A Brief Tour of the Archive of Useless Research


(Excerpted from Kooks: A Guide to the Outer Limits of Human Belief)

The archives of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in Cambridge, Massachusetts contain the original research papers of some of the most eminent scientists, past and present, including Norbert Wiener (cybernetics) and Philip Morrison (astrophysics) to name just two. In addition, the MIT archives contain the lesser known research of A. Page Cochran, Elizabeth Boyle and C.F. Elrick, and works such as, Darwin as a Pirate, LO and BEHOLD! A Duplicate Key that Unlocks and Unmasks Mathematics, and The Riddle of the Universe SOLVED to the Student Competents of my Race. These works constitute a veritable museum of rejected theories and unrecognized genius, an encyclopedia written not by the experts, but by the bastard children of science. This collection is known as the Archive of Useless Research.

Rather than offering a contribution to the existing body of scientific research, the works in this collection offer to replace it, to overturn it, to oppose it or merely to attack it. More often than not, the celebrated scientists themselves are the subject of the attacks which, at times, revert to name calling. But established scientists have better things to do than argue with the cranks. So, rather than take up the various challenges presented in such work, they either dispose of the material, or keep it for amusement in their "crank files." And it is from these "crank files" that the collection was formed.

For years MIT's Engineering Library held on to the crank files of its past researchers which, collectively, became known as "The American Institute of Useless Research." In 1940 Albert Ingalls, an editor for Scientific American, contributed his own bulging crank file, as well. The amalgamation of MIT's and Ingalls' material comprise the current collection, which fills six file boxes, available for perusal by interested scholars, journalists and laypeople. Though the Institute Archives stopped adding to this collection in 1965, more recent examples of "useless research" may be found among the personal papers of individual scientists.

Among this collection are some beautifully and elaborately self-published books; one immediately wonders how their authors--in an age when printing was considerably more costly than today--were able to afford it. Kathy Marquis, the former "Reference Archivist" who took an interest in the six "useless" boxes, thinks that being "driven" was probably enough:

...these people are driven. And if they have any money, it's going to go into publishing this stuff. Because they are so compelled to put it down and to get it out. So I'd say, if they have any resources to their name, they're going to find a way to publish it, and some of them are going to go on mimeograph, and some of them are going to spend the money to have it hardbound, because it's so important to them. I wouldn't be surprised if they didn't have enough clothes but they got their book published.
Though each pamphlet, book or paper in the Archive is unique, they all deal with similar questions or seek to prove similar propositions. As one might expect, many of them "solve" the ancient problem of squaring the circle, prove that Einstein is wrong, or that Gravity is bunk. In her years as Reference Archivist, Kathy Marquis observed three specific recurring themes:
One is discomfort with religion and science, and that can go either way. They can either make up their own religious theories or they make up their own scientific theories. But the scientific theories have religious overtones, and the religious theories try to take in science somehow, sort of like Creationism, now. And another theme is debunking. You know, Einstein was all wrong, Newton was all wrong, Copernicus was all wrong, and I'm right. And then the third thing is the people who want to solve the entire world riddle in two pages, and don't care whether it's provable or not, it's just true because they say it's true. ...
Frequently, the authors' theories, opinions and rants are represented as "discoveries."

Seabury Doane Brewer, for example, made no less than 124 discoveries. His poster-sized treatise entitled, "124 Discoveries Made between 1892 and 1930 by Seabury Doane Brewer, of Lake George, New York, and Montclair, New Jersey," contains the revelation "that temperature, with its variations, is one of the most wonderful things, and is always present everywhere," and "that physicians should be compelled to destroy all unfit specimens of humanity immediately upon their birth." At the time of publication Brewer was in his seventieth year and still making discoveries.

Brewer didn't restrict himself to just one field of science, or to even just science. The subjects he explored include: Psychology, Government, Life, Evolution, Miscellaneous, Education, Astronomy, The Laws-of-Nature, Fire Balls,--of Lightning, Shadow Bands,--of Sun's Eclipses, Northern Lights, Radio, Mathematics, "Nothing" and Myself; he also adds a postscript concerning atoms and comets.

Though there isn't room here to list all 124, the following abbreviated list of Brewer's Discoveries is a fair representation of the type of material found in the archive:

1. That our thoughts have been, are being, and will be, thought by other thinkers.

28. That there is no such thing as Platonic love between normal males and females.

30. That umbilical cords should be allowed to wither away naturally. (I will wager that Methuselah did not have his umbilical cord monkeyed with.) Man alone interferes with the impregnation, interferes with the embryo, and interferes with birth. How unfair to the child. Watch the animals, birds and insects; watch all things in their various processes of being born.

39. That the inexorable economic law of supply and demand is a fake,--as well as many another economic law.

52. That phonetic spelling should not be allowed.

69. That twin stars do not exist. That what is seen is the result of (caused by) optical reflection.

70. That Saturn's ring does not exist. That what is seen is the result of (caused by) optical reflection.

Discovery #108, isn't really a discovery; it's the story of Brewer's correspondence with Einstein and a "Mr. Poor," which he carried on under his astronomical noms-de-plume, "Mrs. Mary Bryant" and "Shirley Brown":
108. That a "5 diagramed paraphrase" explains why it is that Einstein has not yet reached the goal. The paraphrase, and the construction of it, occurred under the following circumstances.

On March 27, 1929, (in the name of "Mrs. Mary Bryant," my astronomical nom-de-plume, although it happens to be the only time I ever wrote a letter in that name) I wrote Albert Einstein, enclosing one dollar, for an authentic translation of his latest article, --which I have never received, and he still has my one dollar.

Without looking the matter up, I think that he was reported to have said, at that time, that "gravitation" is "electricity."

In my ("Mrs. Mary Bryant's") letter to him I said that long ago [N.B.: it must have been in the early part of the 1880 decade, as far as gravitation, magnetism, and electricity was concerned] I had discovered that all things (even gravitation, magnetism, electricity, chemistry, and even Life itself) are so interwoven, intermingled, and mixed up together, that it is almost impossible to tell where one thing leaves off and an other thing begins. ...

Brewer is a good example of someone who wants to replace the scary and impenetrable theories of 20th century science with good old-fashioned common sense, or, in some cases, a strange admixture of common sense and strong opinions.

George F. Gillette, whose contribution to the Archive is Orthod Oxen of Science, is similarly critical of Einstein but, unlike Brewer, is not above simple name-calling. Of the mental giant he wrote, "it were difficult to imagine anyone more contrary and opposite to what a scientist should be... As a rational physicist, Einstein is a fair violinist." What's more, relativity is the "moronic brain child of mental colic" and "the nadir of pure drivel." In 1929 Gillette predicted that by 1940 the theory of relativity would be considered a joke.

Newton however, is the greatest genius of all time. Gillette's "spiral universe" is an improvement on Newton, but even "out-Newtons Newton" himself. Gillette's spiral universe is made of of units called "unimotes," which comprise our immediate universe called a "supraunimote." But he doesn't stop there, or at the entire cosmos, which is called the "maximote," for there is also something called the "ultimote," which is the "Nth sub-universe plane." Gillette explains the significance of this: "Each ultimote is simultaneously an integral part of zillions of otherplane units and only thus is its infinite allplane velocity and energy subdivided into zillions of finite planar quotas of velocity and energy."


Gillette's Spiral Universe

This doesn't sound very Newtonian, so far. But if you've ever taken high school physics, you may remember Newton's theories as represented by the motion of billiard balls. Gillette seems to have taken this interpretation to heart, for the only things that ever happen to objects in the universe is that they go straight, or they bump, just like billiard balls. "All motions ever strive to go straight--until they bump. ...nothing else ever happens at all. That's all there is. ...In all the cosmos there is naught but straight-flying bumping, caroming and again straight flying. Phenomena are but lumps, jumps, and bumps. A mass unit's career is but lumping, jumping, bumping, rejumping, rebumping, and finally unlumping."

Since he reveres Newton, Gillette believes in gravity, but embellishes Newton's original laws with his "backscrewing theory of gravity." Gravitation, he says, "is the kicked back nut of the screwing bolt of radiation. ... Gravitation and backscrewing are synonymous. All mass units are solar systems... of interscrewed subunits."

As for the title of his book Orthod Oxen of Science, Gillette is referring to the "orthodox oxen" of science. There is "no ox so dumb as the orthodox." These "built up favorites of publishers" are "the reverse of true scientists, ...cramped with Homoplania, ignorant of ultimotically related sub and supraplanias."

© 1995, Donna Kossy