They call me a crank now LOL

You may recall how I had to refute the claims by Mark Chu-Carroll on his blog “Good Math Bad math” that everyone who posts on viXra.org is a crank. When I was asked for a counterexample I pointed to my own contributions. He failed to find any fault in my work but never admitted his error either. Since then he tried to take my advice to concentrate more on the “good math” but he has recently stopped the blog altogether citing dissatisfaction with the policies of scienceblogs.com

Mark Chu-Carroll is a computer scientist working for Google. Somebody pointed out that it always seems to be computer scientists who think they can debunk “crank science” even though they have little expertise in the subjects under question. Another example of this has now surfaced over a rationalwiki.org, a whole wiki site dedicated to debunking bad science and criticising religion.

Rationalwiki now has a section about viXra on their arXiv entry page that currently reads as follows:

“The cranks, not wishing to put up with this sort of thing, started a competitor: viXra, “founded by scientists who find they are unable to submit their articles to arXiv.org because of Cornell University’s policy of endorsements and moderation designed to filter out e-prints that they consider inappropriate.”[1] Given some of the lunacy available on arXiv, we’d like you to just pause for a moment and contemplate what sort of content viXra accumulates. The scientific world is mostly amused.[2]

The second reference to “the scientific world” is linked to some anonymous posts on scienceforums.net. This is typical of the quality of citation used by rationalwiki to back up its claims.

Since I am the guy who started viXra, this means that I am being called a crank again, sigh. For the record I have a first class degree in mathematics from the University of Cambridge and a PhD in physics from the University of Glasgow. I was a double silver medal winner at the International Mathematical Olympiads of 1977/1978. I have authored a number of articles in the Usenet Physics FAQ. I was also a Senior Vice President in the Fixed Income Analytics department of a major investment bank up until my retirement. Despite my relatively short time in academia I have 10 publications in peer-reviewed journals, 4 of them were published while working as an independent scientist. Two of my physics papers are listed in the TOPCITE 50+ section of SPIRES. One of them was published in 1986 yet it is still read and had its 50th citation this year. A number theory paper I published independently in 2006 has 36 citations. I also had 14 submissions accepted into arXiv.org before they introduced their endorsement policy that prevents me from using it further. One of my physics papers in arXiv.org has 47 citations according to Google Scholar, despite never being published elsewhere. OK, these things are nothing outstanding, but they are not the hallmarks of a crank either and I had never been called a crank before starting viXra.

So who is the genius who has identified me as a crank now? Apparently it’s some guy called David Gerard who works as a sysadmin in London. I wonder if such idiocy will ever cease.

23 Responses to They call me a crank now LOL

  1. David Gerard says:

    Cheers! You may yourself just be making a valiant stand for freedom, fair enough. But by the evidence, it’s hard to deny that you’ve built a truly superlative crank magnet.

  2. philipgibbs says:

    David, you are missing the point. It is better to have an archive like viXra that risks accepting papers that might be worng, than to have an archive like arXiv that risks rejecting papers that are right. You should read my series of articles on “crackpots” who were right to see just how damaging it can be when good work is rejected as crank. It has been a surprisingly common ocurrence in the history of science.

    Of course you are welcome to critcise anybodys work by pointing out errors provided you know enough about the subject to make a good judgement, but going around labelling people as cranks is just petty name calling. Many of the papers on viXra have been accepted in peer-reviewed journals. You can criticise any number of them individually but you should not label them en masse as cranks. There is no justification for that.

  3. David Gerard says:

    I’ve just changed it to take out the word “crank” entirely and credit it to the spirit of freedom of scientific enquiry (which I hope is a reasonable distillation of your point).

    But, goddamn. arXiv is enough of a crank magnet and viXra is a worse one. That viXra has good papers on it doesn’t make it not one of science’s greatest natural reservoirs of green ink.

    Not that there’s anything wrong with that, it follows from your principles. Sort of wikilike. But, y’know, the trouble with cranks is that their stuff *is* pretty much worthless.

  4. philipgibbs says:

    Thanks for changing it, but citing a thread from Science Forums as “The Scientific World” is a bit laughable.

  5. David Gerard says:

    So what other reaction is there? Press release archive? I was hard-put finding anyone plausibly from the mainstream scientific world who cared or noticed.

  6. philipgibbs says:

    Exactly David, not many people from the scientific world are troubled by it at all.

  7. Golden says:

    Phil, just leave these guys alone. I think they have dung their grave, I am very much certain that the next break through in science will come from indepedent scientist and from viXra!

    Keep up the good work!

  8. well Dr Phillip Gibbs your academic credentials are excellent….in 1977 and 1978 i was a high-school student while you won the International Mathematical Olympiads

    as for viXra or arXiv as a “crank” magnet i agree but i also disagree…

    freedom of speech in scientific research must be allowed but like Dr Gibbs i am also a blacklisted scientist from arXiv ….reading my papers in arXiv the the ones of viXra anyone can see that the viXra papers are of superior quality..i conntinued my work on viXra ..and i am not the only one here…there are more blacklisted scientists here and their viXra papers outperform their own papers in arXiv…Einstein today would be censored by arXiv and would have no alterantive other than viXra

    i already mentioned here in a previous post the case of Einstein and Special Relativity….but here we go again….in the end of XIX Century scientists detected the anomalies in light propagation….they created the “aether” theory ..because light speed did not fitted well in Newtonian Mechanics ..everybody though that Newton was right because Newton Mechanics lasted for the last 300 years while Maxwell Electromagnetics perhaps needs to be re-examined

    Einstein did the inverse…..he considered Maxwell right and Newton needing an examination…

    now imagine that Einstein as a clerk in the Swiss Patent Office of Berna without a sponsor or an endorser sending Relativity to arXiv….imagine the moderators reaction “time dilatation….twin paradox..this guy is a crank…block him”

    Einstein would appear here not in arXiv

    So Dr Philip Gibbs again and again and again Congratulations for your decision to create viXra

  9. Bjoern says:

    Mostly I agree with you, Dr. Gibbs – some people are indeed to fast to label others as “cranks”.

    But on the other hand, I also have some disagreements:

    (1) It is *not* my experience that people who take “cranks” on are mostly computer scientists – rather, many or even most of them are scientists who are really qualified. Let’s take myself as an example: PhD in physics and battling cranks all other the net… ;-) Other examples are all the biologists at the Panda’s Thumb battling creationists, or Phil Plait at Bad Astronomy.

    (2) I’ve read some of your posts on “crackpots who were right” – and I would not call any of those men crackpots! For one, they had studied the fields in which they worked, in contrast to most of the crackpots on the internet. Second, they presented evidence for their ideas, in contrast to most of the crackpots on the internet. Third, they were open to criticism and tried to address it honestly – in contrast to… (well, you get the point ;- ).

  10. Bjoern says:

    @Fernando Loup:

    now imagine that Einstein as a clerk in the Swiss Patent Office of Berna without a sponsor or an endorser sending Relativity to arXiv….imagine the moderators reaction “time dilatation….twin paradox..this guy is a crank…block him”

    Time dilation (not “dilatation”) was already described by Larmor and Lorentz, two respected scientists, several years before Einstein; Einstein gave only a different interpretation of the effect, which did not need an ether. And the twin paradox wasn’t even mentioned in Einstein’s original article “Zur Elektrodynamik bewegter Körper”. So I doubt that your imagined moderator reaction would really have happened…

  11. philipgibbs says:

    Bjoern, thanks for your intersting points. I agree with some of what you are saying. The point about the computer scientists in question is that they seem to take on “cranks” without having the expertise in the relevant subject. There are other people who make a skeptical agument, but they know enough about the subject to put together a good case, nothing wrong with that.

    As for the “crackpots” who were right. In most of the cases I have documented here, these people met with considerable opposition and even hostility towards their ideas with very little support. I have avoided cases where people merely has a paper rejected by peer-review and other midler forms of opposition. It is easy to say with hindsight that they were not cranks, but many of them were treated as such at the time.

    Of course they are different from people who put together an obviously wrong theory without understanding the subject. Nobody is denying that such people exist or that viXra accepts their work. The counterpoint is that there are also people with ideas that could be right based on sound knowledge but they are still unable to submit to arXiv because of the endorsement policy. At viXra we feel that the best approach is to let everyone have their say rather than trying hide what we think is wrong. When I look back at the submisisons to viXra I see many more papers with the potential to be contributing valid new ideas to science than papers that are clearly worthless. It is sad that some people quote a few papers on viXra that they think are crazy, and assume that the rest must be too, even though they cant understand them.

    I think your comment about Einstein also shows that you have not appreciated the impact of the endorsement policy on those of us who do independent research, just as Einstein did. I agree that Einstein would not have had much problem with the arXiv moderation policy, his work was appreciated by people like Planck quite quickly. In 1905 he had lost his connections with the academic world. In today’s terms this would have made it very difficult for him to find an endorser for his work that would get it into arXiv even before the moderators look at it. People who are in the cozy position of having easy access to an endorser seem to fail to understand this. They think it should be easy to find an endorser but they fail to take into account the threats that arXiv make against endorsers who accept “inappropriate” submissions, as well as the problem of finding endorsers who are willing to invest the time evaluating the work of someone they dont know. It is impossible to say how such a hypothetical situation as “Einstein today” would have panned out, but I definitely think there are people today whose valuable work is being missed because they cannot get an endorser. I also fear that some of them are reluctant to use viXra as an alternative because of the kind of comments put about by the likes of Mark Chu-Caroll and David Gerard who want to have everyone who uses viXra labelled as a crank en masse. That is why I always take the trouble to dispute their claims.

  12. ———————————————————–
    are you aware of Robert Milikan??American physicist that tried to prove that Einstein was wrong ???he got a Nobel Prize because he proved that Einstein was right.
    ———————————————————-
    i believe that transposing arXiv and viXra back to 1905 Einstein would be rejected by arXiv and would appear here if we transpose Robert Milikan to 1905 to act as an arXiv moderator

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robert_Andrews_Millikan

    ————————————————————–
    as for the “crackpots” that were right they were not crackpots..they were considered “crackpots” by others
    ————————————————————-
    i agree 100% with Dr Gibbs in the column “crackpots” that were right
    ————————————————————
    Dr Gibbs created a constructive idea in science….this is quite rare today
    ———————————————————-

  13. philipgibbs says:

    Fernando, I agree that there were some scientists like Milikan who disagreed with Einstein. I think the majority view amongst physicists was positive though. Yes “Einstein today” could have had the bad luck to get Milikan as his moderator and I agree that this is a good reason why moderation should be avoided for an archive.

  14. Bjoern says:

    @philipgibbs: Thanks for your long response. As already said, we seem to agree on most things. In the case of the computer scientists, you seem to have missed my point: in your original article, you claimed that “it always seems to be computer scientists who think they can debunk “crank science””, and I merely pointed out that in my experience, most of such people are *not* computer scientists. (but perhaps I simply misunderstood your original point…)

    If your article series is about people who were *considered* by some people to be crackpots when they first made their argument, then I have no disagreement with you there. Nevertheless, the article series could imply to many people the “Galileo argument”: Galileo was right, but was treated as a crackpot; I am treated as a crackpot, therefore I am right (you probably know several people who think that way…). Hence I think you could perhaps make your point a bit clearer. (merely a suggestion, I don’t want to tell you how you have to run your blog!)

    With respect to the endorsement policy I can’t say much. I’ve been out of academia for several years now; in the days when I published, the endorsement policy did not yet exist (and I anyway only used the arXiv one time, if I remember correctly). Nevertheless, I can understand that this policy poses problems for many people with original ideas, and I think your “viXra” is a nice idea. On the other hand, if people see lots of obvious nonsense posted here, it is little wonder that they think everything here is nonsense… Difficult situation, I see no easy way out there.

  15. David Gerard says:

    I’m not a computer scientist, so that appears to be a failure in reading. Computer roadie, probably. (That’s how I explain what I do for a living to people.) That said, there’s http://rationalwiki.org/wiki/Engineers_and_woo to consider …

    The Galileo fallacy is one to be careful of. Some crackpots being right is only noteworthy because most are wrong (or not even wrong).

    You’ve set things up to be as open as possible, so you’re naturally going to accumulate more green ink than any similar site and form a handy go-to for the sort of people who pass amusing crackpottery around amongst themselves.

    Perhaps you need a list of successes despite the dross that will naturally come through because of the model. A list of papers first posted on viXra that have then made it through peer review?

  16. philipgibbs says:

    Bjoern, you quote the beginning of my sentence “it always seems to be computer scientists who think they can debunk “crank science””, but the rest of the sentence reads “even though they have little expertise in the subjects under question”. It is this second half of the sentence that makes the difference between what you say is wrong and what I am actually saying. I would agree with you that the first half of the sentence is wrong on its own, but with the second half added it is closer to truth.

    Of course the sentence was probably a bit too flipant anyway and David says he is not a computer scientist. The real point I wanted to make was that there is a group of people who try to debunk bad science when they dont have much of an understanding themselves.

    Yes the series about “crackpots” is about people who were treated as crackpots. I do not say they were crackpots and always put the word in quotes to show that. There was an introductory post which covered the points you make but I have been lazy about referencing it each time.

    On your final point, yes it is hard to get the credibility level of viXra up to a good level even though there are good papers in it. Some people think I should have some moderation, but of course that would defeat the object. Suppose I removed the next Nobel winning paper! My ego is not so large that I think I can judge the correctness of papers in every branch of science so I have to assume I would make mistakes. Another important point is that even a paper which is 90% nuts could have a real gem of an idea in the other 10%. Apparently the publication of Georg Ohm was mostly rubbishy theorising but it also gave us Ohm’s law.

    I will always keep running viXra as it is and see where it goes. It is in part an experiment to see where it leads. I think there is already good material in there but it may take many years before it is recognised. Perhaps when that happens more people will understand why I made it work this way.

  17. philipgibbs says:

    David, you suggest I should do something like list some papers from viXra that passed peer review. Allow me to risk shooting myself in the foot by first pointing out that there are many different sorts of peer review. The more renowned journals start by rejecting loads of good papers. They will just say it is not of interest or not the right topic. They get many papers so they can afford to do that. Their ultimate aim is to increase their “impact factor”, a metric based on citation rates, so they use filters that tend to remove papers that will not be cited quickly. At the other end of the spectrum there are journals that use only a very light form of peer-review. They may only require that any maths in the paper is correct and will accept some very speculative work. There is nothing wrong with either appraoch to peer-review but you should be aware that the stamp of approval that is called peer-review is not the last word on how good a paper is.

    Having said that, by counting the number of comments that mention publishing in a journal it appears that at least one in ten of the papers on viXra is peer-reviewed. That is quite a high number when you consider that not everyone records the publication in the comment. Also, many people do not feel the need to use peer-review and it does not mean there is anything wrong with their work.

    I have considered posting something about papers that I think are good. The trouble is that people would then dispute it and I may not be the best person to defend them. When people ask for examples of good papers here I suggest my own because I know them well. I dont put everything I do through peer-review because as an independent scientist/mathematician it is often a waste of time. I have a number theory paper here that survived a rigorous process of peer-review this year. By the way there are papers here that are in arXiv too.

    I think we will just have to wait and see how attitudes to viXra progress.

  18. Bjoern says:

    Oh, sorry, I really misunderstood your remark about computer scientists (I didn’t get the meaning of the second half of the sentence properly – probably a misunderstanding because I’m not a native English speaker).

    I wouldn’t say that you were too “lazy” because you didn’t link back to the introductory post of the series every time – I’d rather say that I was to lazy to look it up myself… ;-)

    David’s idea of a list of “good papers” sounds interesting to me. As you already explained, “makes it through peer review eventually” is not a reliable indicator. But perhaps you could sometimes look back a few years later on papers which looked good to you, and see what became of them? (e. g. were the concepts eventually accepted by other scientists?)

  19. David Gerard says:

    I’m thinking here of Wikipedia, which I started editing in early 2004. No-one had heard of it then and notable successes were few and far between. Now it’s 2010, Wikipedia is hugely popular and utterly mainstream, and is a tremendously effective existence proof as to the value of letting anything in *then* filtering, not before.

    Not directly comparable as Wikipedia is quite expressly a secondary or tertiary source with an obvious bias to old and accepted material and expressly against new material. (And the “no original research” rule was created specifically for “physics cranks.”) But may be useful for ideas as you try to show the viability of a completely new model.

  20. Dr Gibbs..i will terminate this

    these guys that criticize you….they did not published on peer review

    you published on peer review…and i published on peer review

    lets see the academic publications of these guys..that criticize you and that never published on peer review

    i have this one for European Space Agency and International Space Station

    http://www.springerlink.com/content/126883n5448w65v4/

    ..
    pulblished on General Relativity and Gravitation

    the same journal that published this work from European Space Agency Scientitsts

    http://www.springerlink.com/content/t47608r466u8129m/?p=d2fd8862dad74f9f92014e569be47d02&pi=9

    please do not criticize Dr Gibbs again without presenting peer teview or another scientific referrences

    the “cranks” or not us….guess who are

  21. Janne says:

    Yes indeed, it seems curious that these computer engineers or scientist who are also passionate about atheism (or ‘new atheism’) feel that free think and speculation about fundamental aspects of physics is a personal insult towards them.

    Possible reason for this is that physics is taken by them as some sort of substitute for religion, as if physics, mathematics and science in general is the actual only true religion in the face of the inferior infidels.

    This shows a slight misunderstanding of natural philosophy and I guess is harmless enough, although it could potentially grow into an another big new age movement.

  22. Ervin Goldfain says:

    What people who criticize Vixra fail to remember is that, like evolutionary biology, development of science and technology is neither linear nor predictable. There are countless instances where ideas and techniques that seemed either wrongheaded or unpractical eventually developed into successful endeavors. Given the complex and often contradictory nature of progress in science, nobody has the right to censor scientific research from an arrogant position of authority. The reason why Vixra is a valuable resource is that it allows unfiltered ideas to be documented. As history has taught us so many times, filtering will naturally occur as time goes by.

  23. R Jensen says:

    Thanks Phil for creating viXra. Never mind the critics. As Beethoven once said of his critics (paraphrase), “…my shit is better than anything that they ever have done.” These people have not figured out the difference between arrogance and intelligence, so forget about them. No one remembers Beethovens critics anymore.

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