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Cranks, Crackpots, and Snake-Oil Salesmen

Vortex MathVortex Space...what is it about the word "vortex" that brings out the cranks and crackpots? I wish I knew. Does the word conjure up the notion of new ideas? Or maybe it's a secret code word for "conspiracy in the making." Regardless of the reason, one thing is certain, neither "vortex math" nor "vortex space" have anything to do with vortices!

These two "vortex" pseudo-science/math concepts do not have much in common besides their name, but there are some similarities in the thought process behind them. In both cases, they appear to have begun with people who thought they were discovering something new, but in reality were rehashing math or science which had been known for a long time. In Marko's case, the number theory behind the number patterns he "discovered" had existed since antiquity, and, in fact, had been dealt with far more rigorously than Marko has done (frankly, based on what I've seen, it doesn't appear that either Marko or his buddy Randy have done any rigorous here to see just how much Marko and Randy are missing out on because they don't understand number theory!). In DjSadhu's case, the idea he thought was "new" had been around for more than two centuries.

The problem with starting out with the wrong mathematical (or scientific) background is that once you've made (or implied) brazen statements like, "I've discovered something that no one else knows," or "The government is trying to hide this new discovery from you," or "Everything you thought you knew about X is wrong," it's tough to back away from those kinds of declarations. From a pride perspective, it's hard to say, "I was wrong," and from a publicity perspective, once you've admitted that your entire foundation was sinking sand, your followers are left wondering why they should keep paying attention to anything new you come up with.

DjSadhu is certainly doing far better in this regard than Marko and his crony Randy; it appears that Sadhu is at least listening to the comments people leave on his videos (and the critiques made by actual astronomers!) and trying to repair errors he's made: note (as mentioned on another page) the fact that he's trying subtly to distance himself from the "trailing planets" notion, and also that, after having many commenters point out that a helix and a vortex are not actually the same thing, he's backing away from the use of the word vortex. His newest video makes no mention of the word vortex, or of his "life is vortex" mumbo-jumbo. But each new video has new mistakes because he's going about the science incorrectly. His guesses and surmises aren't better than actual astronomical research and observation.  There's a certain amount of arrogance needed to take your own unresearched guesses about the nature of the universe and post them as though they are scientific truth. 

This arrogance is part of why scientists have reacted to his first video with such anger.  Along with that is the fact that Sadhu is misrepresenting the scientific community.  Look at it this way.  If I told one of my math students that 2 + 2 = 4, and then a few days later I overheard that student on the playground telling all his friends, "You know how Professor Puzzler taught us that 2 + 2 = 3?  Well, he's completely WRONG!  2 + 2 = 4, and I had to discover that fact on my own, because Professor Puzzler doesn't know it!"  How do you think I would react to that? Is there really any difference between this and what Sadhu has done?  Well sure there is.  Sadhu isn't shouting this on the playground for 50 people to hear; he's broadcasting it on the internet for millions to see.  Of course scientists are annoyed and angry!

What Sadhu should be doing (in my opinion) is developing a dose of humility, and then, after removing from youtube the vortex video (which is insulting) and the galaxy video (which is flat out wrong), contact actual astronomers to say, "Hey, I have these mad skills at creating three-dimensional simulations, but I really don't understand astronomy and gravitation.  Can you help me out? We could work together to create some really great teaching tools."  Because Sadhu is not (in my opinion) a crackpot (at least, not on the same level as the Marko/Randy madness)...he's just a talented digital artist who thought he knew a lot more science than he really did.  Unfortunately, his pseudo-science and his insult toward real astronomers has made him an enemy of the scientific community, and I'm not sure he'll ever find someone who is willing to take him seriously.

Marko and Randy, on the other hand, seem to have no desire or intention of being taken seriously; instead they appear to be playing the "let's pit ourselves against actual scientists" game, in which, instead of writing scientifically sensible documents using real scientific terminology and actual scientific method with controlled experimentation, they just flood the internet with a random assortment of theological and quasi-scientific jargon strung together in nonsensical jumbles. 

I always tell my Physics students that when the day comes that they make their grand scientific discovery, their work is just beginning. Now comes the hard part - convincing other scientists to review their work. Since every scientist out there is busy with their own work, they don't have time to read every paper written by every dilettante and scientific newcomer, so the up-and-coming scientist's exposition about their new discovery needs to be succinct ("Kill unnecessary words!" I tell them), precise, and free of all jargon except that which is universally understood within the scientific community (and you'd better make sure the jargon is used properly!).

[And speaking of jargon, here's a little hint for you Marko.  That picture over there on the right is called a DIAGRAM, not an EQUATION.  Even my freshman algebra students know the utter absurdity of calling that thing an equation.  Just stop, okay?]

My students write excellent lab reports. Randy and Marko, on the other hand, appear to be trying their best to make their exposition exactly the opposite of what it should be in every possible way. It's as though they are trying to guarantee that no real mathematician or scientist will ever pay attention to them. Of course, that's great for them, because it appeals to the conspiracy theorists ("No one is listening to us," or "The scientific community is trying to cover up our discoveries," they could whine), and since they have hours upon hours upon hours of these nonsensical videos, no one can ever "prove them wrong," because any time someone says, "This is nonsense," they can always reply with "Of course they don't understand; they haven't studied the full body of our work."

Nice try, guys. If you can't provide a single, coherent, scientific idea in the first two minutes, you have no right or reason to expect anyone to watch/read more.

Are Marko and Randy true believers in what they're saying? It's hard to tell with Marko, and I lean toward thinking that he really believes what he's saying. Randy, on the other hand, seems to have the general demeanor of a snake-oil salesman; it's tough for him to string together the nonsense syllables without just a hint of a twinkle and smirk, as though he is saying, "I can't believe you guys are dumb enough to swallow this." And even if you think I'm imagining the sneering, smirking attitude, listen to him make wacky, preposterous claims like "it has been peer reviewed by some of the best names in science." Yes, their work has been reviewed, and given 20 thumbs down. Repeatedly. Yet Randy brazenly calls it a peer review every time a real mathematician or physicist reviews their work by saying, "are you out of your freaking mind?" (and comments much nastier and more profane than that) and uses that as a way of implying that scientists actually like their ideas.

But in the case of Vortex Based Math, I think Marko needs Randy - the true believer needs the snake-oil salesman; he needs someone who is willing to, without batting an eyelash, mobilize the youtube "scientific community" into doing silly things with magnets and coils, all the while convincing them that if only they can make a magnet do X [where X = wobble, lift off a table, or maybe even dance a jig], they will have proved Y.

A while back, a TEDx convention made the horrible mistake of inviting Randy to do a talk on Vortex Based Math. Eventually (after realizing what a mistake it was!) they pulled the video of his talk from the internet, but of course it was too late; there are already other copies out there, and if you search on YouTube, you can find the Randy Powell TEDx talk quite easily. If you can bear to suffer through the whole thing (it's not easy, listening to Randy as he spews out random nonsense while fighting to hold back a smirk, and then pretends to do a "scientific experiment" that would make my high school students cringe at its nonsensicality), at the end you'll hear Randy follow up his nonsense with the claim that they need money for more research.

Yep, sounds like a snake-oil salesman to me.


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