Extending the healthy human life span is an endeavor that attracts more than its share of cranks; perhaps it's just that time of year, or maybe the rising profile of certain legitimate anti-aging ventures, but my inbox and the Fight Aging! comments have been especially busy of late. Vibrational devices to "change the voltage in your cells", vague promises of thrice-longer life in sheep from China, and more, mixed in with odd diatribes of all varieties. What is a crank?
"Crank" (or kook, crackpot, or quack) is a pejorative term for a person who writes or speaks in an authoritative fashion about a particular subject, often in science, but is alleged to have false or even ludicrous beliefs.
Science in progress via the scientific method is very much a matter of uncertainty, an often very slow and winding path to a consensus of theories and practical applications thereof, waiting to be overturned by the next great discovery. Humans crave immediate answers and certainties, however. It's unfortunate that the trait that leads to scientific investigation - the burning desire to know the answer as soon as possible, and thereby effect change in the world - is the very same trait that inspires the most harm to progress. A crank has taken that (internally) logical step to satisfy a base desire for certainty by creating "certainty" from thin air.
This certainty by revelation is the polar opposite of the scientific process; you know a crank because his or her work is unable to survive the scrutiny of the scientific community, professional and otherwise. The difference between a crank and a young upstart on his or her way to change a field of science is actually very clear: it lies in their engagement with the research community and ability to defend, improve and win acceptance of their work in the cut and thrust of the scientific method.
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