Apr 02 2013

Crank Theory of Everything

I am fascinated by the mind of the crank. Cranks are their own species of pseudoscientist – they are generally intelligent, full of information, and highly creative. There is something malfunctioning in their process, however.

Cranks tend to be far too enamored of their own ideas. They are loners who don’t have the patience to justify themselves to the barbarians who occupy mainstream science.

Their fatal flaw, however, is that they are not skeptical of themselves and their own ideas. They see endless beauty and elegance in their own theories, and then enthusiastically seek to confirm them, without ever truly asking the question – but is it real?

I am frequently sent links to online treatises that seek to overturn major aspects of modern science, to completely rewrite the physics text books, with a new comprehensive theory. Two recently caught my attention.

More Than Gravity

A father son team have apparently been working for the past 50 years developing their replacement for gravitational theory. Here is their “executive summary” of their theory:

 The planets are positioned in a quantized order. We found a simple equation that accurately
predicts the velocity of planetary orbits and distances from the Sun.
 The physical mechanism that appears to be moving the planets is the solar wind. It imparts
position and direction to the orbits of the planets; it puts all of the moons in the solar system in locked orbits that rotate with the planets; and we believe that it creates the force on the surface of planets that is called gravity.
 The 400 year old equation for gravity and the assumption that the gravitational constant is
universal are no longer valid.
 This theory is based on observational data. It explains why gravitational waves and gravitons have never been observed. It does not rely on invisible forces or require the existence of other unobserved extensions of the equation for gravity such as black holes or a complicated formation of the universe where things are assumed to have happened billions of years ago.
 It appears that the solar wind moves all of the planets, and is responsible for the natural log and the quantization at the atomic level.
 This theory may be the most substantial upgrade to the scientific understanding of our solar system since it was discovered that the planets orbit the Sun.

Even this brief list contains many of the features that define the crank theory of everything. The last line represents the tendency to state the brilliance of themselves and their theory with exuberant and unrestrained praise.

Of course, if they are going to replace an existing scientific theory they have to find some way to denigrate it. They typically will do this with the argument from personal incredulity – how could this possibly work? – or by simply asserting that the existing theory is flawed or impossible. They may use limits at the edge of existing theories to argue that the core theory is wrong. For example, the Neumaiers, who are proposing this new theory, argue that the need to invoke dark matter or black holes betrays the fundamental error of gravitational theory.

They typically will also dismiss currently accepted theory on trivial and often baffling grounds. The Neumaiers dismiss theories about the origin of the order of our solar system, because scientists are just invoking something that happened in the past (the formation of the solar system from a collapsing swirling cloud of gas). They see no problem deciding for themselves how science is allowed to operate.

They then ignore massive problems with their own theory, or solve these problems by overturning more and more accepted science. Before they are done they have rewritten our entire understanding of the universe.

The more than gravity theory proposes that gravity alone cannot explain the movement of the planets around the sun. Rather, the solar wind, which moves out in a spiral pattern, is pushing the planets along and keeping them locked in their orbits. They have all sorts of impressive math to demonstrate their theory.

There are many fundamental problems with this, however. First, the force generated by the solar wind is mostly a radial force pushing away from the sun. The spiral structure, formed by the magnetic field of the sun, describes the density of the solar wind, not the path that particles in the solar wind are talking. They fundamentally misunderstand this science at the core of their theory.

Further, their solar wind theory causes far more problems than the imaginary problems it allegedly solves. Current gravitational theory (general theory of relativity) very precisely explains the movement of comets, probes, satellites, and asteroids, not to mention the planets themselves. If scientists had a fundamental misconception about the movement of objects in the solar system our probes would not have hit their targets so precisely.

What the Neumaiers are doing is not science but a massive exercise in confirmation bias. They are looking for reasons to dismiss accepted theory, for arguments to support their theory, and are ignoring or dismissing the mountain of evidence to support current theories and the numerous fatal problems with their own.

Flux Particle Theory

Next up is the flux particle theory – any theory that has the term “flux” in it almost automatically qualifies as a crank theory. This is a true theory of everything:

So, this is the exact value for the Universal Gravitational Constant. But more importantly this defines the exact shape of the Unit Flux. It’s a particle and by simply altering its shape it becomes anything and everything in this Universe. It has 10 hypotenuse or diagonals joined at their centers, terminating on the vertices of the dodecahedron. This is the same as twenty radii emanating from a common center called a Flunot…

The unit flux is 10 one-dimensional strings connected at the center. Everything derives from this, in an exercise of almost pure numerology. Pattern recognition with numbers, and mining for apparent correlations filtered through confirmation bias creates the impression of a coherent theory of everything. It is all illusion, however.

The standard model is then dismissed through naked assertion and personal incredulity:

How is all this possible if the electron is a zero point particle? A tiny sphere? Or cloud-like? It is not possible.

A tiny sphere can spin, move in a straight line or do nothing. For a sphere to be a feasible model there would also have to be something that analyzes the rate of spin and releases and conveys the information. How is a sphere going to store charge? It is not. If this sphere is spinning… what is holding it in place? Are there tiny universal joints?

Electron Spherical model does not work.

I understand that quantum theory is counterintuitive, but there are really compelling experimental reasons to accept the current models, at least as placeholders until we develop deeper models. The author here just dismisses the “electron as cloud” model as obviously absurd, without any actual scientific argument.

Conclusion

I am only scratching the surface of these two theories. They are an excellent exercise for any physics or astronomy student, however – count the fallacies, errors, and fatal problems with these theories. Nothing challenges your understanding of a scientific theory better than having to defend it against a strenuous attack, even if that attack is pseudoscientific.

I also find cranks fascinating because they are a study in how science can go wrong. Studying them is like studying an advanced disease, it might teach you something about more subtle forms of the disease.

In other words – all scientists can be a little cranky at times. String theorists, for example, rely heavily on mathematical models and internal consistency, and have yet to design and execute experiments that can falsify their theories. They are, at least, honest about their situation,  the weaknesses of their own theories, and the strengths of their competition.

Kepler was a full-fledged crank for a time, laboring alone, searching for some perfect geometric symmetry in the solar system. But the true scientist in him won out in the end – he sought data to test his theory and discarded his elegant ideas when they proved to be wrong, replacing them with his laws of planetary motion that actually fit the data.

Cranks are a cautionary tale. Every scientist should have a very clear understanding of exactly how not to become one.

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21 responses so far

21 Responses to “Crank Theory of Everything”

  1. jblumenfeldon 02 Apr 2013 at 9:07 am

    Steve, you are so unfair. What did the poor word ‘flux’ ever do to you? I guess you’re just another one of those Tesla haters (the unit of magnetic flux density is the ‘Tesla’).

  2. daedalus2uon 02 Apr 2013 at 9:09 am

    Just remember, there are likely similar numbers of cranks in every other field; politics, religion, art, music, economics. They are just not as easy to show to be cranks.

  3. jblumenfeldon 02 Apr 2013 at 9:21 am

    The bigger question in those fields is whether there is anyone who isn’t a crank – okay, I’ll exempt art and music from my snark, but otherwise…

  4. AndrewTysonon 02 Apr 2013 at 11:57 am

    I had to deal with a crank video on my facebook feed this weekend. It consisted of a guy claiming to replace the modern models of atomic and galactic structure by virtue of “bowl shaped magnetic fields.” He illustrated and “tested” for this by placing steel balls on a plastic sheet with varying “bowl shaped magnetic fields.” It was pretty mind numbing.

    If any of you are curious, just google Primer Feilds: Part 1 and it should show up on youtube.

    I don’t have the credentials to get into the mechanics of it, but I mentioned how only cranks submit “data” to youtube for lay public approval while real scientists submit their data to publications for peer review. Any data that bypasses the peer review process is extremely questionable at best.

  5. Heptronon 02 Apr 2013 at 12:48 pm

    Great article, but I have a question or two…

    What do we do about these cranks?
    My assumption that these two examples are relatively ‘harmless’ (for lack of a better word) because they are happening outside of academia, but what if these cranks are more mainstream or in a more authoritative position?
    The reason I ask is this: There is a researcher at the University of Waterloo who is sending out surveys to people who live near wind turbines in Southern Ontario (Canada) to find out about their health effects. The results she will get back will be anecdotal evidence from people who have had negative experiences with wind turbines. The other problem is that Health Canada is not releasing their study until 2014 but this survey compilation will be ready a lot sooner, so people will get the idea that wind turbines are bad because others said so, and that idea will be there first before the real scientific evidence.
    The whole thing reads a lot like ‘We know there are health effects, so let’s see what they are by asking people.’
    Do you have any suggestions on how to deal with cranks? I’ve thought about going to Town Hall meetings, which are mostly people spreading misinformation, but I don’t want to take a beating, verbally or physically.

  6. jblumenfeldon 02 Apr 2013 at 1:37 pm

    Heptron – to use a cliche, sunlight is the best disinfectant. Rather than trying to supress the cranks, we should provide a reasonable alternative. I believe that one of the primary functions of the entire skeptical movement is to provide a ‘responsible opposing viewpoint.’ Many otherwise reasonable people will believe all kinds of craziness unless someone stands up and says that there is another side to the story. Be armed with the facts and good references – you may not convert the true believers, but the massive middle will often respond to rationality in rational ways.

  7. Enzoon 02 Apr 2013 at 3:02 pm

    Ah yes, the crank. Exhibiting the three classic signs of crankatudinocity

    1. Confusing the ability to weave together a seemingly plausible narrative from lay-person descriptions with actually doing science

    2. Using scientific evidence to connect the dots of their theory while simultaneously denying the usefulness of the scientific evidence

    3. Wildly extrapolating from the faintest bit of suggestive evidence while dismissing the core of a discipline without having understood it

  8. BillyJoe7on 02 Apr 2013 at 3:24 pm

    SN: “I also find cranks fascinating because they are a study in how science can go wrong. Studying them is like studying an advanced disease, it might teach you something about more subtle forms of the disease”

    James Shapiro.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Natural_genetic_engineering

  9. jreon 02 Apr 2013 at 7:15 pm

    Wonderful stuff!

    A few years back Sean Carroll wrote a great post on the subject of crankitude. With some digging I found it again: http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/cosmicvariance/2007/06/19/the-alternative-science-respectability-checklist/

    To assess degrees of crankability, the definitive measure is of course John Baez’ crackpot index: http://math.ucr.edu/home/baez/crackpot.html

    And the champion crank of the 20th century was Alfred W. Lawson: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alfred_Lawson#Lawsonomy_.281929-1954.29

    Three links! Let’s see if it gets by the spam heuristics.

  10. Alex Simmonson 03 Apr 2013 at 6:31 am

    Ironically, I know two people who are cranks about cranks.

    Bicycle cranks. You have no idea how far the sciences of physiology, biomechanics, and physics are twisted by such individuals in order to present wonderful ways to get something (extra) for nothing.

    It’s fun to debate at times, but usually ends up in circular arguments.

  11. steve12on 03 Apr 2013 at 9:32 am

    fav crank in my field:

    http://human-brain.org/

    He’s so good because he does know a fair amount of the lit, tells us it’s all nonsense, then advances a pet theory that explains nothing

  12. Murmuron 04 Apr 2013 at 5:56 am

    My eldest brother used to use Enzo’s three signs quite well and has himself that ESP is real because matter is just energy, I won’t even begin to walk through his “logic”.

    Never mind all the studies that prove otherwise.

    He is a used car salesman, so is brilliant at sounding like he knows what he is talking about even when he has no clue.

  13. Bill Openthalton 04 Apr 2013 at 7:46 am

    Daedalus2U

    Just remember, there are likely similar numbers of cranks in every other field; politics, religion, art, music, economics. They are just not as easy to show to be cranks.

    One cannot be a crank in a field that has no grounding in reality. In politics, for example, communism is no more or no less cranky than capitalism, and in religion, christianty is neither more, not less reasonable than scientology.

    Talking about cranks, Miles Mathis is still going strong. In terms of sheer productivity, he is amazing.

  14. Bill Openthalton 04 Apr 2013 at 7:47 am

    Oops — sorry about the bold.

  15. DiscoveredJoyson 04 Apr 2013 at 5:38 pm

    I’m reminded of Hume’s Fork. It’s not entirely without problems but basically there is a world of ideas, and a world of facts.

    Anyone can assert anything in the world of ideas because they need not be confirmed in the world of facts, although mathematics and logic may expose inconsistencies. Conversely facts alone carry no meaning.

    I guess that cranks should be asked: “What factually verifiable predictions does your hypothesis make that can’t be explained by existing theories?” If they can’t do this, they have nothing but their own stories.

  16. Kimmo Rouvarion 07 Apr 2013 at 11:20 pm

    I dare you! Do you have a guts to call me crank? And I did pull off my theory in a half of year. Simple and testable theory of everything (ToEbi) :)

  17. Kimmo Rouvarion 27 Apr 2013 at 11:51 pm

    Hey You!

    Do try this at home :) http://www.toebi.com/blog/theory-of-everything-by-illusion/rouvari-effect/

  18. thedogatemyhouseworkon 28 Apr 2013 at 3:15 am

    And then there is the saddest and possibly scariest version of the crank – the previously sound scientist who veers off into crankdom.

    I think I spied an example a couple of days ago: http://people.csail.mit.edu/seneff/

    I may be being unfair as I haven’t checked it all out thoroughly but I did have a look at this link – presuming it would give me a good idea of the “lay of the land” (and it did – check out the 3rd slide): http://people.csail.mit.edu/seneff/Autism_new.pptx

    (originally sniffed out here:

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/04/25/roundup-herbicide-health-issues-disease_n_3156575.html)

    The most extreme form of this is, of course, “Nobel disease”:http://rationalwiki.org/wiki/Nobel_disease

  19. Kimmo Rouvarion 30 May 2013 at 5:41 am

    Can crank create an antimatter bomb? http://www.toebi.com/blog/theory-of-everything-by-illusion/step-1/

  20. BillyJoe7on 30 May 2013 at 6:40 am

    That crank is actually a not too convincing Poe.

  21. Kimmo Rouvarion 30 May 2013 at 11:21 pm

    What do you mean by convincing Poe? New expression to me. But I’m dead serious here. You can create an antimatter bomb, easily (if you have the knowledge).

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