Talk:Nobel disease

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Selection bias?[edit]

Would a mention of Selection Bias be appropriate? I doubt there's any evidence that endorsement of quackery is higher among Nobel winners than among other scientists. (talk) 01:13, 11 September 2016 (UTC)

It might be appropriate on the Nobel Prize page, but not here. Bongolian (talk) 01:26, 11 September 2016 (UTC)
Absolutely a valid point. However, the unfortunate Nobel Prize winner is uniquely beset by a sort of a combined bubble and spotlight. Contradicting an NP winner (or indeed, anyone who is regarded as even moderately distinguished) leads to "who do you think you are?"-type ostracisation in Academia (not in principle, but all too common in practice). The NP winner has historical reasons to belief that sticking to their guns in spite of any disagreement that may still reach them is sensible and will pay off in the end. The NP winner can choose whom to surround themselves with, and are not immune to flattery. The NP winner has a ready uncritical media platform. The "Hello" magazines of academia (Nature, Science, PNAS) will give the NP winner editorial space for their latest maverick insights. (The latter has backfired so often you might think they'd be more careful these days.) In other words, even if quackery is just as common among common academics, their options for making fools of themselves in the most respected echelons are far more limited. (talk) 11:22, 19 April 2017 (UTC)
Seems like a reasonable argument. If you've got some good citations, you could put it on the mainspace page. Bongolian (talk) 17:20, 19 April 2017 (UTC)
Everybody in academia kind of knows this, and it is a bit like a shameful family secret, not to be shared with strangers. Without being funny: if you gotta ask, you'll never know.2A01:CB0C:CD:D800:B5EE:5200:F399:8C34 (talk) 16:44, 6 October 2020 (UTC)

20/20 hindsight[edit]

Allowance should be made for 'the state of knowledge at the time' - in the early 20th century the development of 'radio, X-rays, radioactivity, developments in astronomy and suchlike things' made 'investigating the paranormal' a viable line of research even if subsequently disproved. Scientific and other research contains many blind alleys (see eg 'pre-Rosetta Stone decipherers of hieroglyphs') (talk) 13:37, 28 September 2016 (UTC)

I agree, but fortunately this would only probably not result in major changes to the list.
Right off the bat I'd consider removing:
- António Egas Moniz (because lobotomy was thought at the time to be a useful procedure).
- Konrad Lorenz (because his Nazi past doesn't fit the characteristics of Nobel disease anyway as the crankery should be post-Nobel).
- Possibly Julian Schwinger (it would depend on when his support for cold fusion occurred and how long it lasted).
The rest of the examples relate to ideas that would've been obviously bogus at the time (and thus also after) they received their Nobel prizes. Hence, other removals will probably only be necessary if, as with Lorenz, their crank ideas preceded their Nobel prizes, which would mean that they don't fit the definition of Nobel disease. ScepticWombat (talk) 16:33, 28 September 2016 (UTC)
Having checked the Schwinger link, I've left him in. His praise of cold fusion was made in 1991. ScepticWombat (talk) 16:38, 28 September 2016 (UTC)
A differentiation should be made between things which were considered worth investigating or plausible #at the time# (habitable Venus, steady state universe), and those which were considered 'away with the (Cottingley) Fairies.'
There will also be the 'my pet theory/opinion' (horseshoes are lucky whether or not you believe in them) and 'considered nonsense at the time, but considered valid afterwards; (black holes).
I #am# using 'well-known non-Nobel examples (talk) 16:53, 28 September 2016 (UTC)
I'm getting suspicious of the Sin-Itiro Tomonaga example as I can't find any specific sources on it and "aliens" is a far too vague term to merit a Nobel disease diagnosis on its own (e.g. a belief in the possibility of extraterrestrial life is in itself not crankery, but alien abduction claims are). ScepticWombat (talk) 16:59, 28 September 2016 (UTC)
I'd say remove it entirely. While I have heard of Julian Schwinger's support for cold fusion — in fact, he wrote five papers on the subject as a part of his otherwise scientifically valid contributions to nuclear physics — I have never encountered any sources whatsoever that said Sin-Itiro Tomonaga endorsed any kind of pseudoscientific school of thought. Nerd271 (talk) 17:05, 28 September 2016 (UTC)
Done. Have [citation needed]-tagged the remaining unsourced entries too. ScepticWombat (talk) 17:08, 28 September 2016 (UTC)
Thank you! Just for your information, the tag {{cn}} is more economical. It came straight from our more famous cousin.[citation needed] Nerd271 (talk) 17:13, 28 September 2016 (UTC)
Ilya Mechnikov seems an iffy example too. I don't think macrobiotics were an obviously cranky idea 1908-1916 (the years between his Nobel prize and his death). ScepticWombat (talk) 17:23, 28 September 2016 (UTC)

While it may be harsh to say so, I think having been a Nazi in the 1930s should rank at the very least on the same level of stupid as having been a Trumpite now. You could clearly see they were racist and war mongering. You could perhaps not see it would end with nuclear bombs on two cities in East Asia, but... I am not the Ombud's man 18:18, 28 September 2016 (UTC)

Is it worth footnoting assholery by Nobelists that does not quite rise to the "disease" classification? Examples are: Konrad Lorenz (denial of pre-Nobel antisemitism & Nazi affiliation) and Daniel Carleton Gajdusek (post-Nobel support for pedophilia)? Bongolian (talk) 18:24, 28 September 2016 (UTC)
Maybe its own section? I am not the Ombud's man 18:30, 28 September 2016 (UTC)
(EC) I wouldn't mind a sort of "dishonourable mention" section for those who, like Lorenz don't fit the actual Nobel disease criteria, but nevertheless have had some dubious views. Even if you could argue that Lorenz should have known that Nazism was a particularly nasty branch of crankery in the 1930s, his support for it still occurred before he became a Nobel laureate and thus he does not fit the definition whic is about what happens after someone bags a Nobel Prize. ScepticWombat (talk) 18:34, 28 September 2016 (UTC)
It isn't so much that Lorenz was a Nazi, it's that he successfully hid his Nazi past rather than come forward and admit the error of his ways. Bongolian (talk) 18:57, 28 September 2016 (UTC)
That would simply be deception on Lorenz's part, not crankery. Indeed, it would be rather rational to try to hide such a past if you thought you'd might get away with it. ScepticWombat (talk) 19:02, 28 September 2016 (UTC)


The concept of the Nobel disease has nothing to do with giving the Nobel prize to cranks. The idea of the disease related with recieving the price is that otherwise sane people start to lose their marbles after having recieved the Nobel price. The joke of the disease being that recieving the price "infected" them with crank appeal. That's the entire paradox of note here — that after becoming recipients of the most prestigious award in Science, they start to develop crank magnetism. For these reasons, crankery prior to having recieved the Nobel price does not count. Reverend Black Percy (talk) 19:08, 28 September 2016 (UTC)

Good post! My point exactly and why Lorenz doesn't fit the criteria.
As for determining whether a particular laureate is eligible for a space on the list, I'd suggest a "could've, should've" test:
The laureate could have known (as we now do) that an idea was crankery and evidence available was such that (s)he also should have realised this. ScepticWombat (talk)
And if the person says later 'It was an off-beat idea I was playing around with/getting people to discuss and provide collective wisdom for or against'/it made sense at the time with then current knowledge/I was going to write a novel in which it was a valid plot device' etc they can probably be excluded. (And who doesn't have 'a pet offbeat idea or two'?) (talk) 14:17, 30 September 2016 (UTC)


So if you win the Peace, Literature or Economics Prizes you will not be so infected? And is there an IgNobel Disease?

To what extent is the 'disease' more apparent than real - a proportion of other scientists come out with daffy statements but are listened to less because they did not win a Nobel Prize? (What is the quote about the plausibility of a distinguished scientist saying something is or is not feasible?) (talk) 22:04, 19 April 2017 (UTC)

Black, or maybe it was Scholes, of Black-Scholes fame, created a company called Long Term Capital. Using math only, it'd use algorithms to pick the perfect investments. It failed miserably, because the market itself is made up of panicky fools not an army of Homo Economicus. In real sciences, you can be wrong for a few years until someone can finally run the experiments to prove otherwise. In social sciences, you can be wrong forever as long as what you say is what people want to hear. In finance, if you are wrong you go bankrupt. So no, Eco prize winners can be wrong even in their own damn field.
For a more recent example, look at Sharpe and how he has no fucking clue how pensions work.
As for peace, well, Henry Kissinger. CorruptUser (talk) 12:36, 4 October 2017 (UTC)

Gerard 't Hooft[edit]

Surprised to see him on this crank list. I had not heard Superdeterminism labeled as pseudoscience. For example Rationalwiki does not have any page except this one labeling is as such, while Wikipedia (with its higher than RW's scientific standards) finds it among many legit alternative interpretations of quantum physics. (talk) 07:26, 4 October 2017 (UTC)

Does it? The Wikipedia article calls it "hypothetical" and "untestable". I've never heard about Superdeterminism one way or another. RSamys (talk) 07:49, 4 October 2017 (UTC)
I agree. Superdeterminism is an unorthodox stance with bizarre implications but it isn't crankery. (talk) 18:41, 22 April 2018 (UTC)
The way Hooft uses the word, superdeterminism is basically a truism -- a universe with SD is necessarily indistinguishable from one without -- it's merely positing that there's some "cause" (local or non-local -- no need to change bell's theorem or contradict existing QM) behind random quantum events. hooft believes he is finding cellular automata that fit the bill. see his lecture notes or a review of his book on the topic ..... I think this will stay a philosophical argument for QM researchers but he definitely shouldn't be on this list for those ideas. See also his response about Bell's theorem here Shwingbop (talk) 19:42, 22 April 2018 (UTC)
His ideas are a bit out there. Often things that most everybody toys with but abandons when not much headway is made. However, he knows what it means to formulate a theory that is internally consistent, mathematically kosher, and consistent with what is already known. For that reason he is not a crank. He is, however, very interested in cranks and what makes them tick.2A01:CB0C:CD:D800:B5EE:5200:F399:8C34 (talk) 16:48, 6 October 2020 (UTC)


What is needed is some research into 'what proportion of eminent but non-Nobel Prize winning persons in the various categories' and also 'reasonably reputable persons of lower significance' support or promote such daft or stopped clock ideas (and also 'that sounds like an interesting line of research (both positive and to prove why it is so obviously wrong)' and 'potentially viable ideas at the time which proved to be dead ends).

And sometimes 'researching what proves to be wrong science etc' does provide interesting/useful results (William Perkin looking to make quinine but finding aniline dyes). Anna Livia (talk) 09:49, 4 October 2017 (UTC)

Logical Fallacy[edit]

There is a high risk of fallacy baked into the very concept itself - that is, the causation link between received the Nobel and supporting unorthodox views. For instance it is possible that Nobel winners have actually always supported weird / heterodox theories, but they just kept it to themselves - until receiving the Nobel frees them from social control. Or they did support strange theories, but no one cared until receiving the Nobel prize put them under scrutiny.

Indeed. I would not say it is a fallacy, just a misnomer. Winning the NP is the trigger that unleashes the full-blown syndrome (that was latently there) out into the open. Recent winner Penrose tends to confirm this theory. He has been publishing his kooky ideas in "popular books" (still way too advanced for ordinary readers!) for many decades now. Annoyingly, if you remove the weirdo first and last chapters from "Emperors New Clothes" you get a very nice overview of theoretical physics.

2A01:CB0C:CD:D800:B5EE:5200:F399:8C34 (talk) 16:42, 6 October 2020 (UTC)

Social Control[edit]

We should refer to the "Nobel disease" concept as a tool for social control, since it manifests itself in the form of blaming someone who does not support a mainstream opinion. It does nothing to debunk the weird theories embraced by Nobel nominees, but instead delegitimizes the person, which avoids the need for actually countering his arguments.

I am sorry, you have this backwards. Advancing arguments against the ideas of a Nobel prize winner is a fool's errand ("Who are you to question...? Do you know whom you are arguing against?") so the normal mechanisms fail. Moreover, many academics, Nobel laureates or otherwise, become obsessed with crazy ideas in doddering old age. There is an element of respect in letting them be. In some cases, there is a personal/psychological aspect. Many if not most Nobel prize winners have all their lives been convinced of their ability to be right where most others are wrong. The prize validates and reinforces this belief in themselves.

Orthodoxy is *not* a scientific category but a religious one. So blaming a scientist for 'unscientific' views is the most non-scientific attitude possible.

Nobody is being blamed. Again, you do not view the matter in the right light.

Nobel disease is the concept of heresy transplanted in a scientific community that acts less and less scientific.


Albert Einstein should seriously be considered being added to this list.

He received the nobel prize for his contributions to Quantum Physics, with particular focus on the discovery of the photoelectric effect. After that, he spent the rest of his life working on General Relativity, a theory of Astrophysics, at the time a field of study far removed from astrophysics. General relativity to this day has never been satisfactorily combined with QP. Indeed, in many situations GR and QP are in direct contradiction.

So on the one hand his peers reviewed him and accepted his theories in regards to Quantum Physics. However, until the advent of WW2, there was much criticism from his peers in regards to his cosmological theory of general relativity. It is accepted now as 'fact' but that was not always so during his lifetime. Legitimate scientific criticism of GR has never ceased - though in this day and age any scientist critical of GR is usually labelled a 'crackpot' and often lose their employment. A process which is unscientific and irrational. Incidentally, this was exactly how the physics community treated a young mr Einstein at first - ("how dare you question isaac newton, young man?")

I am not 'trolling'. This concept of 'nobel disease' applies perfectly to Einstein.

I put this in the talk page rather than just editing out of respect for the moderators of this wiki. — Unsigned, by: / talk

OK, a few remarks to this:

(1) If GR was just Einstein's Nobel craziness, then the whole community swallowed it and we must have hallucinated the experimental evidence. In a typical case of ND, somebody like Crick says he has discovered the true science of consciousness and gets mostly ignored. So even if this were an example, it would be a really atypical one.

(2) |GR skeptics are treated as heretics, get laughed at, lose employment." Well, no, GR is not liturgic dogma. Physicists think about the QP/GR problem all the time, and talk about it all the time; it is hardly a matter of getting ostracised just for thinking either one or both are incomplete. On the other hand, there are folks like Stephen Crothers who, instead of focussing on their modest (and perhaps too boring) PhD project decide to prove GR wrong, unencumbered by the required expertise. He missed out on a PhD and a career in science by choice. Lots of people who do a degree and or a postdoc do not go on in academia because they are not good enough - and once out they may claim it is because they did not swear allegiance to some dogma. Academia is corrupt, but in a big-business way, not an organised religion way.

(3) In particular, nobody believes that reality has to be smooth in the mathematical sense at the smallest scale (nor does anyone believe the opposite is necessarily true; it is really an open question). There are mathematical structures that give the advantages of the continuum at sufficiently large scales without being smooth "all the way down" - however, at present there seems to be no clear advantage in adopting any one of them.

(4) There is a general idea that this is not really serious because all problems are confined to the Planck scale. This is a misunderstanding.

(5) You are right, GR and QP are fundamentally incompatible. Quantum superposition invokes states that live in entirely different spacetimes! And nothing in QP furnishes an upper bound to the size of systems in superposition - in practice, cats, marbles, even tiny specks of dust are out of the question - I think a buckyball holds the record - but in theory, such states are permitted. And this means that in principle the problem is not confined to the Planck scale.

(6) Nobody knows how to resolve this. Penrose has suggested that there is a kind of Heisenberg uncertainty in spacetime. He exploits the time/energy variant of Heisenberg uncertainty, arguing that the energy scale here is to do with the self-gravitation of the object that is in quantum superposition, and the associated time scale imposes a lifetime on this superposition.

I would hardly call Einstein's work in GR dabbling in a pseudoscience field. Someone recently opened up the field with another scientific theory called SR. And it is even more mathematically rigorous and has even better predictive power. This is the exact opposite of the typical signature of pseudoscience. Tulpa001 (talk) 14:34, 9 October 2020 (UTC)


Penrose is rightly lauded for many contributions to maths and theoretical physics. He has also entertained some truly crazy ideas re consciousness, and some highly speculative ideas re cycles of time and our ability in principle to discern signatures of past universes in the background radiation (somebody correct me if I get this detail wrong) of the present universe. He can be regarded as someone who caught the disease long before winning (deservedly) the NP for his black hole work. This reinforces the idea that NPs are often won by original thinkers easily infatuated with kooky ideas. The prize simply unleashes the winner into the limelight and out of the bounds of normal checks and balances. It is the trigger rather than the cause of the disease. 2A01:CB0C:CD:D800:B5EE:5200:F399:8C34 (talk) 16:38, 6 October 2020 (UTC)

His views are a lot more nuanced; from what I recall reading the Emperor's New Mind years ago he's very clear and honest in saying that this is outside of mainstream science, that he doesn't have any good evidence for it, and that he's not an expert on e.g. the biology on the brain. From what I've seen, it's the same with his "oscillating big bang" thing that he's been talking about more recently.
IMHO it's not really "Linus Pauling kooky" but more "blue-sky out-of-the-box thinking kooky". It's okay to have weird kooky ideas on the fringes or outside of science, as long as you're honest that they're weird kooky ideas and not proper science, which Penrose is as far as I know. I don't think this really fits the definition of "pseudoscience" and has only a superficial similarity.
I've gone ahead and removed it for the time being. Carpetsmoker (talk) 16:58, 21 May 2021 (UTC)
The boundaries between 'Nobel disease and its affiliates' ('accepted experts and notable people making daft statements') and 'exploring lines of thought that do not fit conventional understanding (and some of which may prove useful generally in the subsequent research') can be vague, and will shift over time (eg discussions over how long the Sun would last before the concept of nuclear fusion was researched).

Perhaps the topic could be extended somewhat - Lysenkoism and the Vatican's attitudes towards the theories of Galileo spring to mind. Anna Livia (talk) 12:20, 25 August 2021 (UTC)


How is eugenics quackery? It's just a bad view, like supporting genocide. — Unsigned, by: / talk

Define Eugenics for me please. ☭Comrade GC☭Ministry of Praise 22:29, 9 October 2020 (UTC)
Both RW and WP place their eugenics pages in the pseudoscience category. The basic problem of considering eugenics as a science, as I see it, is that breeding for improved traits in humans is only rarely clear-cut. Seemingly negative traits can have positive aspects (e.g., sickle cell and thalassemias being protective of malaria on a population-wide scale). Bongolian (talk) 23:00, 9 October 2020 (UTC)

Michael Levitt[edit]

I see there have been a few attempts to add Michael Levitt. I've searched around a bit, I think this source seems a quite comprehensive summary (and justification for adding him). — Unsigned, by: 2a02:1810:1433:f800:cae0:ecc2:6049:f359 / talk / contribs

Can we add Levitt now that Wikipedia has added him? 2A01:598:D032:EE92:15A5:846B:B5A2:7706 (talk)
Yes. Bongolian (talk) 17:42, 9 August 2021 (UTC)