Of Cranks and Crackpots and Sealing Wax

How I found glaring errors in Einstein’s calculations

Or rather, I have not, but I know lots of people who have. For some time now, I have been an avid reader and collector of webpages created by crackpot physicists, those marginal self-styled scientists whose foundational, generally revolutionary work is sadly ignored by most established scientists. These are the great heroes, at least in their own eyes, of alternative science. In pre-Internet ages, these people routinely sent sheaves of notes and articles to established physicists and mathematicians, warning them that the papers contained proofs of Goldbach’s conjecture or Fermat’s theorem, or revolutionary models of gravitation and the atom. Scientists would just as routinely consign all this brilliant stuff to the wastepaper basket.

But then a miracle happened – CERN and DARPA created the Internet… and crackpots now all have their webpages! The whole world can benefit from exposure to alternative science.

Some interesting observations, including “The crackpot theory is based on textbooks,” i.e. crackpots tend to focus only on the “big examples” given in textbooks (e.g. Michelson-Morley for relativity)

As I said, crackpots are all committed to the principles of sound science – and they have done their homework. So where did it all go wrong? The textbook problem is in my view the crucial clue. Crackpots devote entire sites to discussing the Michelson-Morley experiment. To most physicists, such discussions are largely irrelevant, as these classic experiments were only the first ones in a long series of tests that showed the complete agreement between observations and predictions from special relativity. Also, the crackpots are generally not aware that every day, in thousands of labs all over the world, people are performing experiments that require special relativity, and that these experiments turn out all right because relativistic principles are included in people’s computations.

One thing this treatise ignores is the slice of psychoceramics that have no math skillz whatsoever. These are invariably in the “my theory is intuitive” crowd, and they post lots of pretty pictures about their helical, or möbius, or toroidal electrons, and how everything is really one particle — all you have to do is put another “twist” in the loop, or take it away, and you’ve got a proton or a photon. These are often folks who want to explain what energy is, or mass is, or some other metaphysical theme, rather than how things behave in nature, which is what scientists are after.

Update: in addition to Ian’s link in the comments, Bee just wrote something up on Backreaction. Division by Zero

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