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Thread: Top Signs you are reading woo

  1. #1 Top Signs you are reading woo 
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    Top Signs you are Reading Woo

    Cranks often enjoy posting on science forums. Once they feel the thrill of making up some pseudoscientific woo, telling it to a friend and having the friend think they are clever - they come on line, find a science forum and post away, hoping for kudos and compliments on their imagination and intelligence. We see them here all the time.

    But how can you tell a true crank from someone who is just confused, or someone who has a reasonable idea that is just not developed? How can you tell plain old errors from woo? Below is a guide to help with that decision. It lists several characteristics of cranks. If you see one of these characteristics, be wary. If you see several, well - either ignore the fellow or have some fun with him.

    ============================

    1) The Einstein gambit. This gambit is perhaps the most popular attempt that cranks use to justify their woo. "Sure, they're laughing at me, but they laughed at Einstein too, you know!" By equating his situation to that of Einstein, the crank hopes to make it seem that his intelligence is akin to Einstein's - thus granting more validity to his woo.

    2) The sheeple claim. Once a crank uses the word "sheeple" for the first time - to distinguish his own brilliance from the dull conformity of all the other "sheep" on a given forum - you know he's all woo. Use of this word is nearly inevitable for some types of cranks, especially 9/11 truthers and UFO believers.

    3) The mathematical obfuscation. Often, cranks attempt to "prove their point" by throwing a bunch of math on the forum. This can be done several ways. Most commonly it's just unrelated math - constants with improbably large numbers of significant digits is a good clue here. More clever cranks will often use unrelated but accurate math to support their woo. For example, someone claiming zero point energy might post a few derivations of Maxwell's Equations to attempt to prove his point, then claim "if I'm wrong, show me where the math error is!" Support for tools like LaTex increases the odds he will try this, by making it easier to post equations.

    4) Webster Rescue. Often when a crank is losing an argument he will resort to redefining words to try to ameliorate a previous error. For example: "The results you have presented show greater than 100% efficiency, which is thermodynamically impossible." "Well, really, what's the definition of efficiency? Can't it mean that . . . " He will then search out various online dictionaries until he finds a definition that is at least not entirely clear, at which point he will claim that that's the definition that is in common use.

    5) The retcon. In comic books and science fiction, the "retroactive continuity" trick is often used to clear up previous continuity problems.. It is in effect saying "what REALLY happened is . . . ." Perhaps the most famous retcon is in episode V of Star Wars, where Obi-Wan tells Luke "well, yes, I told you your father was dead, but in fact turns out he's Darth Vader due to this complex explanation." On-line, people often use this angle to claim "Yes, I may have said this, but what I really meant was . . ." For example, a 9/11 conspiracy theorist might claim that no steel building has ever collapsed due to fire. When examples are presented, he might change his story to "what I REALLY meant was that no TALL steel building has ever collapsed; that was obvious from my post."

    6) The secret government conspiracy. Sometimes when a crank is challenged, and he feels he is unable to defend his point further, he will pull out the government conspiracy. He WOULD have more proof for his claim, you see, but the government is trying to suppress the information because blah blah blah. In general you will get no more useful information after this point, since if you try, he will accuse YOU of being part of the conspiracy.

    7) Occam's Glue. In general, Occam's Razor describes the general rule that the simplest explanation that explains something is usually the correct one. Cranks use a version of that I call Occam's Glue - if something CAN be the explanation, it must be the explanation, even if simpler explanations suffice. UFO believers use this one a lot. "Yes, it could have been aircraft lights, or a meteor, or a planet, or low clouds - but how can all those explanations always be true? Some MUST be space aliens."

    8) Woo prejudice. Oddly, most cranks will reject other people's woo quite strongly even when it is closely related. "There's no possible way those objects could be space aliens. They were clearly angels." This, while common, unfortunately does not help distinguish a crank from anyone else, since most people reject woo once it's clear that that's what it is.

    9) Magical thinking. If part of someone's proof for their woo is the list of wondrous boons that this technology will grant mankind, the odds are high that he or she is engaging in magical thinking - the belief that a fervent desire for something will make it valid. Cold fusion believers, for example, often will list all the beneficial changes in society that cold fusion will bring about - and therefore declare that it is a real power source.

    10) The Googleblast. Some cranks, facing skepticism, will make a somewhat late attempt to justify woo by searching the Internet for support. They cannot, of course, do any serious research, since that would tend to disprove their woo. However since anything is available on the Internet, they can always find something to at least marginally support them. Their cycle goes like this: Read (forum) Search (google) Pick (something that says something close to what they are claiming) Post (link to related information.) This read-search-pick-post cycle can go on for dozens of posts. They feel that by posting enough marginally related links they have found independent proof of their claim.

    11) Cyberturfing. This is related to the point above. In politics the term "astroturfing" is used to describe the false "grass-roots" support that politicians can fabricate. By funding political media efforts and making it look like the support is coming from many independent voters, they can claim much wider support than they otherwise could. Likewise, cyberturfing attempts to generate so many emails, websites, links, studies and articles that the crank can point to the mass of material and say "see? EVERYONE agrees!" They will often use tactics like submitting papers to vanity journals so they can claim their woo is "peer reviewed." 9/11 truthers are especially good at this.

    12) The Patriotism Ploy. Often a crank will attempt to confabulate his woo with some other laudable ideal like patriotism, family values, freedom, prosperity etc. Thus, rather than arguing the validity of his woo, he can argue the desirability of prosperity - which is a much easier argument to make. For example, a climate change denier might say "you can't believe in climate change! If you do it will bankrupt the US and make Al Gore rich. Do you really want that?"

    13) Quote-mining. Often cranks will search out quotes from well-respected people to support their position (the classic "appeal to authority") - and often will not be able to find the support they want. However, a carefully extracted quote might make it appear that they have such authoritative support. The most popular is a quote from Charles Darwin, ofen used by creationists: "To suppose that the eye . . .could have been formed by natural selection, seems, I freely confess, absurd in the highest degree." The next lines then go on to explain how it is NOT absurd, but since cranks often gather most of their information via the above-mentioned read-search-pick-post method, they will generally miss that.

    14) Prove Me Wrong. Cranks who propose an unusual theory (say, that UFO's are space aliens) will often not listen to alternative explanations that better explain the data. Instead they will propose their woo and ask "can you prove that that's NOT what's happening? Can you prove that that sighting was just a weather balloon?" This lets them sit back and wait for someone to provide an impossible level of proof for the more-reasonable explanation.

    15) As seen on TV! Links to Youtube videos are one of the hallmarks of cranks. Whether this is due to cranks getting most of their information from videos, or whether it is due to the fondness of conspiracy theorists for Youtube, masses of Youtube links are one of the most common signs of the crank.

    16) The argument from incredulity (i.e. "if I can't understand it, it is incorrect - and thus the explanation that I DO understand must be the correct one") is very common among cranks. Since they invariably have a very high impression of their own intelligence, any theory/explanation/process they do not understand must be incorrect.

    And last but not least:

    17) The Grand Trampling Exit. Often cranks, once they have realized that they are not going to get kudos and attaboys for their unconventional thinking, will make a "final post" that is usually along the lines of "you're all a bunch of idiots! I'm going to leave this once and for all, and deny you all the pleasure of my company. Instead I am going to post on a board where intelligent people have open minds!"

    Reading the Grand Trampling Exit, readers of the forum might be tempted to breathe a sigh of relief as the signal to noise ratio improves. However this relief is often short-lived. Cranks love attention, and thus more often than not they come back sometime later, often with a statement along the lines of "well, I just had to say one more . . ." or "I realized you wanted me to leave, so I'm going to stick around to get back at you!"

    ===========================


    Last edited by billvon; January 18th, 2014 at 01:50 PM. Reason: Added four per suggestions
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  3. #2  
    Bullshit Intolerant PhDemon's Avatar
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    Crackpottery (or psychoceramicism) is unfortunately endemic on science forums. The true Crackpot thinks he is a unique and great thinker, the reality is they are utterly deluded and depressingly predictable. So much so that there is a points system for their nonsense.

    Crackpot index

    If the poster in question has a positive score, they're a crackpot.


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  4. #3  
    Malignant Pimple shlunka's Avatar
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    I'm printing this out and putting it on my wall.
    "MODERATOR NOTE : We don't entertain trolls here, not even in the trash can. Banned." -Markus Hanke
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  5. #4  
    Forum Sophomore Karsus's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by PhDemon View Post
    Crackpottery (or psychoceramicism) is unfortunately endemic on science forums. The true Crackpot thinks he is a unique and great thinker, the reality is they are utterly deluded and depressingly predictable. So much so that there is a points system for their nonsense.

    Crackpot index

    If the poster in question has a positive score, they're a crackpot.
    So expressing anything above item 8 is an unforgivable sin?

    May I suggest one for Billvon's list?

    Patent Pending. Reluctance to share details of a supposed miracle device or process for fear that they will lose the inevitable millions of dollars owed to them. They just need someone to trust them and invest a little money to get the venture off the ground. Most often followed by praise for the overwhelming, god-like genius of Nikola Tesla and vitriolic hatred for Thomas Edison, for stealing patents that were rightfully his.
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  6. #5  
    Bullshit Intolerant PhDemon's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Karsus View Post
    So expressing anything above item 8 is an unforgivable sin?
    If being a crackpot is a sin1 I'd say it's not a mortal sin but definitely more serious than a nice little venial one

    (Spot the guy who went to a Catholic school )

    1. I don't think it can be, not even I want to see cranks burning in hell. It may be a crime but if being stupid were a crime there would be a lot of people who were never out of jail...
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  7. #6  
    Moderator Moderator Markus Hanke's Avatar
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    Excellent post, billvon. In fact this list is so good that I have decided to make it a sticky in this section
    One more point you might add ( which has been brought to my attention by member Karsus ) is that cranks tend to start with an idea, and then try really hard to make the universe fit around that idea, rather than the other way around. Not sure what you want to call that one...
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  8. #7  
    Ascended Member Ascended's Avatar
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    Great post billvon thoroughly enjoyable read, I think there are multiple things here we can all easily recognise from the mulitude of push gravity, evolution is wrong and perpetual motion threads which so regularly appear.

    I wonder if we can pehaps also help to identify which way of commuication works best when dealing with such misguided ideas, as Markus points out it can so often be that it is a idea that someone is persisting with that may indeed be the real cause of the problem, rather than perhaps the poster in general. If we could find a particular way of speaking to someone so as to encourage them to give up their cranky idea they may prove receptive to listening to a more sensible approach.

    Certainly if the particular poster involved is capable of seeing the errors with other types of crank thinking there may well be a good chance of setting them back on the correct path. I think the key here is to find the correct way help such people become uninvested from their idea so that then the mistakes in such an idea can be fully demonstrated without the actual persons self respect being damaged to the point where they become unwilling to listen or learn.

    To this end I think we could help them by encouraging them to become more self critical about then own ideas so that they can see the errors for themselves and also to adopt a more analytical approach in their thinking.

    It's fairly easy to squash a crank, trying to get them to listen whilst their idea is squashed is somewhat harder but surely a more worthwhile goal.
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  9. #8  
    Moderator Moderator Markus Hanke's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Ascended View Post
    It's fairly easy to squash a crank, trying to get them to listen whilst their idea is squashed is somewhat harder but surely a more worthwhile goal.
    Indeed. Well spoken !
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  10. #9  
    Brassica oleracea Strange's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by billvon View Post
    1) The Einstein gambit
    I prefer the Galileo Gambit for the alliteration. Nicely countered by Sagan(?) with: They laughed (*) at Galileo and Einstein but they also laughed at Bozo the Clown.

    (*) Of course, they didn't.

    2) The sheeple claim
    And related arguments about conspiracies of silence (to protect people who have been working on incorrect theories for so long), closed mindedness (oh, the irony) and dull, unimaginative scientists ("it needs someone with no knowledge or understanding to have afresh insight").

    The last leads us on to:

    3) The mathematical obfuscation
    Or, just as often, the complete absence of math. This may be defended on the basis that math has no meaning without their idea. Or that math is too hard ("I have the correct idea, I just need one of you dullards to do the boring bit for me")

    We can add to the list:

    Prove me wrong Er, no. It is up to you to provide some support for your idea. The best way to do that is for you to try and prove it wrong. That is what scientists do.

    But instead, they look for Supporting evidence. Sorry, it is no good cherry-picking some evidence (*) that fits. You need to look at all the evidence and search out evidence that contradicts. That is what scientists do.

    (*) This is usually a misunderstanding of a pop-sci article, rather than real data or citations from a peer-reviewed paper.

    I have been working on this for many years. So what? It is still wrong. Wouldn't it have been more productive to spend the time learning something useful instead?

    According to my research = "I saw this on youTube"

    When people thought the Earth was flat. When was that again? Oh, that's right: never.

    And other attempts to argue that because science doesn't know everything it therefore knows nothing.
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    Brassica oleracea Strange's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Karsus View Post
    Patent Pending.
    They get double points for ignorance: not knowing that an idea cannot be patented (or copyrighted: triple points!) anyway.
    Without wishing to overstate my case, everything in the observable universe definitely has its origins in Northamptonshire -- Alan Moore
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    Quote Originally Posted by Strange View Post
    And other attempts to argue that because science doesn't know everything it therefore knows nothing.
    That's a good one, too
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    WYSIWYG Moderator marnixR's Avatar
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    there's also the red flag words that should trigger suspicion (it's aimed at medical applications, but it does equally well in other areas) :

    "Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn't go away." (Philip K. Dick)
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  14. #13  
    ...matter and pixie dust wegs's Avatar
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    Something that is troubling to me when it comes to the 'woo' category, is when people try to pass off religious beliefs or their faith beliefs...as rebuttals to mainstream science. I wish when that happens here, that those threads would be 'trashed,' because I think the poster has a motive, and it's not to educate or become educated on the value of science. Just my two cents. Not that this is a site feedback thread, but this type of posting 'behavior,' often gets misplaced in the 'woo' category, and it's not woo. It's a person using a science board to promote his/her beliefs. Nothing more or less. :/
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  15. #14  
    Moderator Moderator Markus Hanke's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by wegs View Post
    Something that is troubling to me when it comes to the 'woo' category, is when people try to pass off religious beliefs or their faith beliefs...as rebuttals to mainstream science. I wish when that happens here, that those threads would be 'trashed,' because I think the poster has a motive, and it's not to educate or become educated on the value of science. Just my two cents. Not that this is a site feedback thread, but this type of posting 'behavior,' often gets misplaced in the 'woo' category, and it's not woo. It's a person using a science board to promote his/her beliefs. Nothing more or less. :/
    True. We have one of these active at the moment, but it is safely tucked away in the trash can
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  16. #15  
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    Quote Originally Posted by billvon View Post
    Top Signs you are Reading Woo

    Cranks often enjoy posting on science forums. Once they feel the thrill of making up some pseudoscientific woo, telling it to a friend and having the friend think they are clever - they come on line, find a science forum and post away, hoping for kudos and compliments on their imagination and intelligence. We see them here all the time.

    But how can you tell a true crank from someone who is just confused, or someone who has a reasonable idea that is just not developed? How can you tell plain old errors from woo? Below is a guide to help with that decision. It lists several characteristics of cranks. If you see one of these characteristics, be wary. If you see several, well - either ignore the fellow or have some fun with him.
    I don't think it is all that difficult, even for the layperson, to spot nonsense posts most of the time.
    Sometimes one can be uncertain about the type of post, alluded to in your third characteristic, couched in mathematical jargon which is, at best, irrelevant to the actual content.
    I make up my own mind about this type of post, but I also like to have my opinion, if it is correct, confirmed by other members who have a better grasp of technical details.
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  17. #16  
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    Quote Originally Posted by Strange View Post
    I prefer the Galileo Gambit for the alliteration.
    Sounds a lot better. But it seems like cranks prefer Einstein to Galileo at least 4:1.

    According to my research = "I saw this on youTube"
    Here's my theory - as seen on TV!

    And other attempts to argue that because science doesn't know everything it therefore knows nothing.
    And of course the argument from incredulity - "I don't quite understand how natural selection works - therefore God must have his hand in it somewhere."
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  18. #17  
    Moderator Moderator Cogito Ergo Sum's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Markus Hanke View Post
    One more point you might add ( which has been brought to my attention by member Karsus ) is that cranks tend to start with an idea, and then try really hard to make the universe fit around that idea, rather than the other way around. Not sure what you want to call that one...

    Shoehorning.

    From Rationalwiki:
    Shoehorning is the process of using evidence or events to support a personal agenda, even if the data do not support the conclusion that's been drawn. The process is often forceful, requiring either a very loose use of the facts and definitions or intentionally hiding, selectively reporting, or cherry picking certain aspects of a fact. Often, the most blatant examples involve using evidence to support a crank theory and then, should that evidence be later to be erroneous, using the converse to also support the exact same crank theory.
    (Bold mine)
    "The only safe rule is to dispute only with those of your acquaintance of whom you know that they possess sufficient intelligence and self-respect not to advance absurdities; to appeal to reason and not to authority, and to listen to reason and yield to it; and, finally, to be willing to accept reason even from an opponent, and to be just enough to bear being proved to be in the wrong."

    ~ Arthur Schopenhauer, The Art of Being Right: 38 Ways to Win an Argument (1831), Stratagem XXXVIII.
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  19. #18  
    ...matter and pixie dust wegs's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Markus Hanke View Post
    Quote Originally Posted by wegs View Post
    Something that is troubling to me when it comes to the 'woo' category, is when people try to pass off religious beliefs or their faith beliefs...as rebuttals to mainstream science. I wish when that happens here, that those threads would be 'trashed,' because I think the poster has a motive, and it's not to educate or become educated on the value of science. Just my two cents. Not that this is a site feedback thread, but this type of posting 'behavior,' often gets misplaced in the 'woo' category, and it's not woo. It's a person using a science board to promote his/her beliefs. Nothing more or less. :/
    True. We have one of these active at the moment, but it is safely tucked away in the trash can
    Well, there is another one floating around...hasn't found the trash yet. lol
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  20. #19  
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    Am I a crank?
    Just one reply: especially from a mod. If it is I will change myself.
    thank you
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  21. #20  
    Forum Professor jrmonroe's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by billvon View Post
    Top Signs you are Reading Woo
    1) The Einstein gambit.
    2) The sheeple claim.
    3) The mathematical obfuscation.
    4) Webster Rescue.
    5) The retcon.
    6) The secret government conspiracy.
    7) Occam's Glue.
    8) Woo prejudice.
    9) Magical thinking.
    10) The Googleblast.
    11) Cyberturfing.
    12) The Patriotism Ploy.
    A corollary to #6 secret government conspiracy is that tons of people have demanded that the government make public what they have on the subject (be it UFOs, 1,000-mpg carburetors, what really happened at Fukushima, etc), but so far, the government has refused to do so.

    Quote Originally Posted by PhDemon View Post
    Crackpottery (or psychoceramicism)
    "pyschoceramism" —Too funny!

    Quote Originally Posted by Karsus View Post
    Patent Pending.
    One for the list.

    Quote Originally Posted by Strange View Post
    Prove me wrong

    According to my research = "I saw this on youTube"
    Two for the list.

    I think that the media all too often simply states that "Researcher/scientists at the [ABC Institute / XYZ Corporation] announced today their finding that ..." — and that's all there is to it — you simply need to go around announcing stuff. The media tends to skip the fact that years of expensive, painstaking and laborious work went into these ten-second announcements.

    Related to this is the idea that an ordinary person (ie, the "psychoceramist" ) with an ordinary brain who can't even spell "scientific instrument" has, in his spare time (ie, watching WWF or binding his elbow at a local watering hole), developed this amazing and inspiring insight into the inner workings of the universe that top-notch scientists and their multi-million dollar organizations and their excruciatingly sensitive instruments have blatantly missed.

    And let's not forget blaming the arch-rival to science, second only to the government, that is ... the oil companies.
    Grief is the price we pay for love. (CM Parkes) Our postillion has been struck by lightning. (Unknown) War is always the choice of the chosen who will not have to fight. (Bono) The years tell much what the days never knew. (RW Emerson) Reality is not always probable, or likely. (JL Borges)
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    Bullshit Intolerant PhDemon's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by jrmonroe View Post
    Quote Originally Posted by PhDemon View Post
    Crackpottery (or psychoceramicism)
    "pyschoceramism" —Too funny!
    I wish I could take the credit! I read it somewhere else on the forum and thought "I wish I'd said that", and so here in true Oscar Wilde style I did!
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    WYSIWYG Moderator marnixR's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by sir ir r aj View Post
    Am I a crank?
    Just one reply: especially from a mod. If it is I will change myself.
    thank you
    the fact that you ask yourself this question is a good sign
    cranks are usually so full of themselves that they have not the least bit of self-doubt
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    "Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn't go away." (Philip K. Dick)
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    Brassica oleracea Strange's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by sir ir r aj View Post
    Am I a crank?
    Just one reply: especially from a mod. If it is I will change myself.
    thank you
    No. I think you are a little naive (young?) and you come up with some pretty crazy ideas, but you are open to discussion and willing to learn. Definitely not a crank.
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    Quote Originally Posted by jrmonroe View Post
    A corollary to #6 secret government conspiracy is that tons of people have demanded that the government make public what they have on the subject (be it UFOs, 1,000-mpg carburetors, what really happened at Fukushima, etc), but so far, the government has refused to do.
    It couldn't possibly be that such information doesn't actually exist. No! The government is controlled by the single most organised, well-funded, evil organisation the world has ever seen! The Illumimasonreptilalienzionatheists! Just keep listening to Alex Jones and stockpiling weaponry and everything will be okay.
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    Brassica oleracea Strange's Avatar
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    The fact that there is absolutely no evidence for the conspiracy is proof of how all-powerful the conspiracy is.
    Without wishing to overstate my case, everything in the observable universe definitely has its origins in Northamptonshire -- Alan Moore
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  27. #26  
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    The government is controlled by the single most organised, well-funded, evil organisation the world has ever seen! The Illumimasonreptilalienzionatheists
    The poor old commugreenfeminists must be feeling very left out of all these more recent conspiracies.
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  28. #27  
    Brassica oleracea Strange's Avatar
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    Have we had Selective Quotation yet?

    There are several parts to this:
    - Cherry picking quotes, often out of context, that appear to support the crackpot's point of view.
    - Preferring opinions to facts or data
    - Insisting we go back to the words of Einstein, Darwin, etc. and ignoring all that has been learned in the meantime (and the many better explanations that have been written. (This is particularly ironic as they treat these people as if they were Prophets of the Truth, the very thing they [falsely] accuse science of.)
    Without wishing to overstate my case, everything in the observable universe definitely has its origins in Northamptonshire -- Alan Moore
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  29. #28  
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    Added four more per suggestions here.
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  30. #29  
    Brassica oleracea Strange's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Some Crackpot
    One day, it will be clear to you all that this theory is 100% correct.
    And similar...
    Without wishing to overstate my case, everything in the observable universe definitely has its origins in Northamptonshire -- Alan Moore
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  31. #30  
    Brassica oleracea Strange's Avatar
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    sir ir r aj likes this.
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  32. #31  
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    The Character Assignation Ploy

    Claims that the author of an idea somehow stole his work from others. An example of this is that Einstein plagerized Relativity, as if somehow this invalidates the actual theory.

    The Anti-authority Plea

    Claims that the only reason modern science accepts some things as being true is that they originated from a respected source. Example; Scientists blindy accept Relativity becuase of Einstein's reputation. This misses the whole fact that Einstein's reputation was built from the acceptance of Relativity, not the other way around.
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  33. #32  
    WYSIWYG Moderator marnixR's Avatar
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    the following list of 11 characteristics for recognising pseudoscience is not a bad one (even though there's some overlap with billvon's list :

    SCIENCE VS. PSEUDOSCIENCE: WHERE IS THE DIFFERENCE?

    they are :

    1. Anachronistic thinking. If an argument is based on the wisdom of the ancients (who, remember, knew much less about the world than any junior high school graduate should), or on the use of outmoded scientific terminology, there is good reason to be suspicious.

    2. Seeking mysteries. While science’s objective is to solve mysteries, pseudo-science tends to emphasize the existence and supposed unsolvability of mysteries. This is a rather sterile position, since if a mystery is by definition insoluble, then why wasting ones’ time thinking about it?

    3. Appeals to myths. This is the idea that ancient myths must be based on some kind of real events, which became distorted in the course of oral transmission from generation to generation. While this can certainly happen, just because some cultures share (usually superficially) similar myths, that does not imply that the underlying events are the same, or even ever happened. An alternative explanation is that human minds tend to work in a similar fashion, and therefore provide similar explanations for things they do not understand.

    4. Casual approach to evidence. Evidence is the cornerstone that sets aside science from any other human intellectual endeavor, including (to a large extent) philosophy. Given its pivotal role, admissible evidence has to be solid and reliable. If we cite a “fact,” we have to be reasonably sure that it indeed corresponds to a verifiable piece of evidence. Hearsay is not admissible.

    5. Irrefutable hypotheses. Scientific progress can be made only if a hypothesis is at least potentially open to dismissal. If your hypothesis is not refutable (i.e., falsifiable) no matter what the evidence, then it is useless (of course, it may still be true, but there is no way to verify it).

    6. Spurious similarities. A very insidious trap of human thinking is drawing parallels between concepts or phenomena that seem reasonable, and that require an in-depth analysis to be verified or discarded. For example, one can draw mystical significance from the fact that one’s car plate number is the same as one’s civic address. But a moment of reflection would easily lead you to conclude that this is simply a coincidence. In other cases, however, the parallel may seem more compelling. In general, similarities can yield genuine insights into the matter under consideration, but they require a higher standard of verification than the one provided by a first intuition.

    7. Explanation by scenario. It is pretty easy, if one has just a little bit of imagination, to explain something by telling a story, that is by imagining a reasonable scenario. Scientists are sometimes guilty of this practice (widespread, for example, among evolutionary psychologists). In fact, scenarios can be useful, because they may point the inquiry in the right direction. However, when scenarios remain just-so stories, not backed by data, they are not useful tools because many scenarios can be proposed to explain the same data, but presumably only one is actually correct.

    8. Research by literary interpretation. This occurs when the proponent of a pseudoscientific position claims that statements by scientists are open to alternative, equally valid interpretations. This approach treats scientific literature as one might consider a novel or a painting: no one interpretation (not even the one espoused by the author!) is necessarily better than any other. In science, this is a far cry from the reality of things. Scientific statements are the more useful the more precise and unambiguous they are. Ideally, a scientific hypothesis or theory should have one and only one possible interpretation, and this is either correct or not.

    9. Refusal to revise. One of the hallmarks of pseudoscience is the refusal to revise one’s own positions in the face of new evidence. No matter how many studies are conducted on the ineffectiveness of astrology, astrologers will repeat the same arguments in support of their profession. Science is a process of a completely different nature, where the primary element is continuous revision and correction to accommodate new evidence.

    10. Shift the burden of proof on the other side. The reader should be weary of statements such as “but it has not been disproved.” First, there are simply not enough scientists and funding to verify or disprove every claim that has ever been made. That is not positive evidence for that claim, however, but simply of our ignorance (or disinterest) on the matter. Second, when one proposes an alternative to a very well established theory, the burden of proof is logically and squarely on the side of the newcomer. When Copernicus suggested that the Earth rotates around the Sun, and not vice versa, people did not just believe him because nobody had proven him wrong (on the contrary, most people did not even consider his arguments!). Other astronomers demanded evidence, and it took more than a century for the theory to be accepted.

    11. A theory is legitimate simply because it’s new, alternative, or daring. This is the “Galileo” effect. Proponents of new theories are fond of recalling the many examples of scientists who had been derided, ignored, or worse persecuted because of their radical theories, which then proved to be correct. What this line of reasoning ignores, of course, is the fact that for every Galileo who eventually succeeded there were thousands of crackpots who did not. For every example of a daring, new scientific theory which ends up being accepted, there are many, many examples of wrong theories, forever rejected and confined to the limbo of pseudoscientific history. Novelty per se is no evidence.
    Cogito Ergo Sum likes this.
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  34. #33  
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    I don't find the low level cranks so hard to recognize.
    It is the high level cranks with degrees and honours that I find difficult. One of the clues for them might be they are being cranks in fields where their expertise is either lacking or irrelevant.
    I also have a very hard time with ones that seem like cranks because they really are at the advanced edge of research and what they are reporting is too bizarre to be plausible to anybody not involved in the same field.
    It does not help that some of the leaders in maths and sciences, even though their work is correct, are as insane as a march hare either.

    So are there any lists of clues for detecting high level cranks.
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  35. #34  
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    This is all excellent stuff. My only additional tiny contributions would be to that:

    a) anyone who speaks of "energy", without quantifying what form it is in, or"vibrations", without saying vibrations of what is odds-on to be a purveyor of some kind of New Age woo, while
    b) anyone who mentions both "Tesla" and "magnets" in the same sentence is odds-on to be a purveyor of perpetual motion woo.
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  36. #35  
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    Latest observations:

    1) The thread starter "talks" in circles, posting "sources" that have absolutely no relevance to the original topic.

    2) And this is irritating as all get out. A purveyor of woo is typically disingenuous. They are fake and give phony compliments to those participating in the thread, as to get them on their "side."

    3) People who spew woo think they are the smartest people in the room and will pretend to appear confused or befuddled but in reality, they are merely manipulative.

    4) People who post woo never get to their point. For their point is to hear themselves talk.

    (This was more of a rant, sorry!)
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  37. #36  
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    Quote Originally Posted by wegs View Post
    People who spew woo think they ate the smartest people in the room
    With some fava beans and a nice chianti?
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  38. #37  
    ...matter and pixie dust wegs's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Dywyddyr View Post
    Quote Originally Posted by wegs View Post
    People who spew woo think they ate the smartest people in the room
    With some fava beans and a nice chianti?
    lol!!!! I tried to edit it but I guess I was too slow! "Ate!" haha
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    "Resonance" other than in audio, electronics, or physics. And approach with caution even there; there is "audiophile" woo, and of course lots of crank physics that claims "resonance" does this or that, usually to do with "free energy."

    And Water Woo. Everybody's got Water Woo. Baptism, homeopathy, "penta water" (note also the use of "resonance" there), and "oxygenated" water are great examples.
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  40. #39  
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    What if everyone was part of a government conspiracy??? You're just saying this to keep me off your back!
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  41. #40  
    Brassica oleracea Strange's Avatar
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    Gerard 't Hooft makes some good points here: Gerard ’t Hooft, Strange Misconceptions of General Relativity

    Even he is, apparently, sometimes accused of just repeating "what is in books"
    my own knowledge of the theory does not come from blindly accepting wisdom from text books; text books do contain mistakes, so I only accept scientific facts when I fully understand the arguments on which they are based. I feel no need whatsoever to defend standard scientific wisdom; I only defend the findings of which I have irrefutable evidence, and it so happens that most of these are indeed agreed upon by practically all experts in the field.
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  42. #41  
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    Quote Originally Posted by exchemist View Post
    b) anyone who mentions both "Tesla" and "magnets" in the same sentence is odds-on to be a purveyor of perpetual motion woo.
    Ahhh, yes, magnet woo.
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