The Emergence of Crackpots from the SciForums Space-Time

Discussion in 'General Science & Technology' started by BenTheMan, Mar 17, 2007.

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  1. Fraggle Rocker Staff Member

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    There's a subtle difference here. The true scientist strives to be impartial and attempts to learn whether his theory is supported by reasoning and his observations of the universe. Even if he is in love with his theory, if its integration into science would make him rich and famous, he still respects the scientific method. This means that he devotes a large part of his effort to trying to disprove his own theory. He knows that no scientific theory can be proven true, it can only have its probability of being false steadily lowered as it becomes integrated with all other theories, until it becomes "true beyond a reasonable doubt." His quest is to find all the evidence that might disprove his theory and make sure it is not valid.

    The crackpot is most often driven by his love for his theory, his fantasy of being a populist hero, and/or his subversion of the scientific method to the superstitions and irrationalities of his religion. In the worst case he attempts to prove his theory true, which is something that only happens in math, not science. In religiously-inspired cases he concentrates on proving competing theories false, but he ignores one step in the scientific method: extraordinary assertions require extraordinary substantiation. (For example, the extraordinary assertion that a century and a quarter of ever-more sophisticated evidence consistent with the theory of evolution is wrong requires more evidence than a couple of dubious fossils and a passage in a book of fairytales, before we are required to take it seriously.) The crackpot has no respect at all for another step in the scientific method: peer review. He is convinced that all scientists are part of a conspiracy to silence the hard-working crackpots, because the truth of the crackpottery will somehow put them out of work instead of giving them more work to do, so the rejection of every scientist whose ear he can bend simply strengthens his conviction that he is right.

    It's okay to use your imagination to lead to possibilities. It's not okay to be blinded by it so that you lose your scientific objectivity and fail to observe the scientific method.
     
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  3. §outh§tar is feeling caustic Registered Senior Member

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    Are there any scientists in history who were regarded as 'crackpots' by their peers until their discoveries were reevaluated later in time? Perhaps we can learn more from their stories, if any have existed. If not, maybe it just goes to show.
     
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  5. D H Some other guy Valued Senior Member

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    Afred Wegener and developed his continental drift hypothesis in 1911. It gained some interest but was quickly shelved as "crackpot", partly because he was an outsider (he was an astronomer by training), but mostly because he had no realistic mechanism. Geologists had some hand-waving schemas for explaining the common fossils found on widely separated continents; the fact that the continents kind of fit together like jigsaw pieces was seen as humans having overactive pattern recognition capabilities. All geologists have seen weird shapes that look like people, after all.

    The theory of plate tectonics developed 40 some years later provided the mechanism. Plate tectonics was accepted extremely quickly within the geological community because it explained both the observations (common fossils on widely separated continents, continents that fit together) and provided a very compelling and observable mechanism.

    How about physics? Newtonian physics in 1900 had some very deep flaws and was begging for radical new explanations. Quantum mechanics explains the evidence and provides mechanisms for the small-scale phenomena. We don't see many crackpots dissing quantum mechanics because it is such a complete theory.

    The physics community around 1900 also had problems explaining high-speed phenomena. Enter special relativity, a simple and elegant but mechanism-free and very counterintuitive theory. General relativity is inaccessible to anyone without considerable mathematics background. The combination of counterintuitiveness, lack of a mechanism, and inscrutable mathematics attracts many crackpots.
     
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  7. Fraggle Rocker Staff Member

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    But were the crackpots the ones who discovered relativity and quantum mechanics? That was the question: Is it crackpots who provide us with the theories to explain observations that don't quite fit our current theories, or is it the real scientists? Okay, so Wegener was not a geologist, but he was a bona fide scientist who understood and respected the scientific method.

    Most crackpots at best are failed scientist-wannabes whose work never passed a peer review. They do not follow the scientific method: they look for evidence to support their pet theories rather than first finding and refuting all the evidence that might refute them.
     
  8. Gustav Banned Banned

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    so

    whining drivel for an op
    a horde of sciforumers
    a 20 page masterpiece

    love it
     
  9. Gustav Banned Banned

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    i trust the crackpots won?
     
  10. Fraggle Rocker Staff Member

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    They lost by forfeit; none of them showed up. They stay away from discussions like this.
     
  11. Gustav Banned Banned

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    hmm.....
    so it seems

    ahh
    ben
    you must like it here, ja?
    perhaps secretly?
     
  12. D H Some other guy Valued Senior Member

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    One of them just arrived. You replied to him.
     
  13. D H Some other guy Valued Senior Member

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    No crackpot could have come up with the ideas that underly quantum mechanics. While crackpots often deride scientists of being guilty of "linear thinking", it is the crackpots who are pointing their fingers at themselves. Quantum mechanics required several well-informed bolts out of the blue. Scientists know the landscape and possess the requisite mathematical tools and creative instincts. They also know when to use a trashcan. I suspect every truly genius scientist has had many crackpot ideas. One difference between the scientist and the crackpot is that the scientist knows when he has come up with a gem and when he has come up with a pile of ... stuff. The crackpot remains ever clueless.
     
  14. GhostofMaxwell. Banned Banned

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    I totally agree. I think its easy to forget the hard moments it took to grasp Quantum mechanics and Relativity, and that it didn't become so right to us before the moment it clicked and we finally got it. I'd say 99% of people who post on the internet have never got it, so naturally think anything they can possibly think up can rival something that seems to make no sense to them also. If for some reason I didn't go through that moment from total confusion with QM and relativity to it all making sense, I'm not sure I would be much different.

    We should maybe pitty the poor chimps that ridicule us because they cant compete in brainpower.
     
  15. Fraggle Rocker Staff Member

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    I've never felt there was any point to squandering pity on people who don't believe they deserve it. Modesty is one thing: "Oh we're not poor. We'll just tighten our belts until dad recovers from that accident with the locomotive and our lawyer gets the railroad's insurance company to see reason." You quietly help them in some way that doesn't insult them and they quietly accept it and bake you a cake every week. But arrogance is something else: "I'm going to revolutionize science with just a high school diploma because science is nothing but a cabal to keep the really brilliant ideas from being heard." We have more important things to do to those people than pity them. In the age of mass communication they can influence others with high school diplomas and the next thing we know funding for science is cut but some church is using tithes to build a Museum of Phrenology.
     
  16. sniffy Banned Banned

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    Hey that's what I said frag!
     
  17. (Q) Encephaloid Martini Valued Senior Member

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    Fraggle

    Your words here are taken in earnest and are reflected by many. But, we have moderators here that support the kooks and nutters, in fact, they deride others who question the kooks and nutters all the while encouraging them.

    How do get anywhere when we can't even get the moderator team to buy in?
     
  18. peta9 Registered Senior Member

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    Would you consider this a crackpot?
     
  19. Fraggle Rocker Staff Member

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    I haven't experienced that in my short time as a moderator. Every time I have stated this position among the moderators I have encountered no opposition and enthusiastic concurrence, to the point that I feel correct in saying, "I speak for a consensus of the moderators." We've even started coming down really hard on evolution denialists and race theorists who won't stop trolling. This appears to me to be an integral part of this year's renovation of SciForums as a place that attracts scientists, future scientists, and science enthusiasts, and lets the rest of humanity find a place somewhere among the other billion websites.

    If there are moderators who are subverting this effort we need to discuss it on the Moderators subforum. In the meantime we'll each take care of the pest control in our own quarters and lead by example.
     
  20. guthrie paradox generator Registered Senior Member

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    Not necessarily, they might just be woefully ill-informed. It is very common for fairly normal people, who are perfectly competent in their own specialist sphere, to make statements about other spheres they have insufficient information on, but mistakenly think they have the right idea.
     
  21. Gustav Banned Banned

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    poor frag
    power manifests in such entirely predictable and boring ways

    subverting?
    pest control?
    banishment

    stryderunknown the probable target?

    facist pigs

    pardon
    i must relieve myself
    in your general direction

    /piss
    /drip

    whatever
    get a grip
    or something

    this renovation will fail
    the unseen collective will see to that

    we are myspace
    resistence is futile
     
  22. (Q) Encephaloid Martini Valued Senior Member

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    Oh, you probably didn't get any opposition, but that doesn't preclude the actions of mods contrary to your position.

    Funny, I've had the same argument with other mods who certainly DON'T consider Sciforums a science board. In fact, they've made it clear that if you're looking for a science board, look elsewhere.

    By all means, let's revisit this issue and come to terms with those who disagree with your position.
     
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