Last month, a friend pointed me to an article entitled, "In Physics, Telling Cranks from Experts Ain't Easy". It's true. Here is my response:
Anyone who advances the frontiers of human knowledge
must, almost by definition, be "heretical" to some extent (according to
the common wisdom of the day). But that does not imply that all (or
most, or even any) wild theories are therefore correct. Most are just
imaginary; many are plausible but wrong; some may have more than a grain
of truth; finding the very few that change our understanding of some
important aspect of our world is a very important, and extremely
difficult, task. I am not aware of any reliable means to accomplish
So we rely on proxies, any of which may fail: Does this
person have relevant credentials (education, professional experience,
peer reviewed publications, endorsements, etc.)? Has this person
distinguished him/herself in this or a related field previously? Does
this person stand to financially profit by this assertion (patents, getting paid by
companies/special interest groups, etc.)? Is the person mentally stable?
those that get through these (arbitrary, perhaps useful) filters, read
the details of the hypothesis closely. Is it coherent? Does it make sense? Is it
self-consistent? Are its promised results readily observed?
If so, test them in more detail. If that passes, replicate. Eventually, adopt it into the generally accepted view of the world.
Then repeat with new outlandish hypotheses.
problem is that it takes time and energy to validate claims; which ones
do you look at? If none, we'll never progress - new advances require
challenging existing assumptions. If all, we'll never progress - the
number of cranks out there exceeds the number of qualified professionals
(and the effort required to come up with a potentially revolutionary theory is usually less than the effort required to [in]validate it).
It's a perennial problem.