Yeah…you know who else sounds like crazy mother *#!@ers? Crazy mother *#!@ers.
Besides the unnecessary profanity, here’s the problem with this meme: saying that dumb people think smart people sound like crazy people does not prove that you are smart, even if somebody has called you crazy, nor does it make your critics dumb. Here’s an argument tactic favored by people with ideas that sound…well…crazy.
Person A: I say the Moon is inhabited by purple unicorns!
Person B: What?!? There’s no evidence for purple lunar unicorns! That’s crazy talk!
Person A: Of course it sounds crazy to somebody as uneducated as yourself.
If Person A’s claims hold any water, then they should stand on their own merit. Person A should be able to convince Person B of the reality of purple Moonicorns™ without calling Person B’s intellect into question. Person A is making an extraordinary claim. He should be aware that the burden of extraordinary evidence is on his shoulders.
In 1992, mathematical physicist John Baez of the University of California, Riverside, devised the crackpot index – a guide to ranking the often-pseudoscientific claims made by people seeking to revolutionize science without the worrisome burdens of evidence or common sense. Baez awards each claim (and its respective claimant) a -5 point starting credit, then adds points for each statement made by the claimant that comes straight from the Crackpot Playbook. For example, a claimant might earn 10 points for comparing himself favorably to Einstein (or, say, using a picture of Einstein in his meme), or he might gain 20 points for bringing up ridicule – real or imagined – afforded to his previous “theories” by the scientific community.
I mention the crackpot index because the statement made in this meme is strikingly reminiscent of things crackpots say when attempting to deflect skeptical criticism of their ideas. “If you think my ideas are crazy, it’s only because you’re too stupid to understand them.” While many scientific revolutions have been started by ideas that initially sounded crazy (relativity and quantum mechanics, e.g.), the difference between these revolutions and crackpot claims is that the authors of the scientific revolutions came prepared with evidence. They did not resort to attacking their critics, but instead sought to convert their critics by patiently explaining their position and supporting evidence, as many times as needed. Their ideas eventually took hold because they (A) made sense on their own, and (B) fit in with the wider field of understood facts. Einstein never complained that his earlier theories were ridiculed by the “established orthodoxy”. Feynman never grumbled that Big Science was suppressing his ideas. Heisenberg did not call his critics imbeciles. The real revolutionaries won by persistence, not petulance.
Being called crazy does not immediately make you right, nor does it make your critics dumb. That’s an intellectually dishonest way of looking at things. As noted skeptic Michael Shermer puts it in his 1997 book, Why People Believe Weird Things:
They laughed at Copernicus. They laughed at the Wright brothers. Yes, well, they laughed at the Marx brothers. Being laughed at does not mean you are right.
Sometimes people call an idea crazy because it really is crazy. If people constantly scoff at your ideas, you might take a moment to re-evaluate your beliefs. Are you really the lone beacon of truth in a world clouded by wrong thinking? Or are you the crackpot? Only an honest evaluation of the evidence will tell you for sure. The key word is “honest”.