The other day, I was browsing Discover magazine. I’m not a big fan of Discover. I’m all for popularization of science, but I’m for good popularization.
Anyways, I came across this ad for a book called Our Undiscovered Universe. The ad has “crackpot" written all over it. It starts by decrying the state of modern physics, especially String Theory, the Big Bang Theory, and the Standard Model. It goes on to say that this book, and its theory of Null Physics will fix this, because it’s willing to ask ultimate why questions. And then we get a glimpse of the claims in the book.
Energy is a three-dimensional substance, and its most basic unit is time-distance2.
Is he trying to outdo the E=mc3 claim that the Autodynamics fools make? Uh, the units for energy are [kg m2/s2], not [s m2]. (Didn't he know?) The units are not even close to working out. In what sense is he talking about the same thing? Perhaps he’s saying that there’s some conversion factor between the units. But then it wouldn’t be energy, it would be energy times a conversion factor. Additional hint: energy is not a “substance” unless you’re a woo.
The underlying problem with this ad is the entire idea of publishing a book with your new theory, and then advertising it in a popular science magazine. The correct method to start a scientific revolution is not to publish a book for the general public. You publish in a peer-reviewed a science journal first. Otherwise, how do we distinguish you from the crackpots? We don’t, that’s how.
The author, Terry Witt, said the following in the JREF forums.
Unfortunately, self-published physics books are invariably the product of uniformed [sic], and in many cases, positively deranged individuals. Just as unfortunately, peer-reviewed journals strenuously reject ideas contrary to the reigning paradigms. So rather than fight the battle a little bit at a time, I decided to wait until I had some convincing results and published the results of my work from 1978 to 2004 all at once. So far it’s gone well with the individuals who actually read the book, but after reading Lee Smolin’s new book, “The Trouble With Physics” I fear I might be tilting at windmills with regard to the theoretical physics community.
Beep-beep-beep-beep! My crackpot alarm just went off. He apparently spent 25 years working on this, and never previously let it stand up to scrutiny. I highly doubt that Lee Smolin or Peter Woit would approve of bypassing the physics community. They're real physicists, you know? Terry Witt knew BIG SCIENCE would reject his ideas, and not because his ideas are wrong. You just know he’ll be paranoid that his critics are all tools of string theory.
One other question; does JREF have an "official" stance on the status of string theory as a viable science, or is it just a variety of opinions?
Right on cue! And this is not an isolated example. He repeatedly asked each of the forum users what they thought of string theory.
If that made you hungry for more head-banging, you'll be interested to know he has a website. The author doesn't really seem to have the qualifications for this. None of the reviews are by physicists. There are a few selected excerpts, and it looks like nonsense.
Totality is the simultaneous product of infinite smallness and infinite largeness, exhibiting their combined dimensional content. Infinite smallness lies external to the dimensions of infinite largeness. It is the only way the two can coexist as equivalent paths to nonexistence. What this means is that the space of our universe is the boundary surface of its own totality:
He makes a bunch of unconfirmed, and perhaps already falsified predictions. I am not impressed. Unsupported claims are a dime a dozen.
To be fair, it is obvious that Terry Witt has some knowledge of physics, perhaps more than me (Any other physicists want to jump in?). But what he doesn’t seem to have knowledge of is science, critical thinking, and how not to look like a crackpot. He would rather appear “positively deranged” than ask for other scientists’ input. A good theory must stand on its own merit. It does not require spending thousands of dollars on advertisements to shout out to the easily mislead Discover readership. Of course, for a crackpot theory, there's no other way.Update: There's also a little discussion about this on the BAUT forum.
Update 2: Ben Monreal has a full review of Our Undiscovered Universe, and Blake Stacey has further comments.