Crackpot science

by Stephanie Chasteen on July 12, 2008

Wikimedia Commons - Gnu license

There’s a delightful post on crackpot science (in particular crackpot physics) from Twisted Physics this week.

For some reason, physics has more than its fair share of crackpots fringe scientists: those misunderstood tormented souls whose genius goes unnoticed by mainstream physicists… The receipt of any missive beginning, “EINSTIEN WAS WRONG AND MY THEORY PROVES IT!!!” invariably causes most physicists to discard said missive in the nearest trash receptacle. But what about the rest of us? How do we know if Harry Brained’s new theory is bogus, or a

Fortunately, a handful of enterprising physicists offer some helpful online advice. The best-known resource is John Baez’s “A Simple Method for Rating Potentially Revolutionary Contributions to Physics,” affectionately known around the science-minded blogosphere as “The Crackpot Index.”

Mis-spelling “Einstien,” for instance, will earn you 5 points on the crackpot index, along with each word in ALL CAPS, although Baez is willing to make an exception if your keyboard happens to be malfunctioning — perhaps after you spilled your can of soda over it in your excitement at finding that fatal flaw in relativity’s Teflon (TM) armor. (Hey, it could happen to anyone.)

Another great resource is Bob Park’s Seven Warning Signs of Voodoo Science

Bob Parks is a physicist at the American Physical Society and he’s written a lot of stuff about how to be skeptical about such claims. He’s got a book called Voodoo Science. I was lucky enough to interview him when I was at NPR, and he said something I never forgot. He was telling the story of when the controversial experements on cold fusion came out and there was a lot of excitement in the public about it even though the scientists were quite certain it couldn’t have happened. When people want something to be true, he said, it’s very compelling for them to believe it. When he said that the cold fusion experiment didn’t jibe the physical principles, a woman asked him, “But it would be so very important for the world. Couldn’t you try just a little bit harder?” Of course, the cold fusion scenario was very different from the type of crackpot science we’re talking about here, but that woman’s reaction does go a long way to explaining why it’s hard for many of us to let go of ideas that we should be more skeptical about.

Here’s Bob Parks 7 warning signs of voodoo science:

  1. A discovery is pitched directly to the media, bypassing peer review, e.g., Pons & Fleischmann’s claims about cold fusion and Dennis Lee‘s claims about free energy.

  2. A powerful “establishment” is said to be suppressing the discovery.

  3. An effect is always at the very limit of detection.

  4. Evidence for a discovery is anecdotal.

  5. A belief is said to be credible because it has endured for centuries, i.e., commits the fallacy of appeal to tradition. E.g., acupuncture and Ayurvedic medicine.

  6. An important discovery is made in isolation (the “lone genius”).

  7. New laws of nature are proposed to explain an incredible observation. A common lament of parapsychologists.


Matt K July 12, 2008 at 3:50 pm

Cold Fusion was actually a bit of a “Pascal’s Wager’ when it came into public view. All sorts of folks were trying to duplicate it. What helped push along its popularity was that high-temperature superconductors had popped up in the previous couple of years and they actually worked (although they were not the miracle product promised by an overzealous media. This an undeserved coat-tail ride.

The book: Bad Science – The Short life and times of Cold Fusion is a great read for the vents of that day.

sciencegeekgirl August 5, 2008 at 3:25 pm

On a related note, here’s a nic review of a relevant book:

“Mad Scientists in Fact and Fiction”, by Melvin Berger is an interesting introduction for students thinking about the nature of science. The first part, “Mad Scientists in Fact”, has brief descriptions of some of the more famous frauds, quacks, and scientists-gone-wrong in history: among them are Immanuel Velikovsky, Franz Mesmer, Trofim Lysenko, leaders of the hollow earth movement, (and did you know that Leonhard Euler, the Swiss mathematician, was
one of the proponents of this theory?), a series of alchemists, the Flat Earth Society, believers in UFO’s, etc. Mengele is a notable absence.

For “Mad Scientists in Fiction”, the authors have picked themes and illustrated them with classic literature and movies. Some in the Artificial Life category: “Scream and Scream Again”, ” Frankenstein”, Bride of Frankenstein” , and “Young Frankenstein”
(which the author says “may well be the last…(since the film)… has made it very hard for anyone to take the tale seriously anymore.”)

SOLOMON AZAR November 7, 2008 at 2:25 pm

And in the continued spirit of such claims- i have solved the energy crisis-period-:)

Hello, my name is Solomon Azar- I HAVE FOUND THE ROAD TO SAFE CLEAN NUCLEAR FUSION- When this is found and understood- the energy crisis will end- I have been looking at this system since 2002 and it is perfect in every way. I finished my experiments April-2007. I have since that time tried to the best of my abilities to inform many people upon the net- there is no question I have done so in an unorthodox manner- but in time it will be found my road traveled to solve this energy crisis was unorthodoxed -all my motives are for the betterment of mankind- you have your way- I have mine- it will make complete sense when heard in public of my approach- have faith 🙂

I have performed an experiment never done before in science- I used a Tesla coil for its use in high voltage high frequency and apply its discharge plasma not upon the dielectric of free air- but to the dielectric of water itself- specifically I used ultrapure reagent grade water from manufacture NERL-this is to establish the high degree of insulation needed for plasma (you cannot have contaminants for conductivity)- I doped my water with heavy water from the manufacturer UNITED NUCLEAR-(however- a full concentration of heavy water is desired)- I built my 1 million volt Tesla coil entire tunable- every aspect of it- as it must be done to TUNE THE OUTPUT DISCHARGE OF THE TESLA COIL to the water itself- once the arc is stable- the voltage may be increased- I have written in my pdf file in my website of that a prerequisite of 750 kv is needed as an electric field gradient about the charged particles used in fusion( in this case the hydrogen bound in the water molecule) because of voltage drops as expected as in all electrical systems upon the load (load here is the water)- a much higher voltage is needed in order to distribute the voltage gradient upon entire arc plasma length between electrodes in water- THUS- THE HIGH THE VOLTAGE- THE BETTER- within my website you will find a link to youtube showing my primitive experiment- BUT MAKE NO MISTAKE ABOUT THIS- THIS IS THE FIRST TIME EVER DONE BEFORE – I propose nuclear fusion of water/heavy water- my little experiment IS THE ROAD TO NUCLEAR FUSION- we must universally connect the dots- put two and two together- and conclude this- MY EXPERIMENT MUST BE REPEATED ON A LARGER SCALE- my system is a direct replacement of nuclear power plants particularly of the pressurized water reactor which uses heavy water already – a vessel already built for gamma radiation and other high energy flux which will emit with the plasma arc-

Power reactor in which the heat is dissipated from the core using highly pressurized water (about 160 bar) to achieve a high temperature and avoid boiling within the core. The cooling water transfers its heat to the secondary system in a steam generator. Example: Grohnde Nuclear Power Plant in Germany with an electrical output of 1,430 MW.

Replace the rod assemblies and use electrodes to conduct the Lightning bolt! High Voltage High frequency will create the magnetic pinch to slam the isotopes of hydrogen together which is bound in water- helium and oxygen are the outgassed products recaptured by expansion tanks-it is absolutely perfect!

_ I HAVE FOUND THE TRUE PURPOSE OF THE TESLA COIL- the answer was always in the lightning bolt- understanding of gamma bursts from lightning discharges have only been recently vindicated from satellite in late 90s—

CA 94305 United States
Said, R ( ) , STAR Lab, Electrical Engineering, 350 Serra Mall, Stanford, CA 94305 United States
Smith, D M ( ) , Physics Department and Santa Cruz Institute for Particle Physics, University of California, Santa Cruz, 1156 High Street, Santa Cruz, CA 95064 United States
Lopez, L I ( ) , Astronomy Department and Space Sciences Laboratory, University of California, Berkeley, CA 94720 United States

The observation of brief (<1 ms) bursts of intense γ-rays, the so-called Terrestrial Gamma-ray Flashes (TGFs), by the BATSE γ-ray experiment was one of the most unexpected discoveries by the Compton Gamma-Ray Observatory.

Let me try to give another analogy to make the point. think about striking a match, if all conditions are proper , one knows that to strike a match, you must go a minimum speed- you cannot strike the match too slowly- this is understood as more speed is more friction and thus more activation energy necessary to create combustion of the match material. the same applies to this fusion system, first, imagine my system as inside a pressurized water reactor used in fission plants- the moderator is already heavy water- we shall use it as the fuel. I have said the plasma arc looks exactly like our friend the electric lightning bolt- but I talk about in my pdf file- that the so called lightning bolt must be understood in regards to high voltage and frequency- just like the minimum speed needed for the match- so it is with the combination on high voltage and frequency to not only resonate with the dielectric molecule of heavy water- but more so- to create a minimum velocity upon charged particles in the fuel water. this velocity is also exhibiting itself as a magnetic field-think of the cathode ray scope- in a snap shot instant in time for analysis, look at when the maximum energy is being applied on a per strike basis of the input cycle- or shall we say the highest amplitude of the ac signal. if for example- an input energy of one megawatt was injected into the strike of the arc- a magnetic pinch shall be directed upon the charged particles in transit of the discharge- in a thermodynamic extraction process such as this – we need at least 5 times more energy out of the system to recoup our initial energy input- and a surplus for commercial energy supply- thus- via fusion of hydrogen to helium- with each strike- a minimum voltage and frequency SHALL give the minimum activation energy required for magnetic pinching and fusion of the isotopes of hydrogen. to increase the q of the reaction in this system- a magnetic toroid may be used around the plasma arc for increased efficiency= such as used in tokamak devices. I hope this analogy helps those who question this system- THANK YOU–

Here is a thought experiment for electromagnetic fusion with Einstein in mind

Pretend you are water-you are an oxygen atom- you are stable- you are noble- 8 protons-8 neutrons-and 8 electrons- there are only 5 magic shell nuclear elements of the periodic table- oxygen is one of them- it is very stable-

Therefore- you are stable and noble- you have no need for fusion- yet it could happen- but the probability of another element such as hydrogen and its isotopes would be made to fuse together in some kind of fashion mankind tries will occur way before oxygen does- – ok-so now you are this noble one and you have outstretched in your hands a hydrogen atom and or its isotope deuteron and you hold it out to mankind as a gift-

Man understands the gift of fusion for many years and is desperately trying to do such-

I propose electromagnetic fusion- I propose the BENNET pinch used in poloidal currents used in plasmas of tokomaks- but much further-

Here we go – the thought experiment- you are this oxygen atom with two hydrogen’s and you stand amongst your friends similar in nature. You are placed in a large vessel filled of your kind-now imagine that two walls opposing in this vessel are the plates of a capacitor- who cares what is applied to the capacitor plates (electrodes of system)-for all you know as a noble oxygen and the hydrogen you have in your hands is nothing more than the electric field upon the plates-

You are composed of charged particles- thus you will interact with the applied electric field of the plates-this is common electronics and electric knowledge-

However, I speak of dielectric breakdown- I speak of the lightning bolt- let us now assume we have made the capacitor plates oscillate at 1 million volts peak to peak as way of a tesla coil

Think of the electric field- everything will be controlled by this field- a dielectric breakdown will occur- and all discharge current will begin to flow and oscillate as a function of the applied voltage-

Now- you are in the heart of a lightning bolt- you who are noble as a oxygen probably lost all your valence electrons due to the magnitude of such a high electric field- every charged particle in transit of the discharge current is surely ionized and talks of being a complete water molecule should be erased- the state of this plasma current is nothing more than ionized hydrogen and oxygen and a complete sea of electrons-

Let us think first of the electrons- 1896 times smaller than protons- no question it will oscillate much faster as a function to the applied voltage- remember the cathode ray scope- basic physics also will say this charged particle will also have a magnetic field about itself because of the electric field that has driven it-thus- this oscillating electron current will have an intrinsic magnetic field

Let us now think of the protons- oxygen has 8 and surrounded by 8 neutrons and is far less likely for reaction than isotopes of hydrogen for fusion- this should merely be understood by refereeing to atomic tables of elements and known theory- but this hydrogen is a singly bound proton with mass one- unless we speak of a deuteron- it will also be controlled exactly the same way as the electron is affected by the external applied voltage- however- it is opposite to the electrons motion-and much slower by its mass – however-its magnetic field will add to that of the electrons- this is standard knowledge of magnetic field generation of charged particles by way of electric fields-

Thus, in this thought experiment- within this state of dielectric breakdown- I like to say the lightning bolt- can you now see the oscillation of the charged particles by such a large magnitude of the applied voltage plates- can you now see the probability at a certain moment in time- particularly when the applied ac signal is greatest- that all magnetic fields of charged particles in transit can have the power to be magnetically pinched-

Magnetics have push and pull- it is well known that high frequency causes a constriction upon electrical currents- whether in copper lines and forcing such to the surface- or in plasma and made use to constrict it – high frequency is known to constrict the currents- thus- do you see the forces I am referring to as this dielectric breakdown has occurred upon the most perfect fuel of the heavens- water- this oxygen atom holds the hydrogen for us- we shall apply a high voltage (high is relative- I have stated 750kv in the vicinity of the hydrogen for fusion- I come to this by way of understanding the beta decay of a free neutron- if it can disintegrate- it can come together- made into a deuteron- then made into helium)-

Thus –we make helium and oxygen is then unbound and must also be recaptured- this is easy in expansion tanks- the byproducts are helium and oxygen-truly noble-

To increase the q of this system- a simple toroidal magnet as used in tokamaks for plasma control may be used for additional pinching-

I hope this helps- however- you must always think of the applied electric field and its magnetic inducement upon the charged particles- we will stably run the Tesla coil upon the dielectric of water itself (more appropriately heavy water) and turn up the voltage for greater acceleration speeds and thus magnetic fields- we can control pressure in this vessel- we can control electrode spacing and so much more-

that is my thought experiment for you to understand it is my intention to use all input energy by way of oscillating a very large electric field which will induce the proper magnetic flux density in units of Tesla for a pinching- not established hot fusion whereby all energy input is chaotic and the probability of fusion comes by way of statistics from a gas equation- no- high voltage and high frequency in an orderly manner by the construction of a man made lightning bolt with controllable parameters inside an existing pressurized nuclear reactor- everything is off the shelf- the world will run on steam power again globally-from trains-factories-ships-and all power plants- I offer the Watt steam engine again- not with two sticks to make fire and boil the water- but electromagnetic fusion with two electrodes to induce fusion of hydrogen isotopes to boil water and make steam- it is absolutely perfect.

To the CEO’s of nuclear power plants-or pressurized coal fired- you have spare reactors in the back yards of your plants- take a 1 million volt tesla coil and do what I have said- you will measure its fusion reactions and you will conclude this – I have found the road to safe clean energy.

I speak plain science- please connect the dots and let us end this energy crisis for a world that desperately needs energy- May the light of God shine upon all our actions for the betterment of mankind

Solomon Sami Azar

sciencegeekgirl November 8, 2008 at 12:21 am

You’ve *got* to be kidding…

Ed Darrell March 29, 2009 at 1:55 am

OMG! Azar’s been at it for months! And here I thought he’d just stumbled onto my blog.

sciencegeekgirl March 29, 2009 at 5:36 am

OMG! Azar’s been at it for months! And here I thought he’d just stumbled onto my blog.

Frightening, isn’t it?

Bob Berenz March 20, 2011 at 12:27 pm

While most crackpots deserve the disdain they receive, they, at least, are bright enough to recognize the fact that modern physics is far from a codified and complete subject. According to main stream physicists themselves, Quantum Mechanics and Relativity conflict meaning there MUST be something wrong with one or both Theories.

There is little doubt that both Galileo and Newton were taught “facts”, facts they dispelled later in life; they challenged conventional wisdom in other words and are today applauded for their efforts. To automatically dismiss a proposal that challenges the usual lessons dishonor’s them. Most modern physicists began their voyage into physics while barely old enough to consume adult beverages and in many cases younger. Tyros do not know enough to challenge the facts their teachers pass on meaning they accept their lessons on faith. Even when a professor proves a concept experimentally, students operate off the assumption they are being told everything. In at least one situation, the experimental proof a teacher might provide for a particular basic physics principle relies on the failure to note something both quite real and measurable.
Something to consider: when a new observation suggests that our understanding of physics is wrong, the usual action is to “invent” new phenomena. Dark Matter and Dark Energy are recent examples. No one stops and says, “hmm, I wonder if this means there is something wrong with our understanding of gravity?” They do not because to do so is to commit professional suicide; no one wants to be called a crackpot.

Bob, the crackpot.

newtspeare October 18, 2011 at 12:45 am

Exactly right Bob. The enlightment is long past, and physics is now a religion where nonsense like time travel and multiple dimensions are mainstream, whilst questioning special relativity is a heresy sure to lead to eternal excommunication.

Actually I do have a mechanical and mathematical model for gravity that does away with dark matter, but my model of the universe does seem to contain a version of dark energy. I have also eliminated quarks, gluons and Higgs particles, with the fairly obvious alternative that all particles are merely collections of positive and negative charges. Of course no confirmed physicist could possibly entertain such an idea, but if you click on my name you will be taken to my blog which explains all.

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