Holy cow, I wrote a book!
I'm sure every discipline has its share of crackpots.
I suspect the physicists get it the worst,
starting with the old standbys of
perpetual motion machines and faster-than-light travel,
then tossing in quantum mechanics and nuclear physics, and stirring with
large quantities of long rambling text that makes no sense.
But my experience is with mathematics.
When I was in college, the mathematics department
onto the bulletin board.
The ones I remember:
A number theorist working on factorization
explained to me that he would frequently receive "manuscripts"
from people who claim to have found a high-speed algorithm for
factoring large numbers.
At first, he would take the time to study these manuscripts,
and each time he would
determine that the algorithm boiled down to trial division,
often cleverly-disguised trial division, but trial division nevertheless.
(Though when this was pointed out, the authors often rejected
Eventually, he realized that he could separate the wheat from the
chaff very easily by simply replying with the following message:
Thank you for your fascinating manuscript on the factorization
of large numbers.
There are some numbers that have been giving me difficulty
I would be most appreciative if you could use your technique to factor
this one for me.
Upon which he would include a number whose factorization
would take years on generally-available computational hardware
at the current state of understanding.
He never heard back from these people.
Another of my professors
told a story of one "correspondent" who was convinced that the speed of
light could be overcome. (Yes, that's actually a physics
question, not a mathematics question, but it was sent to the
math department anyway.)
The professor started by trying to explain
the principles of special relativity
to his new pen-pal
but quickly realized that wasn't going to lead anywhere.
The correspondence was quite pleasant;
the other person was a retired gentleman who gardened and enjoyed
going for walks when he wasn't working on pushing the envelope
of modern physics.
At one point, the correspondent wrote back a multi-page letter
consisting of crayon drawings that proved that the speed of
light could be exceeded. It went something like this:
The first page consisted of a drawing of the earth with a little
rocket ship in orbit around it.
Consider a rocket ship that circles the earth once a day.
This rocket is travelling at 463.831019 meters per second.
Say what you will, but these people never suffer from the problem
of too few significant digits.
Now imagine that each day, the time it takes to circle the earth
SHRINKS IN HALF.
So that on the SECOND DAY it takes only
twelve hours to circle the earth at a speed
of 927.662037 METERS PER SECOND.
The rocket ship on the second day has a few extra zoom-lines on it.
By the THIRD DAY it takes only
SIX HOURS to circle the earth at a speed
of 1855.32407 METERS PER SECOND.
The rocket ship on the third day is going a little faster.
Each page consisted of a daily status report on our little
rocket ship, illustrated in glorious crayon,
each drawing more elaborate than the last.
As the rocket ship goes faster and faster, the report
on its speed gets bigger and bigger.
I'll skip ahead a bit.
On DAY TWENTY
the rocket ship circles the earth in
at a speed of
243,181,037 METERS PER SECOND.
Finally, the hammer falls:
On DAY TWENTY-ONE
the rocket ship circles the earth
in only 82.3974609 MILLISECONDS
at a speed of
486,362,075 METERS PER SECOND.
IT HAS BROKEN THE LIGHT BARRIER.
The professor realized the jig was up.
He wrote back,
"Yes, it looks like you've done it."