I’ve started thinking about my next book. I’m not at the writing stage, or even the research stage; more like the brainstorming stage. I’ve been thinking a lot about crackpottery lately. Because I’ve been doing so much popular science writing and interacting with the public, I’ve started to realize that there’s an element of modern science, and physics, in particular, which seems like we’re making things up. I’m looking at you, string theory. The problem is that when science is explained in terms of plausibility arguments rather than with any rigor, it seems like any old thing might be correct, and who are we to believe one thing rather than another?
I’ve even started keeping unsolicited manuscripts and papers. It’s too easy to criticize non-specialists for the fact that their papers make no sense — well, not too easy; I plan on doing a bit of that. But I’m more interested in professional crackpot-ism. That is, the information is out there, a scientist could have known better, but decided to publish some crazy theory anyway because it was more in accord with their thinking about how the universe should work. Even the greatest thinkers (Newton, Einstein, Lowell) weren’t immune to this.
Do you have any favorites? Who should I look into?
By the way, it’s no fair simply taking potshots at the ancients. There’s nothing wrong with saying the world is made of 4 elements when you’ve got no real theory or way of figuring out what the world really was made of.