Michael GordinJan 15, 2013
The Pseudo-Science Wars
Immanuel Velikovsky and the Birth of the Modern Fringe
University of Chicago Press 2012
"No one in the history of the world has ever self-identified as a pseudoscientist." From the very first sentence, Michael D. Gordin's new book introduces readers to the characters, plotlines, and crises that have shaped the narratives of fringe science since the early twentieth century. Focusing on Cold War America from the late 1940s to the late 1970s, The Pseudo-Science Wars: Immanuel Velikovsky and the Birth of the Modern Fringe (University of Chicago Press, 2012) traces the transformations of science at the margins that were stimulated by Immanuel Velikovsky, "the first grand wizard of the Universal Order of Mass Pseudo-Scholarship" and a Russian-born psychoanalyst whose Worlds in Collision triggered an epistemic avalanche among members of the American scientific community. Gordin tracks the surprising relationships of Velikovsky and his work, from Zionism to Creationism, and from Freud to Einstein. It becomes a story of competing attitudes toward historical evidence, as the scientific orthodoxy reacted to threats from the margins and those on the margins sought to preserve their own orthodoxy on the fringes. Gordin's book is a multi-layered modern history of problem of scientific demarcation as well as a fascinating read. We talked about many aspects of the book, as well as Gordin's approach to the craft of research and writing for a book-length project. For a different take on The Pseudoscience Wars, see also the interview on New Books in Science Fiction and Fantasy.