CAMBRIDGE, Mass. -- The sun is 'only a few thousand miles distant from Earth.' You can look it up. In the library of the prestigious Massachusetts Institute of Technology, no less.
The history of astronomy from the Roman Empire was merely 'an amazing series of blunders founded upon an error made in the 2nd century B.C.'
And Newton's law of gravity was accepted for three centuries by other scientists 'hook, line and sinker, because he was such a popular guy and they didn't know what he was talking about anyway.'
These and many other morsels of scientific malarkey are safely stashed away in MIT's Archive of Useless Research, six boxes full of amazing books, pamphlets and other assorted 'literature' compiled between 1900 and 1940.
'What really strikes me is how many people in the archive are completely convinced that they have the one and only theory that explains absolutely everything,' MIT reference archivist Kathy Marquis said.
Isaac Newton and Charles Darwin are attacked endlessly by the archive's crackpot theorists, with Albert Einstein also coming in for a heap of abuse.
'Most of the material simply says, 'He's wrong and I don't have to prove why. He's wrong and I'm right,' Marquis said. 'Newton, Darwin and Einstein are definitely the Big Three.'
Most of the ridiculous research was donated to MIT in 1940 by Albert G. Ingalls, an editor at Scientific American who was deluged for decades with deluded unsolicited manuscripts. The rest came from MIT's own 'nut file,' which accumulated over the years in professors' desk drawers.
'Ingalls assigned a junior editor to go through the material to see if there were any unknown geniuses in there,' Marquis said. 'Obviously there weren't any, but he didn't want to throw it out.'
Most of the archive's absurd articles were produced by vanity presses, including the Hicksonian Press of New York City's borough of Staten Island, which just happened to publish Gerald Hickson's astronomical masterpiece, 'Kings Dethroned.' A self-portrait sketch is included.
Modesty seldom is found in the collection's 200 odd entries.
'For the first time in the history of the world, Carl Theodore Heisel has discovered and proved the startling new and exact geometrical laws, ratios and relations that exist between the exact length of straight lines and curved lines,' Heisel wrote on the cover page of his 1936 piece of work.
F. Pinaire's 50-page monstrosity, 'The Laws of Creation,' is subtitled 'The Mysteries of the Ages Solved.' And Charles Johnson made 'no apology for the crude form' of his 1925 pamphlet 'Gravity,' because it was important to make his ideas 'accessible to others as soon as possible.'
Several authors authorized 'public quotations' of their worthless prose, never guessing they would be quoted only in ridicule.
The archive also includes 'Why Life Exists and Allied Subjects,' by Lars A. Carlson; 'Outriders of Science are Closing In,' by Ward Hayes; and '124 Discoveries Made Between 1892 and 1930,' by Seabury Doane Brewer, which began when Brewer 'was a child, a baby, crawling on the floor.'
Brewer determined in 1910 that the sun was a few thousand miles from Earth, but the true distance may only be 600 miles, based on his revised 1927 mathematical calculations, 'which I have not yet had either the inclination, the opportunity or the time to prove.'
Other nonsensical nuggets include 'The American Student Endowment for Forcible International Peace' and 'A Mine of Knowledge Discovered by Harnan Dass' of India, who at least recognized the value of his work.
'I make a humble present of this poor effort of mine' to England's King George V, he says in the preface.
Then there's the 1926 beauty by A.H. Andrews, 'Do We Live on the Inside of the Earth?' -- which says all life originates in cellular condition, and therefore everything in the universe 'must be cellular (a hollow sphere) in form, with the people inhabiting or living in it.'
The collection, an easy target for laughs, also has some serious scientific value for MIT, where it is stored in the Institute Archives and Special Collections.
'We're an institution that looks at the evolution of scientific research,' said Helen Samuels, institute archivist at MIT. 'It's very easy to document our Nobel Prize winners and advances in mainstream science, but it's also useful to document the craziness, the fringe, or you don't get a full picture of what's going on.'
One MIT scientist had a partial picture of the dangers of smoking 40 years ago when Richard G. Berger's 1948 leaflet 'Why Have Cancer?' made its way toward the Archive of Useless Research.
'The story which the American press will never mention is the scientific truth that tobacco impairs the life span,' Berger wrote. He suggested there was a conspiracy between tobacco companies, advertising agencies and doctors, because 'there's big money in cancer surgery and in the sale of cancer-causes.'
'It's interesting that someone would put that in the nut file,' Marquis said. 'It may have been because of his conspiracy theory. But it shows some of the thinking at the time. Part of the purpose of the leaflet was cancer prevention, which was not in vogue back then.'