This notion that we can “debunk” everything that a person ever said based upon their weakest claims is very problematic. There has never been a perfect theorist, and neither should we demand it. Making mistakes is part of the learning process.
The idea that cranks are the only problem we face ignores the problem of dogmatism in science, which is far harder to observe and recognize. There is no sense to focusing exclusively upon cranks without also talking about the dogmatism, for the public is caught in the middle of both threats. When cranks become the focus of the conversation, it tends to direct skepticism away from conventional theory. Some would call this pseudo-skepticism, for we have sufficient reason to be skeptical of all claims in science. Pseudo-skepticism is skepticism without philosophy; it’s ideologically-driven skepticism.
There are very likely mistakes within our theories. Those of us who read press releases with a critical eye and an awareness of at least another competing paradigm, and who understand what an ad hoc model is, can see that cosmology and astrophysics – in particular – are struggling to explain what we are observing. This is actually part of what keeps so many cranks coming to those disciplines.
If you and others want to think that a 4% universe is a success story, then be prepared to live with that until your time is up. Some of us think that we can do better by starting from scratch, with a paradigm which is designed to fit modern observations which Einstein and the others were never even aware of. A lot has happened in the last 100 years. You’ve never bought 4% of a product; so, why is it enough to base a worldview upon? The resources that have already been thrown at the dark matter/energy problems are really quite astounding.
Part of the value of the Internet is in the long tail. Science has a long tail just like commerce. There are some good ideas embedded into it. It’s not all nonsense. However, the mere thought of wading through it causes some people to simply reject the entire tail. And yet, many realize that the importance of the tail is on the rise. It’s what makes the Internet special, and it’s why the Internet disrupts business models. Rather than reject it’s introduction to the world of science, we should devise systems which facilitate its mining.
Cosmology is the most empirically-challenged discipline of science, and it frequently resorts to metaphysical (metaphysics = “beyond science”) claims to make its case. There is no sense to treating it with the same level of confidence as a laboratory science.
A creation event is no less a creation event just because it happened 14 billion years ago. Creation events placed into models eventually become fudge factors. Once they become accepted as beyond questioning, they will then predictably be adjusted as necessary to simply make the model work. How many times, for instance, has the date of the Big Bang creation had to be adjusted?
The bulk of the crank phenomenon is very possibly an artifact of a dysfunctional educational process which invites students to memorize science as a collection of unrelated factoids. When people immerse themselves within the concepts, history and philosophy of science, and learn how those concepts are related to one another, meaningful opinions are possible about highly complex subjects like cosmology and astrophysics.
Those who imagine that they can decide controversies without actually engaging them are using non-scientific methodologies to judge scientific controversies. The human mind is most fundamentally a difference engine; it judges ideas on the basis of how much they differ from existing beliefs. Prediction serves an important purpose; it keeps us alive and healthy. But, science is a process of evaluating claims without bias towards our gut instinct expectations. The process that so effectively keeps us alive can also interfere with our ability to judge scientific claims.
It’s absolutely vital that those who go to the effort online of disagreeing with a theory should have also put some reasonable amount of effort into understanding what the theory says. If you don’t have a pretty good idea about what is being claimed, then you have no meaningful way of actually knowing if the theory you’re arguing against is succeeding or not. Learning about only the conventional theories does not qualify you to disagree with a completely different paradigm, and arguing against every idea which disagrees with conventional wisdom is not a philosophical approach, because you are bound to eventually be wrong.
Agreement is really quite overrated. Uncertainty cannot be completely eradicated, and neither should we think that this is the goal within an uncertain domain like cosmology. Learning to live with uncertainty is imperative if we wish to possess accurate beliefs, for critical thinkers are tasked with considering and evaluating many different competing ideas. There exists value to both breadth and depth of knowledge. If you know about something that I don’t know about, I’ll listen to you talk about it.
Do people really consider these to be the signs of somebody who has lost touch with reality? If the BoingBoing community prefers to align itself with whatever is conventional in science, so be it. I’m not here to force myself upon people. I’m here to critically think about science.