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.)
The original wording was better--- can you replace "misguided" with "a crank" again? It reads better, and I like it more. Plus, it's what you meant.
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.
Hey Ron, I appreciate your answers here on Quora and I have a suggestion that may in a way help remove the skepticism and feeling of looking at a crank one might get from your answers. It is also in line with most of what you've posted: post the mathematics and physics directly!
While I do know that we could just go and read all of the references you give, and that it may be that you want the people who ask questions to find the answers on the relevant literature, I see no objection to also incorporating the main parts of the math into your answers. This of course only deals with the scientific side of your contributions, which in any case is likely to be the only one that should be undisputable.
If it sounds like politics to you, please bear the burden with the hope that it may increase awareness to those issues to which you call attention.
On quora I never did anything mathematically deep, and it's not like I have done anything that mathematically deep in general. But if you mean equations, Stackexchange is easier, because you use \$ to embed tex. Quora is not really a math-friendly site (yet?), the way to place equations is ponderous--- you need to [math] any tex, and a technical answer sometimes you need to embed math in a line of text, like "suppose $0< x < 3 $", you want to tex the part with inequalities, but it gets tedious to put "[math]" all around it all the time.
But I don't think quora wants to be a site with unreadable walls of equations either. It's a discussion site, and you can usually link to a source, or else use google to verify the claims.
Regarding crank-feeling, I don't care about it except to help people get rid of it by inducing it while still being right. The internet is to get rid of that feeling, to judge on content. If you get crank feeling even when reading Archimedes Plutonium I am not happy, that feeling is socially mediated and worthless.
Thank you very much for your response. I hope you understand that this question was prompted by my admiration for much of your writing and thoughts, in surprising combination with the habits you acknowledge with "I try very hard to sound like a crank, I admire them", and I apologize for any offense I caused.
No offense taken! I only get offended when people don't say I'm full of shit. I am full of shit sometimes, a lot of times, and it's good to have no respect, because you get your crap fixed up by people who know more.
How do you define "full of shit"? Do you mean you're wrong sometimes? That's understandable. Who isn't?
But I don't generally hear "full of shit" being used to mean "in error." It includes that notion, because it also includes deception.
Is that how you mean it? That you purposefully say things you know are wrong? If so, that's interesting. Why?
No, I never decieve on purpose, and very few people do that anyway. Online, it's stupid, because you get called out on it. I meant that I am ignorant for some reason of something. When I say that person is "full of shit", I mean they are deluding themselves too.
Less interesting, but crystal clear. Thanks.
One more question: I've noticed that you reach a level of absolute confidence with lots of ideas. Or at least you write as if you're 100% confident.
You seem (though I may misunderstand you) to feel that if you've examined all the evidence and used exacting methodologies, your conclusions must be correct, and that anyone else who goes through the same process must necessarily come to the same conclusions.
I find this interesting, because I am a strong believer in deep research, careful observation, and the Scientific Method. And yet I never have your level of confidence. As far as I'm concerned, all my conclusions, no matter how clear and inevitable they seem, are provisional. I believe this for many reasons, including the possibility that I might be mentally ill or subject to some kind of catastrophic cognitive bias.
Am I wrong that you're different from me? If I'm right, how come?
Since absolute confidence in a real-world proposition is clearly not achievable, you can never be 100% sure, only closer and closer.
But since this is always true, the word "absolute confidence" does not mean anything, and is now free to be redefined. I redefine absolute confidence for rmyself as around 5 sigma sure. That's about .999999 sure, which means I should only be wrong 1 time in a million. That's not really how often I am wrong, but on things I do a careful analysis on, and come to be sure, it had better be not too far off, or else it is me that is deluding myself!
The methods you use to acquire confidence is Baysian, you make a hypothesis, you examine the evidence, and adjust your priors. You have to be careful that you aren't fooling yourself, or readjusting the hypothesis too much in response to the data. You get confident when you probability goes to 99.999% (but even then, you should be aware that there might have been a fraudulent document you read, so you have to take it with a grain of salt, double check with other sources, the usual deal).
But at some point, you gain confidence. When the idea is already supported by other people, all you need to do is shut up and defend it tepidly, it's already accepted.
But when the idea is rejected by politics, despite the evidence, now it is your duty to do propaganda. You can't do propaganda with careful scientific terminology, you must be confident, and find the most confrontational tone, because this is the only way to penetrate the cloud of social consensus people live in. So you baldly state what you have acquired confidence in, point people to evidence, and hope they read it and estimate it's quality as evidence correctly.
For example, with regard to Shakespeare and Marlowe, I read some Shakespeare, I read a bit of Tambourlaine, and I got weirded out. They sound like the same guy. My confidence in this idea at this point was 0%, for social reasons, it never occured to me that this is possible.
But then I hear about Marlovians, read a little history, see that it is possible (but outlandish), and assign it a .0001 likelihood.
Then I see Mendenhall's coincidence. Wow. That's incredible. That's a 1 in 100 coincidence (at least), ok .01 likelihood.
Then I see Farey's graphs, another 1 in 100 coincidence. Now the likelihood is 60% or so.
But now I have to think about the prior I used. Why did I assign a prior of .0001 initially? Because a bunch of people socially told me it was false. I know that social forces can congeal for reasons having nothing to do with truth. So I check it out: Marlowe is a heretic, an atheist, and his work was buried for a hundred years. So I really shouldn't have been so negative on the idea. The idea, due to the weirdness is really perhaps only 1% likely, if you ignore social forces, and then the Mendenhall and Farey stylometries make it 99% likely.
So I am confident, but not super-confident. Then comes the Charniak test, which rules out Marlovian authorship (according to the conclusions). If I am right, it must be fraudulent. But looking it over, it looks ok, so my confidence plummets to 10%.
But then reading the details of the Charniak stuff, I see that it IS fraudulent! They got 9 stylometry hits on Marlowe-Shakespeare and buried it! A successful prediction gives confidence, and in this case, it's another factor of 100 (their confusions are really unlikely if you look at how good the stylometry is). Now I'm 99.99% (notice this is about 20 minutes after I was down at 10%, you can adjust confidence quickly), and now I am sure.
So then I start doing louder and louder propaganda. This is good confidence. The Shakespeare guide to Italy has increased my confidence since to what is effectively certainty.
This is how scientists gain confidence. It's a roller coaster process, but you have to trust it, because it is how you get at truth. I went into detail, because it seems this is not how the public gets to the truth.
The public gets at truth by counting number of trusted authoristies making statements supporting, counting the number of authorities with statements opposing, and taking ratios. This is a ridiculous way to live, and it makes you susceptible to propaganda.
Conflict breaks through this, because when you have conflict, the conflict aversion instincts makes people review the evidence neutrally, to know which side to take, because the social methods have broken down. This is how you get to truth.
I only talk about the times when this process reaches conclusions that are not already widely accepted. There is no point in talking when everyone already agrees with you, you are just currying favor.
Thanks, I'm aware of all that and agree with it intellectually. But it still doesn't answer my core question, which is probably not one you can answer as it comes down to personality, maybe at the genetic level.
If two people agree that when the cross a certain street, they have a .001% chance of being killed by a reckless driver, one might feel confident crossing while the other might feel frightened. Yet the frightened one might understand the odds just as clearly as the confident one.
"Frightened" is an emotion, not a logical deduction. Certain people are wired together so that rational process have strong sways over their emotions. Others aren't. (And, I suspect, many are less wired that way than they claim to me. To some extent, my intuition is backed up by research.)
For instance, I have a horrible time with "if X is out of your control, it's pointless to worry about it." I agree with that, but so what?
Yes, worrying about something out-of-my-control is totally wasted energy. But that doesn't stop me from worrying about it. My emotions are neither under the control of my volition nor completely swayed by my rational processes.
They are somewhat affected by logic and evidence, but only somewhat.
I won't get into an authorship discussion, because, in my experience, those never go well.
But what's interesting is that we've been examining the same data and yet have come to different conclusions.
I have read all of Shakespeare and all of Marlowe. I have studied them for about 25 years and have spent the last 20 directing Shakespeare plays. I own about 400 books on Elizabethan dramatists and have read them all, at least in part.
I have also read the stylometry evidence and the various arguments on both sides.
And I have no emotional stake in the matter. I don't care if Marlowe, Shakespeare, or Mickey Mouse wrote the plays. I don't even understand why people get so emotional about it ... But I believe Shakespeare wrote they plays. And I came to that believe after examining the same evidence you examined.
We could, of course, chalk that up to me being brain damaged, not very intelligent, or prey to a bias of which I'm unaware. If any of those things are true, I am, of course, unable to comment on them.
All I can do is admit they're possibilities.
If you read all of Marlowe and all of Shakespeare, and the stylometries, you must conclude that they are the same. There is no other honest conclusion. The statistics are overwhelming. The fact that you come to a different conclusion is simply due to the social pressure on the other side that makes you doubt the quality of the evidence. I trained myself to ignore social pressure, it's not genetic, it was hard, you have to do anti-social things on purpose, for example, talk to yourself aloud.
It's not brain damage, you need to also read other authors from the same era to see that they are the same guy (you might just think everyone wrote like that back then otherwise), and know the chronology. You also have to be able to make an honest historical story, and the Shakespeare Guide to Italy allows you to do this, reconstructing Marlowe's travels in Italy pretty precisely.
You are jumping to a conclusion with no evidence to support it. And I'm not referring to your claim about Shakespeare. I'm referring to your claim about me.
The fact that you come to a different conclusion is simply due to the social pressure on the other side that makes you doubt the quality of the evidence.
How do you know that?
If you read all of Marlowe and all of Shakespeare, and the stylometries, you must conclude that they are the same.
Let's assume you're right. No rational person could examine the evidence and come to my conclusions. That means I'm an irrational person.
Okay, but are you seriously suggesting that social pressure is the only cause of irrationality? It certainly could be that, but why must it be. Where does your confidence come from, especially since you know so little about me.
Why isn't it possible that I'm mentally ill or simply not intelligent enough (or not well-trained enough) to follow certain lines of reasoning.
As I don't tend to make the same sort confident assertions you do, I won't claim you're wrong about social pressure, but I'm highly skeptical.
I think the people who insist Shakespeare wrote Shakespeare are absurd, even though I agree with them. They are absurd for caring in such a personal way. My friends who are Stratfordians generally know better than to try to use me as an ally.
You are right, it isn't the only cause. But I know you from previous conversations, and I doubt very much that you are susceptible to the other ones, like "confirmation bias" or whatnot, because even a tiny bit of education overcomes these, and you seem to have this. Most people do today, I don't see hardly anybody make these primitive intellectual errors anymore.
The one thing I do see is social pressure. When the evidence makes you come to a socially unacceptable conclusion, you just raise the bar for the evidence, because your prior is depressed by the social stuff. This is summarized in a terrible lie "Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence". What this means is "socially unpopular claims have to clear a higher bar". No, all claims have to clear the same bar, solid 5-sigma evidence. The basic principle of science is that "All claims only require the same kind of ordinary evidence."
For Shakespeare/Marlowe, my own prior was depressed by the social stuff. I was laughed at by Shakespeare people, and I thought "What do I know". But eventually, I rejected this prior-depression, and I just accepted what my own eyes, and the statistical evidence, kept saying.
The same is true for 9/11, unfortunately. It is not possible to believe the official story using evidence, for example, just the Murray St. engine is sufficient to falsify the story (it's not from the right kind of plane). But people use social forces to deny the objective evidence.
So I ask you, please, review the evidence with no regard to social stuff. It's hard to do, I am not any better at it than you. It's not like I led the charge on Marlowe/Shakespeare or 9/11 truth, or any of these, I followed other people who had a clearer head and a stronger mind than me.
So your theory is that though I think Stratfordians are silly, I'm socially pressured by them.
The reason I'm skeptical is that I have tons of ideas about Shakespeare that are not socially acceptable in my set. I'm a director, and I am am almost daily in conflict with people who disagree with me.
I'm not claiming I'm immune to social pressure, but this would be an odd place for it to occur.
It's much more likely I'm simply misunderstanding something or haven't paid as much attention to certain pieces of evidence as I think I have.
In any case, I don't see how I could do what you're asking. Even if I am a victim of social pressure, how can I dispense with it if I am unaware of it? Look at the evidence without worrying what people will think or what they'll say if I announce I'm a Marlovian? I don't care what they'll say or think. (Maybe I do care at some level I'm unaware of. But I'm unaware of what I'm unaware.)
Also, why would I bother going back over all that evidence when I don't care who wrote the plays. Honestly, if Marlovians or Oxfordians paid for my next production, I'd be willing to lie for the rest of my life and say I believed Marlow or Oxford wrote the plays.
Social pressure works even if you think the people are nitwits. Your priors are modified. If you listen to Rush Limbaugh every day, so as to disagree with him, you will become conditioned by the propaganda to rearrange the questions you ask of yourself, and become susceptible to modifying your priors.
For example, a lot of people ask "how did the introduction of better female-actors change Shakespeare's style?" Just by considering this question, you're assuming the guy was around the playhouse, working directly with the actors. There is no reliable textual or historical evidence for this, but it modifies your prior, just by considering the question, and finding some very weak coincidences that suggest it is true. Each such coincidence shifts your prior by .3, but you find 10 of them (it's easy, Shakespeare writes for women more and more with time), and suddenly, you have acquired 1/3^10 confidence, or effective 5-sigma certainty, that Shakespeare wrote Shakespeare. This is despite the fact all this pseudo-evidence shouldn't shift your prior at all, because it is not evidence, it is extremely plausibly pure coincidence, and therefore carries no statistical value.
Similarly, if you look for Stratford references, puns on "Will" and "Hathaway", weak coincidences like "Hamlet" and "Hamnet", and so on. All of these are worthless, they are the type of evidence used by the Oxfordians, but they shift your confidence, when they should do nothing to your confidence in either direction.
On the other hand, the statistical tests are real evidence, they are very strong real evidence. I want to know how do you account for the statistical similarities between Marlowe and Shakespeare if they are different people. It's absurd coincidences, function words, letter baskets, vocabulary, sentence length, prop-references, everything! Thereis also a lot of direct lifting of lines, including stupid irrelevant ejaculations. It is next to impossible to understand just by influence, because it is a slavish complete influence, plagiarism really, something which has never before or after been seen in a guy doing genius work.
I want to know how do you account for the statistical similarities between Marlowe and Shakespeare if they are different people.
Sorry, but I have a policy against discussing authorship. I apologize if I whetted your appetite for such a discussion.
Stratfordians make me tired; Oxfordians make me tired; Morlovians make me tired; people who give a shit about who wrote the plays make me tired.
I don't like being tired.
I have never once had a discussion with a Stratfordian (etc) that he didn't insist on dominating. And, in each case, when I tried to discuss the aspects of the plays that interested me, he quit. To me, this whole issue is about as interesting as talking "about" Relativity by discussing Einstein's lovers.
I don't care if you are tired. That's your brain putting up a barrier to an uncomfortable truth. Truthers made me super-duper tired for a decade, I didn't want to hear it, because my brain was putting up a barrier. Sorry truthers, I'm on board now.
I am not interested in a discussion, because this is a one-way thing. I am telling you you are objectively wrong, and you are compelled to accept it. It's not a discussion, as I am not really listening to you, only doing propaganda.
If you don't accept the evidence, you get tired, or whatever, you are being dishonest through brain-tricks that happen to people when they are confronted with uncomfortable stuff. Please, get over it.
The reason it is important is because you can't understand the Sonnets, or the Italian content of the plays without knowing the author was Marlowe in Italy. You also can't understand the development of the style without seeing the early works.
"If you don't, you get tired, or whatever, you are being dishonest through brain-tricks that happen to people when they are confronted with an uncomfortable truth. Get over it, and get on board."
No. Why would you expect me to act against my self interest?
It's fine for you to not care that I'm tired. And it's fine with me for you to assume I'm dishonest. That's much preferable from my selfish point of view to discussing authorship.
You are going to be compelled to accept that I won't discuss it. You will deal with that however you wish (or however you must), including deciding I'm dishonest or whatever.
Ok, I'll just ignore you from now on.
Since you want me to behave differently, and I refuse to do so, that sounds like a smart strategy.
Come on. It's not what I want. It's an ethical duty. You could really persuade a lot of people, and you are choosing to close your eyes. I don't think it is an ethical choice, and ethics means acting against your self interest (sometimes).
I disagree with you. I think my ethical duty is the exact opposite. I believe the authorship question is a profound sidetrack from what's worthwhile about the plays and poems. I would be acting unethically if I prompted people to focus more on it than they already do. It's a seduction that lures people away from beauty.
Ok, it's true. I was distracted by it a little. But I'll tell you, I never would have read the sonnets (or "The Jew of Malta") if it weren't for the Marlovian business. I also would have misunderstood so much of the early plays if I didn't know the guy was traveling Italy by canal.
There are lots of little details that get filled in properly, like the references to Cobblers, the St. Gregory Well (Two Gentlemen), the references to Whitgift in Hamlet, and various Italian things, like Comedia dell-arte, which is a major influence. Also, I interpret Taming of the Shrew very differently than others, because I read it through Marlovian lenses. Kate becomes a heroic figure, a stand-in for the author, and the play no longer reads like a mysogenistic rant.
To not understand that Shakespeare is a Marlowe expat in Italy dulls the plays, removing influences. How can you do the proper staging for the comedies without having some Comedia Dell-Arte under your belt? How would you know to look for this influence if you don't know the biography?
I think the mis-readings, the falsifications, in the traditional Shakespeare industry diminish from the plays a bit. They remove the humanity and pathos from the author, and make him a crass commercial artist pumping out derivative stuff for financial gain, rather than the wild visionary original he was, and this is painful.
But it's a judgement call, and I accept your judgement. What can I do? Your call.
I don't understand exactly what you're asking me when you say, "What can I do?" Do about what?
I am glad you found a way of enjoying Shakespeare. I hope the plays and poems make you laugh until you can barely breath and also break into wracking sobs.
In general, I am not interested in author biographies (for any author), so I am neither interested in whether Marlowe wrote the plays or whether he was a commercial craftsman. Neither view is important to me or to how I approach his plays. (Which is why I am just as repulsed by the Stratfordians as the Marlovians.)
As you may or may not know, some people view art through a biographical lens; others don't. I don't. My goal when I'm watching or reading a play is to forget the author exists, so that I can forget the work is a fiction. The more I can sink into a dream state where I'm able to fall in love with Rosalind and want to strangle Iago, the better.
I know quite a lot about Comedia Del-Arte, and I think it was an influence on some of the comedies, but I would never use it to stage one. That's not how I work, and I don't believe there's such a thing as a "proper staging."
I don't give a second's though to biography when I stage the plays, so the identity of the author would change nothing.
Perhaps you'd hate my productions. Which is cool. Some people like them; some don't, though usually for different reasons than why you'd probably hate them. That's something I'm used to and it doesn't phase me. Like most directors, I direct the productions I'd like to see.
So you see, I'm different from you, because I don't care about removing humanity and pathos from the author. I have no feelings of humanity or pathos for the author. I have tons of such feelings for Cordelia, Hamlet, Othello, Lear, Titus, and so on. They are real to me. "The author" isn't.
Here's something you may or may not be able to relate to: let's say there's a song you love—one that is deeply meaningful to you; one that makes you cry when you hear it. Let's say song is the most beautiful thing you know.
Now imagine that all around you, people insist on playing that song off-key. Whenever you hear it played that way, a part of you dies.
So when people want to play you the off-key version, to spare yourself pain, you say, "No thanks. I'd rather not hear it."
But whenever anyone finds out you're a fan of the song, they insist on playing you the off-key version. They grab you, push you in a chair, and slap headphones on you. They crank up the sound.
They not only insist that you listen to it, they insist you listen to a four-hour loop of it. And they send you mp3s of the off-key version via email.
They even tell you it's your moral duty to listen to it and to play it for others.
I don't know if you can relate to that analogy. I don't know if you care. Regardless, the plays and poems we're talking about are amongst the most important things in my life. They are deeply, personally important to me in ways I can't express. So I am going to protect my experience of them.
I have forgone having children to be with these plays. I spend half my salary on them every year. I am almost $100,000 in debt because of them. I am nearly 50, and I have no savings, mostly because of these plays.
Perhaps it's selfish of me to insist on my way of relating to the plays. Perhaps my ethics are different from yours because I'm justifying my own selfishness. I don't know.
What I do know is that this is dead serious for me. These works are one of the few things that make my life worth living. I am going to relate to them the way I want to relate to them—the way I need to relate to them.
I respect that you have your own way of relating to them, and that your way may be as important to you as mine is to me. And I also respect that you think it goes beyond you and me—that I have a duty to delve into authorship and spread the word.
But from my perspective, it feels like you're insisting I make love to my wife in a particular way. Sorry, but no.
Ok! I understand your perspective now, and it's one I relate to. Peace, and hope you make some money. Perhaps a revival of Faustus would be up your alley? It's a nice play that's often overlooked.
Thanks for respecting my wishes, the message of peace, and the hope for money. That last part will never, ever happen, but it's a good thought.
Never say never, one viral production can make up for years of toil in obscurity. Where do I see your productions? I live in NYC too.
Well, I was being hyperbolic, but it's somewhat unlikely my shows will be profitable. I produce uncut (or close to it) Shakespeare plays with no sets, costumes, props, or lighting changes.
The actors wear street clothes, the props (in most of my productions) are mimed, and the lights are full on the whole time. My goal is to do as much work as possible with language alone.
I don't employ a "director's concept." (Except in the above sense: minimalist productions. Perhaps it would make more sense to say that I don't employ an interesting concept, one that makes audiences see the play with some sort of slant.)
I don't explore theme. My productions are never political or timely. And I don't work with big-name actors.
My interest is in poetry, emotion, character and plot. All else bores me.
Over the last decade, my productions have built up a following. Which generates enough revenue to play for the theatre rental. But each show still sets me back about 15K, even without sets and so on. And I do two shows a year.
Alas, we can't film them. That would be a violate the rules of the actors' union, and they would blacklist me, so I wouldn't be able to cast my shows.
But I have a "Hamlet" production blog, here: Directing "Hamlet"
Even if Marlowe wrote Shakespeare, the plays he wrote under his own name are a bit different from the "Shakespeare" ones. For one thing, they are more cerebral, more intellectual. The "Shakespeare" ones are more sensual. Their imagery is extremely different.
I am not arguing that they were written by a different author, because as I've taken great pains to say, I don't make such arguments. But same or different authors, there are differences in the two sets of plays.
I am less attracted to the cerebral ones. But I do have some admiration from "Faustus." Maybe...
I've read all the major plays from that period, but the only one I've ever produced that's not in the Shakespeare canon is "The Duches of Malfi."
I like Faustus. I may produce it some time.
This comment has been deleted November 9, 2015
No, thanks. I don't censor people. I do sound like a crank, I know it. It's deliberate.
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
cold fusion is realistic, and there is strong evidence that it has already been observed
string theory is a success; it is probably the correct theory of quantum gravity
oil is created by chemical processes in the deep Earth not involving life
certain mathematical positions regarding infinite sets and the continuum that I don't understand
marijuana is extremely destructive to high-end mental functioning for a few days after exposure, even in minuscule second-hand doses
certain Biblical or other religious issues in which I am not interested
ideas about the genesis of life that I haven't looked into
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.
Fair enough. In my defense, a large part of the reason I asked this question is because I have greatly admired a great many of his posts, and found it hard to reconcile that with my reaction to many of his other posts (as well as the abrasive tone he often takes (which I also kind of simultaneously respect and am put off by); why, then, should I not be just as blunt in my own answer-seeking?). But, yes, on sober reflection, I agree this question is not in the spirit Quora intends to cultivate, and would agree with deletion.
Just edit the question. Change the wording so it doesn't come across as offensive
I've now changed the wording
I have taken this question to moderation for possible (probable?) deletion. Sorry for your lost efforts if that happens. I found your thoughts here meaningful.
No need to censor, let him call me anything. I like it!
Might want to ask Ron if he wants it kept.
Ron has an open invitation from me to immediately delete any question about him, in line with Quora policy, and I've done that before. Without the quality answer that Mark Eichenlaub wrote, I would have deleted it on sight. That answer was good enough to restrain me from doing what I otherwise already would have done outright.
Now it's going to take something more and Ron saying the question is a stupid one would do it. Ron is an absolutist on non-censorship of ideas, but he sometimes sees little value in questions about himself.
This comment has been deleted April 20, 2018
I'm a Quora Reviewer so it's what I do.
This comment has been deleted September 12, 2013
Yes, understood. I haven't noticed any temporary ill effects after I'm sober again. I'll amend the answer to make your position clear.
Ok, maybe you process it differently. I have talked to many people who do notice, but it's only practicing physicists. It's most obvious if you try to do a tough calculation that you have some well-oiled machinery for. The machinery doesn't work anymore, and it's slow slogging, and it's annoying. Like try to calculate a Feynman diagram or the bulge of the Earth 2 days after smoking marijuana, it's tough, because there's tedious factors and all that, and the mental circuits need to be in tune.