Take the 2-minute tour ×
Physics Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for active researchers, academics and students of physics. It's 100% free, no registration required.

I am interested in examples of crackpots coming up with correct results in physics.

Why do mainstream physicists look down so much upon "crackpots"?

share|improve this question

closed as not constructive by Marek, Deepak Vaid, Georg, dmckee, Ted Bunn Apr 16 '11 at 13:41

As it currently stands, this question is not a good fit for our Q&A format. We expect answers to be supported by facts, references, or expertise, but this question will likely solicit debate, arguments, polling, or extended discussion. If you feel that this question can be improved and possibly reopened, visit the help center for guidance.If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

1  
'Why do mainstream physicists look down so much upon "crackpots"?' -> for similar reasons why ordinary people look down so much upon criminals: they broke some rules. Namely rules of scientific method and integrity. Anyway, voting to close, this is too argumentative... –  Marek Apr 16 '11 at 10:12
    
Internet is a lot like Hyde Park Corner. Vote to close –  Georg Apr 16 '11 at 10:57
2  
BTW--Restated in terms of "idea that were widely believed to be wrong, but later proved true" this would be much less argumentative. It would remain a Big List---and I'm not a fan of those---but it might be viable as a CW. Certainly there is a lot of interesting history there. –  dmckee Apr 16 '11 at 14:48
1  
Albert Einstein, though he wasnt right in everything –  user1708 Apr 16 '11 at 15:25
2  
Science isn't about being just right. It is about being right for the right reasons. If you take a bunch of open questions in physics and just guess an answer, chances are you'll get some of them right. Toss a coin for the Higgs Boson. If you're lucky, you can then brag about how you were "right all the time". Fine. But you still weren't justified in your belief at that time. –  Lagerbaer Apr 16 '11 at 16:42

2 Answers 2

There's some nice articles on crackpots who were right at viXra blog:

http://blog.vixra.org/category/crackpots-who-were-right/

http://blog.vixra.org/2010/03/06/%E2%80%9Ccrackpots%E2%80%9D-who-were-right-1-boris-belousov/ http://blog.vixra.org/2010/03/12/%E2%80%9Ccrackpots%E2%80%9D-who-were-right-2-alfred-wegener/ http://blog.vixra.org/2010/03/17/crackpots-who-were-right-3-ernst-stuckelberg/

Reading through the list they all appear to have been highly educated in their particular field anyway and so more likely to succeed compared to the majority that are uneducated and deluded, yet think they're some new Einstein.

share|improve this answer
2  
Is a crackpot someone not accepted or someone talking nonsense? –  Georg Apr 16 '11 at 12:46
    
I would think it is someone who thinks he/she is talking sense when he/she is talking nonsense. –  anna v Apr 16 '11 at 13:06
    
@AnnaV this definition is one I like. (Crackpots won't, of course) –  Georg Apr 16 '11 at 13:11
    
By definition someone who is a crackpot is not right, but someone who is called a "crackpot" or treated like one can be right. That is what the viXra articles are about –  Philip Gibbs - inactive May 9 '11 at 1:53
    
@AnnaV - Anyone can talk nonsense, and then ruefully realise it when someone points out a sound reason why it's nonsense. The difference is that a true crackpot never reaches the second stage - As John Baez (I think) nicely put it, a crackpot isn't familiar with the experience of being wrong. –  John R Ramsden Nov 24 '12 at 8:49

I think there is a genre of physicists writing on the internet, where good manners mean not using four letter words, who use the term "crackpot" to describe physicists who disagree with their beliefs about physics current orthodoxy. It is as if a consensus model of physics is sought rather than an exploration of truth.

Why do mainstream physicists look down so much upon "crackpots"

There exist true crackpots in physics, people who think they have proven Einstein wrong with two lines of incoherence, people who have found a perpetual motion machine etc. They are like all those Napoleons in the asylums, just not so deep in the delusion. It is easy to look down upon such claims.

It becomes more difficult if the candidate for crack pottery is well versed in mathematics, because they develop convoluted mathematical arguments that one has to spend time with to really dismiss. That is why in physics candidates for the crackpot label are theoreticians. I would draw the line there.

To call crackpots people seeking alternative quantum field theories for gravity, or different ways of describing quantum mechanics, is abuse of the concept. It displays the herd mentality, of which mammals partake and physicists are mammals.

Progress in physics happens at the fringes . If the researchers are well versed, sincere and hard working they should be allowed to develop their theories on equal footing with mainstream science, to be tested and rejected if necessary by experiments. Otherwise physics will become fossilized.

share|improve this answer
1  
The crackpots are the ones who are convinced that they could never be wrong. If you have some idea in your head, and no amount of evidence can convince you otherwise, they you are probably a crackpot. –  Jerry Schirmer Apr 16 '11 at 14:03
1  
Well, it is a necessary condition for crackpottery, but not sufficient. Actually most serious physicists will defend their work and do it vehemently. If they are within the orthodoxy nobody will try to convince them that they are wrong ! It is an attribute of the creative scientist to be passionate about his/her work. –  anna v Apr 16 '11 at 14:30
    
@anna why do you dignify such questions with a response? –  user346 Apr 16 '11 at 15:29
    
And FYI I'm referring to the OP's question. –  user346 Apr 16 '11 at 15:30
2  
I think because I have seen people throwing the "crackpot" adjective about liberally, and it has tended to influence me subliminally. I went to a lecture about "Chaos in Bohmian Quantum Mechanics" and I realized how much I have been influenced by the consensus view of Bohm. It was an astrophysicist, very mathematical, proposing an experiment based on a Bohm model of quantum mechanics. And I thought, why not? It is experiments that are needed, not consensus opinions, when the physicists are real physicists. That is why I answered this. –  anna v Apr 16 '11 at 18:20