“crackpots” who were right

I’m going to run a series of posts here under the heading: “crackpots” who were right. It is surprising just how many times people have published ideas in science that were initially rejected by their peers simply because they went against the accepted wisdom of the time. These people submitted their work to journals only to have them repeatedly rejected with comments from the referees stating that the author simply could not be right. In all the cases I will mention, the idea has eventually been accepted, sometimes after many years and often only when another more influential scientist rediscovered it. Happily the original discoverers were not forgotten and are now recognised, but it is not just the matter of recognition that is of concern. The failure to evaluate the work correctly at the time has lead to delays in the progress of science that can last for decades. 

I don’t doubt for one moment that there are many other scientists with similar experiences whose work was forgotten and who did not get their place in the history of science that they deserved. Of course I cannot give examples and write about them because I don’t know who they are. Preprint archives provide one way to ensure that in the future such scientists have the opportunity to be known about later when their work is reevaluated. That is why such archives should be open and unmoderated rather than judging ideas on the preconceptions of the day when the work was done. viXra.org is one of the few general science preprint archives that adheres to this principle.

Of course many ideas that are described as “crackpot” will never turn out to be right. Some of them are obviously wrong from the beginning and are right to be rejected by scientists. I point out this obvious fact only because if I don’t then other people will mention it as if we at viXra.org can’t see it. The problem is that there is no clear line between the obviously wrong ideas and the crazy ideas that could just be right. If we tried to draw such a line we would either be to conservative and keep a few ideas that could never work, or we would be too harsh and risk rejecting something that actually has something valid in it. The solution we adopt at viXra.org is to reject nothing unless it does not even try to make a scientific statement or where there are potential legal issues.

The surprise is that most of the articles submitted here have a lot of good substance to them. Often they are of very good quality and it is not obvious why they would not be acceptable in other archives such as arXiv.org. In fact many of the articles in viXra.org have been accepted for publication in peer-reviewed journals. It seems clear to us now that archives such as arXiv.org have set their submission criteria on a line that excludes many good works of science. They assume that these people will find some other way to record their idea and often suggest submission to a journal. As my series of articles will show, this is not always possible. We are confident that one day the “crackpot” who was right will be someone whose contribution is recognised because they submitted their work to us.

11 Responses to “crackpots” who were right

  1. Dear Phillip Gibbs,

    Indeed, viXra.org has appeared on the web as a great opportunity for those with a solid academic background in some field of science, willing to participate in some area of research, but not currently having an academic affiliation. There are many reasons why it is important to show one has been active in a field of science, and vixra can help in such a case.

    History of Science has had several such cases in which a non affiliated scientist proved to be able to invent interesting science, notably in Mathematics (e.g., Fermat, Ramanujan, Galois). It is also true that some professors were considered as crackpots in their time for their idea, and despite their academic affiliation; I think for example of Gregor Mendel, who has invented genetics long before it was recognised as fundamental, and was for this reason left apart by his peers, as the latter simply did not believe that genetic inheritance could be so rigorous.

    The animosity of certain scientists towards vixra flatters its submitters, as it may mean that what vixra does now has more sense than that those scientists admit.


  2. Fernando Loup says:

    i am at 100% side by side with Dr Phillip Gibbs and i embrace the cause of viXra..because yes.as everyone might guess ..i came here from arXiv..i am a blacklisted scientist
    i am the author of
    but i am am also author of
    both published in peer review for the International Space Station ISS but now comparing the papers….the viXra paper 0912.0044 is much more advanced than the ones inside arXiv.
    .it is a natural evolution …..many people would see viXra as inferior to arXiv but in many cases viXra is about to surpass or superseed arXiv and why???
    because for a blacklisted scientist indeed with peer review publications and yes.again .i am a blacklisted scientist if the scientist cannot progress his research in arXiv.due to the restrictive policies …he will do it.but where.???
    he will do it .on viXra
    the attitude of Dr Phillip Gibbs must be applauded and praised by everyone interested in science..it represents a window of fresh air….
    keep up the good work Dr Gibbs… i will remain side by side with the cause of viXra

  3. Fernando Loup says:

    dear readers of viXra blog

    imagine that viXra and arXiv exists both in 1905

    arXiv demands a valid academic institution in order for someone submit papers right ???

    for someone not affiliated with a valid academic institution arXiv demands a sponsor in order to submit papers..right ???

    but now the worst part…arXiv don’t appreciate papers that challenges the so-called official scientific knowledge. specially papers written by non-academic affiliates .even if the submitter have a sponsor right????

    Ok dear readers of viXra blog lets see if I understand…a guy without a good academic affiliation working alone as an amateur with a paper that defies the official scientific knowledge even with a sponsor would be liable to be blacklistee from arXiv right ??

    So for a while lets imagine…. just lets imagine as a mind exercise..lets imagine that arXiv(and viXra) both exists in 1905

    Einstein after leaving the Politechnical Institute of Zurich did not got an academic position…he got a position non-academic as an accounting clerk in the Swiss Patent Office of Berna

    A sample clerk that could have passed the rest of his life working with accounting systems reading sports magazines by Sunday..and nobody would spot him…nobody would even know that he existed

    In his leisure times he worked Special Relativity among other things ..a guy!!! without an academic institution!!!!working as a clerk in an accounting. office yes Einstein was an amateur…..an amateur without an academic institution !!!this amateur challenged the so-called official scientific knowledge

    By the Century XIX the anomalies related to light speed propagation spotted first by Albert Michelson and Edward Morley in 1887 were not understood by the official scientific knowledge

    many scientists considered the Newton Mechanics right..a valid and proved theory with nearly 200 years of background published first in 1687 in the famous book “Principia Mathematica” while Maxwell Electromagnetism first published in 1864 in the book “A Treatise of Electricity and Magnetism” perhaps needs a revision….

    The Galilean Transformation was considered a “sacred true” while Lorentz Transformation was a dubious formula…needing further examination light propagates with a speed 300.000 km/s with respect to the aether as a reference frame

    The mainstream of the Century XIX scientists considered Newton right and Maxwell needing a revision …this was the so-called official scientific knowledge

    .a sample accounting clerk without an academic affiliation from the Swiss Patent Office of Berna in the year 1905..the year that is now regarded as the “ANNO MIRABILLIS” …the year of the miracle challenged the mainstream.of the scientific community . the accounting systems clerk challenged the official scientific knowledge

    The clerk Albert Einstein considered Maxwell right and Newton needing a revision…his revision of the Newtonian ideas are now known as Special Theory of Relativity

    The accounting systems clerk without an academic affiliation wrote in 1905 the paper “Zur Elektrodynamiken Betvegen Korper”…in English “On the Electrodynamics Of The Moving Bodies”

    It was a revolutionary paper ..scientists by end of XIX Century considered time as a static entity flowing at a constant rhythm from the Past to the Future….so whats about the Time Dilatation and the Twin Paradox???…..perhaps fantasies from a “crackpot” ????

    Ok now the best part..imagine that arXiv exists in 1905 and Einstein send “Zur Elektrodynamiken Betvegen Korper”…to arXiv…

    Lets guess what would be the thought of the arXiv moderator:

    “a guy without a valid academic institution!!!!!with a paper that is clearly wrong!!!!Time Dilatation!!! Twin paradox!!!! Of course this is all wrong…this challenges the official scientific knowledge..this challenges 200 years of Newton Mechanics..ok this guy is wrong…..blacklist him!!!”

    Yes dear readers of viXra blog…transposing the today´s arXiv standards to the year of 1905..Einstein would be a blacklistee!!!!!!!

    Its funny isn’t??? sadly this is true!!!!

    now transposing viXra to 1905…the Historical Paper .“Zur Elektrodynamiken Betvegen Korper”…would appear here

  4. Dear Fernando Loup,

    Or you could just think of Julian Barbour. It was in the 70’s when he sent his manuscript to Nature’s journal from his house in UK… And got it accepted.

    Would you think to publish in Nature today with your home address? I can tell from experience that nowadays an even inferior journal do not pass your manuscript to the review process if you are not affiliated to academia, even when you have worked so hard for months on it to get the best refereeable quality ever.

    I doubt today whether many famous “unsolved problems” have always been truly unsolved… I mean, it may also be that those problems were solved by the “wrong” persons, whose solution was rejected manu militari.

    As Philip Gibbs said in the “Why the viXra” section of the site, viXra.org can be seen as an experiment to show what “rejection” truly means in science… Does the equation: rejection = bad work, always hold, or does the conservative structure of large academic institutions hinder discovery.

    Time will answer us…


  5. Fernando Loup says:

    Dear Jerome Sauvet
    quoting you

    I can tell from experience that nowadays an even inferior journal do not pass your manuscript to the review process if you are not affiliated to academia, even when you have worked so hard for months
    it seems that we are colleagues…i already suffered the same destiny…yes peer review journals are even worst than arXiv …and without a good institution behind you i agree that its very difficult to publish. a paper…i got luck with arXiv gr-qc/0603106 and arXiv:0710.0924 both were “Lucky Strikes” that passed peer-review but am am also a co-author of arXiv gr-qc/0107097 and arXiv gr-qc/0202021 that never passed peer review…these were returned with the “un-helpful note” mentioned by Phillip Gibbs about peer.review jornals in “Why viXra” …and i agree at 1000% with you when you says
    the conservative structure of large academic institutions hinder discovery.

  6. chips zynga says:

    i wouldn’t have guessed this was trendy quite a few years back nonetheless its interesting the way in which years varies the manner you understand particular creative concepts, many thanks for the article it really is good to browse through some thing smart occasionally instead of the routine trash mascarading as a blog on the net, i’m off to have fun with a few rounds of facebook poker, take care

  7. Mike Harney says:

    Dear Dr. Gibbs,

    Great article and very true – sad to say that the academic world is not driven by results related to truth but more to what’s in vogue (like any other activity driven by money it’s mostly about survival for the ones who get paid). It’s hard to say when this will change but all generations suffer from some version of censorship – those in the 17th century who did not know Latin where left out of science and after the language issue was removed we are still left with issues of authority or arrogance. The internet is now a great form of open communication that surpasses most of these issues but is not free from problems.

    Even though we have the internet we also have the problem of deciphering which ideas bear fruit and which ones do not. This will not be hard in the coming years because technology will give us better resolution and range on instruments and we are starting to get hard numbers that can then be used in internet filters to search through the ideas that at least predict the correct measurements. Human nature is such that there will always be a competition between individual ideas and like genes, memes which are units of cultural ideas, will compete for dominance but it’s not always the fastest process to the truth.

    The key is that you and other individuals are trying hard to counteract the barriers to competition and that is the key to advancement in science. The best that we can all ask for is a chance to present ideas openly, therefore I and many others commend you for your work.

  8. Mahdi Sajid says:

    I must be one of the bigger crackpots out there. In the mid ’90s I found the key to a correct interpretation of Dickens’ The Mystery of Edwin Drood. The book is truly unique in that a technical trick operates under the book’s pages-the solution is therefore not of the ‘whodoneit variety.’ I never bothered to finish college and I have no desire to be a scholar so what do you think my chances were of passing my improbable findings on. Finally, I have to say I don’t give a damn whether Dickens’ secret ever comes out. I enjoyed the experience and I learned that academia has a sickness of sorts, no question.
    Good luck you crazy kooks!

  9. In Science in the 21st century: social, political, and economic issues I give a list of thirty four Nobel Laureates whose awarded work was rejected by peer review, who often considered their work crackpot.

    Also your series would include Murray Gell-Mann, who in a recent interview explains how “A lot of people thought the quarks were a crank idea”

  10. philipgibbs says:

    Juan thanks, actually I am beginning to think that having your peers initially reject your idea is a prerequisit for getting a Nobel Prize. If everyone accepts the result right away then it can’t be radical enough for the award. Even when Feynman described his diagramatic solution to QED at the shelter island conference in 1947 it took a few days before the other physcists started to accept it.

    However, the cases I inlcude in this series are the more extreme ones where there was a strong sustained resistance to a person’s work combined with a certain amount of personal attack.

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