The Anti-Crackpot Index

I am sure you are all familiar with the Crackpot Index devised by John Baez as a “fun” way to identify “crackpots”. Now there is also a growing phenomenon of the anti-crackpots, that is people who go to enormous trouble to try to debunk other people’s theories but instead of using solid arguments they produce a useless diatribe laced with rhetoric, sarcasm  and irrelevant ridicule. I think it is now time to redress the balance and produce the anti-crackpot index as a fun way to help  identify such people, so here it is:
The Anti-crackpot index

  1. A -5 point starting credit
  2. 1 point for claiming a point is “vacuous” or “specious” without saying why.
  3. 2 points for referring to other people as “the public” or “laymen” without having any relevant qualifications beyond highschool themselves.
  4. 3 points for dismissing an extensive theory because of one minor error.
  5. 5 points for each statement that is adhered to despite careful correction.
  6. 5 points for suggesting someone is not a real scientist because they did not use TeX.
  7. 5 points for each use of the word falsifiable.
  8. 5 points for gratuitously pointing out that a person they are attacking is Female.
  9. 10 points for saying that someone is taking mathematics too literally.
  10. 10 points for telling a scientist or mathematician that they should leave philosophy to the philosophers.
  11. 10 points for claiming that any correct idea can easily be published in a peer-reviewed journal or the arXiv.
  12. 10 points for invoking a strawman argument.
  13. 10 points for believing that any good idea will instantly be recognised as such by the scientific community.
  14. 10 points for claiming that someone is a crackpot because they will not listen to reason, when in fact the position is mutual.
  15. 10 points for seamlessly switching to a new argument when an old one is found wanting.
  16. 10 points for quoting something and implying the reader should see how ridiculous it is without actually saying why.
  17. 10 points for jumping from a reasonable but irrelevant set of sociological arguments to a sudden unwarranted conclusion that a theory has therefore failed.
  18. 10 points for saying an idea is wrong because it violates a scientific principle that has not been tested in the context of the theory.
  19. 10 points for using a wrong argument to attack a possibly correct argument.
  20. 20 points for using technical jargon to try to make themselves appear knowledgable.
  21. 20 points for mentioning the Ignobel prize.
  22. 20 points for pointing out spelling or grammar errors as part of their critique (double points for making similar errors at the same time).
  23. 20 points for citing Feynman’s cargo cult science speech.
  24. 20 points for using a blog, wiki or forum that is specifically created for debunking “crackpot” theories.
  25. 20 points if the said website deploys adverts that promote pseudoscience (double points if its Google Adwords)
  26. 20 points for showing a picture of themselves that reveals a ponytail.
  27. 20 points for using an anonymous pseudonym when your opponent is using their real name.
  28. 20 points for saying they always own up to their errors because they were forced to do it once.
  29. 30 points for citing a comic strip such as xkcd or Abstruce Goose.
  30. 30 points for labelling themselves as a “skeptic” without associating this to a specific claim that they are skeptical about.
  31. 30 points for extending an analogy beyond its intended scope in order to break it.
  32. 30 points for saying something is “not even wrong”.
  33. 40 points for saying “A little bit of knowledge is a dangerous thing”.
  34. 40 points for implying they are a science expert when they are really a software engineer with a blog (double points if they are employed by Google).
  35. 40 points for taking the Baez crackpot index too seriously.
  36. 40 points for suggesting additions to the crackpot index.
  37. 50 points for saying a paper makes no testable predictions and failing noticing that very few genuine scientific papers make any testable predictions.

35 Responses to The Anti-Crackpot Index

  1. HHu says:

    John Baez once called the Spin-Mediated Consciousness Theory http://arxiv.org/abs/quant-ph/0208068 “a bollocks-ridden fringe theory whose main claim to fame is appearing in this Wikipedia article. John Baez 04:18, 9 October 2006 (UTC).” [I have the link]

    This says a lot about John Baez. So, why should anyone take his Crackpot Index seriously anyway?

    Huping

  2. Craig says:

    50 points for saying “They laughed at Columbus, they laughed at Fulton, they laughed at the Wright Brothers. But they also laughed at Bozo the Clown.”

    • Philip Gibbs says:

      Yes, heard that one a few times, then there’s “Keep an open mind, but not so open that your brains fall out”. Probably a few more that I forgot about, all of them unhelpful bits of rhetoric.

  3. Luboš Motl says:

    That’s interesting. But is it too hard to agree that “anti-crackpots” defined by the index above are really the same kinds of people who are equally ignorant – yet equally self-confident – about science as other “crackpots”? Or what’s the difference between crackpots and anti-crackpots? ;-)

    I am afraid that it is exactly equal to the difference between Swolin and Smoit. :-)

    • Philip Gibbs says:

      Anti-crackpots are people who try to debunk someones theory, but they dont provide many real arguments, but plenty of rhetoric etc. Someone smart could do it, but mostly it will be through ignorance.

      An anti-crackpot can be a kind of crackpot too, but I think someone who does not have a theory of their own is more of an anti-crackpot.

    • Craig says:

      I think of the typical anti-crackpot as a hack. Usually someone with no significant scientific contributions of his own but considers himself on the same team as Newton, Darwin, Einstein, Heisenberg, and Planck and will defend their theories with the same amount of enthusiasm as if they were their own theories.

      A similar phenomenon occurs in religion. The “Defender of the Faith” is usually someone who is low in the religious hierarchy, but sees an opportunity to advance his status by attacking others who he accuses of not being religiously correct.

    • Luboš Motl says:

      Dear Gentlemen, thanks: I understand that having “no theory of his own” sounds as a difference except that the difference evaporates when you try to figure out what this “absence of theory” exactly means.

      If someone criticizes quantum mechanics as being a vacuous or specious – add the anti-crackpot adjectives – he is a classic anti-crackpot, right? And if he doesn’t draw particular octopi with 7 eyes and Elvis Presley on the tail that are meant to replace the wave function, he may fail to be classified as a “crackpot” in the crackpot vs. anticrackpot dichotomy.

      However, does the presence of the detailed octopus really matter? The anti-crackpot may fail to identify a detailed, contrived, arbitrary “counter-theory”. However, unless stated otherwise, it still logically follows from her or (more likely) his pronouncements that he *does* believe in something like the octopus with the Presley tail, or tetrahedrons with swastikas, or something else. A generic crackpot theory – except that it is an unknown one.

      From this perspective, both classes are primarily driven by the rationally unsubstantiated belief that established basic theories are completely wrong – while the main difference between crackpots and anti-crackpots is that crackpots at least try to work a little bit harder than the anti-crackpots and to elaborate upon their ideas. ;-) But because of this extra work, should they be viewed as a worse category than the anti-crackpots? I am not sure.

      Of course, the comparison of Woit and Smolin is a textbook example of this dilemma. Smolin is a crackpot who publishes hundreds of papers with always partially new octopi with Presley tails while Woit is an anti-crackpot who wouldn’t ever publish any detailed paper (except for the crackpotism on distortions of BRST operators etc. that is sufficiently “uncatchy” and “modest” in its ambitions that no one cares that it is as nonsensical as Smolin’s papers). It’s no coincidence that their viewpoints are effectively aligned perfectly even though they’re supposed to be the opposite poles of a dichotomy here.

      Who is better? I really don’t know. I think it’s just a matter of accidental pressures and not too important differences in personalities that decide about how many nonsensical details about their (mis)understanding of the world they’re trying to produce or reveal. In my opinion, what primarily matters is not how talkative or secretive someone is – but whether he evaluates the data and arguments rationally and honestly. From this viewpoint, I just don’t consider the difference between crackpots and anti-crackpots to be important.

      • Ulla says:

        I think as Lubos it is difficult to see the difference. The name ‘anti-crackpot’ is a peculiar one. Why not ‘full-pot’? They usually know everything better than someone else?

        10 points for saying that someone is taking mathematics too literally – I just got 10 p. Mathematicians take themselves too literally. They can’t explain so also other ordinary people would understand :)

        I like this humor just as bad as Baez humor.

    • Lawrence B. Crowell says:

      Then again in one area you might be considered a crackpot. I am not at all very knowledgeable in this subject, but I do follow responsible reports on it. AAAS, PNAS and so forth. I can’t come up with any strong objections to the science, and it is being worked by thousands to people and it has a growing body of support. This science concerns the influence we are having on the planetary climate. As I see it, if I were told by several doctors that I have a problem and that I need corrective surgery then I might be wise to heed their advice. It might not be wise to go to a library and read up on the problem in order to convince myself the doctors are wrong. To take this further, no theoretical physicist can read up on heart surgical techniques and figure that since they are in a “higher science” that they can then check into an operating room, scrub up and perform a coronary bypass. Nope, the rest of the staff will kick your ass out of there really fast, and if you raise a fuss they will get the police to do the muscle work. The issue is much the same with climatology. Just because you can work problems with conformal field theory, it in no way gives you some expertise in climate science — no matter how much you might find it to be a “lesser science.”

      In this particular case it is clear that political ideology trumps science, which is after all what happened under Communism, such as the Lysenko affair. Since the 1980s the free market has been elevated to some quasi-divine status and anything and anyone which and who raises questions about this are demonized as “evil.” The problem of course with environmental science and the issues it raises is that it questions economic principles, which have been elevated to a near religious status. Again this is what happened with the communist world as well, and some of today’s pundits, particular those on Faux News, such as Ann Coulter have suggested sending various people deemed “too liberal” to “re-education camps.” So what has happened is the world has rebounded in a reactionary fashion against the totalitarian left and is drifting into a totalitarian future based on the right. We are also getting ourselves painted into corners where we can’t even address various problems, let alone solve them. Global warming is the poster child of this problem.

    • Philip Gibbs says:

      I am sure if Lubos wants to argue that crackpot = anti-crackpot then I won’t be able to argue otherwise without notching up a score on one index or the other. You can regard the anti-crackpot index as an alternative crackpot index which emphasises my prejudices more than those of Baez. I think there are people who would score on one but not the other but you are free to interpret what that means. I am not going to claim there is some solid sociological science behind it.

      Since specific people have been mentioned I’ll take up their cases. Woit makes some very valid points about string theory being misrepresented in the media and about its lack of contact with future experiments. You cant jump from there to the conclusion that string theory (as a unified theory) has failed. I don’t think Woit would rank highly on the Baez crackpot index but he would score some points on this one, as would the people who support him on his blog comments. Lubos might say that he is a crackpot with some different symptoms. I think of him as an anti-crackpot because I think his characteristics tend to put him on an opposing side, but this is not a black and white distinction.

      Smolin would not score very highly on either index I think. Someone who thinks he is a crackpot could no doubt produce an index which emphasises the things they regard as his faults and he would then score highly on it. This just shows that such indices reflect our prejudices. I hope everyone recognises that my index is a parody of the Baez index which itself was not supposed to be taken too seriously. The trouble is that some people do take it too seriously. I am not claiming that any such index is a valid metric for anything. The point I am making is in fact the opposite.

      People who enter into scientific debate need to practice high standards of argument. These indices just caricature some of the poor standards that are sometimes used. That’s all.

      • Lawrence B. Crowell says:

        Depending upon how far you want to take it Einstein ended up a bit on either of the lists with respect to quantum mechanics and his later attempts to unify fields with gravity. Then again Hawking also came out with a frankly absurd warning about aliens coming from space as well. Of course when Hawking says something like that you do take pause for a minute, but then in the end — nah! Yet, in the end I suspect few people would put either of them on a crackpot list, even if they went a bit off on things later on.

        I can’t get into Woit’s take on this. If I take him consistently then it seems to me he wants all physics that pushes the foundations to close up shop, and string theory is the flagship of that frontier effort. Smolin is to be taken seriously IMO, and loop variable work is not hogwash. In fact it can be rather interesting, and I find it possible there is some intersection between it and string theory. I think Smolin was a bit too strong with his “Physics Tied Up” book. A lot of stringy structure is also showing up in other guises, just as supersymmetry showed up in nuclear structure. So this seems to have a universality to it.

        Lubos is curious, for he can write a decent and lucid bit on some development in physics, and on the same day write absolute drivel that is politically involved. Maybe he has not learned the fundamental rule of any Democracy: They are founded by the best of people, and within a generation they are all too often the province of the worst. The people who seem to rise up in politics in the United States are hypermorons — and those are the better ones, where it gets worse with some rather malicious types with dodgy and alarming agendas. Also the media is becoming a sort of branch, more like a tumor growth, of political power, with some really wacko characters there.

        There are some mainstream efforts that I also find somewhat crackpot oriented. Things like SETI border on that. I suppose I can see putting money into doing signal analysis of radio astronomical data for possible ETI signatures, but I can’t see funding dedicated facilities to this. So this is a bit in the grey area, but I also think you need to keep from having the boundaries too rigid, for I suspect the resolution to the great problems in physics will involve a change in our basic assumptions about things, such as causality, local geometry etc, which could at first seem crackpottish.

  4. Lawrence B. Crowell says:

    There are to my mind two types of anti-crackpots. The first type which conform easily to this list are those who will be harsh critics of crackpot ideas, when in fact they are pretty much in the crackpot category themselves. My favorite example of this is Jack Sarfatti, who is quick to dismiss anyone who disagrees with him as wrong, or “not even wrong,” a phrase which might be included in this list IMO, and yet will sound off on how his preposterous ideas are correct because UFOs use his physics. I mean really, you gotta love that! ;-) The other type is more difficult to challenge, for they may be correct in a substantial aspect of their work, but who relish in trying to torment somebody else by ridiculing them. I have seen this with how professors will treat certain students. In those cases I sense there is some sort of deep insecurity in these people. I mean really, if you are confident in your work and are accomplished, do you need to do these things?

    I can’t say I find much at fault with Smolin particularly. He has made attempts to cross the LQG-string divide at times. I don’t agree with some of his assessment on string theory, and a lot of that structure is turning up in other domains of physics. There is a sort of semi-universality to it. Woit is frankly too curmudgeonly for my tastes.

  5. Kea says:

    LOL, brilliant! I think there is a big difference between crackpots and anticrackpots (I guess I would score higher on the crackpot index) but it is not so much a difference in mental state as a difference in perceived authority. Both crackpots and anti-crackpots think they know better than the people they argue with, but whereas crackpots often stand alone, (perhaps from an isolated, less educated position) the anti-crackpots have the backing of Groupthink. On average, a crackpot is more likely to be an honest character, and hence deserving of some basic respect on that count. It is difficult to respect those who squander their authority and fail to understand the responsibilty that it entails.

    • Lawrence B. Crowell says:

      Naw, I looked at your site a last week. I don’t think you are a crackpot. Most of what you write about seems pretty on tack, or at least it is sufficiently removed from the wacko world proximal to perpetual motion machine ideas.

      There is a difference between being a crackpot and being wrong. We are all wrong about things, and in fact I am more often wrong about things by far than I am right. As I see it a crackpot refuses to admit they are wrong. I have been at conferences where I run into somebody, and I get my defenses up a bit is when they first announce, “I have a theory.” A little voice in me at first says, “oh no.” If they start yapping on about something that starts to diverge from basic things then my suspicions are confirmed. It get worse if they refuse to see things other than what they think.

      There are crackpots who deserve skeptical napalming. What I do not like is to see is when some reasonable and honest effort has gotten derailed, either by some mathematic error or a bad ansatz and so forth, and where the author of this then has to take a lot of BS and H_2SO_4 enimas. After all the purpose of discussion is to communicate and ultimately support each other.

      • Kea says:

        Thank you, Lawrence. You comment: After all the purpose of discussion is to communicate and ultimately support each other. Wow, I wish I lived in that world.

      • Lawrence B. Crowell says:

        Well if nothing else that is the whole point of all of this technology as well. Otherwise it will just end up being used to sell us more stuff, making it no better than television amounted to. I saw you have a paper on the vixra on the PMNS matrix in the vixra, which I will admit I have not read as yet. Yet, at least I noticed it! I did some calculations a while back involving the same physics, or better put related. It involve neutrinos which come from beyond the cosmological event horizon, and how the oscillations become frozen. This is really not that different from the physics of the inflaton as it gets stretched across the cosmological horizon. There was some reason why I stopped with it, which I can’t recall at the moment, but you might be interested in this and might find if I made some bad move on this. Also the Stasheff polytope stuff has struck me as a way of looking at the S-matrix, or different ordering of field amplitudes in the S-matrix.

      • Kea says:

        Hmmm, I would prefer not to talk in terms of a neutrino flux, although that may be a valuable intuition, because it is too easy for people to interpret that in terms of a standard Big Bang cosmology … which in my opinion has already been proven flat wrong. Having said that, my last post at AP quotes a cool retired astronomer who has a good understanding of the new cosmology in terms of neutrino mass generation through a false vacuum, which one could associate to horizons.

        Phrases like ‘across the cosmological’ horizon are horrifically objective and classical and have no place in the new (kind of holographic) picture. We prefer to think of a cosmological horizon simply as a maximal horizon with respect to entropic mass evolution in the Riofrio law M=t for cosmic time. There is no need for an inflaton because the horizon problem is solved by an infinite speed of light (and small Planck’s constant) in the BigBang era.

        So the quantum information in the mixing and mass matrices may be roughly thought of in terms of a holographic screen, say a la Verlinde’s new work, although he is very confused about the ontological status of the screen. (This is why I prefer not to talk in terms of holography myself.) From the categorical perspective we know that the screen is utterly abstract, and so the information content of the operators is prior to spacetime generation.

      • Janne says:

        “…or at least it is sufficiently removed from the wacko world proximal to perpetual motion machine ideas”

        Ah, you must be talking about Pascal or Maxwell here?

    • Lawrence B. Crowell says:

      Kea,

      The holographic principle applies for an observer in a region where the event horizon is a barrier to causal information reaching that observer from some region partitioned by that null congruency. This is the case of the observer on a stationary frame removed from a black hole. There is a complementary perspective with respect to the observer who enters a black hole. This observer does not see the event horizon as a black surface, but is a barrier which prevents any communication to the outside world. A cosmology, in particular a de Sitter vacuum which approximates the cosmology we observe, is similar to the interior of a black hole. We can observe far beyond the cosmological event horizon radius r = sqrt{3/Λ}, such as the CMB sphere of last scatter, but we are not able to communicate anything beyond this radius to a galaxy in future.

      The physics is similar to black hole physics. The de Sitter space is flat, but spacetime is not. This generates the cosmological event horizon. As such we can construct an S-matrix for quantum field theory locally. Yet we might run into trouble if we try to extend this across the horizon. To examine this according to a stretched horizon we consider the proper distance from the stationary de Sitter metric and integrate

      ρ = ∫dr/(1 – Λr^2/3) = sqrt{3/Λ}}arctanh(sqrt{Λr^2/3}).

      This proper distance extends from 0 to infinity for r = 0 to sqrt{3/Λ}. This is a perfectly reasonable domain to define the causal support of an S-matrix. However, it does not extend beyond that region. So the curvature of spacetime, which is how the spatial surfaces of foliation are expanded as they are extended forwards by lapse functions, defines a causal domain of support equal to the Hubble volume. This is the limit to which a causal influence may extend from any frame at coordinate 0. However, the causal influence from the outside to the origin is given by the proper time interval

      σ = ∫dt(1 – Λr^2/3) = c^{-1} ∫dr(1 – Λr^2/3) = c^{-1}( r – Λr^3).

      which is analogous to the inwards causal domain of an observer inside a black hole.

      So this is where one can talk about neutrinos causally propagating across the cosmological event horizon. I think their oscillations become frozen, which might be a detectable property of such neutrinos. I think it is possible to use this to detect physical processes much further back in time beyond where optical observations become impossible

    • Philip Gibbs says:

      It seems psychologists like to take positive personality traits such as self-confidence and describe them as disorders that requires treatment which they can charge for. Notice how they use unnecessarily negative terms to describe a condition that would be a positive attribute except in the most extreme cases.

      Such traits should only be considered a disorder if they are having a negative effect on their life or other peoples. I would guess that this happens for about one in 10000 people, not one in 100 as claimed in wikipedia.

      We also see people being diagnosed with these “disorders” after they have committed some crime so that it can be used as mitigating circumstances. It’s a sign of the times I’m afraid.

      It is true however that some people in positions of authority could benefit from some training in management techniques and perhaps there is less training of this sort in academia than there is in business. That is a very different thing from a personality disorder.

      • Janne says:

        Yes, these traits are in the context of extreme behavior. There is healthy reinforcing narcissism too of course.

  6. Kea says:

    Who are you speaking to, Janne? Many would think so, but I do not have this personality disorder and my limited use of Facebook proves it.

    • Janne says:

      Speaking/writing to anyone reading these comments. I’ve had my share of getting to know these sort of personality disorders, and see shades of the symptoms in academics.

      I think you’re okay enough, no bullshit attitude and doing your own thing.

  7. S Halayka says:

    I was feeling so good about myself until I realized that a large score is bad.

    Official score: 155 :)

    • Philip Gibbs says:

      You either need to use less rhetoric in your arguments or get rid of the ponytail and quit working for Google :)

  8. Nigel Cook says:

    “Smolin is a crackpot who publishes hundreds of papers with always partially new octopi with Presley tails …” – Lubos

    Smolin’s book The Trouble with Physics has a strong defense of alternative ideas, but it is linked to an endnote saying that he is not defending crackpots, but is only defending people who know what science is, which he then defines simply as people with PhDs.

    Thus, by Smolin’s criterion of scientist, Newton (BA 1665 and MA 1668) was a crackpot because Newton didn’t have a PhD. Smolin’s criterion would definitely class Faraday (educated by reading the pages he bound while a bookbinder, and learning experiments while Davy’s bottle washer) as a crackpot. Famed mathematical physicist James Clerk Maxwell had only an undergraduate degree (BSc 1854), no PhD. Heaviside, who predicted the ionosphere and transformed Maxwell’s equations from long-hand differential equations into compressed vector calculus, had only school education. Einstein in October 1895 failed his entrance exam to the Swiss Polytechnic (ETH), only passing the exam and entering a year later after further study. His first PhD thesis was rejected in 1901 and he was only awarded a PhD for estimating Avogardo’s number theoretically in 1905.

    Smolin’s criterion of a scientist is very convenient but one problem is, as in Einstein’s case, that the important innovations may occur prior to someone taking a PhD. The PhD system has also changed since Einstein’s time: he was free to decide what to do his thesis on and merely had to send a cheque for 230 Swiss francs with his thesis. Another problem is obviously that the percentage of the scientifically literate world’s population which has a PhD is small, so you are thus blacklisting as crackpots billions of people from being taken seriously if they should come up with a useful scientific idea while outside ivory towers.

    • Lawrence B. Crowell says:

      Your objection here is with credential based criteria. Of course there are limits to that sort of thing. It does not take much to point out doctorates who are complete crackpots, such as Jack Sarfatti. Of course on the flip side a person who has only taken physics up to say “modern physics” at the sophomore-junior level more than likely lacks the ability to do research, and their lack of credentials most likely reflects this to a 99.9% certainty. This decreases as a person is awarded higher degrees. It is almost never the case that you have a pure Mozart effect in physics, where Mozart published his first works at age 7, and to do physics you do have to learn what is known. This takes time and study.

      I also keep having to stress there is a big difference between being wrong about something and being a crackpot. There is nothing wrong with being wrong! This is certainly the case if this error is based on a reasonable and honest effort. Things get most often “cranky” when the error is based on nonsense, usually due to basic ignorance on the part of the person presenting it, and further if this person refuses to admit they have a problem. These two often, though not always, go together and reflect an unfortunate tendency for people who are ignorant of certain basics to remain ignorant and to want to remain that way.

      • Nigel Cook says:

        “Things get most often “cranky” when the error is based on nonsense, usually due to basic ignorance on the part of the person presenting it, and further if this person refuses to admit they have a problem.”

        Basic ignorance and basic error was Bohr’s claim against Feynman at Pocono, when Bohr claimed path integrals were nonsense because you can’t talk about the path of an electron in an atom. Teller claimed path integrals were wrong because they ignored the exclusion principle, and so on. Tony Smith quotes Feynman on his problems at Pocono at http://www.valdostamuseum.org/hamsmith/goodnewsbadnews.html#badnews

        The point is that it’s easy to debunk as “wrong” right ideas in their new-born stage, before they have been properly developed. In order to get developed enough to overcome petty “errors” so that all the obvious objections can be answered (which bigwigs invariably, prematurely and falsely* claim are enough to junk them), you need to generate genuine interest. Dyson, who only understood and defended Feynman’s path integrals after Feynman spent 4 days arguing with him around the clock during a 2,000 mile drive they shared from Ithaca to Albuquerque in 1948, was also initially hostile to Feynman:

        “This sum-over-histories way of looking at things is not really so mysterious, once you get used to it. Like other profoundly original ideas, it has become slowly absorbed into the fabric of physics, so that now after thirty years it is difficult to remember why we found it at the beginning so hard to grasp. …

        “… It was a unifying principle that would either explain everything or explain nothing. And this made me profoundly skeptical. I knew how many great scientists had chased this will-o’-the-wisp of a unified theory. The ground of science was littered with the corpses of dead unified theories. Even Einstein had spent twenty years searching for a unified theory and had found nothing that satisfied him. I admired Dick tremendously, but I did not believe he could beat Einstein at his own game.”

        – Freeman Dyson, Disturbing the Universe (Pan, London, 1981), pp. 56,62.

        This initial error of Dyson in dismissing Feynman’s theory out of hand is the classic error of apathy and ignorance, contrasted to Bohr’s arrogant reaction in claiming Feynman was simply ignorant of of the uncertainty principle. If it was possible for all those famous names at Pocono in 1948 to misunderstand Feynman’s idea despite his PhD on the topic, it’s certainly easy to others to be misunderstood and ignored when they can’t even get a hearing. There is a huge amount of paranoia and prejudice in science on the part of the critics of new ideas, just because the majority of new theories are wrong. I’m beginning to think that the only way to be taken seriously with a new idea is to write a textbook on the existing mainstream theory just to prove technical competence in that theory, and in an appendix point out the errors and the new theory needed to overcome them.

        *There is a long list of examples of “authorities” (authority is hardly a scientific concept) falsely condemning new “discoveries” crackpot hoaxes. Kelvin dismissed radioactivity as a hoax, Ptolemy falsely dismissed the solar system of Aristarchus, Einstein dismissed quantum field theory, etc.

  9. Lawrence B. Crowell says:

    In these cases the stumbling block is usually a need to think in a different way. Usually certain piro assumptions with established physics turn out to be approximations of some sort, such as a fixed time in Newton or locality of quantum field amplitudes. These have been over turned by relativity and by string/M-theory.

    There is clearly no formula for determining what is cranky and what is the next major change on the level of Maxwell, Boltzmann, Einstein and so forth. There are a number of things which raise certain red flags. These involve claims of perpetual motions machines, variable speed of light. time travel, local hidden variables and so forth. If these claims do bear up they need to be supported by something terribly convincing. Most ideas along these lines don’t measure up.

    • Ulla says:

      You mean, NO NEW IDEAS, THANKS? Not even trying to draw in old ones?

      What is the next major change? That we must unlearn. There are wrong assumptions.

  10. Lawrence B. Crowell says:

    Here is an example of real crack pottery.

    http://www.catholicintl.com/galileowaswrong/index.html

    If we can’t agree that this is nonsense then there is no hope. There is of course a grey zone between realistic work which involves profound changes in our ways of thinking, and ideas which turn out to be wrong. Where wrong ideas become crack pot ideas is also a bit hard to define as well. Yet I usually think of perpetual motion machine ideas as crack pot. There is a grey zone from there to ideas that are bad, bogus or maybe too radical for the time.

    • Ulla says:

      I don’t find any reason to consider any special report, this is an general discussion, an attitude.

      Why should we decide on beforehand that this or that is wrong? Perpetual motion machines may become real if we get the energy circulate, in a way our universe is a perpetum mobile if the energy is conserved.

      Lots of people discuss hidden dimensions, expanding space, a changing light, changing constants. Why can’t it be discussed? It is not the same as to agree when we discuss. When extra dimensions are discussed as not crackpottish. I see no difference between hidden small dimensions or extra large, in essence they are the same. You must have energy to go from one realm to next, if the Higgs mechanism is real. Maybe it is not.

      I am no expert at all, but why talk of crackpots or anti-crackpots at all? Nobody knows particulaly much. Usually it is so that the one who knows very little shout most loudly.

      This is for kids in kindergarden, not for adult scientists.

  11. It’s so funny and at the same time truely captured the present scenario in science.

    We can also say that the people who debunk everything new (the so called anti group ) for the sake of status quo are

    – afraid to think big because they don’t want to make thier peers angry
    – debunk early and copy silentlty and make it mainstreem at later point of time
    – no originality of what so ever, just keep supporting each other even if it is a piece of junk.

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