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    Open Letter To Crackpots
    By Alex "Sandy" Antunes | April 22nd 2011 02:06 PM | 15 comments | Print | E-mail | Track Comments
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    Dear earnest wingnut,

    Thank you for sending me a copy of your 20-page monograph containing your brilliant new paradigm which The Physics Establishment are seeking to squelch,  Having been squashed at times by the T.P.E., I can heartily sympathize.

    I am writing back to you because you don't seem as crazy or scary as most.  Also, your paper had good spelling and grammer.  Your elementary English teacher told the truth-- spelling matters.  So I read the thing.  And by 'read' I mean I fully read the first page and the conclusion, but sort of skimmed the middle.  It'll have to do.

    There are a few conceptual issues that make me hesitant about writing about it for my science column at the present time.  I hope you read these comments as constructive criticism and that they assist you in further work.

    In particular, references to the 'Physics Establishment' and the repeated assertion that the work is yours and is groundbreaking actually created a barrier for me in reading it.  Either present your theory, or brag.  If you're doing both, the reader will focus on the bragging and dismiss you.  If your theory is strong enough to be accurate, you don't need the brag-- the theory will stand on its own.

    Going to the concepts, the initial concept you are refuting is a bit out of date.  At this point there are several new understandings.  For example, [CURRENT KNOWLEDGE] is well quantified and well understood.  Some of the work in that area might help you hone your own work further.  I use Wikipedia for this, but don't tell the physicists in T.P.E., they'll mock me (even though they use it too).

    You also seem to refute yourself.  Your conclusion declares everything is related, yet earlier you emphasize that the current thought that everything is unified is wrong.  That to me seems inconsistent, and requires either a rewrite of your theory or a better explanation.

    Perhaps splitting your long work into shorter topical articles might make it more accessible.  As it stands now, it covers disparate fields in a hopscotch manner.  Writing where your overlying concept is applied to each field you tackle-- particle physics, biology, Earth climate, economics, sociology, and cosmology-- as a seperate piece could make for a stronger work.

    I do have a few questions.  First, how did you find my name?  I mean, you sent it to my personal email, not my NASW one.  Did you know I am a science writer, or was this luck?  Finally, do you have my address, do I have to move again?

    Good luck with your future work,
    Alex

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    Comments

    Gerhard Adam
    That is a great letter !!!
    Mundus vult decipi
    I hope "grammer" is a joke.

    Gerhard Adam
    That's what you found to comment about? 
    Mundus vult decipi
    antunes
    In a sentance about spelling?  Perish the thought.
    rholley
    In 1946 a motion to introduce simplified spelling was rejected by the UK Parliament.  Some wag wrote a poem to a newspaper, which went something like this:

    Mai hart iz sad for litel wunz
    Hu wend ther wei tu skwl
    Tw lern thi Inglish speling
    With its toutal lak ov rwl.

    Thi aiern enterz taini soulz
    And thei lwz awl ther bauns
    In lerning werdz thei canot spel
    And spelz thei carnt pronauns.

    Nau aut upon thi Parliment
    That thwortid childrenz blis
    Prifering endles drujeri
    Tw luvli stuf laik this.
    Robert H. Olley / Quondam Physics Department / University of Reading / England
    That's brilliant! :))) Actually, some of my mates from NI and Scotland write almost exactly like this! "Ach, drey yir eys, wee sheit!"

    Hank
    I keep intending to do a short video of me checking voicemails I have saved from readers and potential writers who call, some, to argue about an article one of you wrote, some to ask for step-by-step walkthroughs of how to post an article.    

    Why don't I do it?   They say the camera adds 10 lbs. and I don't want anyone asking 'how many cameras are on him?' so I want to be at summer weight first.
    The Stand-Up Physicist
    CAPITALISATION can be a concern. Why some thing red type on a black background helps to communicate is beyond me. 

    I am a fringe physicist magnet: "Look, he says he is a fringe physicist, so he might understand what I am saying". I avoid crackpot, the word. It is too negative and personal. Many times my assessment means how you use the word. I have not tried to hide my email address as it appears at the end of many videos on YouTube and on a number of web sites I have. Scan one of my sites close enough, and you can find a phone number or home address (send you check here for the t-shirt or buttons). Once or twice a year I get a call. I give them as much as 45 minutes. They figure out soon the ultra-conservative fringe is conservative of the science of physics tradition.
    I start by saying that none of this is personal. I have a boilerplate response for work with no equations. Those do represent real struggles with ideas, but it is not physics as I define it. I scan for equations that look wrong or unreasonable. It is then the equations I hammer. I skip their prose. There are usually to many new words with questionable meaning.

    The person is explicitly told I have no intension of changing their mind. I have no interest in an argument. Instead, I have done my responsibility as a skeptic.

    I take pride in listening respectively. There are times when it is hard not to laugh. I had a 9:15am talk for a regional APS session that began at 8:00. I got there on time. The first four talks were from a group of four researchers who were trying to rid the world of blindness, a valuable goal. It turned out that only one of the four made it to the early shift, so one guy talked for an hour. Translation: the guy gamed the submit form so he coud ramble longer. Ramble he did. He was all over the map, including some way the Egyptian Pyramids focused neutrinos after they had travelled through the Earth. I was impressed with the diversity of his thoughts. I don't recall the transition, but he started to talk about moose, the herbivore with large antlers. I perked up in my chair. Moose? This is a physics talk involving blindness and neutrinos... and a moose? I must have looked like a prairie dog. Then he said he had the ability to read the mind of a moose. I had to stare at the ground, I was so close to losing it. He was sincere about the moose consciousness thing.

    As he wound down, I did ask a tough question which was not answered. I did my job as a listener. I got to present my ideas too. Yes, part of me thinks I am barking near a big important tree. But my life is lived off-off-off-Broadway. Moose-consciousness man keeps me humble. Just another night to work late on another blog.

    Doug

    Very funny, but a little cruel. However, i think our own opinions can unavoidably seem cruel to others who have some measure of autism.

    Your real underlying response is: "why me?". The answer is that you have been mistaken for "somebody who gives a damn!". That is someone who is responsive enough to comment. Some of us just do not respond, and that is seemingly cruel too!

    Social responsibilities and niceties do exercise the brain, and that reputedly makes it larger, the bigger the society you socialise in. Bigger brains attract more attention. I think Newton proved that. lol!

    I guess it is hard not to categorise and lampoon others because of their spelling, after all your teachers did the same to your fellow students, and you at some stage in your education. However multiple spellings have always been a characteristic of the international flavour of science!

    You have to be honest, and take a long hard look at the human being that you call a scientist. He or she is just as fallible, just as frail as any poor untouchable in Indian culture, just as inscrutable as any stereo typical Chinese or Russian individual and just as effulgent and intense as any Balkan individual!

    National and familial characteristics underlie the scientific persona; a whole mess of checks and balances and beliefs and learned misapprehensions. We can't deal with all that!

    Let's face it! We are cruel to each other because we really cannot cope with the overwhelming attention we get from others by other ways.
    How very autistic!

    Is there a kind way to interact with others who are targeting you with unwanted ideas? I guess the answer is to make plain respectfully that unsolicited ideas are not welcome and will not be responded to. The other side of the coin is to be fair and solicit ideas which meet certain criteria one of these explicitly being readability,etc.

    Conciseness used to be a word used by "gatekeepers", and i think it needs to be explained in terms of protecting ones sanity, time and health!

    For those who have new ideas etc it is worthwhile engaging in self examination to determine whether or not you have to contribute to this existing society or start one of your own. Many of us do not realise that it is a basic need to contribute, and also a basic need to be connected to others, but also basic need to be significant. How we balance these basic needs is not yet the purview of science. You may have to look elsewhere to satisfy all or some of these needs.

    Why is it that everyone who is crazy these days is autistic? Seems more delusional to me.

    Regarding this, Sam, the most brillant minds you will ever find are on the spectrum, yourself included, eh? Most of the autistic minds I am familiar with are rational in hyperdrive. But I think perhaps I am confusing autism with genius. I won't be the first.

    "You have to be honest, and take a long hard look at the human being that you call a scientist. He or she is just as fallible, just as frail as any poor untouchable in Indian culture... "

    Now this, I like.

    I think those who live in ivory towers find the lowly masses annoying. Some are intrigued. Most must live above them in order to retain a semblance of superiority. That way, when your thoughts amount to naught, you can thank the flying spaghetti monster you are not like them.
    "All religions, arts and sciences are branches of the same tree ."

    "Science" pisses me off lately. Sorry for my diatribe, but it is a delusion no different than the creative fanciful crackpots it refutes. Einstein's quote of the day says that . Think of them as being artists. They create their own reality.

    Hank
    Why is it that everyone who is crazy these days is autistic? Seems more delusional to me.
    Autism is both overdiagnosed and culturally exculpatory.  No one can dislike autistic people, even though I can't find a definition for modern autism beyond some movable personality spectrum that covers 70% of people (and 95% of scientists) - it's unfortunate for the actual children with autism because it isn't taken as seriously because people start to think it means shy or quiet or annoying.
    Ninety-five percent...you give credit where it's not due...I'm trying to imagine anyone in that 5% being a scientist.

    That being said, there is such overlap...such a similar developmental trajectory...between those on each end of the bell curve, also a social construct. In reality, it seems that those who are thoroughly disabled with autism have something in common with those who find themselves excused by the label.

    There is a commonality there, and I have seen it. My son was labelled..echolalic until age 9....not sure where he'll end up. He would have been called "learning disabled" in previous generations, and thought slow. Not too far from him is an individual who did not talk until the age of 12, institutionalized for all his life. At the extreme end are those who will never develop language, subjects of psychological studies in behavioral determnism.

    But don't call crackpots autistic. It's not an excusive club. More than likely they're just dumb neurotypicals.

    A very funny letter, and exactly the sort of reaction, a conservative academic, might give to any radical new idea. Did you right this piece, because your so used to writing rejection letters, or from have papers rejected?

    My own experience as a amateur scientist is spending a whole year writing a paper about the possibility of a new long range force between neutrinos, only to have it rejected from the journal I sent it to. It would have been great is the rejection had explained a flaw with my maths, or any contradictory evidence. Instead I was rejected for the model not being well motivated, and have many ad hoc hypothesises. In fact my theory is a very simple extension of the standard model, motivated by the need for a force to explain dark energy, and such near SM ideas ought to be investigated. Physics is a conservative subject still, despite having huge imaginary castles of thought from popular paradigms, like string theory, with lead to not a single observations. New ideas that don't mights with existing paradigms are rejected, but ones which do match a paradigms a included.

    Hank
    My own experience as a amateur scientist is spending a whole year writing a paper about the possibility of a new long range force between neutrinos, only to have it rejected from the journal I sent it to. It would have been great is the rejection had explained a flaw with my maths, or any contradictory evidence. Instead I was rejected for the model not being well motivated, and have many ad hoc hypothesises.
    There can't be contrary evidence to something you made up and math is the most abused tool in science by amateurs.  Ad hoc hypotheses is a description of why it was rejected.   Instead of learning from it and and honing your skills and process you chose to invent a Big Science Conspiracy against you and anyone who doesn't like crackpottery is a 'conservative academic'.
    antunes
    There is accepted consensus, there is interesting possibility, and then there's just misinformed.  Alas, cranks fall into the latter.  The biggest error is containing an underlying assumption that isn't true.  That can fall into 'not well motivated'.  ('Relying on ad hoc assumptions' is a separate flaw, it means you don't provide enough underpining to justify your case.  Early string theory was heavily criticized for this, their response was not to say "we're being surpressed" but to work harder on it, and that's why string theory has some credence now.)

    An example of 'not well motivated': one theory I received was based on the radical idea-- flying in the face of modern physics-- that a vacuum isn't, as commonly thought, empty space.  But unfortunately, it turns out current physics already agrees and even measured and quantified this.  So the author's basic premise and what they are trying to contradict isn't even real.

    I pointed them to wikipedia on the Casimir Effect, so they could get up to speed and be better informed.  If you have an astonishing paradigm-shattering theory, you'd damn well better get the current paradigm you're refuting right first.  Otherwise, it's not science.

    Alex

    p.s. rejection letters rarely say "fail", instead they say "to be published, you need to better substantiate [X]", so I'd say I fall into the latter-- received rejection letters from journals.  But I reworked the papers and got them published.  In science, criticism is a blessing that lets you improve, not a judgement that shuts you down.