I often receive letters that range from amusing claims that we are overlooking changes in the magnetic field, to tales about how the “weight” of carbon dioxide keeps it “near the ground”. If the writer sounds serious, then I treat them seriously, and do my best to provide a helpful reply. Often, though, I find myself in a pointless debate of the most basic, well-established physical principles. I generally cut off the discussion at this point, because I simply don’t have the time. This can result in a hostile response accusing me of “having an agenda”. Most would call me naïve for bothering to respond in the first place.
But it is possible, after all, that somewhere in that barrage of letters lies a brilliant idea that ought to be heard, and could change the course of scientific history. How to tell the difference? Well, there is a story that we tell in our family that might provide some perspective on this.