Crank

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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[1] or "an unbalanced person who is overzealous in the advocacy of a private cause[2]", 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.

Contents

Attributes of a crank

Famed science and mathematics writer Martin Gardner cataloged what he believed were the common signs of a crank[3][4]. 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.[5]" 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."

Crank style

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.

Quotations

“A crank is someone with a new idea -- until it catches on.” - Mark Twain

References

  1. http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/crank
  2. http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/crank
  3. http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=hermits-and-cranks-lesson
  4. http://www.skepticblog.org/2010/07/08/martin-gardners-signs-of-a-crank/
  5. http://math.ucr.edu/home/baez/crackpot.html
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