Often people ask me why I’m not more open-minded about ideas that defy the scientific consensus. Maybe global warming is just a conspiracy? Maybe Bell’s theorem is in fact wrong? Maybe the EmDrive does provide thrust without using propellant? Maybe the E-Cat can make cold fusion? I mean, it is not logically impossible for some outsider to be correct while the entire scientific community is wrong. Wasn’t Galileo burned at the stake (sic) for defying the scientific consensus? Why should I then dismiss this nonsense outright, without reading it through and considering it carefully?
Well, for starters the scientific method has advanced a lot since the time of Galileo. Instead of asserting dogma we are busy looking at every tiny way experiment can deviate from theory. And if you do prove the theory wrong, you do not get burned at the stake (sic), but get a Nobel Prize (like the prize gave for the discovery of neutrino oscillations in 2015). So I’m naturally very suspicious of outsiders claiming to have found glaring mistakes in the theory.
But the real problem is the sheer amount of would-be Galileos incessantly spamming researchers about their revolutionary theories (despite not being exactly famous, I get to join the fun because they usually write to every academic email address they find online. I can only wonder how Stephen Hawking’s inbox looks like). It is already a lot of work to keep me up-to-date with the serious papers in my field. Imagine if I also had to read every email that proved Einstein wrong?
Without further ado, I’d like to illustrate this point by showing here the most entertaining crackpots that have spammed me:
Probably the most well-known is Gabor Fekete, who has a truly amazing website to expound his theories (don’t forget to press Ctrl or click with the right button of the mouse while you’re there!). Apparently he doesn’t like the square root in the Lorentz factor, and has a nice animation showing it being erased. If you do that I guess you’ll be able to explain all of physics with eight digits accuracy. He has recently taken to spoofing his emails to make it look like they were sent by Nobel laureates, probably thinking that his theories would be accepted if they came from a famous source. While the forgery itself was well-made (one needs to look carefully at the source code of the email to detect it), the content of the email kind of gives it away. Maybe if he had spend his time studying physics instead of the SMTP protocol…
Another persistent spammer is Sorin Cosofret, who started a newsletter about his theories to unwilling subscribers. They are about classical electromagnetism, relativity, quantum mechanics, planetary dynamics, cosmology, chemistry… apparently everything is wrong, but he knows how to correct it. He also has a website, that if not as flashy as Gabor Fekete’s, is at least available in Romenian, English, French, German, and Spanish.
A more aggressive one is stefan:sattler, who has a problem with the known laws of planetary mechanics, and wants the scientific community to help in publicising his “Sattler’s Law of planetary mechanics”. After sending 5 emails in one month he lost his patience, and gave us 48 hours to do it, threatening to publish all our names and email addresses if we don’t (you know, the name and email addresses that are publicly available). He told us
Go now and REPENT – go now and try to offer redemption for the guilt and responsibility you all have loaded upon your shoulders.
Time is ticking – you have 48 hours – the JUDGEMENTS ARE BEING WRITTEN RIGHT NOW…..
I haven’t heard from him since.
More recently, I got an email from an anonymous crackpot who maintains a prolific YouTube channel in Croatian dedicated to showing that the Earth is flat. It was entertaining to see that the crackpot sent me emails to both my University of Vienna address and to my University of Cologne address, each signed as a different person pretending to be interested in whether the videos were correct.