If you run across a theory, in a news report, web page, blog, or even the arXiv (beware the physics/ section), how is one to know what is crap and what is not? Well first of course, one should visit John Baez' Crackpot Index before believing "the uncertainty principle is untenable!" But what about after that?
Science is built upon consensus. However, the media often portrays scientific issues by presenting two opposing viewpoints. Sometimes, one viewpoint is held by 99.9% of scientists, and the other viewpoint is held by just one guy. The public, unaware of who is the scientist and who is the crackpot here, comes away with the idea that both ideas are reasonable, that there's a real debate, and 50% of the public ends up falling for some idea that is completely false. (For instance, global warming deniers, or that tobacco doesn't cause cancer, or that the LHC somehow presents some kind of danger to the continued existance of mankind) This mode of reporting does a huge disservice to the truth, and truly harms science in particular. At least in America, investigative reporting is all but dead. We're supposed to decide for ourselves now.
Scientific consensus is only reached after a significant amount of time has passed, and the experiments and theories have been absorbed into the minds of the practitioners of science. This consensus is really all the public needs to worry about. Sure we have our internal conflicts and arguments, but it's like seeing how sausage or laws are made. The public doesn't really want to see it, they just want to know what answer we collectively reach at the end.
People opposed to the scientific consensus that one might read about (a.k.a. "Crackpots") often claim that they're misunderstood, or that the scientific "establishment" is out to get them. These claims are ridiculous on their face. Science is incredibly adversarial. If you have a new theory and you can prove that it's correct (or conversely prove some favorite theory is incorrect), you win. Game over, you win. Doesn't matter who you are or how many awards the other side has. We're all looking for the Next Big Thing. And, we will all be excited regardless of what that thing is. But the trick is that you have to show how to prove that your theory is correct. I think this is a point about science that the public in general doesn't get.
So, to the point: which ideas are crap and which ones are good? How's the public to know? And more importantly, how can I tell people in the most definitive terms that I think their theory is crap, without putting up $10,000 for a loss?
In the last couple years, the idea of Prediction Markets has become popular. The idea is that by creating a market, the average "wisdom of the crowd" becomes apparent (and it turns out crowds are actually damn smart). I looked at several, and I propose Inkling Markets for all your physics needs. Thus, I present to you:
This is a "funny money" market in which you will be given $5000 to invest as you see fit upon signing up for a free account. Those of you that want to really put your money where your mouth is are free to explore other sites, but I could not find one that allowed the flexibility to pose arbitrary questions and then bet on it. Most sites are oriented toward sports or political betting.
Place your bets!