Sunday, January 3, 2010
Harlow Shapley: Portrait of Deception
"If Dr. Velikovsky is right, the rest of us are crazy." -- Harlow Shapley, astronomer, 1946
"I must confess to being an admirer of the late Harlow Shapley, the Professor of Astronomy at Harvard at the time Velikovsky was first published. He alone, it seems, had the foresight to realise that what Velikovsky was proposing was the biggest threat that the scientific establishment would ever have to face. His apocryphal statement that 'if Velikovsky is right then we are all crazy' was to say the least prophetic. For somebody, who allegedly, had not even read the book to have this insight into the paradigm shift that was being published adds stature to his ability. Because he was quite right ... almost every field of science is suspect, as we are continually finding out." -- Harold Tresman, scholar, September 1999
I just read the most interesting anecdote about the Harvard University pseudoscientist crackpot Harlow Shapley who thought that the Milky Way was the entire universe. The crank Harlow Shapley was single-handedly responsible for one of the most famous scientific cover-ups, frauds, and deceptions in the history of astronomy.
"According to Milton Humason, the astronomer [Humason] had given him [Harlow Shapley] plates of M31, the great Andromeda nebula, for examination on the stereocomparator. During the process of blinking the plates, the night assistant [Humason] discerned images never before seen. He marked their locations in ink and sought out Shapley for confirmation. If he was not mistaken, the plates contained Cepheid variables from beyond the Milky Way. Shapley, who was certain of himself, was having none of this. He launched into a shortened version of the same arguments he employed during the Great Debate [where Shapley argued that all galaxies were inside the Milky Way], then calmly took out his handkerchief, turned the plates over, and wiped them clean ...." -- Gale E. Christianson, historian, Edwin Hubble: Mariner of the Nebulae, 1996
"On the night in question, [Milton] Humason was 'blinking the plates' of Andromeda on the stereocomparator, which compares two different plates taken at different times to reveal new features. What he saw was startling. The plates contained images of Cepheid variables, stars used as reference points, from beyond the Milky Way. This was evidence that the nebulae were galaxies of stars. Confronted with the evidence, Shapley patiently explained to Humason how the universe comprises but one galaxy, took out his handkerchief, and wiped the plates clean. Humason was acting like an astronomer. Shapley was acting in the role of the cosmologist." -- Dick Teresi, author, Lost Discoveries: The Ancient Roots of Modern Science - From the Babylonians to the Maya, 1999
Of course, crackpot Harlow Shapley's pseudoscientific cover-up and deception was futile in the end because Edwin Hubble went on to publish Humason's findings and made Humason his personal assistant.