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So, you've got a new theory...


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(A collection of some thoughts brought on by recent posts and posters. Some of these are touched upon in the FAQ and Pseudoscience section, and these sentiments can be found on other science fora)


If you think you've toppled relativity, quantum mechanics, evolution or some other theory with your post, think again. Theories that have been around for a while have lots of evidence to back them up. It is far more likely that you have missed something.


Here are some things to consider:


  1. You have to back your statements up with evidence.
  2. Anecdotes are not evidence.
  3. Being challenged to present evidence is not a personal attack.
  4. Calling the people in who challenge you "brainwashed" or "stupid" does not further your argument. Neither does throwing a tantrum.
  5. Published research (peer-reviewed) is more credible than the alternative. But peer-review is not perfect.
  6. When you have been shown to be wrong, acknowledge it.
  7. Just because some paper or web site agrees with you does not mean that you are right. You need evidence.
  8. Just because some paper comes to the same conclusion as you does not mean your hypotheses are the same.
  9. Provide references when you refer to the work of others. Make sure the work is relevant, and quotes are in the proper context.
  10. Disagreeing with you does not make someone "closed-minded." "Thinking outside the box" is not a substitute for verifiable experimental data.
  11. Mainstream science is mainstream because it works, not because of some conspiracy. If you think you have an alternative, you have to cover all the bases - not just one experiment (real or gedanken). One set of experimental results that nobody has been able to reproduce is insufficient.
  12. Respect is earned. People who are resident experts, mods and administrators have earned those titles.
  13. Be familiar with that which you are criticizing. Don't make up your own terminology, and know the language of the science. A theory is not a guess.
  14. If nothing will convince you your viewpoint is wrong, you aren't doing science. That's religion.
  15. All theories are of limited scope. Just because a theory does not address some point you want it to does not automatically mean it's wrong.
  16. Not understanding a concept, or discovering that it's counterintuitive, does not make it wrong. Nature is under no obligation to behave the way you want it to.
  17. You are entitled to your own opinion, but you are not entitled to your own facts. Science cares very little about your opinion, as it has little relevance to the subject.
  18. If you want to be taken seriously, you have to address criticism of your viewpoint.

Edited by Cap'n Refsmmat
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  • 1 year later...
  • 5 years later...

It's human nature to categorize people, and if you're introducing a new subject for discussion — some new, possibly untested idea that is not part of the standard curriculum of science — you don't want to be classified as a crackpot.


Here is some the behavior you must avoid.


1. Vocabulary


Crackpots misuse terminology, especially terms like theory, or dogma. You don't want to be the one who proclaims "it's only a theory" or "you're being dogmatic" and make it clear you don't know the definitions of the words. Unless your posts actually get redacted, don't claim "censorship," either, unless you want peoples' irony meters to explode. You also don't want to get caught making up new jargon, especially not terms you've named after yourself.


2. Background knowledge


Crackpots generally have little grasp of the theories they are critiquing and/or are unaware of the breadth and depth of experimental knowledge that exists (which often leads to the building of straw man arguments). Few things will get you dismissed faster than stating a claim that is trivially found to be false. Nobody will take the guy who proposes that the moon is made of cheese seriously.



3. You need Evidence


Crackpots generally don't understand what is acceptable as evidence and often make assertions which they treat as facts. In a science discussion, evidence means scientifically-obtained data rather than anecdotes or assertions. And evidence is king. The only way to test your idea is to compare it to nature; it doesn't matter how logical it is to anyone — if it disagrees with actual experiment it's not correct.



4. Smoke and mirrors are no substitute for evidence


Crackpots will often try and sidestep the question of evidence either by appealing to some conspiracy or engaging in personal attacks. Any excuse to follow up on a comment that leads away from the demand for evidence will be seized upon. Even the demand for evidence will often be viewed as a personal attack.


Worse than this is when they go on the offensive and claim science is a religion, often coupled with the vocabulary issue mentioned above (dogma).


5. Don't act like you are the smartest person in the room


You aren't going to dazzle the audience with your brilliance. If people can't understand what you are talking about, they aren't going to simply accept it as true. If you avoid the tough questions, or your response is to simply repeat your points, people will notice that you are dodging. Don't compare yourself to Galileo or Einstein. While it's possible that you are smarter than any single member of the audience, it's unlikely that you are smarter than all of the audience put together.



6. Speak the language


One of the most common attributes of a crackpot is the unwillingness to express things mathematically. If you can't do the math, you are attacking the problem with an exceedingly dull instrument. Math is precise and has a very high information density — it is very powerful. Descriptive language is a poor substitute. At the other end of the spectrum is the numerologist, who works with a lot of numbers but doesn't connect them to reality in any scientifically meaningful way; there is no link to any mechanism or scientific model.

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  • 1 year later...

Ran across another site that has some good material




Scroll down to "I have a new theory of the Universe". Most of it applies here; there are a few specific astrophysics comments, such as the specific test questions.


discussion of this can take place here

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  • 10 months later...

As an expansion of "vocabulary" in post #3: you can't co-opt terminology from the branch of science you're discussing and have any hope of communication without causing an immense amount of frustration with your audience. If the terms you are using are already defined, using the term with some new, custom definition simply isn't going to work. Learning the standard nomenclature is your burden, it is not incumbent upon the scientific community to learn your unique definition of words that are already in widespread use.




As a reminder, while certain announcement threads like this are locked, discussions of them exist in unlocked threads you can find by searching, or you can start a new thread.

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