Crank (also known as a crackpot or kook) is the pejorative term for a person who hold beliefs or views that run contradictory to prevailing theories. While dictionaries may define a crank as "overly enthusiastic about a particular subject or activity or "an unbalanced person who is overzealous in the advocacy of a private cause", it is generally reserved for persons who hold radical ideas well outside of the mainstream in the areas of science and technology. While the term "quack" is used solely for a person who holds such views pertaining to the field of medicine.
Attributes of a crank
Famed science and mathematics writer Martin Gardner cataloged what he believed were the common signs of a crank. First Gardner notes "...most important of these traits is that cranks work in almost total isolation from their colleagues" and that "a second characteristic of the [crank], which greatly strengthens his isolation, is a tendency toward paranoia." In addition Gardner highlighted some of the following characteristics:
- Overestimation of one's own intelligence, knowledge, or proficiency.
- Underestimation of the intelligence of critics and peers
- Belief there is a conspiracy to either suppress their ideas or artificially bolster the prevailing idea.
- A tendency to attack the most well-established scientists and scientific theories.
Mathematician John Baez developed a list of attributes known as the Crackpot Index which he bills as "A simple method for rating potentially revolutionary contributions to physics." The index contains a list of statements for the reader to consider, and assigns a point value to each item the reader agrees with. The more points accumulated, the more of a "crackpot" the reader is in the author's eyes. Some of the items include:
- "...claim that special or general relativity are fundamentally misguided (without good evidence)."
- "...arguing that a current well-established theory is "only a theory", as if this were somehow a point against it."
- "...offering prize money to anyone who proves and/or finds any flaws in your theory."
- "...claiming you have a revolutionary theory but giving no concrete testable predictions."
Cranks often employ similar tactics during debate. These tactics may consist of, but are by no means limited to:
- Routinely ignores the finer points that are prerequisite to understanding the mainstream theory.
- Failure to use standard methods of notation or terminology.
- Attempt to redefine established terminology.
- Ignore all evidence that is presented that contradicts their own hypothesis.
“A crank is someone with a new idea -- until it catches on.” - Mark Twain