The Crank Index

Son #1 sent me an article about cranks, people who hold strong, contrarian positions. The focus of the article was mathematical cranks, those who insist that they have solutions to mathematical problems known to have no solution.

I especially enjoyed The Crank Index in the article, attributed to mathematician Chris Caldwell. Caldwell studies prime numbers, apparently quite the honeypot for cranks. Caldwell’s Crackpot Index is “partly‚Ķa joke,” but we know what that means: it is partly NOT a joke.

A few of the elements from the list that made me smirk:

  • 1 point for each word in all capital letters;
  • 5 points for every statement that is clearly vacuous, logically inconsistent, or widely known to be false;
  • 10 points for each such statement that is adhered to despite careful correction;
  • 10 points for expressing fear that your ideas will be stolen;
  • 10 points for stating that your ideas are of great financial, theoretical, or spiritual value;
  • 10 points for beginning the description of your work by saying how long you have been working on it;
  • 20 points for naming something after yourself;

The next bit of this post is purposefully vague, to protect the innocent, and me as well.

Family Member A and I realized that some of The Crank Index items have use beyond mathematics. In particular, we noticed that some of the items apply to things that come out of Family Member B’s mouth. To me, “10 points for each such statement that is adhered to despite careful correction” was a spot-on articulation of an issue I regularly face with B.

Family Member A and I proceeded to hand out points: “5 points,” “10 points,” “10 points again.” Rather than discouraging Family Member B, this seemed to egg B on. An onslaught of logical inconsistencies, adherence despite careful correction, and (figurative) capital letters. Alas.

Family Member A then brought to my attention Goodhart’s Law. “When a measure becomes a target, it ceases to be a good measure.” Or, as Wikipedia explains, people “who are aware of a system of rewards and punishments will optimize their actions within said system to achieve their desired results.”

But we were experiencing a little known variation on Goodhart’s Law. Any measure at all is not a good measure to shape the behavior of people who LIKE ATTENTION. You guessed it, Kornish’s Law. 22 points, FTW. Who is the crank now?

4 Comment

  1. Jen says: Reply

    hilarious! Family member A and B! love it. I can practically hear the conversation.
    Is there an article with an example of Caldwell’s crankiness?

  2. laurakornish says: Reply

    Here you go:

    The first sentence of his post: “I have investigated and researched on Pi for 35 years and it has taken me this long to come to these conclusions. ” 10 points!

    I must say the digital marketer in me admires the search-friendly set up on the page. It should rank highly in searches for the correct value of pi. Crankiness, 21st century style.

  3. Jim Kornish II says: Reply

    Family member B sounds awesome. How many points?

    1. laurakornish says: Reply


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