Apr 02 2013

Crank Theory of Everything

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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.


  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:


    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


    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:


    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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