Sep 302016

Twenty years ago I worked for a guy who loved to self-promote on the subject of space exploration. One of the results of that was that I, Minor Peon #2 at the company, somehow got barraged with emails and messages and letters and packages from people who wanted me to pass on to The Boss Guy their crackpot theories, ideas and designs. Initially it was a whole lot of “what the hell is this” and trying to make sense of it all, in the naive belief that these people were on the whole *not* whacko. But once childlike innocence was replaced with proper adult cynicism, things got easier. And once the Crackpot Index was discovered, good times could be had by going through the writeups and totaling the points. If you are of a mind to, this would also seem to make the beginnings of an effective drinking game, if the goal of the game is to get blind stinkin’ drunk with great efficiency.

The next time you are going to go to a UFO conference or anywhere where Elon Musk is going to make a presentation to people likely to be fresh from Burning Man, make sure to print out a couple copies and keep them handy. Have a non-player with you with 911 on standby, because ethyl alcohol poisoning is a near certainty.

The full Crackpot Index is after the break.

The Crackpot Index

John Baez

A simple method for rating potentially revolutionary contributions to physics:

  1. A -5 point starting credit.
  2. 1 point for every statement that is widely agreed on to be false.
  3. 2 points for every statement that is clearly vacuous.
  4. 3 points for every statement that is logically inconsistent.
  5. 5 points for each such statement that is adhered to despite careful correction.
  6. 5 points for using a thought experiment that contradicts the results of a widely accepted real experiment.
  7. 5 points for each word in all capital letters (except for those with defective keyboards).
  8. 5 points for each mention of “Einstien”, “Hawkins” or “Feynmann”.
  9. 10 points for each claim that quantum mechanics is fundamentally misguided (without good evidence).
  10. 10 points for pointing out that you have gone to school, as if this were evidence of sanity.
  11. 10 points for beginning the description of your theory by saying how long you have been working on it. (10 more for emphasizing that you worked on your own.)
  12. 10 points for mailing your theory to someone you don’t know personally and asking them not to tell anyone else about it, for fear that your ideas will be stolen.
  13. 10 points for offering prize money to anyone who proves and/or finds any flaws in your theory.
  14. 10 points for each new term you invent and use without properly defining it.
  15. 10 points for each statement along the lines of “I’m not good at math, but my theory is conceptually right, so all I need is for someone to express it in terms of equations”.
  16. 10 points for arguing that a current well-established theory is “only a theory”, as if this were somehow a point against it.
  17. 10 points for arguing that while a current well-established theory predicts phenomena correctly, it doesn’t explain “why” they occur, or fails to provide a “mechanism”.
  18. 10 points for each favorable comparison of yourself to Einstein, or claim that special or general relativity are fundamentally misguided (without good evidence).
  19. 10 points for claiming that your work is on the cutting edge of a “paradigm shift”.
  20. 20 points for emailing me and complaining about the crackpot index. (E.g., saying that it “suppresses original thinkers” or saying that I misspelled “Einstein” in item 8.)
  21. 20 points for suggesting that you deserve a Nobel prize.
  22. 20 points for each favorable comparison of yourself to Newton or claim that classical mechanics is fundamentally misguided (without good evidence).
  23. 20 points for every use of science fiction works or myths as if they were fact.
  24. 20 points for defending yourself by bringing up (real or imagined) ridicule accorded to your past theories.
  25. 20 points for naming something after yourself. (E.g., talking about the “The Evans Field Equation” when your name happens to be Evans.)
  26. 20 points for talking about how great your theory is, but never actually explaining it.
  27. 20 points for each use of the phrase “hidebound reactionary”.
  28. 20 points for each use of the phrase “self-appointed defender of the orthodoxy”.
  29. 30 points for suggesting that a famous figure secretly disbelieved in a theory which he or she publicly supported. (E.g., that Feynman was a closet opponent of special relativity, as deduced by reading between the lines in his freshman physics textbooks.)
  30. 30 points for suggesting that Einstein, in his later years, was groping his way towards the ideas you now advocate.
  31. 30 points for claiming that your theories were developed by an extraterrestrial civilization (without good evidence).
  32. 30 points for allusions to a delay in your work while you spent time in an asylum, or references to the psychiatrist who tried to talk you out of your theory.
  33. 40 points for comparing those who argue against your ideas to Nazis, stormtroopers, or brownshirts.
  34. 40 points for claiming that the “scientific establishment” is engaged in a “conspiracy” to prevent your work from gaining its well-deserved fame, or suchlike.
  35. 40 points for comparing yourself to Galileo, suggesting that a modern-day Inquisition is hard at work on your case, and so on.
  36. 40 points for claiming that when your theory is finally appreciated, present-day science will be seen for the sham it truly is. (30 more points for fantasizing about show trials in which scientists who mocked your theories will be forced to recant.)
  37. 50 points for claiming you have a revolutionary theory but giving no concrete testable predictions.

© 1998 John Baez

 Posted by at 4:37 pm
  • First-Light

    Well, their goes my entire publication list, each one of my works would score about 500 points – and that is only in the first sentence.

  • Michael the Somewhat Civilized

    A few years ago I was sent links to websites that had instructions for time machines and flying saucers. If I still have the files, I’ll score them.

  • se jones

    …worked for a guy. Oh now don’t be coy.

    We shared a similar experience Scott. Back in the ’80s before Bob came along and started the Mars Society, I helped with organizing the Case for Mars conferences at CU. One of my jobs was pre-screening the mass quantities of papers, books and VCR tapes we received. We wanted the conferences to be “open”, unlike say AIAA or AAAS peer reviewed affairs. But University facilities cost money and we didn’t have infinite time or room for every Tom, Dick ‘n Harry. We didn’t have the official “Crackpot Index”, but we kind of made one up as we went along.

    Anyway, for the ’84 conference we relented and allowed the insanely persistent Richard “C” Hoagland to host a poster paper in the lobby. I had met Hoagland at JPL in 1979 during the Voyager 1 Jupiter encounter, where I got to see the man do a total melt-down when it dawned on him that his journalist credential for Star & Sky magazine didn’t carry *quite* the same weight as some PhD’s paper in Nature or Science, 15 minutes of fame with Uncle Cronkite notwithstanding.

    At our Case for Mars conference, it was at once sad, hilarious (and frankly) nauseating to watch the guy stand there day after day with his beloved “Face on Mars” poster as people wandered by rolling their eyes at the poor nutball. Back then I never could have imagined that Hoagland would parlay “the face” into a somewhat lucrative career. So it goes.

    Thanks for the jolt down memory lane.

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  • redyns

    Wait, Wait, Wait. That last one. Number 37 is unfair. We can’t have that, lest the last 30 years of physics research known as *STRING THEORY* gets flushed down the toilet.