Monday, July 6, 2009
There is a dirty little secret that scientists in the physics community field know all too well. It seems that physics conferences, seminars and symposiums tend to attract a small, but quite visible contingent of physics crackpots. These are individuals, many times with modest academic credentials and no real research experience, who show up at the various events in order to spread their half-baked theories that at best stretch scientific fact, and at worst are pure fantasy.
I had my introduction to these neer do wells of the physics academic scene when I attended the Pacific Coast Gravity Meeting (PCGM) at Caltech in March 2007. There were several crackpots in the audience who were also on the schedule of attendees making 15 minute presentations to the group. Actually, anyone could make a presentation without qualification.
One particular crackpot stood out. Aside from being a charlatan, he had the distinction of affronting me personally while standing in the coffee line during a break earlier in the morning (he became known to me as “button man” for unsavory reasons that will be left unsaid). His name was Alexander Mayer, and he claimed to have singlehandedly developed a new cosmological model and corresponding modification to Einstein’s relativity. Now that’s chutzpah! At the conclusion of his presentation, evidently the physics community is very tolerant of crackpots because they politely applauded regardless of their academic opinion of his theories. Here is Mayer’s website which offers his book describing these theories as a free download - www.jaypritzker.org. You’ll notice that he claims affiliation with the Pritzker Family foundation for funding his research. Some time ago I took it upon myself to contact Dr. Leon Lederman, Nobel Laureate in Physics and who is the Pritzker Professor of Science and he never heard of Mayer. He claims to have graduated with a bachelor’s degree from MIT and does have an MIT Alumni e-mail address, but it remains to be seen whether he actually has a degree.
Another gentleman at the Gravity Meeting stood out as more of a wacky, mad-scientist type. I had a bird’s eye view because I was sitting in the row right behind him. He was rotund, disheveled, hair tousled, and complete with a prominent plumber’s crack I wish I hadn’t witnessed. He covered his seat and surrounding area with papers and old-fashioned overhead slides (all other presenters used Powerpoint). When his name was called to make his presentation, he lumbered down the steps to the podium and proceeded to make a numbingly senseless and rambling talk. His slides were nothing original, just re-prints of other people’s papers in a font nobody could read. It was excruciating to watch.
Since the Gravity Meeting, I’ve been on the lookout for other crackpots. One in particular who seems to have some deep pockets by the size of the color, full-page ads he continues to run in major science publications like Science News is Terrance Witt. He’s a retired entrepreneur who has funded a million dollar ad campaign. Witt’s vision of grandeur includes his Null Physics theory that he claims to be a grand unifying theory, something the global physics community (including Einstein) has been trying to come up with for nearly a century. Witt holds a BSEE degree from Oregon State University. Witt’s website is found at - www.nullphysics.org.
Fortunately, the bonafide scientific community on occasion writes in-depth reviews of the crackpot’s pseudo mathematics and theories. Here is an excellent rebuttal to Witt’s theories by UCSB particle physics professor Benjamin Monreal: Null Physics Review . Reading this rebuttal is like watching those “Gottch-ya!” consumer reports on TV where the reporter catches fraudulent auto repair shops.
I spotted another physics crackpot running a small display ad in The Tech, MIT’s student newspaper. The ad is for a book “Uncommon Knowledge,” and proclaims a “new science of gravity, light, the origin of life, and the mind of man.” Whew! Imagine all that from one book, move over Bible and Koran. The ad goes on to tout new subatomic “spheritons” that conduct gravity and light. The author, whose name is never mentioned on this website, proclaims that the Theory of Relativity is invalid. Check out the site at: www.spheritons.com. The author claims to have a Ph.D. but in business economics. The next time I talk to my banker, I’ll ask him about his own theory of quantum gravity!
A few other physics crackpots were identified to me by a scientist who took it upon himself to expose the crackpots. Here is a short list he provided me: www.foundationphysics.com, www.jeromedrexler.org, and www.frankhatchiii.com. If anyone knows of other crackpots, please post a comment here. Physics, ya got to love it!