Where have all the usenet kooks gone?

You youngsters may not recall the golden age of usenet kookdom, but back in the distant past (like, the 1990s) usenet was the medium of choice for internet chatter, and there was only the roughest of partitioning of ideas, so the usenet groups were these great egalitarian shouting matches of noise — and you could be a total nut and have just as much of a voice as the most cautious scientist. In fact, being loud and weird gave you an edge in being heard.

It was a great time for some strange people, and Charles Stross just mentioned that Archimedes Plutonium is still around, and now he has a Science Website, sorta. It’s really just a wall of badly formatted text in which he talks about himself in the third person…but yeah, that’s Archie.

One nice thing about it is that it does have the most succinct summary of the Plutonium Atom Totality Theory I’ve ever seen.

Plutonium’s claims: In late 1990, Plutonium claims to have had the realization of his Plutonium Atom Totality Theory, a theory he claimed to be the most important breakthrough in scientific history. According to this theory, the Universe is a giant plutonium atom, and the part of the universe we are able to observe from Earth, including Earth itself, is somewhere in its outer electron shells, the 5f6, and where galaxies are pieces of the last electron of 231Pu. As Mr. Plutonium calls it: where dots of the electron-dot-cloud are galaxies.

               ::\ ::|:: /::


                    _ _


                    - - 


               ::/ ::|:: \::

The above is the ascii art of the 5f6 electron orbital of plutonium where the dots are dots of the electron-dot-cloud and each dot represents a galaxy.

Biographical notes In his autobiography (entitled at one point Ludwig Plutonium: the Chosen One, and claimed to be 2200 pages), Plutonium claims he started posting to Usenet on August 12 of 1993 under the name of Ludwig Plutonium. He posts and cross-posts mostly in the sci. (science) hierarchy. Other than the Plutonium ATOM Totality Theory, one of his most noteworthy announcements was that he has a single plutonium atom at the center of his brain in his Brain Locus Theory, which makes him a super genius. He claims this follows from the Plutonium Atom Totality Theory according to which thoughts and ideas do not originate in our own minds but are created in the nucleus of the atom-universe by the Nuclear entity and shot out as photons or neutrinos where the brain acts as a radio antennae forcing the new thought or action.

He was impressively persistent and consistent for many years, and impervious to all criticism and laughter. It is simultaneous sad and gratifying to see that he’s still plugging away.


  1. says

    Back when I first encountered him, he was still calling himself Ludwig Plutonium and posting absurd stuff in the sci.* groups; Alexander Abian and Robert E. McElwaine were still alive, and alt.religion.kibology was still amusing. How time flies… but that atom of Pu-239 in Ludwig/Archimedes’ head still hasn’t done anything for him.

  2. birgerjohansson says

    This is why the new generation of medicines (Prozac etc) has been of great help for people wanting to live normal lives. Alas, not all want to give up grandiose belief systems and so lack motivation to change their lives. I know people like this. Sad.
    — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — —
    Did I mention that I am merely a replicant channeling my alien masters? I have this amazing telepathy com chip at the center of my brain (frequent overheating degrades surrounding tissue, which I must regenerate. This explains my need to consume human brains to get raw material).
    — — — — — — — — — — — —
    “you could be a total nut and have just as much of a voice as the most cautious scientist”
    That is what Fox News is for.

  3. Eurasian magpie says

    Oh, da memories….Abian was my favourite of the kooks. Usenet was btw where I first encountered PZ. Who *was* this opinionated fellow, so deft and bold in his attacks on various woo-peddlers!

  4. birgerjohansson says

    And why plutonium? Thorium would have been my choice. Was he bitten by a plutonium-saturated spider?

    BTW that single atom of plutonium is of no use if it just sits there. To emit radiation it has to undergo decay…after which it will no longer exist, having been replaced by the decay products.

  5. Dunc says

    Where have all the Usenet kooks gone?
    Long time passing
    Where have all the Usenet kooks gone?
    Long time ago
    Where have all the Usenet kooks gone?
    Trolling science blogs every one
    When will they ever learn?
    When will they ever learn?

  6. killyosaur says

    Late 1990’s? You mean about the time the original MIB came out? (Galaxy in a marble, anyone?)

  7. johnwoodford says

    Ah, yes. A fine example of gavia reticulata observed in the wild. The one I occasionally wonder about is The Inimitable T*d H*ld*n, the perennial and persistent pinata of talk.origins.

  8. John Kruger says

    Seems the answer to everything is plutonium. Once he makes a flux capacitor out of his skull and can have his thoughts time travel, we will all be in big trouble.

  9. Gregory Greenwood says

    Wow – Archimedes Plutonium is one of those uber kooks who makes parody redundant by their mere presence.

    It must be a superpower byproduct of his plutonium fueled brain…

  10. says

    Something tells me that isn’t even the wackiest example you could think of. People with insane ideas like this remind me of the book “Nothing in This Book Is True But It’s Exactly How Things Are.”

  11. says

    I sometimes wonder why I haven’t seen some of the Usenet nuts I sparred with haven’t shown up in the comments sections of places like this. You’d probably end up banning someone like Matt Giwer or Doc Tavish in pretty short order, but I’ve hung out here long enough that I’m sure I would have seen them before the banhammer took them out. The non-overtly racist creeps, like the “prophet” Sollog, wouldn’t last much longer.

  12. peterh says

    At least one nutso case can be simply amusement-in-passing without the potential for legal or physical harm to casual bystanders.

  13. David Wilford says

    I still have fond memories of Ed Conrad, who is still around claiming that man is as old as coal. Wish he’s come around here to visit for old times sake.

  14. Mark Sherry says

    I discovered AP about a decade ago when I started reading sci.math, where he’s still a regular fixture. It seems that he’s working on ‘fixing’ math by adding things like a largest number. I don’t bother reading his posts or any of their responses, so I can’t give any more specifics, but enough of his stuff leaks past my killfile that I can tell he’s still very much active.

  15. birgerjohansson says

    “I miss the reverend Don Kool, who used to troll the Solaris groups.”
    Maybe he was studying a symmetriad just when it disintegrated and sank into the Solaris ocean*?
    — — — — — — —
    *Yes, I know, different Solaris.

  16. says

    I don’t think the kooks are as prevalent anymore because usenet was a little bit special: it really was egalitarian in the unmoderated groups, and the small number of groups with large traffic meant you could spam your message to the entire usenet-reading population very easily.

    Try reaching the entire blog-reading population now. We’re a lot more fractured, and also a lot more diverse: a lot of blogs wouldn’t let AP last long before booting him.

  17. Bill Openthalt says


    Rumor has it he spent some time in prison, but I prefer your hypothesis. Far more poetic.

    Come to think of it, it’s not so much Donald McDonald I miss, but Usenet. The contributors, the quaint traditions, and most of all, a good threaded reader.

  18. says

    I briefly skimmed talk.origins a few months ago, for the first time in several years, to find that a certain professor of topology was back, and still obsessing over the personal fights and slights he was having with regulars circa 1999. So: not exactly a kook in the pseudo-scientific sense (albeit his ideas were, um, unconventional), but by social definitions…..

    ‘Cuz that’s like, seriously unhealthy.

  19. Bill Openthalt says

    Don’t forget crossposting to get maximum exposure (and instant rebukes from the regulars).

  20. nathanieltagg says

    It’s true it’s all more fractured, but back in they heyday of usenet (around 92 was when I met it) the total number of people online were small, and generally restricted to universities. America Online changed that, and all the AOL heads generally brought the level of discourse down considerably. (And with Plutonium around, that’s saying something.)

    I suspect that PZ has a similar readership to the usenet groups back-in-the-day, so it’s not really changed that much.

    My favorite thing about Plutonium was his name changing. I recall he went through Ludwig von Ludwig, Ludwig von Plutonium, Plutonium von Plutonium, and a few others. “Archie” is new for me.. but then, I stopped reading the alt.sci.physics groups a long time ago.

  21. says

    Holy crap, it’s true! Peter Nyikos is still complaining about me!

    I notice his latest thread has a theme I’m familiar with: he’s accusing everyone of engaging in “witch hunts” on talk.origins. It’s the new rallying cry of idiots everywhere: if you point out how wrong they are, you must be hunting witches.

  22. Sastra says

    Way back in the 90’s, I spent most of my internet chatter time in the IRC. Plenty of cranks, kooks, fanatics, and brave maverick iconoclasts hung out — hang out — in chatrooms. I remember many of them fondly (even if I may no longer recall their nicks.)

    Those particular forums had both advantages and disadvantages over usenet. But you get battle-scarred by both.

  23. says

    Has Peter Nyikos been courted by any of the misogynists yet? It wouldn’t be the first time they’ve tried to forge a bizarre alliance with their enemy’s enemy. Some of them cozied up to David Marshall, that pompous Christian troll, who boasts about how his (vanity published) books are vastly superior to the God Delusion.

  24. vaiyt says

    Why plutonium, of all things? Why couldn’t it be a more prosaic element, like magnesium or xenon or even (my personal favorite) dysprosium?

  25. lpetrich says

    Reminds me of Kalki Dasa, the Hare Krishna creationist on talk.origins. He’d sign his posts
    Hare Krishna Hare Krishna
    Krishna Krishna Hare Hare
    Hare Rama Hare Rama
    Rama Rama Hare Hare
    People satirized it with the likes of
    Silly Kalki Silly Kalki
    Kalki Kalki Silly Silly
    Goofy Kalki Goofy Kalki
    Kalki Kalki Goofy Goofy

  26. lpetrich says

    Ah yes, Archimedes Plutonium. He and the Time Cube guy are rare ones: entertaining physics crackpots. As Martin Gardner noted in his Fads and Fallacies, physics crackpottery is usually very dull. But MG noted some exceptions, like George Francis Gillette:

    Each ultimote is simultaneously an integral part of zillions of otherplane units and only thus is its infinite allplane velocity and energy subdivided into zillions of finite planar quotas of velocity and energy.


    In all the cosmos there is naught but straight-flying bumping, caroming, and again straight flying. Phenomena are but lumps, jumps, and bumps. A mass unit’s career is but lumping, jumping, bumping, rejumping, rebumping, and finally unlumping.

  27. lpetrich says

    Another place that kooks have moved to is forums. As with blogs, they are dependent on the tolerance of the admins, except if they create their own.
    I have had experience with a physics crackpot, Farsight. He claimed to be restoring the physics of such greats as Newton and Maxwell and Einstein, as interpreted by him. Yes, he operated like a theologian rather than like a scientist, and like a theologian, he often misunderstood his sources and was resistant to correction.

  28. crocodoc says

    (xx) For Religion, I have shown what religion really is– science precursor, or
    preliminary science. Whenever we find ourselves in a situation in which we have little to no scientific
    understanding, we breakdown into a religious mode. But as facts and data
    and understanding reveal themselves we discard the religious mode and adhere
    to the science mode. With the Atom Totality theory, I am the first human to know
    what God looks like and the purpose of human life. Since God is one big atom
    then God looks like the 5f6 of 231Pu pictured in chemistry. And the purpose of
    life in an Atom Totality is to nucleosynthesize the elements beyond plutonium
    which are not nucleosynthesized in the stars. In other words, life is cold-stars. It
    is a life-form that creates the next God which is the 96Element Atom Totality. God
    is an atom and it brought forth life to create the next Atom Totality. The only real
    truth in the Cosmos is scientific truth and that means God is Science, and Science
    is god. Atom!

    Sounds like yet another wannabe prophet to me. And he has the nerve to call that science.

  29. Sastra says

    God is an atom and it brought forth life to create the next Atom Totality. The only real
    truth in the Cosmos is scientific truth and that means God is Science, and Science
    is god. Atom!

    Well, it’s about time! Now we know what all those critics railing about “scientism” have been complaining about. They should have just given us a quote. Turns out it had nothing to do with us after all.

  30. Rich Woods says


    Oh my Dog, the AOL invasion! They infected *everything*. I had to abandon usenet, and eventually even mailing lists — all those 80-line ASCII pic sigs. The horror, the horror…

  31. Steve LaBonne says

    Nyikos is still at it? Wow. When I think about how long ago the good old 90s days on t.o. were, I feel alarmingly old.

  32. lpetrich says

    I forgot to add earlier that Farsight has jumped from forum to forum to forum, and that he’s been banned from some of them. So that’s what one has to do in this post-Usenet era.

  33. dontpanic says

    I spent a long time arguing w/ David de Hilster about autodynamics and whether special relativity was right and whether neutrinos exist. Personally, I found Archie to be, well, boring after a few iterations. de Hilster was more like trying to argue with Gish about creationism, with all the galloping around. The same willful desire to ignore any actual evidence.

    But, like others, the invasion of the AOLers and spamming (I don’t remember whether it was Cantor or Segal that wrote back to me) pretty much killed off Usenet for me. And made general forums not very attractive. That splintering for the environment almost makes blog with comments bearable.

  34. raven says

    Where have all the usenet kooks gone?

    At least one of them is dead.

    On a forum back in the internet Dark Ages, one guy was obviously have personal troubles. He disappeared.

    Someone posted a newspaper article a few months later. He had died in a shootout with the cops after a spectacularly inept robbery went wrong.

    That was when I decided that using my real name on ther internet was rather stupid and never did it again.

  35. Andy Groves says

    Meyerz!!! LaBonne!!! Eamon!!! Do not speak the Name That Shall Not Be Spoken!!!

    One of the sad things about the transition from Usenet to Web 2.0 is that in the old days, most of the kooks were just, well, kooky. Ted Holden, Ed Conrad, P*t*r N*ik*s, McElwaine, Ludwig Plutonium and Serdar Argic were all crazy in different ways, but to my knowledge they never harassed folks (other than spamming newsgroups), made death/rape threats or publicly bullied others. In the old talk.origins days, there was a sense of the two sides being clearly defined. When the whole Elevatorgate thing kicked off, it was upsetting to see PZ have to confront vile behavior – right in his back yard – from atheists who read his blog regularly.

  36. says

    Andy: Hey, I didn’t. I had it all typed out, then decided to replace it with an indirect reference. (‘sfunny, it was almost a superstitious reaction — I couldn’t post it; I just couldn’t).

    Speaking of nasty-scarey kooks: M*b*s showed up in comments at Slacktivist — of all places — today. Dennis is being a Bad Boy.

  37. DLC says

    oh yeah. I remember Usenet. first time I ever looked at a listserv I got 3000 messages. I was freaked.

    My last newsgroup sub was to one on network hardware. okay, I feel old now. . . Next up I’ll be shaking my cane at you youngsters and demanding that you get off my lawn.

  38. says

    The e-mail rants on sci.research were definitely posted before Fabrikant went on his rampage. Oh, and M*b*s… well, PZ documented examples of him posting on comp.sys.* in the 1990s when he was a student at the same university, Concordia, where Fabrikant worked.

  39. john says

    John P. Boatwright was amusing as well. Had some bizarre theory about the evolution of the solar system. Absolutely immune to argument. But he wasn’t suffering from a persecution complex the way some of these others were.

    These days we have other loons, like well-spoken Anthony Pagano, who is a YEC Catholic who believes that the Earth is the stationary center of the Universe.

  40. says

    Ah, Alexander Abian, who made feel glad that I choose the University of Iowa, over Iowa State University.

    I also based an NPC on him for a LARP. No one believed that he was a real person. :)

  41. says

    @ OP

    According to this theory, the Universe is a giant plutonium atom …

    “John Wheeler and Richard Feynman once came up with an interesting suggestion for why electrons are utterly indistinguishable – because there is only one electron in the Universe!” – Marcus Chown

  42. thunk, hull overheating says

    Meh. I wasn’t born when Usenet rose to popularity..

    So be it; learning about internet history.

  43. andrewarensburger says

    Before quoting a lengthy excerpt from Mr. (Dr.?) Plutonium’s manifesto, did you make sure that UN-altered REPRODUCTION and DISSEMINATION of this IMPORTANT Information was ENCOURAGED?

  44. says

    I’m sure that little snippet fell under fair use, being far less than 10%: Plutonium’s writings go on like that for hundreds of pages.

    ABIAN MASS-TIME EQUIVALENCE FORMULA m = Mo(1-exp(T/(kT-Mo))) Abian units.