Is Ron Maimon an expert or misguided in his deviations from the mainstream?

Is Ron Maimon an expert or misguided in his deviations from the mainstream? Yes, I know, it's possible to be both... But I crave a reductive answer. On topics where I am not equipped to judge from scratch myself, should I admire his answers or dismiss them?

For example, he seems to know a hell of a lot about physics... Then again, I'm not a physicist, so for all I know I'm being bamboozled. And, he is also a Truther (in the sense concerning the September 11 attacks), which is not a position generally considered credible, and which causes me to question the credibility I would otherwise accord him. Similar "Hey, this guy is really knowledgeable!"/"Whoa, this guy is out there!" contrasts pervade my reactions to his other writings. Someone, tell me how to feel!

(Note: Originally, this question used the word "crank", which was poor phrasing for what I wished to get at, and caused unnecessary offense. I apologize.)

Nobody can tell you how to feel. Feeling is not how you judge things, you judge things using evidence. Social consensus is not a trustworthy method of arriving at truth, it will tell you that oil is made from plants and that 19 Saudis brought down the World Trade Center.

The truther position is "not considered generally credible" because people usually don't read anything, and don't know how to evaluate evidence independent of social forces. My answers explain the attack in an original way, and I would appreciate if you would read them, take them seriously, read the evidence compiled and either change your mind or not (but it's impossible to not change your mind, the evidence is conclusive).

I try very hard to sound like a crank, I admire them. But I am usually careful in what I write, and if someone points out a mistake, I try to fix it.

My areas of expertise are physics and some parts of biology and mathematics, where I have read a significant portion of the literature. Politics, as Chomsky often emphasizes, requires no special expertise, it is something all of us must do to be informed citizens.

The strong 9/11 truth position (MIHOP) is at a precarious point right now. It is supported by around 15%, and it can either spread, or be lost for a generation or more, so that we will have to wait for revisionists in 30 years to fix the history, like the slavery people. I am trying to help it to spread, because there is no reason to wait today. We have an internet.

An anonymous ATA when asking whether a particular person "is a crank" isn't very sporting. I'm only answering because he doesn't seem to take offense too quickly and hopefully won't mind. Criticizing someone's public statements is fair game. Taking anonymous pot-shots would be a low blow.

On those matters which I am competent to judge (to wit: all of undergraduate physics and not much else), Ron is not only competent, but extremely insightful and a valuable resource.

Looking back, it's likely I stole How can I visually understand what makes an object's energy level grow quadratically with velocity while its momentum only grows linearly? from his answer Page on Stackexchange, since his answer predates mine, and I would probably have read it, since I'm active on Physics Stackexchange.

He has sometimes written excellent answers to questions I've asked, for example Is there an intuitive reason the brachistochrone and the tautochrone are the same curve? Also, his answers to other people's questions, when I understand the physics involved, are almost always accurate. Further, they aren't the sort of parroting-what-you-learned-in-school answers most people, even competent people, write. Almost all of them show some level of constructive individual analysis. So on questions in basic mechanics, quantum mechanics, electromagnetism, and relativity, I endorse him. Since Ron usually does not write answers that layman are able to appreciate, this endorsement may provide some new information.

Ron's general behavioral patterns do not match up well with those of a typical crank. On numerous occasions, I have witnessed him admitting he made a mistake and working to fix it. This is an extremely-unusual thing for a crank to do, and too rare even among us non-cranky physicists. He participates in a wide variety of discussions and is willing to discuss almost any topic in physics or mathematics, contrary to the behavior of cranks. Cranks usually try to steer every conversation toward their pet idea, something Ron generally doesn't do (although he will bring up his dissenting opinions often in threads with open-ended topics).

Ron often gets into spats with physicists online over topics in quantum field theory, string theory, and some related ideas. I am unable to tell you how often he is right versus wrong. He is clearly unwilling to be polite for its own sake or to soften his words for diplomatic reasons, and further I get the impression he's proud of this. That doesn't make him a crank, though. Just combative. His criticisms come with specific, relevant objections. Also, though I usually can't judge the technical details of the arguments I've witnessed, it's clear that he is not, as cranks do, inventing terms, concocting nonsensical arguments, etc. When he makes a claim, it's specific and meaningful enough to at least be wrong, which is not generally how cranks work. (Instead, they make statements that are syntactically sound but cannot be given any definite meaning.)

Some of the controversial opinions I've seen him uphold are

  1. cold fusion is realistic, and there is strong evidence that it has already been observed

  2. string theory is a success; it is probably the correct theory of quantum gravity

  3. oil is created by chemical processes in the deep Earth not involving life

  4. certain mathematical positions regarding infinite sets and the continuum that I don't understand

  5. marijuana is extremely destructive to high-end mental functioning for a few days after exposure, even in minuscule second-hand doses

  6. certain Biblical or other religious issues in which I am not interested

  7. ideas about the genesis of life that I haven't looked into

  8. 9/11 conspiracy theories and other conspiracy theories

I don't know much about any of these, aside from knowing the general popular opinion of scientists. The only one I have any experience with is marijuana; I've smoked marijuana occasionally in the past without noticing any of the crippling effects on high-level mental functioning that Ron claims, except while I was still high.

The fact that Ron is accurate and insightful on issues of basic physics is some evidence that his other ideas are worth taking seriously, but it is not overwhelming evidence. There are plenty of examples of people who were extremely intelligent and competent in their fields, but nonetheless believed things that are simply absurd. (e.g. Kary Mullis)

My general impression of Ron is that he is completely and obsessively interested in truth to a level unusual even scientists. He doesn't seem to take positions for the enjoyment of being contrary, since there are many opportunities to be contrary that he passes on, and instead upholds roughly the majority view (e.g. global climate change). He also doesn't show any of the common behaviors of cranks except for getting into lots of arguments, and even then he doesn't argue the way a crank does.

Almost certainly, some of his iconoclastic ideas are wrong, just because there are so many of them. But it's also almost certain that at least some of today's commonly-accepted scientific ideas are wrong, just because we keep finding things we used to believe that turned out to be wrong; overturned theories are still common in science. Although our general worldview is converging towards truth, there are a lot of details and probably a few big-picture things that are off. To find them and fix the situation, we need people with Ron's level of intellectual self-reliance. However, I suspect that Ron is not nearly as effective as he could be at helping science converge towards truth because his manner leads almost entirely to arguments, which even in science are productive only rarely.

To answer your original question as nearly as I can, when Ron writes about basic physics, I treat him as an expert. For an example of what this means in practice, if a person I don't recognize comments on my physics answers saying I'm wrong, I usually don't think very hard about it before replying because the significant majority of such comments are incompetent. If Ron makes such a comment, I will think much longer about it, even if the wording is the same, and work harder to understand the objection before replying.

When Ron writes about advanced topics in physics or mathematics, I treat it as an interesting viewpoint worth considering seriously, but don't give him extra credence beyond what I give to other competent physicists. On areas such as the nature of God, 9/11, marijuana, etc. I give him no special credence.