Monday, October 09, 2006

String Theory, Loop Quantum Gravity, and the Crackpot Index


Years ago, John Baez compiled the Crackpot Index to give the misguided visionaries among us some idea of just how crazy we are. Any positive score is bad, but if you're pounding the pavement trying to promote a new theory, you should take the test. The index includes thirty seven criteria, each worth from -5 to 50 points. The higher your score the more you should consider seeking professional help.

Just for kicks, I thought I would see what sorts of scores String Theory and Loop Quantum Gravity would get. Bear in mind that I don't know enough about either one of these theories to have my own opinion. I'm only evaluating them based on how they look to a naive outsider like me (and a lot of regular folks watching from the sidelines).

Here's John's abreviated Crackpot Index with a running total for String Theory (ST) and Loop Quantum Gravity (LQG). . .

In the interest of saving space, I only include the criteria that earn points for one theory or the other. Visit John Baez's full Crackpot Index page if you're wondering what I left out.

1. A -5 point starting credit.

Thanks John. I think we'll need them.
ST=-5, LQG=-5


3. 2 points for every statement that is clearly vacuous.

This is a tough one. Some folks on either side might make the claim against multiple parts of the opposing theory. So, let's be gentle and go with 2 points each.
ST=-3, LQG=-3


11. 10 points for beginning the description of your theory by saying how long you have been working on it.

I'm going to give this to ST. I can't tell you how many times I've heard the story about that guy toiling away in his attic in the 1970's and coming up with the rudiments of ST.
ST=7, LQG=-3


12. 10 points for mailing your theory to someone you don't know personally and asking them not to tell anyone else about it, for fear that your ideas will be stolen.

Man, these people sure don't have a problem with this one. Take a few minutes to peruse the archives and you'll see what I mean.
ST=7, LQG=-3


13. 10 points for offering prize money to anyone who proves and/or finds any flaws in your theory.

Three words: Physics Nobel Prize
ST=17, LQG=7


14. 10 points for each new term you invent and use without properly defining it.

M-THEORY!!!! ST wins this one, hands down.
ST=27, LQG=7


15. 10 points for each statement along the lines of "I'm not good at math, but my theory is conceptually right, so all I need is for someone to express it in terms of equations".

Quite the opposite is true. These people are GREAT at math. But, I'm still giving out some points. They are more likely to say "I'm not good in the lab, but my theory is conceptually right, so all I need is for someone to prove it with a really clever measurement." On the positive side, ST theorists sometimes suggest that there may NEVER be a way to test their theory, so they only get half credit
ST=32, LQG=17


17. 10 points for arguing that while a current well-established theory predicts phenomena correctly, it doesn't explain "why" they occur, or fails to provide a "mechanism".

Congratulations! Both win here. I mean, quantum mechanics works, and general relativity works, but the intersection of the two is a mess that both ST and LQG are intended to solve.
ST=42, LQG=27


18. 10 points for each favorable comparison of yourself to Einstein, or claim that special or general relativity are fundamentally misguided (without good evidence).

Have you seen the opening scenes in Brian Greene's "The Elegant Universe," NOVA production with the shot of Einstein's hand falling from his equation covered notebook? ST gets the points.
ST=52, LQG=27


19. 10 points for claiming that your work is on the cutting edge of a "paradigm shift".

Woohoo! Another winner for both.
ST=62, LQG=37


21. 20 points for suggesting that you deserve a Nobel prize.

OK, I've never actually heard anyone on either side make the claim out loud. But come on, in your hearts you know it's true.
ST=82, LQG=57


23. 20 points for every use of science fiction works or myths as if they were fact.

Parallel universes. Twenty points each. 'Nuff said.
ST=102, LQG=77


25. 20 points for naming something after yourself. (E.g., talking about the "The Evans Field Equation" when your name happens to be Evans.)

I'm not absolutely sure that I have this straight, but the rumor is that Ed Witten (one of the smartest people around, btw) chose the name M-theory by taking his last initial and inverting it. That's good enough for me. Twenty points for ST.
ST=122, LQG=77


26. 20 points for talking about how great your theory is, but never actually explaining it.

I'm gonna give ST full credit and LQG half credit for this one. It's your own fault, ST folks. Ya'll keep saying how pretty your theory is, then backing it up with donut/coffee cup stories that are not really that interesting.
ST=142, LQG=97


29. 30 points for suggesting that a famous figure secretly disbelieved in a theory which he or she publicly supported. (E.g., that Feynman was a closet opponent of special relativity, as deduced by reading between the lines in his freshman physics textbooks.)

I should give this one to everyone in the world who repeats Einstein's quote about god and dice. Since the rest us aren't playing, ST and LQG get the points all to themselves.
ST=172, LQG=127


30. 30 points for suggesting that Einstein, in his later years, was groping his way towards the ideas you now advocate.

Both camps use this one from time to time. Thirty points each.
ST=202, LQG=157


33. 40 points for comparing those who argue against your ideas to Nazis, stormtroopers, or brownshirts.

Half credit each. Read the reviews of the books by Smolin and Woit - and the reactions to those reviews - to see what I mean.
ST=222, LQG=177


34. 40 points for claiming that the "scientific establishment" is engaged in a "conspiracy" to prevent your work from gaining its well-deserved fame, or suchlike.

ST has the high ground for the moment, as far as funding and publicity go. So the LQG people are left to scream "conspiracy." Forty points for LQG.
ST=222, LQG=217


37. 50 points for claiming you have a revolutionary theory but giving no concrete testable predictions.

Both theories win big here. Fifty points each.

And the Final Tally is ST=272, LQG=267


It's close, but String Theory edges out Loop Quantum Gravity by 5 points. I'd call that a tie. Everyone's a winner today!

7 comments:

  1. I got barely 15 points! What can I do to improve my score?

    ReplyDelete
  2. Congratulations!

    Although, by 'improve', do you mean raise your score or lower it? Lower is better if you live in this world, higher is better if you want to have tea with Alice, the Doormouse and the rest of the colorful Wonderland posse.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Hey - would it be okay to modify those laws to cover businesses? If we replace Einstein with Greenspan...

    ReplyDelete
  4. Thanks! That was the funniest thing I've read for a while.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Recently a friend of mine who is an Australian businessman asked me to review his theory on the evolution of the sun and the process of planetary formation.
    I did but I have no specific expertise in the physics and the theories of the evolution of our planetary systems. I was wondering if some of you who have a lot of knowledge in this area can you have a look at his theory. Please send him a response through his mail link on his website if you would like.

    Thanks

    http://www.aptheory.info/theory.html

    ReplyDelete
  6. Nice BS.

    "21. 20 points for suggesting that you deserve a Nobel prize.
    OK, I've never actually heard anyone on either side make the claim out loud. But come on, in your hearts you know it's true."

    This convinced me that your calculations are dishonest. With that method I can prove that YOU are rabid crackpot. In your heart you know that it is true, kook. See?

    Points 15 and 25 are nice, too.

    "15. 10 points for each statement along the lines of "I'm not good at math, but my theory is conceptually right, so all I need is for someone to express it in terms of equations".

    Quite the opposite is true. These people are GREAT at math. But, I'm still giving out some points."
    Why not? Anything to prove that they are crackpots. Bias? What bias?

    "25. 20 points for naming something after yourself. (...) Ed Witten chose the name M-theory by taking his last initial and inverting it. That's good enough for me."
    Talks more about your bias instead of M-theory.

    So kudos for all that take this blog entry seriously. :]

    ReplyDelete
  7. This is one of those wonderful pieces that I come back to every now and then to brighten my day.
    Thanks Buzz!

    ReplyDelete