Are You a Crackpot? Take the Test!

Are You a Crackpot? Take the Test!
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In 1992, UC-Riverside mathematician and physicist John Baez was overloaded, not with his day-to-day activities, but with emails from people touting "revolutionary ideas" that required his learned fine-tuning. This would have been fine, had the ideas at least had a foundation in reality. Sadly, almost all of them were not in accordance with recognized laws of nature.

In response, Baez created The Crackpot Index: "A simple method for rating potentially revolutionary contributions to physics." The index comprises 36 items tailored to determine whether an idea and the person behind it are brilliant or daffy. If your score is low, you might have something. But as it starts inching up, you might want to consider donning a hat made from aluminum foil and reconsidering your perception of reality.

Here are a few of the items:

1 point for every statement that is widely agreed on to be false.

5 points for using a thought experiment that contradicts the results of a widely accepted real experiment.

10 points for each new term you invent and use without properly defining it.

20 points for talking about how great your theory is, but never actually explaining it.

40 points for comparing those who argue against your ideas to Nazis, stormtroopers, or brownshirts.

Now, let's put The Crackpot Index to use. Andrea Rossi and Sergio Focardi's cold fusion Energy Catalyzer (E-Cat) should do nicely. A brief visit to E-Cat's website provides a number of examples:

1 point for every statement that is widely agreed on to be false.

Too many to count. Rossi and Focardi's international patent application for the E-Cat was judged to "offend against the generally accepted laws of physics and established theories."

10 points for offering prize money to anyone who proves and/or finds any flaws in your theory.

"So Rossi arranged a challenge for Prof. Focardi, telling him 'I will give you a prize (size non-disclosed) if you can show me that what I have done is wrong and does not work.'"

20 points for suggesting that you deserve a Nobel Prize.

I believe—forgive me if I say it—that this is the greatest discovery in human history. So let’s say that if they were to award us the Nobel Prize, I think it would be well deserved.”

50 points for claiming you have a revolutionary theory but giving no concrete testable predictions.

"Rossi knew he was on to something big, something so powerful it could change the world forever." Yet Rossi repeatedly conducts misleading, "black box" demonstrations not giving full access to independent reviewers.

Despite crafting the index, Baez is very empathetic to crackpots and cranks. As he told This American Life in 2005:

"I think they do it because they really want to understand the universe and they have very noble albeit grandiose motivations trying to do what us regular physicists are also trying to do... And I think what distinguishes them from physicists who can make a useful contribution is that they don't want to be somebody whose epitaph says they tightened the screws on a particle accelerator that made a great experiment, they want to be Einstein. And most of us can't be Einstein."

(Image: Shutterstock)

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