To my own correspondents…

So. Today I finally finished a stack of things I should have done weeks ago, including compiling the teaching timetable for next semester (when I won’t even be here) Anyway, that means I can now move onto the next stack of things that I should also have done weeks ago, after I’ve finished marking the batch of 100 second-year coursework scripts sitting on my desk. There’s no rest for the <insert appropriate adjective>.

Anyway, it’s now just a couple of months before I shuffle off the coil of Cardiff, and the enormity of the impending move becomes more apparent every time I go into my office and observe the quantity of books and papers filling the groaning shelves. Today, however, I made a decision that will make moving simpler: I decided to ditch all the drawer-loads of correspondence marked “Other”, i.e. all the unsolicited letters and manuscripts I’ve accumulated over the years about “alternative” theories of cosmology and whatnot. Here’s an example:

I can’t really make head nor tail of this one, but sometimes have a vague feeling that it might just be a sort of cosmic Rosetta Stone, offering up the Secrets of the Universe in diverse languages. Sadly, however, it’s more likely that the languages involved are Balderdash, Gibberish and Gobbledegook.

I regret to announce, therefore, that the plethora of papers telling me why Einstein was wrong, how the Universe is really in the shape of a spiral, how the Great Pyramid of Giza explains the Higgs Boson, and why the Big Bang couldn’t have happened, will have to go to the Great Shredder in the Sky (if that’s where it is).

Anyway, to all my correspondents all I can say is that I’ve enjoyed reading your letters – you must be very fond of your old typewriters – and I’m grateful for the time you took to draw the diagrams by hand in so many lovely colours. And I’m impressed by your qualifications as Electrical Engineers. Really. I’m sorry I didn’t reply to you all individually, but I just didn’t have the time. And now it pains me to realise I don’t have the space either…

22 Responses to “To my own correspondents…”

  1. Before you chuck them out, offer them free to anyone who wants to fetch them. Some historian of pseudoscience might be interested in them.

    The author of the sheet above will soon announce to the world that his theory has been published (on your blog).

  2. I’m surprised that you kept those with you all this while! ;D

  3. Bob Anderson (@doubledodge) Says:

    Hi Peter,

    As an electrical engineer I have decided to stick up for this venerable occupation. I am glad you are impressed by my qualification but I think I detect just a hint of sarcasm there. There are actually some fascinating parallels between particle “resonances” in high energy physic interactions and also some aspects of quantum physics and the stuff the rather more specialist RF and microwave engineer does to earn a daily crust. So don’t ignore some possible insights these guys may have gained from years of thinking through the typical microwave or RF design problem.

    Yeah many of us are crackpots as well, after all you wouldn’t do my sort of job for the pay alone. However anyone who has survived a masters degree course on fields and waves without becoming a gibbering wreck or running off to a comfy job in programming needs some respect even if we are not fit to eat at the hallowed table of the cosmologists and astrophysicists.

    (runs away and ducks for cover)

    • There’s nothing hallowed about cosmology. I was just making a sly reference to the fact that >80% of these things appear to come from people who qualifications in Electrical Engineering. I don’t know of any cosmologists who write to Electrical Engineers about their new theory of the coaxial cable.

    • Anton Garrett Says:

      The reason is that engineers have a more better practical understanding of the mechanics of the everyday not only than laymen, but theoretical physicists. So they are better able logically to argue for its extension into relativistic realms, in which their intuition was not schooled and where it leads them astray. Show them a laboratory *experiment* in the relativistic domain that downs their arguments and I believe they would, after some jaw-dropping, convert rapidly. Engineers are not uneducated cranks like some of your other correspondents, who I guess find excuses to steer clear of physics courses because they prefer to maintain a self-image as lone geniuses challenging a closed-minded establishment. In my view these latter people deserve to be put in contact with each other rather than have their work shredded…

      • Anton Garrett Says:

        PS I also think that if you explain to them the concept of form-invariance of the laws of physics using simple Galilean examples, then show that Maxwell’s equations (which they trust implicitly but have never seen written in Lorentz-covariant form) are not Galileo-invariant – easily done without using 4-vectors – then they will be pre-disposed to whatever transformation Maxwell’s equations ARE covariant under. THEN you say it is the Lorentz transformation and that life is a bit different near the speed of light.

  4. Electrical or electronic?

  5. John Peacock Says:

    Dirac originally trained as an engineer. Is this why no-one believes his cosmological large-number hypothesis?

  6. Science writer Margaret Wertheim kept collecting such papers on alternative theories sent to her and wrote a book on her encounters
    So you maybe missed the chance for a bestseller.

  7. George Jones Says:

    Is the posted theory a proposed alternative to Duckworth-Lewis?

  8. David Whitehouse Says:

    I used to get such stuff all the time. they used to be scruffy dog-eared manuscripts that had been passed around. Then they became all neat and word processed.

    I did one of two things with them. Sometimes I would return them saying that I wasn’t qualified to go into them in detail but that I had a friend, Tim, the science editor at the Guardian who was very interested in such stuff. A week or two later I would get a call from Tim, “thanks David!” Sometimes I put them on to the Editor of Tomorrow’s World, who had had a sense of humour bypass.

    When I was fed up with that I would return the manuscript pointing out that it was one of the public duties of the Astronomer Royal to examine such manuscripts!

  9. George Jones Says:

    And journals, e.g., “Progress in Physics”. I think that the name “Progress in Physics” was deliberately chosen because it is easily confused with “Reports on Progress in Physics”, a respectable journal.

    • Indeed. There is also a crank journal called Science and Nature, probably so that one can say “I have several papers in Science and Nature” and have someone hear “I have several papers in Science and Nature“.

  10. Bryn Jones Says:

    The idea of throwing out eccentric manuscripts has made me think of the opposite problem. I have large quantities of old teaching materials, such as student test scripts and papers from exam boards. These are not materials that had to be retained by university departments but still had to be kept by me for a couple of years or so in case problems arose.

    The problem is that I can’t throw the papers out because they’re confidential. I haven’t got the time to shred them with my manual shredder, page by single page. I don’t have a fireplace to burn them. How do get rid of them?

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