How can I be a more awesome crackpot?

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Have you resolved this New Year to reveal your Theory of Everything to the scientific world, but aren't sure how to do it in a maximally off-putting and confusing way? In this week's "Ask a Physicist," we'll find out how.

Top image: Vlue, via Shutterstock.

Let me begin by saying that the vast, vast majority of the emails and questions I get are really good. But every now and again, I'll get an email where the implied question (if there is any) isn't so much,"Is this theory any good?" but:

How can my crackpot theory be more awesome?

While I've gotten a few that admit of no correction whatsoever, there are a few that still need a bit of work before making it to crackpot greatness.


As a public service (and as a bit of a respite after my last few relatively hardcore columns), let me tell you what separates the great crackpots from the also-rans.


Image by Péter Gudella, via Shutterstock.

Brownie points will be given to the resulting crackpot theory that most completely incorporates these lessons:

  1. Ed Witten desperately wants to know what you have to say. The best, most audacious letters I've seen have been sent not only to me, but cc'd to some of the most prominent physicists in the field. Come to think of it, I wonder if the Nobel has some sort of listserv. You should probably look into that.
  2. Who wouldn't respect the kind of boldness that proclaims, "Nobel laureates will disregard their entire careers in favor of my hastily-scrawled equation-free manifesto?"
  3. And be persistent. My spam filter might inadvertently prevent me from reading your manuscript the first time, so make sure you send it at least once a week, and address your email as though I had somehow subscribed to your newsletter.
  4. While we're on the topic of the opening, it's best to remember that addressing your reader directly or giving any sort of reasonable introduction are over-rated. Jump in right away. Context is for chumps. For example, "All particles are held together by goblins." Who am I to argue?
  5. And keep up that pace throughout. Don't allow any time for direct introspection. Your sentences should either be eight words or fewer; either that or the better part of a page. If you repeat short phrases (like "All particles are held together by goblins") like a mantra, your audience will eventually come to see your point.
  6. MS Paint figures will really bring your point home. Have a theory about how all fundamental particles work, but don't have the time to actually learn string theory or even the standard model? No problem. Just illustrate your point with, say, this:

Image Credit: Me

  1. Shoot for the moon! Why simply worry about the details when you can make your entire theory an indictment of relativity, quantum mechanics, or the standard model? In this case, it's important to strike the proper tone. Relativity should be treated as though it's the ramblings of some dude at a party and not, for example, one of the most successful physical theories ever, and one that has passed every observational and experimental test thrown at it for a century.
  2. One of my personal favorite crackpots (and one who quotes my column liberally and with great anger) seems to take his vengeance against Einstein to a whole other level. I think Einstein must have run over this guy's puppy or something. Remember, nothing will further your own argument more than proposing that the greatest thinker of the 20th century was a plagiarist and a fraud.

Image by Alexey Stiop, via Shutterstock.

Any theory that doesn't explain everything, explains nothing. We haven't detected the Higgs particle yet? We don't know what dark matter or dark energy is? That's because the standard model is completely wrong. There's an observation of dubious significance which contradicts every other experiment? It is so obvious that everyone else has screwed up.


Remember: Your theory is literally the only correct thing that has ever been written or thought by a human mind. Seriously, people who are foolish enough to actually believe that the orthodox view has gotten anything right are just a bunch of sheeple. You should not only explain all of the flaws in the standard model, but promise to provide design specs for a sentient robot, a perpetual motion machine, and a time machine.

  1. Evince a tone of paranoia. Refuse to show your detailed work out of a fear of plagiarism. Describe past perceived injustices and cases where your work was derived or worse yet, ignored. In fact, it might really bring the whole "unappreciated genius" to the fore if you include the classic Galileo quote:

    In questions of science, the authority of a thousand is not worth the humble reasoning of a single individual.

    Though the "humble" part is, of course, implied.

    Invent your own language. I cannot stress this enough. The disadvantage of arguing with scientists in their own language is that they know what words mean and how to turn things like "sentences" into other things like "equations." But if you simply invent, or even better, re-purpose words for your own use, how can you possibly be refuted? I'd personally recommend "flux" a lot and adding "-ons" to the end of words not generally associated with physics. Hell, why not try "fluxons"? (which is actually a thing, but if you truly believe, it can mean anything you want!)

    Have a kick-ass manuscript. This should generally include a pdf of no less than a 100 pages which spells out your theory in full, is replete with equations that resemble well-known equations, but with subtle sub- and super-scripts that are never explained. Not long ago, I received a manuscript with this as the first equation:

    iEi=imi CLC2

    Sure, I could guess what they were trying to get at, but the little extra details left me doubting myself... and ultimately everything I thought was true.

    If possible, you should use the notation, where applicable, from 100 year old papers rather than the contemporary versions that people are well aware of. Even better, argue against mistakes from the original paper, even if it was recanted or corrected 99 years ago.


Practice your craft in the comments section below, and I look forward to seeing you in Stockholm.

Dave Goldberg would like to suggest that an excellent way to rid yourself of those pesky holiday giftcards is through the purchase of his book with Jeff Blomquist, "A User's Guide to the Universe: Surviving the Perils of Black Holes, Time Paradoxes, and Quantum Uncertainty." Follow him on twitter, facebook or his blog, and most definitely ask him questions. He is an Associate Professor of Physics at Drexel University.