Crackpot-rich December 14, 2007Posted by dorigo in internet, personal, physics, science.
The anonymous comment left yesterday on the guest post by Tony Smith annoyed me quite a bit. The visitor, instead than discussing the topic presented in the post, decided to produce a personal attack on Tony, guilty of having a web site of his own, containing personal theories and ideas. At the heart of the comment was a question directed to me: why do you give credit to this person, who is evidently a crackpot ?
That kind of behavior is in my opinion to be strongly discouraged, because of the coward nature of the censor who expresses his views anonymously, attacking the post author personally without getting his hands dirty with the matter being discussed. Such a comment does not deserve an answer, so much so that I am providing an articulated one below.
So, why is this site not crackpot-free ? Why does a “respectable” physicist give room and voice to people who are not professionals like him, who work at their very own theories on their free time, who go against the mainstream ?
First of all, I would like to make it clear that, despite my explicit invitation to anybody who thinks he or she has something interesting to say in the field of science, I am not willing to publish just anything. The judgement is with me, since this is a personal blog before it is a public place.
Second, my choice is a principled one. This site would have no meaning if it was for scientists only. Physicists know where to find the information they need, and while they may enjoy reading a colleague’s viewpoint on this or that scientific result, well, that does not provide sufficient motivation for me. No, this site not just for scientists. It is actually mostly aimed at people with an interest in science, who are willing to spend some time to learn about particle physics through my posts, and most of all through the comments other knowledgeable people leave in the posts.
“But why then”, would our anonymous friend interrupt me here “do you think it is a good service for people willing to learn about science to provide them with untested theories, steep speculations, ungodly ideas that have no room in serious knowledge repositories such as the Arxiv or scientific journals ? Why diverting them from the correct path, why suggesting that mainstream theories might be wrong ?”
Because, my friend, science is made by human beings. And humans err. As beautiful and well-tested as the Standard Model is, it still is a theory: it is not god-given truth, but a human-made mathematical construct, subject to disproof, liable to be modified, and certainly incomplete. Science is a process, not a state. Doing science entails taking wrong turns, spending years on a silly idea, making untestable hypotheses. For instance, string theory is certainly science, although possibly a very expensive waste of human resources.
By giving voice to so-called crackpots, I am providing a richer panorama of the investigations of the theories of nature than the one you can find by checking new hep-th or hep-ph papers. And people, even non scientists, have a mind of their own, and can discern what has a red label from what is back-yard bricolage. This site is crackpot-rich, and everybody is allowed to speak, even anonymous commenters – the lowest-ranking caste in the web society.