The Crackpot Index versus the Anti-Crackpot Index


People with new ideas are often attacked by the people who are invested in the old ideas. Sometimes it is an ego thing. Intellectuals attack an idea just because it is not their idea. This goes on at all levels in all branches of science. In old days physicists insulted each other by using the word “crazy.” The phrase “you are crazy” was heard often. Sometimes the word “crazy” had a positive connotation as in “your idea is crazy but not crazy enough.” These days the favorite insult word is “crackpot.” Some people take it to the extreme. There is a physicist/blogger who calls Albert Einstein, Gerard ‘t Hooft and Steven Weinberg (all Nobel Prize winners) crackpots. I am afraid the word “crackpot” is becoming meaningless because of this kind of misuse in particular and overuse in general.

It is important to differentiate people of ideas from crackpots. My definition of crackpot is someone who wants glory without sacrifice. You can have ideas and you can communicate those ideas without badgering the professional scientists but you cannot expect glory. There is no such thing as glory! You may get respect someday if you really work out your ideas but there is no such thing as glory!

The email addresses of academic physicists are public information. Most of them are bombarded with emails coming from crackpots who claim that they have come up with a revolutionary theory. Scientists report that many of these theories are based on wrong facts. I understand professional physicists’ indignation. Professional scientists sacrifice so much for their choice of profession.  They fight very hard to get their academic jobs. When these professional scientists see someone making big claims without the necessary work behind those claims, they get angry. They react by calling that person a crackpot.

Those who badger scientists with their half-baked ideas deserve to be called crackpots. I have half-baked ideas too but I don’t bother the professional physicists. I understand that as a person of ideas you want constructive criticism but in this busy world it is very difficult to have the attention of an academic scientist if you are outside of academic circles. I don’t have a solution for this. I am in the same boat. I used to be a professional physicist, now I am outside of the academia, and this makes it very difficult for me to heard in the academic circles.

Read the criteria below for fun but if you are an independent researcher remember this: your new theory has to provide testable predictions (note Philip Gibbs’ objection to this principle at #37 of his index)

The Crackpot Index by John Baez

  1. A -5 point starting credit.
  2. 1 point for every statement that is widely agreed on to be false.
  3. 2 points for every statement that is clearly vacuous.
  4. 3 points for every statement that is logically inconsistent.
  5. 5 points for each such statement that is adhered to despite careful correction.
  6. 5 points for using a thought experiment that contradicts the results of a widely accepted real experiment.
  7. 5 points for each word in all capital letters (except for those with defective keyboards).
  8. 5 points for each mention of “Einstien”, “Hawkins” or “Feynmann”.
  9. 10 points for each claim that quantum mechanics is fundamentally misguided (without good evidence).
  10. 10 points for pointing out that you have gone to school, as if this were evidence of sanity.
  11. 10 points for beginning the description of your theory by saying how long you have been working on it. (10 more for emphasizing that you worked on your own.)
  12. 10 points for mailing your theory to someone you don’t know personally and asking them not to tell anyone else about it, for fear that your ideas will be stolen.
  13. 10 points for offering prize money to anyone who proves and/or finds any flaws in your theory.
  14. 10 points for each new term you invent and use without properly defining it.
  15. 10 points for each statement along the lines of “I’m not good at math, but my theory is conceptually right, so all I need is for someone to express it in terms of equations”.
  16. 10 points for arguing that a current well-established theory is “only a theory”, as if this were somehow a point against it.
  17. 10 points for arguing that while a current well-established theory predicts phenomena correctly, it doesn’t explain “why” they occur, or fails to provide a “mechanism”.
  18. 10 points for each favorable comparison of yourself to Einstein, or claim that special or general relativity are fundamentally misguided (without good evidence).
  19. 10 points for claiming that your work is on the cutting edge of a “paradigm shift”.
  20. 20 points for emailing me and complaining about the crackpot index. (E.g., saying that it “suppresses original thinkers” or saying that I misspelled “Einstein” in item 8.)
  21. 20 points for suggesting that you deserve a Nobel prize.
  22. 20 points for each favorable comparison of yourself to Newton or claim that classical mechanics is fundamentally misguided (without good evidence).
  23. 20 points for every use of science fiction works or myths as if they were fact.
  24. 20 points for defending yourself by bringing up (real or imagined) ridicule accorded to your past theories.
  25. 20 points for naming something after yourself. (E.g., talking about the “The Evans Field Equation” when your name happens to be Evans.)
  26. 20 points for talking about how great your theory is, but never actually explaining it.
  27. 20 points for each use of the phrase “hidebound reactionary”.
  28. 20 points for each use of the phrase “self-appointed defender of the orthodoxy”.
  29. 30 points for suggesting that a famous figure secretly disbelieved in a theory which he or she publicly supported. (E.g., that Feynman was a closet opponent of special relativity, as deduced by reading between the lines in his freshman physics textbooks.)
  30. 30 points for suggesting that Einstein, in his later years, was groping his way towards the ideas you now advocate.
  31. 30 points for claiming that your theories were developed by an extraterrestrial civilization (without good evidence).
  32. 30 points for allusions to a delay in your work while you spent time in an asylum, or references to the psychiatrist who tried to talk you out of your theory.
  33. 40 points for comparing those who argue against your ideas to Nazis, stormtroopers, or brownshirts.
  34. 40 points for claiming that the “scientific establishment” is engaged in a “conspiracy” to prevent your work from gaining its well-deserved fame, or suchlike.
  35. 40 points for comparing yourself to Galileo, suggesting that a modern-day Inquisition is hard at work on your case, and so on.
  36. 40 points for claiming that when your theory is finally appreciated, present-day science will be seen for the sham it truly is. (30 more points for fantasizing about show trials in which scientists who mocked your theories will be forced to recant.)
  37. 50 points for claiming you have a revolutionary theory but giving no concrete testable predictions.

The Anti-Crackpot Index by Philip Gibbs

  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.

About Suresh Emre

I have worked as a physicist at the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory and the Superconducting Super Collider Laboratory. I am a volunteer for the Renaissance Universal movement. My main goal is to inspire the reader to engage in Self-discovery and expansion of consciousness.
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