Thursday, September 16, 2010

The Crackpot Index and Social Cognition

The Crackpot Index
John Baez
A simple method for rating potentially revolutionary contributions to physics:
1. A -5 point starting credit.
2. 1 point for every statement that is widely agreed on to be false.
3. 2 points for every statement that is clearly vacuous.
4. 3 points for every statement that is logically inconsistent.
5. 5 points for each such statement that is adhered to despite careful correction.
6. 5 points for using a thought experiment that contradicts the results of a widely accepted real experiment.
7. 5 points for each word in all capital letters (except for those with defective keyboards).
8. 5 points for each mention of "Einstien", "Hawkins" or "Feynmann".
9. 10 points for each claim that quantum mechanics is fundamentally misguided (without good evidence).
10. 10 points for pointing out that you have gone to school, as if this were evidence of sanity.
11. 10 points for beginning the description of your theory by saying how long you have been working on it. (10 more for emphasizing that you worked on your own.)
12. 10 points for mailing your theory to someone you don't know personally and asking them not to tell anyone else about it, for fear that your ideas will be stolen.
13. 10 points for offering prize money to anyone who proves and/or finds any flaws in your theory.
14. 10 points for each new term you invent and use without properly defining it.
15. 10 points for each statement along the lines of "I'm not good at math, but my theory is conceptually right, so all I need is for someone to express it in terms of equations".
16. 10 points for arguing that a current well-established theory is "only a theory", as if this were somehow a point against it.
17. 10 points for arguing that while a current well-established theory predicts phenomena correctly, it doesn't explain "why" they occur, or fails to provide a "mechanism".
18. 10 points for each favorable comparison of yourself to Einstein, or claim that special or general relativity are fundamentally misguided (without good evidence).
19. 10 points for claiming that your work is on the cutting edge of a "paradigm shift".
20. 20 points for emailing me and complaining about the crackpot index. (E.g., saying that it "suppresses original thinkers" or saying that I misspelled "Einstein" in item 8.)
21. 20 points for suggesting that you deserve a Nobel prize.
22. 20 points for each favorable comparison of yourself to Newton or claim that classical mechanics is fundamentally misguided (without good evidence).
23. 20 points for every use of science fiction works or myths as if they were fact.
24. 20 points for defending yourself by bringing up (real or imagined) ridicule accorded to your past theories.
25. 20 points for naming something after yourself. (E.g., talking about the "The Evans Field Equation" when your name happens to be Evans.)
26. 20 points for talking about how great your theory is, but never actually explaining it.
27. 20 points for each use of the phrase "hidebound reactionary".
28. 20 points for each use of the phrase "self-appointed defender of the orthodoxy".
29. 30 points for suggesting that a famous figure secretly disbelieved in a theory which he or she publicly supported. (E.g., that Feynman was a closet opponent of special relativity, as deduced by reading between the lines in his freshman physics textbooks.)
30. 30 points for suggesting that Einstein, in his later years, was groping his way towards the ideas you now advocate.
31. 30 points for claiming that your theories were developed by an extraterrestrial civilization (without good evidence).
32. 30 points for allusions to a delay in your work while you spent time in an asylum, or references to the psychiatrist who tried to talk you out of your theory.
33. 40 points for comparing those who argue against your ideas to Nazis, stormtroopers, or brownshirts.
34. 40 points for claiming that the "scientific establishment" is engaged in a "conspiracy" to prevent your work from gaining its well-deserved fame, or suchlike.
35. 40 points for comparing yourself to Galileo, suggesting that a modern-day Inquisition is hard at work on your case, and so on.
36. 40 points for claiming that when your theory is finally appreciated, present-day science will be seen for the sham it truly is. (30 more points for fantasizing about show trials in which scientists who mocked your theories will be forced to recant.)
37. 50 points for claiming you have a revolutionary theory but giving no concrete testable predictions.
Baez, J. (n.d.). The Crackpot Index. Retrieved September 16, 2010, from

The Crackpot Index lists down 37 pointers that identifies someone as a “crackpot”, (Baez) it falls neatly into the role schemas as it is “organised knowledge about the expected behaviours of occupants of particular social positions” (Howard, 1995) where in this case it is academic positions. The term crackpot is used as a stereotype as it is clear from the ironic description of “potentially revolutionary contributions to physics” (Baez). It is meant to ridicule and to create laugher from the ironic treatment of the crackpots. “Role schemas are basis for stereotyping” (Howard, 1995).
Other than that, there is on point 8, “each mention of 'Einstien', 'Hawkins' or 'Feynmann'” (Baez) suggested that anyone who encourages the readers to use availability and representative heuristics can be considered crackpots. Availability heuristics happens when the public gets recent news about Hawking’s genius, and representative heuristics is obvious from the collections of geniuses in the list. It is quite appropriate as the heuristics are “mental shortcuts” (Howard, 1995) and in Physics, one is supposed to be able to derive from scratch the whole theory without relying on heuristics. Therefore one who overuses heuristics is suspicious in the eyes of Physicists. Someone who relies too much on others while presenting their own theory is most likely one who is out to find fame instead of finding the truth.
Point 21 and 34 can be explained by attribution theory where self serving bias is doing its work. When praising one's work, one says that one deserves a Noble Prize and when work fame does not go well, one blames a conspiracy blocking the work (instead of the work is wrong). This is also the fundalmental attribution error and whoever displays such error openly can be easily dismissed as “crackpots”.
Point 9, 18, 22, shows a base rate fallacy happening to the “crackpot”. Ignoring the many experimental evidences for Quantum Mechanics, General Relativity, and Classical Mechanics (Baez), the “crackpot” thinks the theories are wrong because physicists are struggling to unite them and yet still unsuccessful therefore the “crackpots” think that the base theories are wrong. The failure to take the numerous times when the base theories are correct and to refute them all just because of one difficulty is a base rate fallacy.
All in all, the crackpot index displays a lot of theories and skills from social cognition and is able to be studied by the concepts in social cognition. What we found out is that the crackpots are not only bad in physics but also bad in social cognitions skills. So bad are their theories that they resort to the various baises and heuristics to convince the readers of their theories instead of scientific rigour.
Baez, J. (n.d.). The Crackpot Index. Retrieved September 16, 2010, from
Baumeister, R. F. (1993). Conceptions of Self and Identity. In Fifty Years of Personality Psychology (pp. 177-186). New York: Plenum Press.
Howard, J. A. (1995). Social Cognition. In Sociological Perspectives on Social Psychology (pp. 90-117). Boston: Allyn & Bacon.
O'Brien, B. (n.d.). Skandha. Retrieved September 16, 2010, from Buddhism:

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