A fringe theory is an idea or viewpoint which differs from the accepted scholarship in its field. Fringe theories include the models and proposals of fringe science, as well as similar ideas in other areas of scholarship, such as the humanities. The term fringe theory is commonly used in a narrower sense as a pejorative, roughly synonymous with pseudo-scholarship. Precise definitions that distinguish between widely held viewpoints, fringe theories, and pseudo-scholarship are difficult to construct because of the demarcation problem. Issues of false balance or false equivalence can occur when fringe theories are presented as being equal to widely accepted theories.
Fringe theories are ideas which depart significantly from a prevailing or mainstream theory. A fringe theory is neither a majority opinion nor that of a respected minority. In general, the term fringe theory is closer to the popular understanding of the word theory—a hypothesis or a guess or an uncertain idea—than to the concept of an established scientific theory. Although often used in the context of fringe science, fringe theories have been discussed in fields of scholarship, such as Biblical criticism, history, finance, law, medicine, and politics. They even exist in fields of study which are themselves outside the mainstream, such as cryptozoology and parapsychology.
Fringe theories meet with varying levels of academic acceptance. Financial journalist Alexander Davidson characterized fringe theories as "peddled by a small band of staunch supporters," but not necessarily without merit. Daniel N. Robinson described them as occupying "a limbo between the decisive dead end and the ultimately credible productive theory." However, the term is also used pejoratively; advocates of fringe theories are dismissed as cranks or crackpots who are out of touch with reality. In this sense, there is some overlap with other dismissive labels, such as pseudoarchaeology, pseudohistory, and pseudoscience. Describing ideas as fringe theories may be less pejorative than describing them as pseudoscholarship; while it is unlikely that anyone would identify their own work as pseudoscience, astrologer David Cochrane is "proud to be a fringe theorist."
The term is also used to describe conspiracy theories. Such theories "explain" historical or political events as the work of a powerful secret organization — "a vast, insidious, preternaturally effective international conspiratorial network," according to Richard Hofstadter. The conspirators are possessed of "almost superhuman power and cunning," as described by historian Esther Webman.
Margaret Wertheim suggested that fringe theories should be treated in a manner similar to outsider art. In 2003 she curated an exhibit at the Santa Monica Museum of Art which was dedicated to the work of fringe physicist Jim Carter.
Wertheim wrote that a "credentialed physicist ... can generally recognize a fringe theory by sight" when it comes in the form of an eccentrically formatted manuscript. However, it is difficult to distinguish between fringe theories and respected minority theories. A workable definition of what constitutes a fringe theory may not actually be possible. This is an aspect of the demarcation problem that occurs within both science and the humanities.
Geologist Steven Dutch approached the demarcation problem by dividing scientific ideas into three categories: fringe, frontier, and center, based upon their adherence to scientific methodology and their level of acceptance. Later authors, including Richard Duschl, expanded these categories. Under Duschl's system, a fringe theory is a mix of legitimate new ideas and pseudoscience; it awaits analysis to determine whether it will pass into the "frontier" or be rejected entirely.
The majority of fringe theories never become part of established scholarship. Rejected ideas may help to refine mainstream thought, but most outside theories are simply incorrect and have no wider impact. Nevertheless, some ideas do gradually receive wider acceptance until they are no longer viewed as fringe theories. Occasionally such theories even become the mainstream view.
A widely known example is Alfred Wegener's theory of continental drift, which eventually served as the basis for the accepted model of plate tectonics. Other ideas which have made the transition include the germ theory of disease, Birkeland's explanation of the aurora, prions, and complexity theory in project management. Behavioral finance was described in a 2002 journal article as "at the fringe of ... modern financial theory", but it has since been widely applied in many fields of business.
Sometimes this change is not gradual; in such cases it represents a paradigm shift. Writing for the New York Law Journal, Andrew Bluestone described how a single court case in New York changed the use of an obscure common law statute regarding attorney misconduct from a "fringe theory of law" to an accepted, mainstream cause for legal action in the state.
Such shifts between fringe theory and accepted theories are not always clear-cut. In 1963, Reuben Fine wrote that mainstream psychology had adopted aspects of Sigmund Freud's psychoanalysis but that many students of the discipline believed psychoanalysis to be a "lunatic fringe theory which has little to do with scientific psychology", and psychoanalysis is now generally considered discredited, according to author Frederick Crews who stated, "if you consult psychology faculties in top American universities, you will find almost no one now who believes in the Freudian system of thought. As a research paradigm it’s pretty much dead."
The news media may play a role in the dissemination and popularization of fringe theories. The media sometimes reduce complex topics to two sides and frame issues in terms of an underdog challenger fighting the mainstream theory. Biblical scholar Matthew Collins wrote that this simplification can be "both misrepresentative and misleading, especially when a far-fetched fringe theory is, in the name of neutrality and fairness, elevated to the role of equally legitimate contender." This false equivalence can become the expected media behavior. When The New York Times published an article strongly supporting the mainstream scientific stance on the thiomersal controversy, others in the media condemned the Times for portraying the alleged vaccine-autism connection as a fringe theory, calling the article a "hit piece".
Issues of false balance also arise in education, especially in the context of the creation–evolution controversy. Creationism has been discredited as a fringe theory akin to Lamarckism or the cosmology of Immanuel Velikovsky's Worlds in Collision. Because advocates of creationism want schools to present only their preferred alternative, not the entire variety of minority views, they have attempted to portray scholarship on the issue as being equally divided between only two models.
The autochthonous theory about the origin of the Bulgarians is an alternative to the official Bulgarian historiography, which dates chronologically from the 19th century.Bulgar calendar
The Bulgar calendar was a calendar system used by the Bulgars, a seminomadic people, originally from Central Asia, who from the 2nd century onwards dwelt in the Eurasian steppes north of the Caucasus and around the banks of river Volga. In 681, part of the Bulgars settled in the Balkan peninsula and established Bulgaria.
The main source of information used for reconstruction of the Bulgar calendar is a short 15th century transcript in Church Slavonic called Nominalia of the Bulgarian Khans, which contains 10 pairs of calendar terms. Additionally, the same dating system is used in a marginal note in a manuscript by 10th century monk Tudor Doksov and in the Chatalar inscription by the 9th-century Bulgarian ruler Omurtag (r. 814-831), who also provides the Byzantine imperial dating equivalent (the indiction). According to the reconstructed calendar, the Bulgars used a 12-year cyclic calendar similar to the one adopted by Turkic peoples from the Chinese calendar, with names and numbers that are deciphered as in Bulgar language. The reading, along with the "cyclic calendar" interpretation itself, was originally proposed by Finnish Slavist Jooseppi Julius Mikkola in 1913. Later, there have been various modifications and elaborations during the 20th century by scholars such as Géza Fehér, Omeljan Pritsak, Mosko Moskov and other scientists. Peter Dobrev, who supports an "Iranian" fringe theory about the origin of the Bulgars, argues the Turkic names of the animals show that the Turkic peoples had borrowed these words from the Iranian Bulgars.Reconstructions vary slightly, because some of the names are unattested, and the exact form of a few is debatable. The following list is based on Mosko Moskov's description of the average mainstream interpretation, as well as his own reconstruction, and takes into account the existing disagreements:
Mouse (In Bulgar: Somor)
Ox (In Bulgar: Shegor)
Uncertain, probably Tiger / Wolf (In Bulgar: Ver?)
Rabbit (In Bulgar: Dvan[sh])
Uncertain, probably Dragon (In Bulgar: Ver[eni]?)
Snake (In Bulgar: Dilom)
Horse (In Bulgar: Imen[shegor]?)
Ram (In Bulgar: Teku[chitem]?)
Unattested, probably Monkey
Hen or Rooster (In Bulgar: Toh)
Dog (In Bulgar: Eth)
Boar (In Bulgar: Dohs)Cataclysmic pole shift hypothesis
The cataclysmic pole shift hypothesis is a fringe theory suggesting that there have been geologically rapid shifts in the relative positions of the modern-day geographic locations of the poles and the axis of rotation of the Earth, creating calamities such as floods and tectonic events.There is evidence of precession and changes in axial tilt, but this change is on much longer time-scales and does not involve relative motion of the spin axis with respect to the planet. However, in what is known as true polar wander, the solid Earth can rotate with respect to a fixed spin axis. Research shows that during the last 200 million years a total true polar wander of some 30° has occurred, but that no super-rapid shifts in the Earth's pole were found during this period. A characteristic rate of true polar wander is 1° or less per million years. Between approximately 790 and 810 million years ago, when the supercontinent Rodinia existed, two geologically rapid phases of true polar wander may have occurred. In each of these, the magnetic poles of the Earth shifted by approximately 55° – from a large shift in the crust.Citizen grand jury
In the United States, a citizen grand jury is a non-actionable, non-governmental organization that assumes a responsibility upon itself to accuse an individual or groups of individuals of having committed actionable crimes, in a similar aim as that of official grand juries. Such organizations have been organized by those who espouse conspiracy theories regarding certain events or the individuals who are accused by the citizen grand jury, and most citizen grand jury applications to official judiciary systems at the federal, state, or local and municipal level tend to be thrown out for lack of evidence.
Modern citizen grand juries were organized in the 2000s to accuse government officials of complicity in the September 11 attacks, and others were organized in the late 2000s and early 2010s regarding the accuracy of President Barack Obama's "natural birth" as a U.S. citizen.Conspiracy theory
A conspiracy theory is an explanation of an event or situation that invokes a conspiracy by sinister and powerful actors, often political in motivation, when other explanations are more probable. The term has a pejorative connotation, implying that the appeal to a conspiracy is based on prejudice or insufficient evidence. Conspiracy theories resist falsification and are reinforced by circular reasoning: both evidence against the conspiracy and an absence of evidence for it, are re-interpreted as evidence of its truth, and the conspiracy becomes a matter of faith rather than proof.On a psychological level, conspiracist ideation—belief in conspiracy theories—can be harmful or pathological, and is highly correlated with paranoia and Machiavellianism. Conspiracy theories once limited to fringe audiences have become commonplace in mass media, emerging as a cultural phenomenon of the late 20th and early 21st centuries.Contrarian
A contrarian is a person that takes up a contrary position, especially a position that is opposed to that of the majority.Fringe science
Fringe science is an inquiry in an established field of study which departs significantly from mainstream theories in that field and is considered to be questionable by the mainstream.
Fringe science may be either a questionable application of a scientific approach to a field of study or an approach whose status as scientific is widely questioned.
For mainstream scientists, attributes of fringe science include being highly speculative or relying on premises already refuted. Fringe science theories are often advanced by persons who have no traditional academic science background, or by researchers outside the mainstream discipline. The general public has difficulty distinguishing between science and its imitators, and in some cases a "yearning to believe or a generalized suspicion of experts is a very potent incentive to accepting pseudoscientific claims".The term "fringe science" covers everything from novel hypotheses which can be tested by means of the scientific method to wild ad hoc hypotheses and mumbo jumbo. This has resulted in a tendency to dismiss all fringe science as the domain of pseudoscientists, hobbyists, and cranks.Other terms for questionable types of science are pathological science, voodoo science, and cargo cult science. The term junk science is used to criticize research seen as dubious or fraudulent, as opposed to "solid science".
A concept that was once accepted by the mainstream scientific community may become fringe science because of a later evaluation of previous research. For example, focal infection theory, which held that focal infections of the tonsils or teeth are a primary cause of systemic disease, was once considered to be medical fact. It has since been dismissed because of lack of evidence.Kingdom of Balkhara
Kingdom of Balkhara is the subject of a fringe theory on the originating homeland of the Bulgar people. It is popularised by some Bulgarian historians (for example: Georgi Bakalov, Petar Dobrev, Ian Mladjov) to have been the earliest known state of the Bulgars, situated in the upper course of Oxus River (present Amu Darya), and the foothills and valleys of Hindu Kush and Pamir Mountains (ancient Mount Imeon). Peter Dobrev places the date of the kingdom around the 12th century BC.The theory is based on the presumed relationship between the Bactria–Margiana Archaeological Complex and the Bulgars.Legends of the Lost with Megan Fox
Legends of the Lost with Megan Fox is an American docu-series starring and co-created by Megan Fox that premiered on December 4, 2018 on the Travel Channel.Paranormal
Paranormal events are purported phenomena described in popular culture, folk, and other non-scientific bodies of knowledge, whose existence within these contexts is described as beyond normal experience or scientific explanation.Proposals regarding the paranormal are different from scientific hypotheses or speculations extrapolated from scientific evidence because scientific ideas are grounded in empirical observations and experimental data gained through the scientific method. In contrast, those who argue for the existence of the paranormal explicitly do not base their arguments on empirical evidence but rather on anecdote, testimony, and suspicion. Notable paranormal beliefs include those that pertain to telepathy, extrasensory perception, spiritualism and the pseudosciences of ghost hunting, cryptozoology, and ufology.Pseudoarchaeology
Pseudoarchaeology—also known as alternative archaeology, fringe archaeology, fantastic archaeology, or cult archaeology—refers to interpretations of the past from outside of the archaeological science community, which reject the accepted datagathering and analytical methods of the discipline. These pseudoscientific interpretations involve the use of artifacts, sites or materials to construct scientifically insubstantial theories to supplement the pseudoarchaeologists' claims. Methods include exaggeration of evidence, dramatic or romanticized conclusions, use of fallacy, and fabrication of evidence.There is no unified pseudoarchaeological theory or approach, but rather many different interpretations of the past that are jointly at odds with those developed by the scientific community. These include religious approaches such as Creationism when identified as "creation science" that applies to the archaeology of historic periods such as those that would have included the Tower of Babel, Noah's Ark, and the supposed worldwide flood myth. Some pseudoarchaeological theories revolve around the idea that prehistoric and ancient human societies were aided in their development by intelligent extraterrestrial life, an idea propagated by those such as Italian author Peter Kolosimo, French authors Louis Pauwels and Jacques Bergier in The Morning of the Magicians (1963), and Swiss author Erich von Däniken in Chariots of the Gods? (1968). Others instead hold that there were human societies in the ancient period that were significantly technologically advanced, such as Atlantis, and this idea has been propagated by figures like Graham Hancock in his Fingerprints of the Gods (1995). Pseudoarchaeology has also been manifest in Mayanism and the 2012 phenomenon.
Many alternative archaeologies have been adopted by religious groups. Fringe archaeological ideas such as archaeocryptography and pyramidology have been embraced by religions ranging from the British Israelites to the theosophists. Other alternative archaeologies include those that have been adopted by members of New Age and contemporary pagan belief systems.
Academic archaeologists have heavily criticised pseudoarchaeology, with one of the most vocal critics, John R. Cole, characterising it as relying on "sensationalism, misuse of logic and evidence, misunderstanding of scientific method, and internal contradictions in their arguments". The relationship between alternative and academic archaeologies has been compared to the relationship between intelligent design theories and evolutionary biology by some archaeologists.Pseudohistory
Pseudohistory is a form of pseudoscholarship that attempts to distort or misrepresent the historical record, often using methods resembling those used in legitimate historical research. The related term cryptohistory is applied to a pseudohistory based upon or derived from the superstitions inherent to occultism. Pseudohistory is related to pseudoscience and pseudoarchaeology and usage of the terms may occasionally overlap. Although pseudohistory comes in many forms, scholars have identified many features that tend to be common in pseudohistorical works. One such feature is that pseudohistory is nearly always motivated by a contemporary political, religious, or personal agenda. Pseudohistory also frequently presents a big lie or sensational claims about historical facts which would require the radical revision (re-writing) of the historical record.
Another very common feature of pseudohistory is the assumption that there is a conspiracy among scholars to suppress the "true" history. Works of pseudohistory often rely exclusively on sources that appear to support the thesis being promoted while ignoring sources that contradict it. Many works of pseudohistory treat myths, legends, and other unreliable sources as literal historical truth while ignoring or dismissing evidence to the contrary. Sometimes a work of pseudohistory may adopt a position of extreme skepticism, sometimes insisting that there is really no such thing as historical truth and that any hypothesis is just as good as any other. Many works of pseudohistory conflate mere possibility with actuality, assuming that if something could have happened, then it did.Pseudoscience
Pseudoscience consists of statements, beliefs, or practices that are claimed to be both scientific and factual, but are incompatible with the scientific method. Pseudoscience is often characterized by contradictory, exaggerated or unfalsifiable claims; reliance on confirmation bias rather than rigorous attempts at refutation; lack of openness to evaluation by other experts; and absence of systematic practices when developing theories, and continued adherence long after they have been experimentally discredited. The term pseudoscience is considered pejorative because it suggests something is being presented as science inaccurately or even deceptively. Those described as practicing or advocating pseudoscience often dispute the characterization.The demarcation between science and pseudoscience has philosophical and scientific implications. Differentiating science from pseudoscience has practical implications in the case of health care, expert testimony, environmental policies, and science education. Distinguishing scientific facts and theories from pseudoscientific beliefs, such as those found in astrology, alchemy, alternative medicine, occult beliefs, religious beliefs, and creation science, is part of science education and scientific literacy.Pseudoscience can be harmful. Antivaccine activists present pseudoscientific studies that falsely call into question the safety of vaccines. Homeopathic remedies with no active ingredients have been promoted as treatment for deadly diseases.Star people (New Age belief)
Star people (also known as starseeds and sometimes indigo children) is a New Age belief and fringe theory. Introduced by Brad Steiger in his 1976 book Gods of Aquarius, it argues that certain people originated as extraterrestrials and arrived on Earth through birth or as a walk-in to an existing human body. It is a variant of the belief in alien-human hybrids. There are many different beliefs as to the origins of star people or starseeds. The term "star people" was taken from an existing Native American spiritual concept.Synchromysticism
Synchromysticism, a portmanteau of synchronicity and mysticism, is "the art of realising meaningful coincidences in the seemingly mundane with mystical or esoteric significance". The word was coined by Jake Kotze in August 2006. Synchromysticism has been described as a phenomenon "existing on the fringe of areas already considered fringe". Steven Sutcliff and Carole Cusack describe synchromysticism as "part artistic practice, part spiritual or metaphysical system, part conspiracy culture", while Jason Horsley describes it as "a form of postmodern animism" that "combines Jung's notion of meaningful coincidences with the quest for the divine, or self-actualization through experience of the divine."The Jesus Mysteries
The Jesus Mysteries: Was the "Original Jesus" a Pagan God? is a 1999 book by British authors Timothy Freke and Peter Gandy, which advances the argument that early Christianity originated as a Greco-Roman mystery cult and that Jesus was invented by early Christians based on an alleged pagan cult of a dying and rising "godman" known as Osiris-Dionysus, whose worship the authors claim was manifested in the cults of Osiris, Dionysus, Attis, and Mithras. This thesis is a fringe theory and is not accepted by mainstream scholars.
The authors propose that Jesus did not literally exist as an historically identifiable individual, but was instead a syncretic re-interpretation of the fundamental pagan "godman" by the Gnostics, who the authors assert were the original sect of Christianity. Freke and Gandy argue that Orthodox Christianity was not the predecessor to Gnosticism, but a later outgrowth that rewrote history in order to make literal Christianity appear to predate the Gnostics. They describe their theory as the "Jesus Mysteries thesis".
The book has been extensively criticized by mainstream scholars and historians, who state that the book's thesis is wildly inaccurate, that it is filled with obvious historical errors, that its main points are contradictory, and that it relies heavily on out-of-date sources written by non-experts. These scholars do not regard the book as a work of serious scholarship and instead view it as merely what historian of early Christianity Bart D. Ehrman has called "sensationalist writing driven by a desire to sell books."Urban legend
An urban legend, urban myth, urban tale, or contemporary legend is a genre of folklore comprising stories circulated as true, especially as having happened to a friend or family member, often with macabre or humorous elements. These legends can be entertainment, but often concern mysterious peril or troubling events, such as disappearances and strange objects. They may also be moralistic confirmation of prejudices or ways to make sense of societal anxieties. Urban legends are most often circulated orally, but can be spread by any media, including newspapers, e-mail and social media. Some urban legends have passed through the years with only minor changes to suit regional variations. Recent legends tend to reflect modern circumstances: for instance, the common legend of a person being ambushed and anesthetized, only to wake up and realize they are now missing a kidney that was supposedly surgically removed for transplantation.Zeitgeist (film series)
Zeitgeist is a series of three documentary films released between 2007 and 2011 that present a number of conspiracy theories, as well as proposals for broad social and economic changes.