HOW to BECOME a BAD THEORETICAL PHYSICIST

by  Gerard 't Hooft

 

It is much easier to become a bad theoretical physicist than a good one. I know of many individual success stories.

Don't worry: if I don't quite agree with your theories or methods, that by itself does not imply you are a bad theorist. You might still make great discoveries, or even win a Nobel Prize if you're lucky.

Good theorists as well as bad ones all make mistakes. Science advances in spite of people making mistakes. We produce theories, even ones which cannot be entirely correct, and test them in every odd way we can imagine. Eventually, we manage to remove the errors and obtain marvelous new insights. The difference between a good theorist and a bad one is that good theorists are usually the first to detect the shortcomings of their own theories. They are never afraid of discarding a theory if it appears to be beyond repair. While learning about physics as a student, we all have the ambition of making great discoveries, so we soon start constructing our own theories. They are usually wrong, but never mind, we learn from our mistakes.

Here is how to become a bad theorist:  Compare yourself with Isaac Newton, Albert Einstein, Paul Dirac, or other celebrities in theoretical physics, and reach a conclusion in favor of yourself. Note that good theoreticians do not consider these famous physicists as saints; none of them were infallible, but the few instances where they could be corrected are well-known by historians of science, and do not have any effect on modern physics.

You may consider the option of connecting your work with mystery topics such as telepathy and consciousness. Make outrageous claims of having solved long standing problems. Of course, you expect that you will become famous, but unfortunately, only a few really good theoretical physicists have equations and effects named after them. This is because colleagues recognize their importance and since they want to give names to equations and effects anyway, they bestow the discoverers with that honor.  The bad theoretical physicist, in anticipation, names his own equations and effects, and even his entire theories, after himself right away. The impudence to attach your own name to whatever you claim to have discovered is considered improper in science, and in practice it betrays amateurism and incompetence. If a good theoretician refers to an equation to which colleagues have attached his/her own name, he/she uses a different description if available.

On your way towards becoming a bad theoretician, take your own immature theory, stop checking it for mistakes, don't listen to colleagues who do spot weaknesses, and start admiring your own infallible intelligence. Try to overshout all your critics, and have your work published anyway. If the well-established science media refuse to publish your work, start your own publishing company and edit your own books. If you are really clever you can find yourself a formerly professional physics journal where the chief editor is asleep. To recognize such a journal, look for one where, in the list of board members on the cover, more than 50 % has already deceased. Accuse all your critics of the short-sightedness that you actually suffer too much from yourself. It is easy and pleasant, it does not require the hard work of checking and re-checking your results, and if you are sufficiently eloquent, you might even gather some admirers.

Your next step should be to advertise your work. Your reputation may have caused the xxx ArXives and Wikipedia to refuse your submissions (congratulations, they are not really peer-reviewed), but in that case you can still start your own weblog, and buy pop-ups in Google. Do not mention the number of citations you received in the established literature (you probably did not receive any) but instead install a counter that identifies the number of times someone by mistake downloaded your papers. Some people just download anything so you are guaranteed to get many hits there, and you can proudly announce those numbers.

A method was devised by John Baez to give you an indication as to how high you have scored. You may also consult Warren Siegel.

Some people only come halfway.  Now here's for the real perfectionist. Note that you still have a problem.

You have convinced your friends at your local bar, your family, your pizza vendor, your dog, and even a local radio station of the superiority of your theory. How come that there are still some obnoxious physicists who seem to continue to work on obsolete theories as if you never did give a deadly blow to established science? Most professional physicists you wrote to never gave you any reply at all; well, that must be because they are too ashamed of all those mistakes they have made in the past, and they must now be busy studying your important work.

But then there are those few physicists such as one bloke called Gerardus 't Hooft, who shamelessly have pointed out to you that your theory is nonsense! Should you take them seriously? Of course not. Don't even try to show them the details of your derivations, which you forgot anyway and you might not be able to reproduce on the spot. Here is what you do to establish your reputation forever: JUST GIVE THEM HELL. Compare those obnoxious puppets of the establishment with nazis and threaten them with law suits. That'll teach them.

Actually, you may discover that there are quite a few more people like you, who agree with you, saying that Einstein and many others got it completely wrong, and that established science is one great conspiracy. Don't try to study the details of their arguments (you won't be able to make any sense of them anyway), but join them in their web logs. Confirm your mutual admiration. Together you will form a mighty block, and your common opponents such as 't Hooft will soon back off.

If you expect that this is the way to achieve the ultimate recognition for your theories, you are the true champion of this web page.

For understandable reasons, I decided to refrain from listing names of people who succeeded to gain the title of "bad theoretical physicist", or to make too overt allusions, as was done in earlier versions of this page. In spite of this, I still receive angry reactions from people who apparently recognize themselves here. There's little I can do about that. This page was inspired by the activities of real existing people, but none of these descriptions refer to one single existing person.

One exception I fail to resist. Recently a new University was founded: the Myron Evans University. Here, those with a fine taste for perfection can specialize and obtain PhD degrees. I won't provide the link, but I am sure it will appear right up front if you google it up.

General Relativity is a great example of a doctrine that is simple enough for self-taught "scientists" to put their noses into, and complicated enough for them to make numerous mistakes. In a special site the most common misconceptions about this theory for the gravitational force are outlined.


G. 't Hooft

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Last revised:  January 6, 2010.