I have a troll!

As a practicing physicist I’ve met/interacted with a few people who can be considered Trolls – or maybe “quacks” is a more appropriate term since rather than just arguing for the sake of arguing they believe they have discovered some important feature about the world which they alone understand. I’ve been e-mailed by quacks, seen some quack seminars (always the best), and have now had a public debate with one – “public” as in the venue is the comment section on Youtube.

Of course, who cares, everyone on the internet is crazy. Well, this is my first experience so I’m recording it. I’m making some teaching videos for a partially flipped class we are teaching at Merrimack College. Last week, I posted a video about time dilation for my class to watch this week:

(click the youtube link on the bottom right to see the troll I am referring to),

Pretty quickly, I had someone named “Pentcho Valev” asking why the speed of light was constant. I was split between thinking “wow someone doesn’t understand but really wants to know more!” and thinking “uh oh”. In retrospect, I should have known what was happening as soon as a read these two lines:

“To put it simply, the frequency shifts because the speed of light shifts.”

“An alternative explanation of the frequency shift (the only salvation for relativity) involves the assumption that the motion of the observer has somehow changed the wavelength of the incoming light. […] This assumption is so obviously absurd that relativists never state it explicitly. Yet without it relativity collapses.”

Doing my due diligence as a physicist and teacher, I attempted to reason with him. But, he’s a troll and it didn’t work. Meh, no big deal.

BUT, it turns out Pentcho Valev is an entire internet quack phenomenon! There is even an entire (albeit out-of-date) website, outlining his “scholarly activities”:

http://bip.cnrs-mrs.fr/bip10/valevfaq.htm#embarrased

So there are lots of ways one can decide informally “they have made it” – that is, not an award or publication or something. Maybe you get recognized at a conference by someone who knows your work, or the subject of something you published is a topic of debate *without* you having to inject it into the discussion manually. Well, I’m trying to teach early-career STEM majors the basics of mechanics – how to solve problems, how to use conceptual and analytic reasoning, and how to avoid common pitfalls and misunderstandings. And I’ve had a famous troll pay attention.

I’m going to count this as “I’ve made it”.

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2 thoughts on “I have a troll!

  1. Valev has recently opened a Google account and is claiming on various forums that the experiments verifying general relativity were fraudulent. This accusation seems to trace back to a media inquisition run by the Nazis against Einstein, but I can’t follow the politics. (Apparently it was Sommerfeld who said it, which I don’t understand since other sources say he was defending Einstein.) So Valev may be more than just a troll, if you catch my drift.

    Valev also seems to be involved in the “Network 54” anti-Einstein campaign.

    • That motivation is possibly terrifying, but we have to remember that the internet provides a home for crazy ideas, and even gives them a form of validation. It just means we have to be twice as vigilant. But this history is interesting, thanks for sharing.

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