If you’ve spent time in a large university recently, you have undoubtedly run across the LaRouche Youth Movement. Invariably you’ll find a table hosted by earnest, good-looking college students, passing flyers to other less-interested-but-equally-good-looking college students. You’ll find odd posters on bulletin boards, asking if you know about Al Gore’s link to global warming. At first glance, it seems almost reasonable, but gets much weirder on close inspection.
Lyndon LaRouche, the head of the movement, was on my radar back in high school when his perennial presidential campaign was big. He was rather old even then, so I’d assumed he’d kicked the bucket quietly in the intervening years, while sitting in jail for mail fraud. He popped back into my consciousness, however, when our department lost a new grad student to him. The student showed up, started taking classes, and seemed to be integrating well into the department — at least until one day he dropped out to devote himself to the LaRouche movement full-time. I still see the former student occasionally, sitting at a table behind a stack of leaflets at the airport, or chatting up prospective new members on the main drag near campus. I’ve always wondered exactly how this apparently revived cult was operating, and thanks to a recent article in the
Chronicle of Higher Ed Inside Higher Ed, I now know quite a bit more without having to ask an earnest young cult member directly. Former cult members are also speaking out for themselves.
Now the bit that makes this whole thing bloggable on CV is that it turns out the LaRouche has a interest in physics. Messages from his followers started appearing on public blackboards in the UW Physics building, advertising a special seminar about the 3-body problem, about which apparently LaRouche has some deeply held beliefs. These beliefs seem to revolve around Newton being a plagarist, a failure of the world to appreciate the Socratic method, some gobbly-gook about time-reversal, and a devotion to the “LaRouche-Riemann Method” (which he graciously concedes should perhaps be called the “Leibnitz-LaRouche-Riemann Method”. Frankly, it’s all a bit hard for me to follow, and I don’t think it’s because I never took courses in string theory. Futher reading (click here if you dare) uncovers other obsessions with coulomb forces in nuclear fusion and a notion that space-time curvature sets humans apart as a species.
The screeds are all very impressive if you happen to know absolutely nothing about the topic under discussion. They’re filled with classical references and advanced literary and scientific vocabulary (to wit: “Is this merely the present author’s conjecture? Not at all. It would appear to be merely conjecture, only if one commits the blunder of accepting Aristotle’s fraudulent notion of the detached observer. Once we recognize that scientific knowledge is obtained, not by contemplating the universe, but by studying how we may generate those thoughts which enable us to efficiently act to change the universe, then the principles of cognition underlying the discovery of lawful physical principles, are the epistemological basis for defining the underlying determination of validatable physical laws.”). However, they simply make no sense, and fall well outside of Sean’s guidelines for alternate science respectability.
Of course, I probably could have guessed that from back when he said the Queen was dealing.