Wednesday, September 22, 2010

The Classroom Astronomer: Crank Astronomy as a Teaching Tool

I have written an article based on my January 2010 AAS meeting poster (original post), titled “Crank Astronomy as a Teaching Tool”.   It has been published in the current (Fall 2010) issue of “The Classroom Astronomer”.

The main exercise in the article is the Electric Universe “Solar Resistor” model (see Electric Cosmos: The Solar Resistor Model and/or "The Electric Sky: Short-Circuited", pp 17-21) which I converted to a form suitable for analysis on a standard electronic spreadsheet. 

If there is enough interest, I hope to convert some more of the analyses on my sites into forms more appropriate for introductory physics and astronomy classes.


Ivan3man said...

I must say that Wikipedia's take on the "Common characteristics of cranks" is spot on:

1. Cranks overestimate their own knowledge and ability, and underestimate that of acknowledged experts;
2. Cranks insist that their alleged discoveries are urgently important;
3. Cranks rarely, if ever, acknowledge any error, no matter how trivial;
4. 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.

In addition, many cranks:

1. Seriously misunderstand the mainstream opinion to which they believe that they are objecting;
2. 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;
3. Compare themselves with Galileo or Copernicus [or Nikola Tesla], implying that the mere unpopularity of some belief is in itself evidence of plausibility;
4. Claim that their ideas are being suppressed, typically by secret intelligence organizations, mainstream science, powerful business interests, or other groups which, they allege, are terrified by the possibility of their revolutionary insights becoming widely known;
5. Appear to regard themselves as persons of unique historical importance.

Furthermore, cranks who contradict some mainstream opinion in some highly technical field, such as mathematics or physics, almost always:

1. Exhibit a marked lack of technical ability;
2. Misunderstand or fail to use standard notation and terminology;
3. Ignore fine distinctions which are essential to correctly understand mainstream belief.

Yep, that is exactly the sort of behaviour exhibited by "the usual suspects" here and on other science blogs!

W.T."Tom" Bridgman said...

See the Dunning-Kruger Effect.

I did small-computer software consulting/programming working my way through college. I was astonished how many company self-appointed 'computer experts' could not figure out how to solve problems, even when I would demonstrate it to them! Some of them arrogantly clung to their errors in spite of the evidence, and eventually ended up unemployed.

W.T."Tom" Bridgman said...

But then there's the counter-examples...

I have met some individuals strongly attached to various crank ideas who are clearly very bright. They seem to hold onto the crank ideas for reasons other than actual evidence. See Scientists, Eccentrics, Cranks and Crackpots

A number of very accomplished researchers, Newton, Einstein, many others, seem to 'go over the edge' in their later years.

Ivan3man said...

I note (from the link that you've provided) that the Dunning–Kruger effect studies are based on American test subjects, but similar studies on European subjects show marked muting of the effect, Also, studies on some East Asian subjects suggest that something like the opposite of the Dunning–Kruger effect operates on self-assessment and motivation to improve:

"Regardless of how pervasive the phenomenon is, it is clear from Dunning's and others' work that many Americans, at least sometimes and under some conditions, have a tendency to inflate their worth. It is interesting, therefore, to see the phenomenon's mirror opposite in another culture. In research comparing North American and East Asian self-assessments, Heine of the University of British Columbia finds that East Asians tend to underestimate their abilities, with an aim toward improving the self and getting along with others."

Whatever the reason for that, it's probably the same reason that creationism is so prevalent in the U.S.!

W.T."Tom" Bridgman said...

To Ivan3man,

Yes. The cultural difference is interesting. A reference to a similar study, where Americans led the world in self-assessed 'confidence', is mentioned in one of the trailers for the documentary "Waiting for 'Superman'".

Anonymous said...

The abstract of your paper/poster mentions "the 'Electric Universe' (a variation on Velikovsky's claims)".

This is highly misleading, as Velikovsky did not accept, for example, Ralph Juergens' "electric sun" (See Alfred de Grazia, Cosmic Heretics, p.228)

It doesn't help the criticism of "Crank astronomy" if the science is peppered with what could be misconstrued as a (guilty by) "association fallacy".

W.T."Tom" Bridgman said...

I've found that Velikovsky catastrophism seems to tag along in almost any EU-related discussion and some aspects EU were clearly influenced by Velikovsky. I'm sure some people following this blog could provide a link to a genealogy.

Alfven was not an Electric Sun supporters either as I have noted in this blog ("Electric Sun Verified"?? - In your dreams...). But in that case, I would say EU is trying to hijack credibility off Alfven.

ID also tries to claim they are not creationism. I even read one paper suggesting that the modern "Scientific Creationism" movement was inspired by "Worlds in Collision".

Anonymous said...

>>"I even read one paper suggesting that the modern "Scientific Creationism" movement was inspired by "Worlds in Collision"."

Me too, and I've also read similar about the Big Bang; Hannes Alfvén wrote:

"I was there when Abbe Georges Lemaître first proposed this theory," he recalls. Lemaître was, at the time, both a member of the Catholic hierarchy an accomplished scientist. He said in private that this theory was a way to reconcile science with St. Thomas Aquinas' theological dictum of creatio
ex nihilo
— creation out of nothing." -- Anthony L. Peratt in The World & I, "Dean of the Plasma Dissidents" (May 1988)

But neither of us are being scientific by throwing quotes around.

W.T."Tom" Bridgman said...

So you are now claiming that the Belief System (i.e, World View) determines the validity of the science? This is the core of many creationists arguments. It is also a prototypical ad hominem.

The issue with Lemaitre is not his religious beliefs, but the fact that he made a model that made computable predictions and was objectively testable. An objectively and mathematically testable model is something we have not seen from EU.

By your claim, we should also discount gravity since Newton had some creationist-type beliefs and Kepler was an astrologer!

See Science and Belief Systems

Anonymous said...

I said no such thing about the Belief System. It could be misinterpreted that you believe stuff about me that ain't true.

Anonymous said...

The thing is, Anonymous, that many EU proponents explicitly promote Velikovsky's ideas, or other catastrophist ones, as key parts of the EU ... and very few, if any, other EU proponents publicly disagree. So, it's not at all an association fallacy to explicitly link the EU with Velikovsky and related catastrophist claims; there's loads of objective, independently verifiable, evidence to support exactly such an association.

That there are a large number of acute internal contradictions in the EU (e.g. acceptance of Arp's ideas on redshift makes most of Peratt's published work on astrophysics - and even plasma physics - meaningless) is well-known; that few EU proponents even acknowledge these, much less state that they are highly problematic, is a pretty good sign that whatever the EU is, it is not science-based.


Ivan3man said...

APODNereid: "..., is a pretty good sign that whatever the EU is, it is not science-based."

Judging by the website and their obsession with Symbols of an Alien Sky, it "is a pretty good sign" that they are a Scientology-like cult!

Anonymous said...

APODNereid wrote: "many EU proponents explicitly promote Velikovsky's ideas, or other catastrophist ones".

Don't tar them all with the same brush. They are a diverse group with many individual agendas.

As non-scientists, it is no surprised that rhetoric is their main tool. Scientists should know better.

W.T."Tom" Bridgman said...

Velikovsky Info: Ralph Juergens

EU supporters upset with the historical connection of their ideas to Velikovsky are the same class of whiners as atheists upset that Big Bang cosmology was started by a priest (or even creationists upset with the the common ancestry of humans and apes). These are historical and scientific facts. Deal with it. If you want to argue about it, then visit a forum on historical revisionism. Such childish arguments do not belong here.

There is little point of continuing a discussion (scientific or otherwise) with someone who has their falsehoods exposed and then tries to deny the fact.

Anonymous said...

I'm sure you must have made a mistake, Anonymous, when you wrote this: "As non-scientists, it is no surprised that rhetoric is [EU proponents'] main tool."

You see, I've just finished writing a comment in which I quote Dave Smith, who is (apparently) a Site Admin of the TB forum. He is the author of guidelines and rules for that forum, and those include the word "scientific" many times; for example: "All posts to the scientific parts of the forum should be confined to properly constructed scientific arguments either supporting or challenging published Electric Universe theory." I added some bold.

Further, the Society for Interdisciplinary Studies - which has a close affiliation with the TB and Holoscience websites - explicitly seeks, as part of its PRINCIPAL OBJECT "to promote a multidisciplinary approach to, and specialised research into, scientific and scholarly problems inherent in the uniformitarian theories in astronomy and history, and thus to promote active consideration by scientists, scholars and students of alternatives to those theories." (Again, I added some bold)

But perhaps most surprising is that you commented on a thunderblog Tom cited (which clearly promotes EU ideas), saying that the author is a "qualified university astrophysicist" (or similar words)!

Maybe there is more than one Anonymous?