Thursday, January 6, 2011

How To Tell If You Are A Crackpot. (The Crackpot Index.)

Ever wanted to know if you, or someone you loved, is a crackpot?  Then this surprisingly helpful list, called the crackpot index, is for you.  What's so funny about the crackpot index, written by physicist John Baez, is it is all too true!

How does it work?  First you start of with -5 points and if your score goes positive, then on some level... you are a crackpot.  Think you can avoid a positive score?  Well let's look at a few entries on the list. (See the above link for the complete list.)

First, some common mistakes:
1 point for every statement that is widely agreed on to be false. 
3 points for every statement that is logically inconsistent.
5 points for each such statement that is adhered to despite careful correction.
5 points for each mention of "Einstien", "Hawkins" or "Feynmann".
40 points for comparing those who argue against your ideas to Nazis, stormtroopers, or brownshirts.
Second, a telltale sign someone is a crackpot is that they advocate established science is fundamentally flawed:
10 points for each claim that quantum mechanics is fundamentally misguided (without good evidence).
10 points for each favorable comparison of yourself to Einstein, or claim that special or general relativity are fundamentally misguided (without good evidence).
10 points for arguing that a current well-established theory is "only a theory", as if this were somehow a point against it.
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. 
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.)
Next, what's so funny about these next few is I know from experience they actually happen fairly often in some form or another.
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. 
30 points for suggesting that Einstein, in his later years, was groping his way towards the ideas you now advocate. 
And last of all, the ultimate test (If you want to be a legitimate scientist.) :
50 points for claiming you have a revolutionary theory but giving no concrete testable predictions.
Okay, so: if you were making such a list what items would you add? (Remember, go read the full list!)   Given this is weighted toward physics, what issues do you see pop up in your fields?


  1. Wait a second Joe, doesn't that last one make any string theorist an automatic crackpot? I mean, we all know that Einstein, in his later years, was groping his way towards the idea of string theory, and Hawking, Feynmann and others all secretly supported it, and they all went to school. It is such a great theory that no one ever really needs to explain it. It's obvious that there is an inquisition-like conspiracy manned by modern-day storm-troopers preventing it from gaining its well-deserved fame. It really is the only way to work around the fact that classical mechanics, quantum mechanics, and relativity are only theories and obviously fundamentally misguided. Whoever came up with string theory really deserves a Nobel prize. I'm sure it was developed by an extraterrestrial civilization. It really is on the cutting edge of a paradigm shift. ;)

    Anyways, Joe, great post as always.

  2. Bill,

    Actually... in many ways yes. It's greatest black eye is the same thing that gives you a score of 50 on this very index.

    And yes... it just may have been developed by an extraterrestrial civilization: See here.

  3. You know, this would make for a very good board or card game. The whole family could join in with the Creationists on one side and the evolutionists on the other. I, personally, never would mention Einstein's name in my own theories, as Niels Bohr seems to have been the one working his way towards them....

  4. rameumptom,

    Yes, I was actually going to say (which is similar to the game you suggest) is you should try debating science someone sometime and you might be shocked how many of these points are violated by both sides.

    So it could make a fun game. I know I can be accused of falling victims to some of these traps myself.

  5. Joe, I guess in one way what I'm trying to say is not that string theory is the product of crack-pots, nor even that it's not a scientific theory (as Feynmann might put it), but that maybe that list could use some revising (even though it is great). I don't know, maybe I'm just a crack-post as per #20. I guess there are all sorts of flavors of crazy. Once again, great post.

  6. String theory might be charitably called a 'proto-theory' since practitioners predict it may someday produce testable predictions. But then again, this meta-prediction itself is untestable, so ... oh dear ...

  7. Douglas,

    Yes, who knows if it will ever be testable and even more importantly ever be falsifiable.

  8. Galileo would certainly have fared badly on "every statement that is widely agreed on to be false", and also on "each such statement that is adhered to despite careful correction", since he reportedly said “and still it moves” even after having been forced to recant under the threat of torture. But I certainly agree that only a crackpot would want to compare themselves to Einstein.As for the final test, special relativity makes no concrete predictions, all it does is claim to produce the same results as the correct Lorentz aether theory. Dark matter produces no concrete predictions, as all physicists do is look at the motions of galaxies, see that general relativity cannot explain them, and put as much dark matter as they want where they want. As for quark theory, it is so flexible that particles made of the same three quarks can have very different masses, so it makes no concrete predictions at all.Maybe physicist should spend more time examining their own crackpot theories, and less time hunting infidels.


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