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Could Einstein publish today?

  1. Jan 19, 2009 #1


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    The title of this thread comes from part of a recent post in the Cosmology section of PF.

    It started a mini-thread that has nothing to do with cosmology, but it's quite interesting, so I thought I'd kick off a discussion here.

    The general topic I'd like to discuss is the extent to which someone "outside" the mainstream could get paradigm-changing, comparable-to-General-Relativity (or Darwin's theory of evolution, or ...) ideas published in relevant peer-reviewed journals.

    There are some lead-in parts that seem easy to establish.

    For example, anyone with a few euros and an internet connection can set up a website to publish any non-mainstream scientific ideas, and hundreds do. Further, in physics and astronomy there are sites like PF and BAUT which give those with such ideas the opportunity to have them challenged, and there are paper-based journals which explicitly welcome such ideas. So while there may be some modern day Ramanujan's, there are essentially no barriers to getting new ideas published.

    Second, hundreds or thousands of really smart people with formal training in physics (etc) do actually read non-mainstream stuff! :surprised (the reasons why they use their time that way are, no doubt, many and varied, but are not important for this thread). If there is even the tiniest of hidden gems in any of the published non-mainstream stuff, it's quite unlikely to go unnoticed for long. What happens once it's noticed depends, of course, on many things. For example, the gem may be so poorly understood by its author that when some really smart person who spotted it, developed it, and later published it in a relevant peer-reviewed journal, that author (inventor?) may not have been able to recognise it.

    This point may be somewhat contentious, so let's discuss it.

    Anyway, I reckon that any really fantastic idea, like GR or the theory of evolution, would not remain obscure for long today, even if it were first published on some crackpot website*.

    Which brings me to the thing I'm most interested in discussing: whence comes this apparently persistent myth that revolutionary ideas in physics would be difficult to get published, in relevant peer-reviewed journals? Why do many apparently smart and well-educated people feel this way?

    * there is one important caveat to enter: English; a really cool idea published in a crackpot website in Tagalog (for example) may go quite unnoticed ...
  2. jcsd
  3. Jan 19, 2009 #2
    I did not, but suppose that I have published a book with all the physics and supportive math, againts the mainstream theory X.

    What are the chances to be commented and readed and cited by specialists?
    Zero, in my oppinion.

    I can cite an example. By 2000 I've found a book out of the mainstream about particle physics extending the electromagnetism and to me it was refreshing.
    It was written both to the speclalists and for the laymen. The book was written by an electronic engineer, I am an electronic engineer, the subject was electromagnetism. The contents was coherent and fruitfull.
    But not a single comment pro or against I've found.

    (I dont know if in this GD forum I can share the book's name without 'punishment')

    Publish in a peer rewiewed journal? Only if one's belong to a credited institution.

    Suppose that I am an independent resercher, have an hobby, and I have (actually I dont have) a new theory, against the mainstream. My papper will not be accepted. Just like that. Give me one example that contradicts me.
    Even at arXiv is mandatory the existence of an endorsement by someone that is already credited.

    Even at PF we can not discuss out of the mainstream.

    In this GD forum can we talk out of the mainstream? I dont know.
    Can I start a thread to discuss a document in the arXiv,left there in 2002, and that is not mainstream and was uncommented until now? (The doc. is not mine (*)

    Suppose that the document is the end of the Dark Era of Cosmology. Find me a teacher of the actual mainstream that is capable of saying :
    let me read it, discuss why I am wrong, and I have spend my working life labouring in error.

    (*) The actual author had to associate to someone else (that as nothing to do with the contents of the paper) that belongs to a credited Institution and get published.

    Einstein and Galileu can not post in this forum against mainstream.
    Get publish? I think it is not possible.

    100 years have gone since Einstein appeared. We deserve another one.
    At least I've found mine. I feel a lucky guy, since beginning of 90s.

    Are we prepared to reject the mainsteam?
    I think that generally speaking we are not prepared to do so.

    ----- can you find a solution here ? I dont
    At How to publish in arxiv.org?..
    and at How to publish if you are an amateur?
    as a sidenote about IR forum: I've submited there on 3 December and no news. And so I've published it on BAUT forum.
  4. Jan 19, 2009 #3

    Ivan Seeking

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    J. Deardorff, B. Haisch, B. Maccabee and H.E. Puthoff
    Journal of the British Interplanetary Society, Vol 58, pp. 43-50, 2005.

    None are employed by a University and you can't get much farther out of the mainstream. JBIS has always been considered cutting-edge, but it is considered a mainstream journal.

    Jim Deardorff is a retired professor of atmospheric sciences. Puthoff and Maccabee are both employed by the government, and Haisch works independently. All three are physicists.
    Last edited: Jan 19, 2009
  5. Jan 19, 2009 #4
    PF only allows modern mainstream theories and nothing else. Not even non-mainstream theories which have relevant and recent publishing in popular and respected scientific journals are allowed to be discussed without penalty.

    When it comes to discovering or realizing new scientific theories, the statement "one bad able spoils the bunch" comes to mind. There are a LOT of crackpots out there and it can be very difficult to distinguish between the genuine smart guys and the guys that just have to much time on their hands. Just go to amazon.com and search for "physics books" and you will find a very large number of books describing non-mainstream ideas. Some of them make a lot of sense but others......well not so much. There is really no way of distinguishing between the crackpots and the real outside the box thinkers with out investing enormous amounts of time to review their material which no one is capable of doing. So if anyone is to take them seriously they pretty much have to have some relationship with a respected institution or create some kind of crazy elaborate machine or experiment that can't be explained by any other theory.

    Compared to their 48 references, there is nothing non-mainstream about the paper.
    Last edited: Jan 19, 2009
  6. Jan 19, 2009 #5


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    Well, books are considerably more difficult, and expensive, to publish than websites!

    There is only one - of three - aspects I am interested in here, in this thread: being read.

    If it's a book, then someone has to pay money to get a copy, and unless the advertising, book cover, etc for your book were quite good, then I doubt any specialist would waste (as they would see it) their money buying it.

    Well, if it's simply a matter of citing examples, I've got two for your one!

    There's a book by an astronomer who has hundreds of published papers to his name that is well known to every regular on most astronomy internet discussion fora; the book is (obviously) not peer-reviewed; the book contains the author's non-mainstream ideas (more than one of them actually). The core non-mainstream ideas in the book have been the subject of hundreds of threads, and thousands of posts (and not a few published papers too).

    Clearly very different from your example.

    Last year (or was it 2007), a wealthy person published a book containing what he considers to be a revolution in physics. Without trying too hard, you can get a copy of this book for free (or perhaps just s&h). The book has also been discussed, in dozens of threads and hundreds of posts, in internet discussion fora. Indeed, the author set up a website to foster such discussion!

    When in doubt, PM a Mentor (preferably one in charge of GD), and ask!

    This is what I am interested in discussing! :smile:

    There are, of course, quite a few examples. An immediate one is right here in PF ... a certain long-standing PF member has developed a non-mainstream (cosmology) theory, and has had it published (in relevant, peer-reviewed journals). AFAIK, he is most certainly an independent researcher.

    But an example or two is not what I want to discuss.

    Rather, I want to discuss how this idea that a really good, even revolutionary, new idea in physics (or cosmology) would not get published, period.

    Notice that I was careful to distinguish between being published and being published in a relevant, peer-reviewed journal.

    Also, between having the idea published in such a journal, and having the author of the idea being the person whose name appears on the paper.

    Have you checked out the Independent Research section of PF? The requirements for acceptance are, I'm sure you'd agree, incredibly easy to meet.

    How about the ATM section of BAUT?

    I don't know how many professional scientists you know, but IMHO a substantial minority, even perhaps a majority, would be overjoyed to be associated with a revolution as great as quantum mechanics, General Relativity, or Dark Energy!

    The part I think may be fruitful to focus on is why such an astonishingly large proportion of non-mainstream ideas that are published are so depressingly awful, in terms of their scientific content. IOW, why should anyone with ~10+ years' of formal training waste their time reading non-mainstream stuff that is so obviously fatally flawed (as science)?

    If you are interested, you may read some of my experience in this regard.

    Good for you! :smile:

    In any case, I don't want to discuss the hypothetical of whether Einstein or Galileo would have had difficulty publishing today; I want to discuss where the idea that really good non-mainstream ideas, developed by non-professionals, would not end up in a relevant, peer-reviewed journal comes from.

    You have helped with this discussion, by contributing your own perspective, which includes your view that you have found several such potentially revolutionary ideas which were not (as far as you know) published in leading journals.

    That raises, for me at least, two points:

    1) what differences are there between the criteria you used to assess these ideas you came across and the criteria professionals use?

    2) why do you think that if there were some really cool aspects to the non-mainstream ideas you've seen no smart professional would have picked it up and ran with it (with or without the authors knowledge or permission)?
  7. Jan 19, 2009 #6


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    If the book is crackpot nonsense, then a discussion of it could get locked or deleted if the intent of the poster was to push misinformation.

    Our goal here is to be a place where students, professionals, and other interested members can read about and discuss mainstream science. We do not want to be "everything to everyone", there are plenty of those sites on the internet. It seems one of the reasons that people with "non-mainstream" ideas want to post here is because of the fact that PF has an image of hosting "credible" science. That doesn't mean that a discussion is limited to only "popular" science, but that any discussion of science should be backed by credible and verifiable sources.

    General Discussion is more lax, but it is not for serious discussions of science.

    As you noted, we do have the Independant Research forum for people to discuss "non-mainstream" ideas they have, but there is a minimum criteria for what is accepted. I have notified Astronuc, the mentor in charge of IR, that you would like a decision on your submission. I found one on UFO's that you posted on Dec 2nd, I believe that is the one you are referring to.

    I will leave the rest in the capable hands of Nereid.
  8. Jan 19, 2009 #7
    In a century, discussion forums will have threads entitled "Could Evo moderate today ?"
  9. Jan 19, 2009 #8


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    :confused: she would be 121yrs old.
  10. Jan 19, 2009 #9
    You shouldn't get discouraged if you're publishing while outside the mainstream. The system now days is a bit annoying. Jobs have become too specified, too capitalist based, too social based, and so forth. Even the research people do is not carried out to the fullest of what they want to do. However, if you were to get a nice and simple position outside the mainstream, in which you do not have to do much work and you have a lot of time to yourself, then that would be pleasant...you could spend more time thinking on what you want to think than wasting it on "mandated" projects assigned to you by some institution.
  11. Jan 19, 2009 #10


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    Okay, so she'll be a brain in a jar. But by then you will be able to surf the internet using brain waves, so no problem. :smile:
  12. Jan 19, 2009 #11


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    Who says that I am not already a brain in a jar? An evil experiment by Greg that went oh so wrong. :tongue2:

    Anyway, we're hijacking Nereid's thread.
  13. Jan 19, 2009 #12


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    Except for the IR section.

    This is something that interests me.

    In my experience (see my later post for a link to where I wrote up some of it), there is very little out there, in crackpot-land, that is difficult to distinguish from really smart insights.

    Further, if the domain of applicability of the crackpot idea is one you have considerable familiarity with, I have found it takes very little time to find fatal flaws. And conversely, if the idea you come across contains a potentially sparkling gem, it is a matter of merely a few minutes to realise that it has such potential, and generally no more than an hour or so to nail it down one way or the other.

    However, it seems my experience and perceptions are not shared by many of those who have little or no formal training in physics (say). IF that is so (and I don't know that it is, yet), what I'm curious about is why?

    What is it about non-mainstream ideas - that to someone with formal training and familiarity with the field are nonsense (scientifically) - that leads many others to feel they are potentially paradigm-shaking, revolutionary, or at least quite insightful?

    And where does the idea - expressed indirectly by heldervelez - that really cool/smart ideas

    a) can come from people without formal training? and (much more important)

    b) cannot be recognised, by those with formal training, as potentially revolutionary?

    May I ask if you really think it takes a lot of time to work out whether a randomly selected idea is 'pure crackpot' and does not contain a real gem (from outside the nine dots thinking)?

    Of course it takes time to read a thick book, but in my experience the ideas in most such books are up on some website or other, and the central concepts fairly easily (and quickly) found.

    How about this? With opportunities like PF's IR section, BAUT's ATM section, several 'alternative' journals, and so on, shouldn't it be incredibly easy to get a non-mainstream idea published in an easily accessible form? Especially one that contains a really cool, really smart insight?
  14. Jan 21, 2009 #13
    I think that if Einstein were persistent then he would get his work published, although getting four papers published in one year seems highly unlikely. But, if you are not a career academic then getting publiished is not necessarily your first priority. Today the action seems to be more in exchanging views via the internet. But it is surprisingly difficult for the 'Independent Researcher' to become part of this (particularly those who aren't very pushy). So what are the options:

    1)Put it on your website. No one will read it.

    2) Get your paper published, so that you have a publication record. The trouble with this is it is likely to take a few months before you get an acceptance or rejection, and if it is a rejection then you are back where you started. In any case, this seems to be the wrong way round - you need to get advice on the way your paper is written, and what the best journal would be beforehand. And even if you've had a paper published on The electrodynamics of moving bodies, would anyone want to hear your views on Brownian motion?

    3)Discuss it in a forum such as PF - which means the IR forum. If you take a look at this, it doesn't look very encouraging. A forum really isn't the place for the expert analysis which is required.

    4) Approach an expert in the subject for their opinion. I've tried this with my Gödel number work (which is not trying to overturn anything, just something I think would be of interest to anyone who's heard about the incompleteness theorem), and the response tends to be 'Well it sound's interesting, I wish I had time to look at it'.

    5) Submit your work to arxiv - but this requires an endorsement. So do you approach (a) an expert - see (4), or (b) someone else - well this tends to turn into something like peer review, and most people don't have the time.

    I would also point out that although any reasonably competent physicist can tell that your ideas about The Photoelectric effect aren't totally crackpot, it is patronising to thing that their significance can be judged by anyone apart from an expert in the field.
  15. Jan 21, 2009 #14


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    Topher925 pointed to a very real challenge facing someone looking for hidden gems among the material published outside the relevant peer-reviewed journals - there's such a huge amount of material, and it is overwhelmingly garbage*.

    chronon has pointed to a natural corollary of this fact: independent researchers need to devote considerable time and effort to working out how best to get their ideas published so they will be read and considered by the niche scientific community who could appreciate its value.

    Let's take a look at chronon's example, suitably generalised, and explicitly exclude ideas that even the author knows full well are non-mainstream.

    First, PF's IR section provides invaluable guidance for an independent researcher who has no clue about publication of papers in scientific journals. There, are for example, certain conventions about the format and content of such papers that have little to do with the ideas they contain ... things like an abstract, showing you are aware of (and can cite) the previous work done in the narrow scope of your idea, and so on. If you, the independent researcher, are already au fait with these conventions, great! That puts you waaay ahead of most.

    Second, while no one may, initially, read what you put up on your website, having your ideas published in this way establishes priority. And if you've done a good job with your website, and the presentation of your ideas on it, it is so much more efficient to simply refer to it than reproduce everything each time you share your ideas with others.

    Third, it doesn't take much to get at least some people knowledgeable in the narrow field of your idea to come read your website; a little investment in 'marketing on the internet' (shall we say) is all it takes.

    Fourth, if you don't already know which peer-reviewed journals are relevant for your idea, or who some of the 'leading lights' in the field are, perhaps you should take the time to find out?

    Finally, let's not forget that in any field there are likely plenty of people who are interested in it, who like nothing better than to think about it, discuss ideas in it, and so on. Of course, if the field is quite esoteric, or highly demanding of certain skills, there may be very few such people. So where do those people hang out? And I don't mean just the ones with full-time jobs in some university or other ... there are retired folk, students, people with jobs doing something completely different ('amateurs'), ... While astronomy is not the branch of math that includes Gödel numbers, it has several internet discussion fora where lots of these sorts of people hang out. What are the internet discussion fora where folk hang out to discuss your branch of science?

    * I feel no need to sugar-coat this; less than 10% of this stuff, and likely less than 1%, is free of such gross errors or shortcomings as to make reading almost all of it a complete waste of time.
  16. Jan 21, 2009 #15


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    Another, related, question: why would anyone outside of the field, who came independently to a bright idea (so he is convinced), actually *want* it to be published - unless he sees it as an opportunity to have a career change or an opportunity to "get into the light" ?

    Isn't it somehow more fun to contemplate that you are the one and only possessing the Big Secret, write it up in a some "secret grimoir" and hide it so that nobody else discovers it ?

    (just tickling... :tongue2:)
  17. Jan 22, 2009 #16

    I can only focus on my personnal experience, (a long one, I hope to be retired from work within 3 years and have more time to be around the forum), and as we are in the GD I will extend a little of my history.

    Back in the beginning of 90s we are a bunch of engineers doing under extreme pressure (timeline is mandatory) projects to legalize more than 80 local radio broadcasting stations.
    I need to take a note and picked a paper form the garbage basket to ... and wow, the imprinted text was about cosmology, and a completely different view about the subject. I asked : Who had written this text? and one friend replied "Why do you want to know?"
    "Give me more, please". The next night I have the first paper.
    Why his he doing that when we are all commited to a project that was so important?
    Because it is his lifetime work. He has allways being devoted to seek under the appearances. He puts everythigh we have for granted under doubt. Can you pick some student that dos not take for granted the Hubble Law? Can we think that someone can put funded objections? Unlikely. And if there is the need to do so?
    The way of learn is almost always by repeating after the teacher, and in our minds the 'truths' became so deeply imprinted that we became unable to question.
    In his youth, he was sick for longtime and imprisoned in his bedroom, reading books. A very good teacher of physics, in the secondary school, makes the rest.
    Is professional live was spent as an electronic engineer in a big broadcasting radio station. When it was the time to became director he declined just to have more free time to pursue his goal. When I visited him at work there he was writing about Cosmology.
    Formal training? He devoted all his life to learn and think about those issues.
    He told me: " In two occasions the president of the Academy of Sciences (of my country) had the papper in his desk, and he could not even acknowledge that fact, person to person (they know each other). Probably the fear of falling in ridiculous if it put forward those ideas to others. The paper was sent to Nature and returned without comments.
    By 2002 he manage to put it in the arXiv only because he became associated with a professor in the local university.

    He is not in a hurry to became known. And he his writing a blog to laymen as a preparation to write a book, that is the proper way to comunicate when too much things are to be said. But blogs have a limited visibility and I know that it will be unnoticed.
    He is afraid of loose his free time to complete his writings and loose his privacy. I do NOT know all his thoughts, to all extent.
    I am afraid that the book could became unnoticed and uncommented as happened to others.
    I am not in a hurry to say were we must look (if you are in despair you can look among astro-ph of 2002, 7842 entries, with the strong probability of skip it, eheh), because he needs time to continue his writings.

    vanesch describes a genuine feeling of joy or fun because I know a big secret since the 90s. He is right, I feel lucky. Ironically, it started to me with a sheet of paper in the garbage. But there is some intelectual need to transmit the knowledge. Not for personal glory or career benefit. Sometimes life sorts the events in strange ways and we became spectators in the first row, or a mind of election as with my friend.

    Of course in my age I am prepared to continue living without the 'amen' of the others and its natural that many, if not all, could say: Presumption without limits !!.

    My work here is like a postman: given the correct opportunity I will deliver a letter.

    The resistance to the change (this one as I figure, or another one) will be enormous, and it will take a long time to exchange mentalities.
    Last edited: Jan 22, 2009
  18. Jan 22, 2009 #17


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    To build on part of my reply to chronon, earlier in this thread.

    One of the fantastic things that the internet has done is create opportunities for groups of people with some common interest to get together, virtually, to discuss the object of their common interest ... and the people in this small (or not!) community may be almost anywhere in the world (all you need is an internet connection)!

    For those who have developed what they think are non-mainstream ideas in physics (etc), especially if they have no institutional connection (university, research lab, etc), the rise of these sorts of internet-based communities must surely be intoxicating. Provided they can find the right group, and provided issues of control (like ruthless and swift deletion of the inevitable flood of spam, clear rules, and consistent moderation) are properly addressed, here is a bunch of people who just love to discuss the very thing these thinkers have developed!

    There are some downsides, of course.

    For example, it is rare that lots of people are really, really interested in discussing (just) the ideas of only one non-mainstreamer (but not non-existent; google "Arp" for example), or even a general set of ideas based on a common theme*.

    But perhaps the most, er, bracing corollary (shall we say) is exposure of these ideas to critical thinking and challenges from those who are more familiar with the field than the author. Of course, this sort of challenge is what peer-review is (partly) about, and what the relevant journals publish all the time ... internal inconsistencies in new (physics) theories, or inconsistencies between theory and observation/experiment either don't make it into print, or are addressed (sometimes quite bluntly) in subsequent papers (a process which may take even several decades).

    Sometimes the last thing the author of an idea which is so attractive (to her or him) wants is to have that idea questioned and challenged ... and many discussion fora are rather to lax about implementing 'no ad hominem attacks' rules (or even having them in the first place). But if you, an author of a non-mainstream idea, are not only open to such critical examination but welcome it, then there are several places you can go. In astronomy, for example, there's BAUT Forum's ATM section; more generally, there's an excellent discussion forum that is open to any part of science (I'm awaiting a mentor's OK to mention it in this thread).

    * one of the most amusing things to read is, in some non-mainstream discussion fora, how strict policies are introduced to handle 'crackpots'!
  19. Jan 22, 2009 #18
    I have made a mistake "He is afraid of loose his free time to complete his writings and loose his privacy. I do NOT know his thoughts, to all extent." and if possible will make the correction within the post.
    Sorry the mistake (and the poor english).
  20. Jan 22, 2009 #19
    If we didn't know general relativity right now and Einstein was around to publish it it would get published. If you come up with something as good as GR you will be able to get it published.If you can come up with something that makes testable predictions and is correct you can get it published. It just has to be good. Cream rises to the top.
  21. Jan 22, 2009 #20
    Exactly! The problem with most crackpots is that they are boring. They make the same stupid mistakes over and over again. That is one reason people get so resistant to reading papers from people without qualifications. The papers tend to be very dull.
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