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Other Worried about collaborating with a fringe physicist

  1. Apr 13, 2017 #1
    I'm a grad student working on a PhD in physics at an accredited university in the US. I have the opportunity this Summer of doing a side research project or two under the auspices of a physicist who works at a private research outfit funded by another physicist who was involved in "paranormal" research in the 70s. Googling of their names reveals people describing them as "crackpot" etc. This institute is involved in a lot of "fringe" research like testing MOND (he said they got a null result) and googling reveals research involving teleportation, psi abilities, UFOs, etc., sometimes with military funding. His pages on Research Gate, Inspire HEP, and arXiv do not inspire confidence.

    I understand that private, for-profit research isn't as much about publishing as in academia or national labs, but I'm worried that (while he seems to have genuine physics expertise) he is a fringe figure and possibly a "crackpot" that I would do more harm than good to my career to co-author with. Another professor at the university invited him to pitch these projects to us. I'm thinking of bringing my concerns to him, but I wanted to hear what other people said first.

    Am I worrying about nothing? Does this *seem* good or bad to anybody? I'd appreciate anybody's input, thanks.
  2. jcsd
  3. Apr 14, 2017 #2


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    As a student you need to have confidence in the person/people you choose to mentor you. If you're going to second guess everything this person says based on what you know of his background, he may not be a good match for you - ever if everything you do together is in fact legitimate science. You can also think about other questions such as:
    - What are you going to learn from this person?
    - What are the specifics of the project you're going to be working on?
    - Is this person going to be able to open any doors for you? Are they doors that you want opened?

    It's difficult to estimate the impact something like a collaborator with history of "fringe" science would have on your career in the long term. I suspect it would be minimal so long as the project that you're working on and anything you publish with him is legitimate scientific work. But I wouldn't ignore it completely as a factor in making your decision. You're a grad student. Your top priority should lie with you thesis project and not some tangential summer project. You should be convinced that working with this person, on this project, will be a clear and significant net gain for you. If it's up in the air, you don't have sufficient motivation for breaking from your current project.
  4. Apr 14, 2017 #3
    Well actually my advisor is not the researcher in question, nor is my advisor the professor I mentioned. I'm getting my advisor's opinion as well.
  5. Apr 14, 2017 #4
    You seem to have articulated your concerns and the "down side" without giving any real indication of the "up side." I presume there is an area this guy publishes in that is respected and legitimate. How well respected is he in that area? How well funded is he in that area? How many citations do his papers get in that area?

    I'd think the bottom line for your career will depend more strongly on the quality of your collaborative work, the esteem of the journal joint papers get published in, and the number of citations those papers get over the years.

    If dozens or hundreds of scientists are citing his papers in a legitimate area of science, I don't think "fringe" work he has done is likely to hurt you if your collaboration is in a legitimate area. Have you ever read Newton's Alchemy or Kepler's occult works? Didn't seem to hold them back.
  6. Apr 14, 2017 #5

    Andy Resnick

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    I would avoid getting involved with that and instead, spend your summer working towards your PhD.
  7. Apr 14, 2017 #6
    Dunno about taking that advice in every possible circumstance. Lots of PhD work leaves graduates without a broad base of marketable skills. Summer projects can really add value to the resume if they broaden the base of marketable skills. The available info in the OP seems slanted to the negative side without giving potential benefits.

    Lots of industry and teaching jobs never consider the reputation of co-authors. I'd weigh the opportunity to add marketable skills to the resume.
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