The Emergence of Crackpots from the SciForums Space-Time

Discussion in 'General Science & Technology' started by BenTheMan, Mar 17, 2007.

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  1. Ophiolite Valued Senior Member

    I believe Ben was suggesting that those who pontificate on the 'errors' of science are neither thinking, nor being especially serious.
    I agree with Ben.
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  3. Zephyr Humans are ONE Registered Senior Member

    Perhaps you can argue maths on an Internet forum, if people are prepared to think logically and admit their mistakes. Maths only requires an understanding that people should agree on an axiom system before arguing.

    But physics is more than maths. If people won't accept peer reviewed data and the conclusions it generates, how can you argue with them? You aren't even sharing their axiom system.

    Perhaps then, the only way to argue physics with them is in a laboratory. If they don't believe the experimental results, at least you can throw acid in their face

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  5. Zephyr Humans are ONE Registered Senior Member

    That's the thing. When a physics student does a special relativity exercise and gets a different answer to the textbook, they don't think "Ooh I broke physics!1!" They think "crap, where did I go wrong?"

    Interestingly, this isn't limited to science:

    Terry Pratchett: "That seems to point up a significant difference between Europeans and Americans:

    A European says: I can't understand this, what's wrong with me? An American says: I can't understand this, what's wrong with him?

    I make no suggestion that one side or other is right, but observation over many years leads me to believe it is true."
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  7. bsemak Just this guy, you know Registered Senior Member

    You are absolutly right. If our theories were wrong, astronomers and experimentalists would have proven them wrong long ago. There is no greater pleasure than when a theorist comes to you and says "this is what it looks like", you take him by the hand, take him to the lab, show him the thing and say "NO, this is what it looks like". They usually yield. Thats my own experience. Only a stubborn fool would persist to argue against nature.
    Last edited: May 1, 2007
  8. sniffy Banned Banned

    unfortunately the earth is populated by many a stubborn fool....
  9. Fraggle Rocker Staff Member

    I haven't been keeping up with this thread, it looks like that would be a full time job. So forgive me if I'm repeating points that have already been made.

    As a moderator looking at this from the standpoint of SciForums, I see two problems with this proliferation of woo-woo. The first has been noted. It frustrates the very people this website is supposed to attract: scientists, future scientists, and people interested in science. They--well, "we," I suppose--just become exhausted. After answering the same question five times in five different ways and having the questioner slowly reveal himself as not wanting an answer because he simply has no respect for science, there's nothing much left to do.

    The second problem is that woo-woo has cohesive properties. It attracts people who love woo-woo. So as those scientists, future scientists and people interested in science quiesce and drift away, they are replaced by the Forces of Darkness. The illiterati who want to tear down civilization and return to the Stone Age, where they might be able to attain positions of respect by being able to shout the loudest, and where they would never be burdened with math homework and book reports.

    I have made this point a number of times and I believe the administration of this website feels the same way. As you've surely noticed, Free Thoughts has been demoted to the bottom of the index, so people who stumble in here from a Google hit land immediately in the science subforums. The people who come here looking for science will find science, not one of Darkie's sophomoric polls on the mating habits of coffee cups. So they will be more inclined to stay and join.

    Perhaps more importantly, the people who come here to subvert science will find themselves on a subforum in which the scientific method must be respected. That means all theories must be based on observation of the physical universe, derived by logical reasoning, subject to peer review, and possible to be disproven. They also have to be capable of engaging in a scholarly debate rather than trolling and flaming. This has made it much easier for us to reform new members who don't quite understand science, or to ban ones who simply don't belong here.

    I believe this effort is already having the effect of decreasing the volume of pure crap posted on SciForums, by decreasing the number of members who would abuse this website by doing so. Please be patient as this effect becomes more noticeable.

    As an American I believe in free speech, although my perspective is not the same as the Founding Fathers: "It's better to keep the cockroaches on top of the linoleum where you can keep an eye on them." I don't want to force the Holocaust denialists to go have a festival in frelling Iran, where they won't have to confront Holocaust survivors with tattoos and picket signs on their way to dinner.

    But I also believe in freedom of association. This is not a government organization, so we are under no Constitutional obligation to allow our business to be disrupted by wackiness in the name of Freedom of Religion or Freedom of Stupidity or some other basic freedom. We are free to maintain an academy here in which science rules. That includes off-duty scientists and science groupies like myself discussing current events, asking for dating advice, and even shooting rubber bands at each other. But the scientific method is to be respected at all times, or at least not flouted except in jest.

    Science thrives on challenges. Anyone is free to debate the validity of the scientific method itself, under Free Thoughts, Philosophy, or General Science. But he'd better do it in a scholarly fashion, following the customary rules of debating. Not stomp into the Biology subforum where people come to learn how photosynthesis works and gainsay the very principles they wish to study.

    We're watching. The bouncers get to toss out the riff-raff and the "theories" they hear about in church or the National Inquirer, as soon as they show themselves to be incorrigible. You can help by bringing this stuff to our attention.
  10. S.A.M. uniquely dreadful Valued Senior Member

    Seems to me this is relevant to real life; if the scientists' only response to woowoos is to drift away or troll, science has a very bleak future.
  11. psikeyhackr Live Long and Suffer Valued Senior Member

    To Boldly Dumb where plenty have Dumbed before.

    Unfortunately there is too much money to be made off the stupid.

    If you were the editor of a newspaper and you knew that your sales would drop by 10% if you got rid of the astrology section, what would you do?

    The funny thing is that people who are somewhat seriously into astrology will tell you that what is in the news papers are garbage because it is only based on the Sun sign. Doing an individuals chart requires time and place of birth to determine precise positions of the planets at the time.

    So the people that read newspaper horoscopes are DUMB ** 2.

    I think a lot of this problem is built on people resenting how much they don't know or understand and plenty of people that are into the sciences aggravate the problem by often making it more difficult than it needs to be and taking the fun out of it.

  12. Fraggle Rocker Staff Member

    I don't think you can judge science by our little microcosm. People come here to relax and do a bit of mentoring, not to put in a full day's work for no pay. Nonetheless plenty of people stick with the arguments as long as the morons do, letting the audience learn by observation which one is the true scientist. I tend to bombard the cultists relentlessly with knowledge and reason until eventually they get frustrated and blatantly violate a rule so we can toss them out. And that is a lot easier now. Again, this is not a govenmental body so we can make improvements in our interpretation of the rule about "trolling." Saying something stupid, receiving a polite and reasoned reply, then repeating it almost verbatim as if you didn't notice the reply is a "meaningless post," "calculated to elicit an angry response."
    You have to grant people the right to use this stuff as entertainment. It's like professional wrestling. Deep down inside everybody knows it's fake, but they don't appreciate somebody getting in their face and proclaiming it. It's nice to get away from reality and play make-believe for a while.

    You also have to accept the healing power of metaphor. I'm not all that familiar with astrology, but I've seen people look at tarot cards and be prompted to start thinking about something that helped them understand what was going on in their life.

    Not everyone understands metaphor. I've seen people struggle to explain that "The moon is a silver chariot" is a metaphor, and have the doofus say, "No, it's a lie!" If other people think a metaphor is the truth and it helps them, I'm not sure the best thing we can do is to disabuse them of that notion.
    They're certainly having a good time. Many times I wish I could be as happy as they are. Besides, horoscopes are like fortune cookies--better in most cases actually. Every one has something in it to make you stop and say, "Oh," regardless of your birthday. The best astrologers, fortunetellers, palmists, priests and other witch doctors are simply good psychotherapists who know how to couch their advice in jargon that the client relates to. I knew a shrink who said the best advice he ever got was from an astrologer. She knew the moment he walked in that he wasn't into the woo-woo so she just sat him down and talked to him like a regular person and her insights were astounding. It was a very humbling experience that he greatly valued.
    It is not easy to explain a complicated topic to laymen. The old insult goes, "Those who can, do, and those who can't, teach." The "doers" never make the logical inference, "Those who do, can't teach."
    Last edited: Jul 25, 2007
  13. psikeyhackr Live Long and Suffer Valued Senior Member

    I have been in computers since 1978 and audio equipment before that. I have played dumb countless times and let some clown pretending to be intelligent pretend to explain something to me. If I didn't understand it already I would have been more confused from listening to the crap.

    In 4 years at IBM I never ran across the term von Neumann machine a single time. von Neumann died 20 years before I started with the company, but every machine I was trained on was that type of device. Laymen are people that are supposed to be kept ignorant by those in the know.

    How is the info in this article but wasn't publicly available at the biggest computer company in the 80's.,9171,990606,00.html

    I have long since made a habit of keeping an eye out for the term and don't bump into it much. Mostly you have to go looking for it.

    In 1992 PBS broadcast a series called The Machine that Changed the World, six 1 hour episodes. They showed the ENIAC that von Neumann worked on but didn't mention him or the term. Modern Marvels on The History Channel did a 45 minute program, ignoring the commercials, and they spent 2 1/2 minutes on von Neumann and mentioning von Neumann Machines. I didn't think their diagram was very good though. So there can be a vast disparity in the quality of information and how well it is delivered to the LAYMAN.

    This book:

    has the best explanation that I know of in print but they don't use the term. There is a weird separation between electronics and computer science.

  14. Fraggle Rocker Staff Member

    I've been in computers since 1967. Computer programmers are not scientists! They've taken to calling themselves "engineers," but they're not even that--at least not in most U.S. IT shops. Software development is a cross between a medieval guild craft and a black art reminiscent of the stone age. Engineering has measurement, repeatable processes, quality assurance and continuous improvement. Only organizations implementing something like the CMM(I) come even close to that model. Plumbers are true engineers but they are too humble to call themselves that--and no plumber would be so deceitful and unprofessional as to deliver a product like Windows, much less charge money for it. You'd have to slam the door and run from the room clutching a plunger every time you flushed your toilet--which come to think of it isn't a bad metaphor for a day with Windows.

    As for "computer science" as it's taught in universities and practiced in laboratories, I suppose if we accept sociology as a science we have to accept this one because it comes closer to qualifying. But I think we're debasing the word. "Computer science" to this old denizen of Caltech looks more like a couple of different kinds of engineering with a generous helping of mathematics.

    Forty years ago quite a few computer programmers at least knew that these are Von Neumann Machines and many of them could talk intelligently about Turing and Babbage. But those were the days when the "aptitude test" for the job was basically an IQ test with a cutoff around 130, and Mensa was indeed full of programmers. As in Mensa, we were not selected for communication or other social skills, and here I distance myself from the pack because most of my peers couldn't carry on a conversation with a layman. I eventually gravitated toward training, management and consulting because I can.

    Today the field is different. Higher-generation programming languages do not require the cognitive skills of an astronomer or a nuclear physicist to write code that can be made to work more or less correctly, and software developers are expected to communicate with their end users to increase the chances of delivering a product vaguely resembling what they said they wanted--if not what they actually wanted. But there's still a sense of elitism. Most computer people don't try to demystify their work for people outside the guild. And IMO it comes down to the guild mentality. Software developers practice the art as it's been handed down by their elders, without any grasp of underlying principles.

    I spent about fifteen years teaching software developers and their managers to measure software. There are myriad quotes by famous scientists, engineers and managers assuring you that if you're not measuring what you're doing, you don't really know what you're doing, and you have no hope of ever doing it better. Of the dozens of organizations I mentored through this transition, I can only think of two that didn't stop measuring and revert to their comfortable Stone Age processes within a couple of years after I left.

    Hardly anyone practices requirements inspection. Is there a programmer alive who won't happily render two conflicting requirements into code and then claim that it works? As for defect prevention, Grungeware Inc. considers the world its beta test site.

    Would you set foot on a bridge that was built to the standards of the typical U.S. software "engineering" project? And they want to call this "science"?
  15. sniffy Banned Banned

    The other day just for the sake of it I googled 'origins of the universe'. Nine out of ten sites on the first page were creationist. I was horrified. It is no suprise then that a site such as sciforum might attract a certain viewpoint. However if scientists cannot put their research findings into language that 'lay people' (a rather condescending term which helps to illustrate my point) can grasp the crackpots will. When the crackpots have finished guess where all the research funding will go? Be afraid!
    Last edited: Jul 26, 2007
  16. Nickelodeon Banned Banned

    Nine out of ten sites on the internet are pure bollocks anyway.
  17. sniffy Banned Banned

    I know but.....
  18. Fraggle Rocker Staff Member

    "Laymen" is a perfectly respectable term that originated in ecclesiastical language. It's simply a person who is not a professional or other expert in the discipline under discussion. "Lay people" is one of those ugly mouthfuls coined out of political correctness. It sounds like the title of a porn movie. As the moderator of Linguistics I hereby give you permission to call people of both genders laymen.

    Your own use of the language can help by not dignifying "evolution denialism" with a word that disguises its crackpot origins. Strike the C-word from your vocabulary and never speak or write it again!

    No one bothers to invent a euphemism for Holocaust denialism.

    It stands to reason that crackpots will always be able to communicate better with laymen because for the most part they are laymen. Their theories are cobbled together from laymen's knowledge, laymen's superstitions, and laymen's hopes that the intricacies of the universe can be comprehended without the bother of staying awake during science classes. Science survived in an era when most people were illiterate. It will survive now.
  19. sniffy Banned Banned

    I may stike both the C word and the L word from my vocab as I wouldn't want to be described as a 'lay' anything even outside my area of expertise (whatever that is).

    Sorry I disagree that crackpots are able to communicate better. They are just taking advantage of a communication vacuum. They adopt the language of science to great effect! I think the onus is upon scientists to communicate their research and findings more and they certainly need to get sites of genuine scientific interest up the google ladder so that 'origins of the universe' et al do not become the sole preserve of the deniers. This may seem trivial but I don't think you realise the enormity of the threat.

    And speaking of the holocaust. Wasn't Hitler a crackpot? Look at the damage he was able to do before he was cast asunder (argghhh!).
  20. Ophiolite Valued Senior Member

    Crackpots have energy. This gives them an advantage that extends beyond the validity of their beliefs. The medium is the message.
  21. Andre Registered Senior Member

    Also Crackpots think inductive (top down), like:

    A wild example, but anyway. There is probably nothing wrong with that if you are prepared to follow the scientific methods and test a prediction following the hypothesis:

    Now we test that and take a bite of rock and break our teeth hence.

    The latter part, cleaning up the mess after failure is widespread not done including science.
  22. peta9 Registered Senior Member

    There are different types of crackpots. Some are unfairly labeled crackpots when they aren't crackpots. They are just using thier imagination to lead to possibilities. You don't know what you'll find until you first decide on the crackpot adventure. It may turn out to be a noncrackpot.
  23. Read-Only Valued Senior Member

    Generally, it's very, very simple to distinguish between the two. The non-crackpot will usually begin by making a suggestion or asking a question - both of which are based on the imagination as you mentioned.

    But the REAL crackpot starts off IMMEDIATELY making claims - no questions, no suggestions. not asking for information or seeking discussion.

    Very few of us have any trouble at all telling one from the other.
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