Cranks, academics and practitioners

When I was a graduate student at Columbia University in the 1970s, physics (rather than genomics or IPOs) was the strange attractor for the aspiring scientists of the world. Bearing witness to this was the large folder of documents near the entrance to the physics department library. We referred to it as the ‘crank file’.

The folder contained the unsolicited typewritten letters, manuscripts and appeals that poured steadily into the mailbox of the department’s chairman. Eccentric though the

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