Sunday, August 4, 2013

Dr. David Dixon: Pathological Physics: Tales from "The Box"

An excellent talk by Dr. David Dixon of California Polytechnic describing his explorations into pseudo-science was recently brought to my attention.

BoingBoing: Amateur Scientists vs. Cranks
Slides for the presentation are available here.

Dr. Dixon covers a number of topics also covered in this blog such as cranks and the Dunning-Kruger effect (Wikipedia, RationalWiki, SkepticBlog).

He classifies cranks into three 'Primary Colors': 
1) Crazy. 
2) Naive. 
3) Stubborn.
And like primary colors, these can be mixed to cover other types of cranks.

He also raised the question of why so many cranks have an engineering background.

But best of all, he emphasized why we should teach about crank science:
  • Crank science is a training tool for future scientists, and for a science-literate public.  I've discussed this before and regard it as one of the primary goals of my efforts in this blog.
  • It is important to deal with misconceptions before they become permanently ingrained in the thinking.
Related to Dr. Dixon's mention of some conferences organized by and for crank science claims, one person in the audience asked why the cranks don't criticize each others theories at these conferences.  Dr. Dixon noted that the cranks seem incapable of questioning the theories of other cranks.  I suspect the reason for this is that the cranks recognize that they would quickly destroy each other so they adopt a 'no criticism' stand. 

In the crank community, science is treated more like the 'critiques' in literature or philosophy classes with no real WRONG answer, where as math and science DO have right and wrong answers.  This would explain why the cranks whine and complain so much about how they're treated by real scientists when criticism of other theories is EXPECTED in the real scientific community.

Other topics mentioned in the talk.
In a followup post, I'll deal with some of the claims made by an Electric Universe supporter in the comments.

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