Hubble called that the principal of uniformity (Shapley opposed this to his dying day).”
Excerpts from further Boston interviews will follow in a later letter.