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A ”crank” is a particular variety of pseudoscientist or “true believer” – one that tries very hard to be a real scientist but is hopelessly crippled by a combination of incompetence and a tendency to interpret their own incompetence as overwhelming genius. In a recent article in Slate (republished from New Scientist) Margaret Wertheim tries, for some reason, to defend those cranks who believe they have developed an alternate theory of physics. In the article she does a good job of painting a picture of what a crank is, but it seems almost incidental as the main thrust of her article is to criticize science for being inaccessible. The result is confused and misleading.
In order see exactly why a crank is a crank one needs to have a clear idea of how mainstream science works and why (something that cranks often lack themselves). Science is often portrayed in popular culture in the quaint manner of the lone genius working away in their lab and developing ideas largely on their own. Further, any true advance is met by nothing but scorn from their colleagues and the scientific establishment. This view may have been somewhat relevant in the 19th century and earlier, but rarely has any relevance to modern science.
I want the physicists to do physical experiments and model physical reality with rational, transparent and generalised mathematics.
Thanks for the idea on the experimenters kit....build your own shrinking ray machine. That should work just as well as the free energy experimenter's kits! LOL.
Originally posted by boncho
My personal opinion is that most cranks start out with good intentions, then lead into a dark existence that usually ends up in selling "kits" for people to build free energy devices.
....
I still remember trying to argue with my teacher that the device in "Honey I shrunk the kids" was real because a joker in my family said it was.
Originally posted by Astyanax
reply to post by yampa
I want the physicists to do physical experiments and model physical reality with rational, transparent and generalised mathematics.
For whose benefit? Yours?
I suppose you'll be telling us your taxes fund scientific research next.
Science is not done for your entertainment.
Originally posted by 1littlewolf
Keep in mind that although mathematics is the main language of theoretical physics (and yes this is how the majority of modern day discoveries are first conceptualized), the main aim is to describe real world phenomena. As such there should be no reason why one cannot relay the core concepts of the theory to the layman. The maths is secondary and only exists to prove the validity of the theory. Just because one is unable to fit one’s theories into a mathematical formula, does not necessarily mean it should be written off altogether. Maybe the ‘right’ mathematical formula just cannot be conceptualized either via the limited viewpoint of the physicist, or maybe just there are a few concepts which as of yet do not easily translate into a mathematics itself.
The article you sourced struck me as not only making wide sweeping generalizations of anyone who dares to try and think 'outside of the box' which serves to hinder the spirit of discovery within science and also echoes the arrogance of many within established main stream science. This in my opinion is the complete antithesis of the core spirit of the scientific process, not the supposed ‘crank’ the article references.
I would also hazard a guess that a scientific journalist of Margaret Wertheim’s credentials would not risk her reputation chasing after a guy who was selling ‘free energy devices’ or ‘12th spiral DNA realignment crystals’.
The maths is secondary and only exists to prove the validity of the theory. Just because one is unable to fit one’s theories into a mathematical formula, does not necessarily mean it should be written off altogether. Maybe the ‘right’ mathematical formula just cannot be conceptualized either via the limited viewpoint of the physicist, or maybe just there are a few concepts which as of yet do not easily translate into mathematics itself.
I think it is more the case that current mathematical physics is so often heuristic and irrational, it becomes impossible for anyone but those with very high systemising ability and good memory for arbitrary symbols and rules (i.e geeks) to utilise.
While generalized enlightenment is indeed desirable...for a number of reasons....I think it is incorrect to say this is a purpose of science.
Originally posted by yampa
I think it is more the case that current mathematical physics is so often heuristic and irrational, it becomes impossible for anyone but those with very high systemising ability and good memory for arbitrary symbols and rules (i.e geeks) to utilise. This completely defeats a major purpose of the scientific endevour - namely, generalised enlightenment of the whole population.
Originally posted by moebius
The maths is secondary and only exists to prove the validity of the theory. Just because one is unable to fit one’s theories into a mathematical formula, does not necessarily mean it should be written off altogether. Maybe the ‘right’ mathematical formula just cannot be conceptualized either via the limited viewpoint of the physicist, or maybe just there are a few concepts which as of yet do not easily translate into mathematics itself.
But without the math the theory is unusable. So what should the scientists do with it? Congratulate you to your accomplishment and start to work on their own non describable and non testable theories, one for every scientist out there?
Now a generalization from my side. It is funny how the most vocal critics of science are the ones who never cared to study it in the first place.
The purpose of science is to discover truth. If it turns out the truth is simple, that's the way we will express the math. E=mc^2 is about as simple as it gets.
If the truth is more complicated, then the math may also be more complicated.