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Do crackpots and anti-crackpots essentially differ?

Philip Gibbs wrote the rules of an entertaining

Anti-Crackpot Index
as a parody of John Baez's Crackpot Index. While Baez's index is designed to give lots of points to the likes of the LHC alarmist Luis Sancho or extraterrestrial abductee Jack Sarfatti - and, when generalized, a high score for self-described "seers" such as Lee Smolin - Gibbs' index is optimized for the likes of Peter Woit, John Horgan, and some of their apologists to excel.

The words, "crackpot" and "anti-crackpot", are designed to be the antipodes of one another. But are the concepts hiding behind the words antipodal as well?

My answer is essentially Not at all. If you forget about the entertaining idiosyncrasies and various verbal constructs that members of the two groups learned to repeat after their colleagues from the same group, what qualitative differences between crackpots and anti-crackpots can you find?

Well, the crackpots tend to offer many more details. For example, the LHC alarmist Luis Sancho also has his own unification theory based on superorganisms. You can see that these theories belong to the same universality class as Lee Smolin's papers. (I could tell you dozens of other "geniuses" whose theories are similar.) There are lots of arbitrary details in them but these details make no sense. They don't explain anything. They're not justified by anything. They don't agree with any details that are known about the real world.

The anti-crackpots' production looks different. They just despise all of science, especially the science on the cutting edge that is being done by the same people, or following the same methods, as the science that is already in the textbooks. In their viewpoint, all of science is vacuous, specious, untestable, unverifiable, and so on. Needless to say, their opinions are preposterous, too.

Is this difference between the crackpots and anti-crackpots essential?

My answer is that it is not. They only differ in the methods of presentation. The crackpots just try to tell you as many nonsensical details about their beliefs as possible. The anti-crackpots try to say as little as possible. Which group is worse? Which group is better?

I am almost completely agnostic about this dilemma. If you try to investigate what the anti-crackpots are imagining as the correct theory that should replace the established theories of portions of reality such as their "quantum gravity" ideas to replace string/M-theory, you will find out that these beliefs form a vaguely defined set and the typical representatives of this vaguely defined set are pretty much identical to the particular models offered by the crackpots.

Off-topic: Nadis' and Yau's new book has been out for a week. So far it has 12 reviews at amazon.com and all of them are well-deserved enthusiastic 5-star reviews.

In other words, the crackpots and the anti-crackpots only differ in the quantity of their beliefs that they're willing to reveal, not so much in the beliefs themselves. (In this article, I will assume that these people actually believe what they're saying and writing. The assumption is almost certainly incorrect, at least partially - they usually have different reasons to emit nonsense. But that would take us too far.)

You might say that the crackpots try to offer lots of positive (but wrong) stuff while the anti-crackpots focus on the negative propositions (about the correct or very likely insights). However, there is no "universal" algorithm to divide statements to "positive statements" and "negative statements".

At the very end, the questions that have to be answered for science to make progress boil down to qualitative questions that have no self-evident "moral sorting" of their Yes/No answers. The quantitative details of the theories may be determined once the qualitative questions are answered.

For example, one may ask whether the spacetime is microscopically composed out of similar building blocks as the materials we know - so that the vacuum picks a privileged reference frame much like a glass of water. This is a typical (and important) Yes/No question that you must try to answer if you want to do research of quantum gravity that makes sense.

There is no "a priori" way to answer this question. In science, you must carefully evaluate the arguments that indirectly link the possible answers to this question (or any similar question) to the empirical evidence. When you do so correctly, you will obviously realize that the vacuum cannot be discrete in this sense because the accurately tested Lorentz invariance would be violated (with many other problems that would follow).

The answer could "a priori" go in both ways. Before you do any research, you should consider both answers - Yes/No - to be equally likely. But the scientific evidence shows that one answer is right and the other answer is wrong. All of a scientist's ignorance about the world may be divided to Yes/No answers of the type that both possible answers are "a priori" comparably likely. The goal of science is to answer such questions, using the empirical evidence.

If you interpret science in this way, you will effectively remove all the irrelevant cultural additions and you will see that there is only one invariant property of the crackpots: they're not capable to use logic and the empirical evidence to answer meaningful questions which is why they usually end up with incorrect answers to the very first questions - and their whole subsequent search is therefore confined in the realm of nonsense.

Again, this definition primarily seems to apply to the crackpots. However, if you think about it in detail, it applies to anti-crackpots as well. In some sense, the anti-crackpots fail to find the correct answers to much more basic and important questions than the crackpots, e.g. the question whether it is possible to scientifically investigate things that are much larger, much smaller, or much more energetic than our bodies.

Obviously, the correct answer is Yes. But the anti-crackpots (and, to a lesser extent, some crackpots) are just not able to understand this fundamental fact because they have never really studied any scientific theory about things that are much larger, much smaller, or much more energetic than their bodies. They can't even imagine it is possible. So they're always ready to spam the Internet (and hundreds of pages of would-be books!) with idiotic delusions about string theory's being unfalsifiable and all this stunning garbage.

Why are they saying these self-evidently nonsensical things? Because they are completely unable to think (they have never done so, they don't want to do so, they can't really do so, so they never will do so) - so they believe that everyone else must be an intellectual cripple, too. Science is impossible, science is over, blah blah blah.

When you think about it rationally and you don't pay too much attention to cultural differences and the chosen language, you will see that the crackpots and the anti-crackpots suffer from pretty much identical mental defects that prevent them from starting to learn science at the very beginning. That's why you shouldn't be surprised that the crackpots and anti-crackpots often end up being the closest allies: Swolin and Smoit are perhaps the best examples. It's no coincidence. They have the same defective "guts" instead of a brain - only their presentation differs.

And that's the memo.

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