I have always been a big fan of iconoclasts and dissenters. Partly, this has to do with the smugness of the defenders of the accepted wisdom, whatever it is — there’s something about the phrase “every reputable scientist / economist / historian / etc agrees” that sets my teeth on edge. It isn’t so much that whatever it is that they’re agreeing on is necessarily wrong — it’s that it’s boring. I can think of very few breakthroughs in science or technology that didn’t start out as off-the-wall ideas that were objectively crazy according to the accepted wisdom at the time. That doesn’t mean that the iconoclasts are always right or even frequently right — obviously, they’re usually wrong, because they’re making what amount to risky bets, and by definition, risky bets usually lose. But the clever ones nearly always have something to say that’s worth listening to, and their writings are often a great source of creative stimulation. They may be wrong a lot, but they’re almost always colorful and interesting.

So I was intrigued to stumble across a web site that has a comprehensive compilation containing a number of legitimate scientist dissenters. By legitimate, I mean scientists who advocate views at odds with the consensus, but who are clearly qualified and otherwise respected in the scientific field that they’re theorizing about — i.e. not non-scientist nutcakes. (Caveat — there are also some genuine nutcakes and charlatans in the list, you’ll have to filter those out.) Unfortunately, the site doesn’t seem to have been updated in quite a while, and some of the links don’t work, but I think some of my friends will find it interesting anyway, so I’ll go ahead and post the link: http://alumnus.caltech.edu/~ckank/fringe/links.html.

One of my favorite iconoclasts, and a scion of a distinguished family of iconoclasts, is George Dyson. I was browsing through one of the edge.org compilations of responses to the “Annual Question”, and George Dyson’s response to the 2012 question, “what is your favorite deep, beautiful, or elegant explanation?” describes (very briefly) a “heirarchical universe” cosmology which he attributes to Hannes Alfvén (who I had never heard of):

Hannes Alfvén (1908–1995), who pioneered the field of magnetohydrodynamics, against initial skepticism, to give us a universe permeated by what are now called “Alfvén waves,” never relinquished his own skepticism concerning the Big Bang. “They fight against popular creationism, but at the same time they fight fanatically for their own creationism,” he argued in 1984, advocating, instead, for a hierarchical cosmology, whose mathematical characterization he credited to Edmund Edward Fournier d’Albe (1868—1933) and Carl Vilhelm Ludvig Charlier (1861–1932). Hierarchical does not mean isotropic, and observed anisotropy does not rule it out.

A bit of googling turned up this paper of Alfven’s, which is quite interesting in itself. That of course led to the question, ‘what web site is this?’, and the answer turned out to be the one above.

UPDATE: Regarding the many broken links on the http://alumnus.caltech.edu/~ckank/fringe/links.html web site — for those not familiar, there is a very useful tool popularly known as the “wayback machine” (https://archive.org/web/) which crawls the whole internet periodically and archives everything. From the user’s standpoint it works like a search engine for URL’s — you just put the URL you’re looking for in the search box and it gives you a list of dates when it archived it, you choose the one you want and it shows you the URL as it appeared on that date.


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