April 10, 1950
Dr. Harlow Shapley
Harvard College Observatory
Cambridge 38, Mass.
I have delayed an answer to yours of March 8th until I could examine carefully some of the material to which your letter refers, and examine, as well, the circumstances under which it was written.
You refer to Science News Letter and to Time Magazine as evidences of unfavorable views of Dr. Velikovskys work coinciding with your own, but unless I mistake certain reasonably clear indications the chief inspiration for these adverse views stems from Dr. Harlow Shapley of the Harvard College Observatory!
You note that you yourself are not writing anything in response to Dr. Velikovsky or Larrabee, and that, in fact, the only hot communication from you was your letter to me.
On the other hand, Mrs. Cecilia Payne-Gaposchkins article was directly inspired by you, and I am informed by Mr. Gordon A. Atwater that two communications to Dr. Velikovskys publishers. The Macmillan Company, from you, are so sizzling that your letter to me might seem tepid by comparison!
I do not doubt that many groups, including groups of Harvard University professors, who are by no means ill-mannered, injudicious or dumb—to quote you and agree with you on that score—hold views which coincide with your own; but I should be astonished to find that they had reached their conclusions completely independently of discussion with you.
There is, of course, a further elementary factor which continues to perplex and dismay me; at the time your views were expressed, at the time their views were expressed; at the time Dr. Gaposchkins article was written, not you, nor Dr. Gaposchkin, nor the professors you cite—not one—had read the manuscript or the book. At most, they have read comment upon it, or digests of sections of it, without benefit of reference notes or complete treatment.
I am more than a little puzzled at your paragraph mentioning that a vice-president of the American Astronomical Society thought that the Council of the Society should send a protest to Macmillan, the famous publisher of highly reputable scientific books; but I said immediately, and so did many others, that such an action would merely give greater publicity to Dr. Velikovskys contributions. Freedom to publish is a basic freedom.
The reason for my bewilderment, in view of the foregoing paragraph, is that I have been assured that you yourself wrote on two separate occasions to Macmillan in an effort to frustrate publication of Dr. Velikovskys work, and that in doing so your language was as severe as that in your original letter to me on the subject.
Would you please assure me that this report is wholly false; or if it is not, let me know how you would reconcile the paragraph I have quoted from your March 8th letter, and would you let me have copies of your letters?
I have, I believe, at least one advantage in this correspondence; and it is, indeed, not only an advantage in the exchange with you, but with Dr. Gaposchkin. . . . The advantage is that I have read the book in question, while I seriously doubt if you or the above named have actually done so as yet. In your own case, I am certain.
After analyzing Gaposchkins unfortunate statement in The Reporter concerning the Venus tablets from Babylonia,* Thackrey proceeded:
. . . it would definitely appear that the criticism that Dr. Velikovskys book ignores the tablets except in a footnote could not have been written by anyone who read the book.
All this shows that you and Mrs. Gaposchkin made extensive and successful efforts to suppress the book, and damage it by statements not warranted by the text of the book. Into the same category belongs Gaposchkins statement that Velikovsky confused Ovid and Hesiod. The confusion is hers. . . .
There is another matter about which I am curious: I am informed that Atwater has been asked to resign as curator of the planetarium here. Is it possible that your own reaction to his mild support of Dr. Velikovskys right to publish could have influenced that decision?
I did note with interest that you feel that you are following the precedent of one Galileo; but I wonder if you would feel it unfair of me to remark that Galileo was advancing the thesis that the accepted science of his time was not yet perfected. I had thought it more likely that Dr. Velikovsky might fairly claim Galileo as a precedent! Sincerely, Ted
Shapley did not answer Thackreys letter of April 10 until after I had parted with Macmillan. This goal having been achieved, Shapley wrote on June 6, when this parting was supposedly known to only a few persons:
[These tablets preserve a year-by-year record of the appearances and disappearances of Venus. See the later section Are the Venus Tablets Missing? ]