Daniel Barnes

Common characteristics of cranks

Recommended Posts

Apropos of a recent OL commenter mistaking typical science jargon for pseudoscience, I was reminded of this good Wiki entry on the characteristics of pseudoscience cranks, and post a chunk of it for future reference.

The second book of the philosopher and popular author Martin Gardner was a study of crank beliefs, Fads and Fallacies in the Name of Science. More recently, the mathematician Underwood Dudley has written a series of books on mathematical cranks, including The Trisectors, Mathematical Cranks, and Numerology: Or, What Pythagoras Wrought. And in a 1998 UseNet post, the mathematician John Baez humorously proposed a "checklist", the Crackpot index, intended to "diagnose" cranky beliefs regarding contemporary physics.[1]

According to these authors, virtually universal characteristics of cranks include:

• Cranks overestimate their own knowledge and ability, and underestimate that of acknowledged experts.

• Cranks insist that their alleged discoveries are urgently important.

• Cranks rarely if ever acknowledge any error, no matter how trivial.

• Cranks love to talk about their own beliefs, often in inappropriate social situations, but they tend to be bad listeners, and often appear to be uninterested in anyone else's experience or opinions.

Some cranks exhibit a lack of academic achievement, in which case they typically assert that academic training in the subject of their crank belief is not only unnecessary for discovering "the truth", but actively harmful because they believe it "poisons" the minds by teaching falsehoods. Others greatly exaggerate their personal achievements, and may insist that some alleged achievement in some entirely unrelated area of human endeavor implies that their cranky opinion should be taken seriously. Some cranks claim vast knowledge of any relevant literature, while others claim that familiarity with previous work is entirely unnecessary; regardless, cranks inevitably reveal that whether or not they believe themselves to be knowledgeable concerning relevant matters of fact, mainstream opinion, or previous work, they are not in fact well-informed concerning the topic of their belief. In addition, many cranks seriously misunderstand the mainstream opinion to which they believe that they are objecting, stress that they have been working out their ideas for many decades, and claim that this fact alone entails that their belief cannot be dismissed as resting upon some simple error, compare themselves with Galileo or Copernicus, implying that the mere unpopularity of some belief is in itself evidence of plausibility, claim that their ideas are being suppressed by secret intelligence organizations, mainstream science, powerful business interests, or other groups which, they allege, are terrified by the possibility of their allegedly revolutionary insights becoming widely known, appear to regard themselves as persons of unique historical importance.

Cranks who contradict some mainstream opinion in some highly technical field, such as mathematics or physics, almost always exhibit a marked lack of technical ability, misunderstand or fail to use standard notation and terminology, ignore fine distinctions which are essential to correctly understanding mainstream belief.

That is, cranks tend to ignore any previous insights which have been proven by experience to facilitate discussion and analysis of the topic of their cranky claims; indeed, they often assert that these innovations obscure rather than clarify the situation. In addition, cranky scientific "theories" do not in fact qualify as theories as this term is commonly understood within science. For example, crank "theories" in physics typically fail to result in testable predictions, which makes them unfalsifiable and hence unscientific.Perhaps surprisingly, many cranks may appear quite normal when they are not passionately expounding their cranky belief, and they may even be successful in careers unrelated to their cranky belief. Others can (charitably) be characterized as underachievers in all walks of life.

Edited by Daniel Barnes

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Oh how pathetic. You can't win an argument so you post an insult instead. And to the wrong thread too.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Oh how pathetic. You can't win an argument so you post an insult instead. And to the wrong thread too.

No. Your comments did remind me of this, but I thought it was a useful stand-alone post because the ARI attitude to modern science occasionally comes up as a topic on this forum. The comparison between the ARI attitude and the description of "crank" science here is instructive.

Additionally, you do seem to have mistaken typical scientific jargon for pseudoscience on that thread, so it's not an insult. It's simply a fact.

Edited by Daniel Barnes

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Oh how pathetic. You can't win an argument so you post an insult instead. And to the wrong thread too.

No. Your comments did remind me of this, but I thought it was a useful stand-alone post because the ARI attitude to modern science occasionally comes up as a topic on this forum. The comparison between the ARI attitude and the description of "crank" science here is instructive.

Additionally, you do seem to have mistaken typical scientific jargon for pseudoscience on that thread, so it's not an insult. It's simply a fact.

Crank is typically just an epithet that frightened people in the mainstream who have no counter-argument fling at someone outside the mainstream. It might apply to crazy people, it might apply to people ahead of their time. I'm sure Ayn Rand was called a crank plenty of times. I don't have any respect for that term or for those who fling it around in the place of good arguments.

Shayne

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Crank is typically just an epithet that frightened people in the mainstream who have no counter-argument fling at someone outside the mainstream.

Well, I'd certainly agree that what we want are good arguments and good evidence. But these are not, unfortunately, the typical characteristics of cranks!

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Crank is typically just an epithet that frightened people in the mainstream who have no counter-argument fling at someone outside the mainstream. It might apply to crazy people, it might apply to people ahead of their time. I'm sure Ayn Rand was called a crank plenty of times. I don't have any respect for that term or for those who fling it around in the place of good arguments.

Shayne

I wasn't going to post much, if at all anymore. I'm a bit tired of the skewed signal to noise ratio, but this is good stuff. Very funny! Just gotta say that's comedy gold right there...

Bob

PS: and look at his sig line - this is a beautiful thing (I'm gettin' all choked up over here....)

Edited by Bob_Mac

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
I wasn't going to post much, if at all anymore. I'm a bit tired of the skewed signal to noise ratio, but this is good stuff. Very funny! Just gotta say that's comedy gold right there...

http://www.objectivistliving.com/forums/in...amp;#entry14747

It's good having someone like you on the OTHER side of the issue.

Shayne

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
http://www.objectivistliving.com/forums/in...amp;#entry14747

It's good having someone like you on the OTHER side of the issue.

Shayne

Oh no, I think I've been exposed as not entirely pro-Rand!

Edit: And I think a better definition of 'know-it-all' is the guy that attempts to incompetently attack another on a subject that he clearly has vastly inferior knowledge but doesn't have the sense to understand that reality. That would be -you- criticising -Dragonfly- wrt science/physics in case you're having trouble following....

Edited by Bob_Mac

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Edit: And I think a better definition of 'know-it-all' is the guy that attempts to incompetently attack another on a subject that he clearly has vastly inferior knowledge but doesn't have the sense to understand that reality. That would be -you- criticising -Dragonfly- wrt science/physics in case you're having trouble following....

The best way to make me look the fool is to answer my simple question in the other thread. But you can't because I'm right and the know-nothings know it, which is why a special thread was created to drop the context there and just attack me. You're pathetic.

Shayne

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Apropos of a recent OL commenter \

mistaking typical science jargon for pseudoscience, I was reminded of this good Wiki entry on the characteristics of pseudoscience cranks, and post a chunk of it for future reference.

Jargon is (or has become) a loaded word. "Terminology" would be a better choice.

Every field has a specialized terminology. It is not there to obfuscate discussion but to make discussion precise.

Ba'al Chatzaf

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Yes, jargon is a pejorative term most of the time, and implies the terminology is unnecessary, pretentious, or obfuscating. If one is defending a particular usage, it is better to simply call it terminology. It's kind of like the distinction between childish and childlike.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Join the conversation

You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.

Guest
Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.

Loading...