Good grief, I am becoming a veritable post-generating machine. Don’t worry though I’ll dry up soon enough. This one is a cheap rip-off of PW’s post which is a pointer to the rather nice What I learned as a hired consultant to autodidact physicists. That’s about a physicist talking to a variety of “I have a theory” physics nutters, although as she says One or two seemed miffed that I didn’t immediately exclaim: ‘Genius!’, but most of my callers realised that they can’t contribute to a field without meeting today’s quality standard. Then again, I hear only from those willing to invest in advancing their education to begin with.
Some of the stuff resonates in the GW debate:
The majority of my callers are the ones who seek advice for an idea they’ve tried to formalise, unsuccessfully, often for a long time. Many of them are retired or near retirement, typically with a background in engineering or a related industry. All of them are men. Many base their theories on images, downloaded or drawn by hand, embedded in long pamphlets. A few use basic equations. Some add videos or applets. Some work with 3D models of Styrofoam, cardboard or wires. The variety of their ideas is bewildering, but these callers have two things in common: they spend an extraordinary amount of time on their theories, and they are frustrated that nobody is interested… My clients know so little about current research in physics, they aren’t even aware they’re in a foreign country. They have no clue how far they are from making themselves understood… But those who seek my advice lack the mathematical background to build anything interesting on their intuitions… I haven’t learned any new physics in these conversations, but I have learned a great deal about science communication. My clients almost exclusively get their information from the popular science media. Often, they get something utterly wrong in the process… A typical problem is that, in the absence of equations, they project literal meanings onto words such as ‘grains’ of space-time or particles ‘popping’ in and out of existence… I make clear that if they want to be taken seriously by physicists, there’s no way around mathematics, lots of mathematics. Images and videos will not do.
Some of it won’t resonate at all: one bit I elided above was Their ideas aren’t bad; they are raw versions of ideas that underlie established research programmes.