Scientific Concensus

“I want to pause here and talk about this notion of consensus, and the rise of what has been called consensus science. I regard consensus science as an extremely pernicious development that ought to be stopped cold in its tracks. Historically, the claim of consensus has been the first refuge of scoundrels; it is a way to avoid debate by claiming that the matter is already settled. Whenever you hear the consensus of scientists agrees on something or other, reach for your wallet, because you’re being had.

Let’s be clear: the work of science has nothing whatever to do with consensus. Consensus is the business of politics. Science, on the contrary, requires only one investigator who happens to be right, which means that he or she has results that are verifiable by reference to the real world. In science consensus is irrelevant. What is relevant is reproducible results. The greatest scientists in history are great precisely because they broke with the consensus.

There is no such thing as consensus science. If it’s consensus, it isn’t science. If it’s science, it isn’t consensus. Period.”

Michael Crichton

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Some of you might not know who Carl Sagan is, he was to people of the 80’s who Neil deGrasse Tyson is to people today. In fact Carl Sagan was very influential in the career of Neil deGrasse Tyson as he met with him when Tyson was only seventeen years old and had chosen Cornell University as one of the places that he was interested in studying at (link). Carl Sagan is still one of the most well known and respected scientist of the modern era and is generally a household name (or was) as he hosted Cosmos: A Personal Voyage the predecessor to Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey which was hosted by Neil deGrasse Tyson.

The reason why I bring up Sagan is because he was a huge proponent for climate change in the 80’s. He and fellow scientists had formed a consensus warning us of climate change and how it would have drastic and catastrophic consequences to the world in the coming years. Unfortunately the world did not listen to the great Carl Sagan and we are now in the midst of a nuclear winter as he predicted.

Wait, no that’s not right…

Ok, so Carl Sagan and his fellow scientists might not have been right about the threat of nuclear winter in the 80’s and also the burning of Kuwaiti oil wells in the early 90’s, but scientists today know better. They have a consensus to prove that climate change is real and it is man made. If we don’t make trillions of dollars of changes to the world today and hamper industrialization things will be doomed. We have models that ‘prove’ that this is going to happen and we should listen to the scientists or we will face the same dire consequences of not listening to Paul Ehrlich a biologist and professor at Stanford University in the 1960’s. Just like he predicted there were huge famines in the 1970’s where hundreds of millions would starve to death and up to 4 billion people starving to death in the 1980’s with 65 million of those deaths in the United States alone.

Oh, wait that’s not right either.

So… energy crisis that’s real. We need to spend as much money as possible to develop wind and solar power or we’ll be reliving Mad Max movies. The world is running out of oil and without power we won’t be able to survive. Didn’t you know that scientists predicted peak oil in the 70’s and look at us now we have less than before. Isn’t that why oil workers in the United States are losing jobs? Oh… they’re losing jobs because the price of oil is low because there’s a glut in the market?

Hmmmm…. Something about these consensuses doesn’t seem to be adding up. Scientists can’t be wrong when making a consensus can they? They are scientists, what they do is science.

“I would remind you to notice where the claim of consensus is invoked. Consensus is invoked only in situations where the science is not solid enough. Nobody says the consensus of scientists agrees that E=mc2. Nobody says the consensus is that the sun is 93 million miles away. It would never occur to anyone to speak that way.”
Michael Crichton

What is Consensus?

A consensus is when a group agree to something because they think that it is right. Fortunately, that is not what science is. Science is being able to state something is right because it can be proven over and over again and is a fact. A scientist can disagree with a fact, but if they try to test against it they will be proven wrong. The best thing about science is that even when facts are proven wrong a good scientist is able to accept the new fact and give up on old ideas. Unfortunately, scientists are people and get stuck to a certain way of thinking and can’t give up on the idea that they are “right”.

4/11/02 Michael Crichton

The late Michael Crichton gave a great lecture in 2003 at Caltech, one of the leading scientific universities in the world (link). Crichton who is much smarter than I am and also a much better writer and speaker said it much better than I ever can so I do recommend that you give it a read. He is one of the best selling authors in the world so it’s fairly entertaining and well thought out.

“FUCK UNITY! FUCK CONSENSUS! There was no unity or consensus during the American Revolution. We had principled leadership from a small, vocal, minority that refused to compromise on the issue of individual liberty.”
A.E. Samaan

The truth is that consensus really is just a belief in being “right” than actually being right. It doesn’t mean that consensus is always wrong and in many cases it can be right. However people have always used the power of consensus not in search of truth, but in order to gain and maintain power. It has always been the tool of a bully whether if it was to silence Galileo or to stifle real scientific advancement.

Today with the internet and access to more and more information (much of it false) we tend to form our own ideas and beliefs and push for consensus. As Mr. Crichton says this is the way of religion and not science. Consensus at one point said that witches float and that malaria was caused by bad air. A medical manual from the 16th century showed the conventional wisdom on bathing, “Water baths warm the body, but weaken the organism and widen pores.  That’s why they can be dangerous and cause different diseases, even death.”

The truth is that real science isn’t done by a consensus. There is no election held by scientists to decide if the Earth is still round or if water is made of hydrogen and oxygen. Science and the facts when used properly are provable time and time again. One of the great wonders of science is that because it is provable and it is a set of rules that we can use we are able to find better and better ways to do things. Instead of accepting how something is at the moment we can find new ways to solve old problems. The prediction by Ehrlich on starvation was based on the crop models of the time and didn’t take into account the green revolution where advances in fertilization, crop genetics and biology saved billions of lives. For those of you who are against GMO’s then you are against the very science that saved billions of people over the last few decades. These are all people who would have died of starvation as predicted without the advances led by Norman Borlaug.



Originally posted 2017-01-26 00:01:58.

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