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March 7, 1950

Dr. Harlow Shapley
Harvard College Observatory
Cambridge 38, Mass.

Dear Harlow:

I have delayed an answer to your letter of February 20 until I felt reasonably recovered from my initial reaction to its content.

I could not feel that our friendship was worth retaining if I were not as frank in my reply as you undoubtedly were being with me.

In the first place, I feel that I must take with you as sharp an exception to your series of wholly unwarranted and unfounded characterizations of Dr. Velikovsky, as I have had occasion to take in another field when your political views have led to nearly as unwarranted an assault upon your own integrity.

I am genuinely shocked, in rereading your letter, at the epithets you have seen fit to use in characterizing Dr. Velikovsky, a man of unusual integrity and scholarship, whose painstaking approach to scientific theory is at least a match for your own....

... You further suggest that, evidently through your efforts, there is now some question about whether Macmillan will go through with the publication, thus not only confessing to do direct damage, but to provide some evidence of having successfully damaged Dr. Velikovsky’s work. . . .

. . . I have had ample opportunity to verify from a wide variety of unimpeachable sources Dr. Velikovsky’s scholarship and high integrity as an individual. His claims as to his studies, his background and his degrees have consistently, and without exception, been on the modest side.

It seems to me that you are making both a personal and professional mistake—a gravely serious and dangerous one— by the totally unscientific and viciously emotional character of your attack upon Dr. Velikovsky and his work.

I am writing this advisedly, since it is obvious that you have seen fit to unleash a series of attacks, by no means directed to me alone, both against Dr. Velikovsky and against his work, without ever once having taken the trouble to examine his work or even to glance at the evidential research with which it has been accompanied.

I submit that, at the time of writing your letter, you had neither read the manuscript of Dr. Velikovsky’s “Worlds in Collision,” nor a single piece of evidence in its support. At the most, it is possible that you had examined superficially a popularization of a very small portion of this work by Eric Larrabee of Harper’s Magazine.

It would be totally presumptuous of me to make the slightest effort to maintain the scientific validity of the conclusions which Dr. Velikovsky has stated as tentative theses, growing out of the historical evidence which he has amassed. But I think it is equally evident that you are at the present time, despite your scientific attainments, in an even less valid position to quarrel with Dr. Velikovsky’s evidence or his conclusions, since you have not taken the trouble to examine either. In fact, it is impossible for me not to be alarmed at the intensity and character of the attack, particularly from an individual of your scientific attainment, which is based so completely on hearsay and emotional reaction. I am sure you would yourself hesitate to reach a conclusion about the nature of a planet without having examined with care all of the available evidence. And yet, you have had no hesitancy in proclaiming a distinguished scholar an impostor, a charlatan and a fraud and characterizing his work as pure rubbish.

That your course of action is, on its face, both morally and criminally slanderous and libelous, would have been perfectly evident to me, even had I not made a most thorough study of the law in relation to slander and libel. . . .

Certainly, it is possible that the evidence adduced by Dr. Velikovsky is scientifically inconclusive, but to maintain that it is rubbish merely because of a possible (though by no means certain) conflict with another working hypothesis, without even having bothered to make an examination of the evidence is, it seems to me, clearly nonsense, even when the nonsense is uttered by one who has achieved such an eminently responsible position in the field of astronomy as yourself.

I beg of you, in all earnestness, to consider your course of conduct in this matter and contrast it with the high standards you set before your students, before proceeding further in your campaign to destroy a man whom you do not know and to damn a theory about which you obviously know nothing.

I did take the trouble to read the article which you had prepared by Mrs. Cecilia Payne-Gaposchkin. Again, I have no presumption of scientific knowledge in her field and no basis for accepting or rejecting the scientific theories expounded in her article. I do, however, have a criticism of the main tenor of the article itself, which is as follows:

1. The article is an attack upon a book which the writer has not read.

2. In at least two instances, the article sets up strawmen and then proceeds to demolish the strawmen. In other words, the article attributes to Dr. Velikovsky statements which are not made either by him or in his manuscript, and then proceeds to quarrel with those statements as though they were authentic. This is, to say the least, a most unscientific method of criticism....

Although it has no bearing whatever upon the case under discussion, except that it was a minor point raised in your letter, I feel that I can scarcely refrain from twitting you on the patronizing and blanket references to the unschooled and in formally educated (Dr. Velikovsky is, of course, neither). Surely, it should not require a layman like myself to remind you, for example, of such contributors to the field of scientific knowledge as Leeuwenhoek, the untutored church janitor who discovered and proved the existence of microbes, to the annoyance of the then existing practitioners of medicine.


Ted O. Thackrey

cc. Dr. Immanuel Velikovsky

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