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  What exactly will be the scope of questions/discussions in non-mainstream section ?

+ 3 like - 0 dislike

Does non mainstream only refers to the already known but largely rejected physics topics like those mentioned here http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Category:Fringe_physics ? ;


Any new physics idea can be allowed discussion in non-mainstream (even if it is considered as "crackpot" by most physicists) ? 

asked Feb 24, 2014 in Discussion by user10001 (635 points) [ no revision ]

The category "fringe physics" on Wikipedia consists of ideas which were killed 30 or 40 years ago, plus cold fusion. The internet kills off these old things so fast, there are none left.

1 Answer

+ 4 like - 0 dislike

I don't think there should be a "non-mainstream" section, the Q/A site itself is open enough to allow questions/answers about any topic, with open discussion, so long as nobody is censored, and sincerity is required. It is very easy to tell a sincere mistaken person from a troll.

Just say "no repeats", then crackpot material can appear once somewhere on the Q/A site, and any further reference to this idea can be simply through a link with a title that is revealing of the basic idea, so that the author does not feel censored, but people don't have to waste their time. If original material is incorrect, it will be downvoted, you need to trust the community. If it is crackpot material, it is nearly always unoriginal, and it can get a quick refutation. If it is original, even if it is crackpot material, it can be valuable. Mistaken orginal work is often interesting regardless of correctness. The easiest reliable way to repel dishonesty without repelling new ideas which are plausible and supported by evidence is to vote based on originality. Unoriginal material is easy to spot, and original material is always valuable, even when it is dead wrong. So just require originality for contributions, beyond no copy-paste.

The distinction between "flaky" and "reliable" is not so clear-cut, but the distinction between "original" and "rehash" is very clear. Original material is difficult to produce, it will be limited in size, and if it is wrong, the debunking can happen at one place only. The same goes for mainstream questions. Original insights are always more valuable, because the best assumption on the internet is that the readers already know everything old.

There are scaling issues with a site which has no evaluation of originality. There are lots of people who will want to rehash the same three topics, even if these are nice topics, like the standard model, or chiral anomalies, this does not usually add value, unless there is originality in the exposition. What adds most value is a discussion which cannot be found anywhere else. This is why scientific journals ask for original things, but not too original, or else it gets rejected, right or wrong.

The point of the internet is that it allows original work to be evaluated openly. You need to trust open evaluation to naturally downvote the crackpot material without any special dispensation or committee. If you find a crackpot thing which is highly upvoted, for instance, something regarding cold-fusion, it is likely an original thing which has some merit, and this is when you can see that the mainstream understanding needs revision.

There are lots of fringe ideas which might have merit. For example, in high energy physics, there are occasional "tetraquark" meson ideas (two meson bound states). A lot of these can be dismissed with simple estimates, but it is not completely clear that the sigma(660) or the f0(980) aren't tetraquarks, nobody knows the proper description. But tetraquarks have a bad reputation for a reason--- a lot of tetraquark putative resonances are really clearly just string excitations of QCD (this was pointed out to me by Henry Tye). A higher string excitation of a meson can easily look like a quark-anti-quark pair was inserted in the middle without changing the quantum numbers.

Another fringe topic with perhaps some interesting physics is ball-lightning. This has no model, and it is associated with UFOs and paranormal nonsense. The criterion which excludes most paranormal nonsense is physicist positivism, and since it is standard, it automatically comes for the ride in a physics website.

answered Feb 24, 2014 by Ron Maimon (7,730 points) [ no revision ]
edited Feb 24, 2014 by Ron Maimon

I agree wholeheartedly. I wanted to comment as something stronger than an upvote.

Ok, now that I think about it, what you say here makes sense, +1. There is no sensible reason why something on Heim theory (of course I agree it's rubbish, but still) should be kept away from something which is mainstream physics. The idea of a crackpot is somewhat subjective. I consider Heim theory as crackpot, for example, but Loop Quantum Gravity as legitimate, (but wrong, of course) Physics. Many others consider LQG to be not only wrong, but also crackpot.       

Maybe, all the posts that do end up resulting in actual, at least slightly significant, physics research, being done, could be tagged as [research], or something like that, to help collaqte them in on a single page.       

... and if they have evolved to be worth a  paper, they will be in the refereeing section anyway.

To defend loop quantum gravity (although I agree the current standard formulation is no good), only Lubos Motl calls LQG crackpot. It's not crackpot, it's just an idea that is very clever, and can't be made to work, because it so far just ends up being a triangulated GR. Lower dimensional analogs (the 't Hooft description of 2+1 gravity) DO work, because the description is of a finite number of degrees of freedom, and the quantization is sensible. It's just that the Ashtekhar formulation leads to a tantalizing topological-looking structure whose quantization doesn't end up looking like gravity is supposed to look, at least not with what people have done so far. But there's no guarantee that people won't figure it out tommorrow, and the classical Ashtekhar variables stays a big advance in classical GR, no matter what.

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