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Crackpot Quandary

  1. Apr 13, 2016 #1

    ComplexVar89

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    You know someone's a crackpot when you're at an undergraduate level and you can still see how wrong they are. Like, using basic terminology incorrectly and everything. The whole works.

    It's facepalm-worthy.

    How do you deal with that? I mean, I can't just ignore it when this person is broadcasting their "knowledge" on social media--in a group dedicated to rational discourse, no less!--and could very well lead unsuspecting people astray, because his rhetoric is just "scientific" enough to sound legit to the uninitiated. His disorganized delivery might be enough to ward people off, but I can't be sure.

    Yet, I don't want to start the equivalent of a digital barfight.
     
  2. jcsd
  3. Apr 13, 2016 #2

    andrewkirk

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    I find that, out in the big wide world, it's best not to respond directly to crackpots. They usually have more energy than you (fuelled by their manic certainty that they are right, and that their new theory will save the world) and will shout you down with torrents of nonsense that's laced with just enough jargon to make it sound to the bystander that they know what they're talking about. And unlike at physicsforums, there's no suitably qualified referee to step in and shut them down.

    If their theory is just yet another disproof of Einsteinian relativity, a complete misconstrual of Godel's Incompleteness Theorem, or a perpetual motion machine, they probably won't do much harm. It's when it comes to people like climate change deniers that the potential for real social harm becomes significant. What I do in that case is often privately communicate with other people that witnessed the nonsense being disseminated by the crackpot, and tell them why it's nonsense. The crackpot will never be dissuaded from their beliefs by any argument. But at least one can try to minimise the extent to which their confused belief system spreads.
     
  4. Apr 13, 2016 #3

    ComplexVar89

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    You are, of course, correct, andrewkirk. I hadn't thought about the idea of contacting innocent bystanders one-on-one to help minimize the damage, by the way.

    Fortunately, this one wasn't one of those. It was someone spouting some "quantum" nonsense on Facebook. I've lurked around here long enough to know the terminology used was incorrect, though I'm not knowledgable enough yet in that field to authoritatively shut someone down.

    Directly confronting a relativity denier would get me in trouble. They don't just disturb me--they make me angry. :mad: Relativity (both Special and General) is my favorite area of physics. It's why I became interested in physics to begin with. If I ever became a researcher, it would by my area of choice.

    The climate change denial movement doesn't surprise me at all. (Though, as you point out, it is one of the most dangerous.) There are strong political/special-interest considerations going on there that are much easier to understand than why someone would find relativity so offensive as to try to disprove it.
     
  5. Apr 13, 2016 #4
    My latest experience was trying to convince someone that their idea of using a ram-jet engine to get a vehicle in to orbit could not work because the engine would be oxygen starved long before it was anywhere near in orbit.
     
  6. Apr 13, 2016 #5

    Jonathan Scott

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    You can get a lot of the way there, but as described in https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scramjet it has been studied a lot and there are many complications. It's probably going to be more practical to use rockets anyway.
     
  7. Apr 13, 2016 #6
    Because knowledge is a compounding thing. If you're taught something incorrectly at a young age, those beliefs will compound and reenforce themselves. Humans tend to ignore or pay little mind to things that they "know" to be wrong and speak loudly about things that they think provides evidence for their cause.

    The ice in Antartica melted faster this year than last? Ok, I'm sure there's some reason, and shies away from discussing it. Five minutes later, it's completely forgotten.
    It snowed in Washington DC today? Ha, so much for global warming. Five minutes later, he's tossing it on the floor of the Congress and talks for another hour about it as loudly as possible in front of as many people as possible.

    We remember and further analyze things that already fit our beliefs. Conservatives don't watch Fox News to be informed of reality any more than liberals watch The Daily Show for reality, they watch it so that they can get partial truths that reenforce the beliefs that they already have.

    It takes a great deal of intelligence and self-critique to have heard something your whole life, then have to intellectually reject it.
     
  8. Apr 13, 2016 #7
    I believe that people have to learn to be their own fact-checkers, simply because no one else can be relied on to do it for them 100% of the time, and no authority can be relied on to be 100% correct.

    Feynman, for example, has a few stories about how physics authorities were wrong here and there, and Feynman, in turn, turned out to have made some errors here and there.

    The people who are "lead astray" by crackpots are, in a sense, no better off when they are "lead down the right path" by authorities, because either way, they aren't thinking for themselves, and don't understand or appreciate what they are hearing. Science can become mindless, rote indoctrination, as Feynman found out when he visited a school in Brazil. I don't think that does anyone any good.

    The way it looks to me, some people, all on their own, eventually realize they, themselves, have to check facts and come to their own conclusions. Those who don't never know if they're being lead astray or not.
     
  9. Apr 13, 2016 #8
    Lots of people are specifically taught to not do that though. A large percentage of the Earth's population is taught that thinking for themselves is heretical. Taking from the tree of knowledge, they're told, is specifically why humans were banished from paradise in the first place. Luckily, literal interpretations of this is falling out of favor, but it's still there and probably will be for several more human generations at least. Genesis is not the only example of this, China banned knowledge and literacy a few centuries ago, the Alexandrian's forbad the lower classes from learning... People are way easier to control if they're ignorant.
     
  10. Apr 13, 2016 #9
    The absolute best description of how crackpots get attention and followers and why logical people shouldn't even argue against them came from the movie "Thank you for smoking."


    Say I put a hundred people who don't know anything about relativity in a room and have psychologist try to convince them that relativity isn't real and a physicist trying to convince them that it is. I'd give a major advantage to the psychologist, even knowing that he/her is dead wrong.
     
  11. Apr 13, 2016 #10

    Jonathan Scott

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    :eek: "led" not "lead" please!!! (as recently mentioned on another thread).
     
  12. Apr 13, 2016 #11

    ComplexVar89

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    I'll take that as a compliment. :wink: This is the situation I've been living with for most of my life on so many levels.
     
  13. Apr 13, 2016 #12
    I apologize. I have conflated that past participle with the element for most of my life due to them being homophones. However, I will endeavor to break this habit.
     
  14. Apr 13, 2016 #13
    Right, but the people in question here are free to believe in Quantum Woo or New Age BS, so freedom to check facts isn't the issue in the OP.
     
  15. Apr 13, 2016 #14

    andrewkirk

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    There's a critical difference though, which is that Jon Stewart frequently reminds people that his show is entertainment, not news, and that he's a comedian, not a journalist. I watched Stewart for entertainment, because he was funny. I didn't watch him for news, which I obtain from impartial sources, such as BBC or (Australian) ABC.

    I imagine there may be some liberals whose sole source of 'news' is the Daily Show or its equivalents. More fool them. But I suspect it is far smaller than the proportion of conservatives whose sole source of 'news' is Fox or its equivalents. A strong contributor to that is that Fox claims to provide news, while the Daily Show claims not to do so.
     
  16. Apr 13, 2016 #15

    ComplexVar89

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  17. Apr 14, 2016 #16

    strangerep

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    @ComplexVar89 : the only thing I can say is "feed neither the crackpots nor the trolls". Ignore them and concentrate on your own study. Even the amount of time and energy spent writing posts in this thread is too much -- it could have been devoted to something productive.

    Crackpottery is at least as old as religion.
     
  18. Apr 14, 2016 #17
    Myths and legends are the normal belief system of Man, going back perhaps 100,000 years. The scientific method is only 500 years old.
     
  19. Apr 14, 2016 #18

    Bandersnatch

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    But it's fuuuuun!:cry:

    Seriously, though, and IMO. Outside something like congress hearings on climate change, or court hearings on vaccines or evolution, personal enjoyment (for better or worse) is the only reason to engage crackpots.
     
  20. Apr 14, 2016 #19

    Evo

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    This thread is answered and is closed.
     
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