Einstein Was Wrong: A Consensus of Crankery
Which is Your Favorite Relativity Theory?
Browsing the more than 300,000 results of a Google search on the term "Einstein was wrong," it would appear that there are lots of crackpot amateur physicists out there, formulating bizarre cosmological hypotheses all alone in basements and trailers, resentful of a world that refuses to acknowledge their genius.
In fact, this turns out not to be the case. These lone wolves of physics are now getting organized.
This is one of the more frightening messages of a recent Slate article by Margaret Wertheim, author of a new book on crankery and crackpottery titled Physics on the Fringe: Smoke Rings, Circlons, and Alternative Theories of Everything.
Of course, in this context, the word "theory" is being used in the lay public sense: a general speculation with little or no experimental confirmation. Most of these alternative physics "theories" involve unproven and untested concepts such as "apocalyptic photons" and donut-shaped "circlons" and the pre-relativity concept of the Aether.
Generally, proponents of these "theories" have eschewed mainstream physics conventions, dropping out of university-level courses - if they've taken them at all - and bypassing the peer-review system by self-publishing books and pushing their alternate "theories" on the Internet.
They have even formed a support group. The Natural Philosophy Alliance boasts nearly 2,200 members, 1,300 books, and 5,800 abstracts, and hold annual conferences where they can exhibit their speculative visions of reality. From the anti-Einstein tone of the NPA web site, this alternate reality appears to be one in which general and special relativity do not exist.
This is not to say that scientists shouldn't challenge assumptions and re-confirm established theories. Indeed, much of modern cosmology can sound rather crankish to an outsider -- what with all the dark matter, dark energy, quantum foam, superstrings, faster-than-light neutrinos, and God particles. The learning curve is steep and the math is difficult.
But it's not a conspiracy, either. Mainstream science is a process, not a system of oppression. Established theories such as General and Special Relativity become established because they work, both in experiment and in practical applications.
Just ask all those Natural Philosophy Alliance members who used GPS navigators to get to their last conference.