The Evil Truth about Scientific Consensus: It’s Brutal

I often refer to quotes by Dr Nurse and the like on what scientific consensus is, what it means to the general public and how it is applicable. Rather than continually quote, perhaps a dedicated post on the subject which I can later refer to would be more efficient.

Apart from the Dr. Nurse quote I refer to fairly often,  to explore scientific consensus  further, there is an excellent quote from Oreskes and Conway;

“While the idea of equal time for opposing opinions makes sense in a two-party system, it does not work for science, because science is not about opinion. It is about evidence. It is about claims that can be, and have been, tested through scientific research – experiments, experience, and observation – research that is then subject to critical review by a jury of scientific peers. Claims that have not gone through that process – or have gone through it and failed – are not scientific, and do not deserve equal time in a scientific debate.”

More so, Dr Eugenie Scott’s argument on “teaching the controversy in schools”, which I would contend applies to science media in general;

“Here’s how science works. I come up with a great idea and I want to present this idea to my colleagues. Well, first of all, I need to do the research, right? And then, after I’ve done some research, I’m going to present it to my colleagues for peer review. I’ll probably give a paper or do a poster at my professional meetings and my colleagues will give me feedback…

“So I’ll get that kind of feedback from my colleagues and I’ll go back and do some more research and I’ll come back; rinse and repeat – we’ll go round and round… and after a while, if I really think I have a good idea, I’ll submit it to a professional journal and go through that other wringer with clubs and all that sort of thing and if my idea is really good, if it really helps to explain nature, it will go into the scientific consensus.

“If it’s in the scientific consensus, if scientists find it useful, then it will trickle down into class rooms and the text book.

“Now let’s just say that I find all of this research and peer review to be burdensome and let’s say that it’s so much easier for me to go to a state legislator and convince him to pass a law that determines that [my idea] goes directly to the class room without having to go through all that tedious research and review. You can imagine that my colleagues would be rather annoyed at me and I would be strongly criticised by my colleagues for the unfairness of my cutting to the head of the line. They had to go through a very laborious process… I took a short cut.”

Scientific consensus is nothing more than that; a brutal result of critical review – not only of the natural universe but also the processes undertaken to observe it. Is it always right? No. Will it remain fixed on a set of conclusions? No.

It is these two points that are exploited unfairly by contrarian thinkers. They don’t take the glass half empty; they see a meniscus and claim there may not be any liquid at all.

Scientific consensus is simply the universe as best we currently understand it. If it’s wrong and understood to be wrong, then such a demonstration needs to be presented conclusively to the jury of scientific experts on the matter at hand to have this information analysed. It is of immense value and is very likely to win the researchers involved accolades if not awards. On matters as important (both environmentally and politically) as climate change, the rewards would be even greater.

Avoiding this process, as we see with the main contentious arguments against anthropogenic climate change and expecting equal weight in the media and elsewhere is to expect an unfair bias in favour of unfounded and untested ideas. Scientists engaging the likes of Christopher Monckton give such individuals an unfair weight to their ideas and should be avoided.

As Eugenie Scott says;

“Is this dogmatic? Is this, as Mr. Bast of the Heartland Institute claims, quote ‘Banning debate, and censoring objective sources of research?’ No, but it is getting politics out of the process.”

On the matter of anthropogenic climate change, we have more than 95% of the working experts in the field, plus the more respected research institutes and prestigious scientific journals concurring to the conclusions drawn. In any given field of science, to have such a consensus is amazing. It doesn’t mean that it’s correct, but simply that the global community of experts actively working in the field are convinced in the high likelihood that our activities are impacting on the global climate and that no evidence to date challenges this conclusion.

While people generally don’t contest the scientific consensus on UV exposure leading to malignant moles (while this is less certain than ACC in that increased exposure only increases the likelihood of eventually developing skin cancer), there are numerous groups of individuals who scoff at the scientific consensus in regards to ACC, evolution and vaccination. Values must play a role.

In the following post, I will explore the reasons for why the above arguments will fall on deaf ears to some individuals whom will, seemingly forever, look at that thin slither of air above the full glass and insist it’s everything.


One thought on “The Evil Truth about Scientific Consensus: It’s Brutal

  1. …or it is as if someone jumps out of an airplane without a parachute – believing that debating the theory of gravity will save them from hitting the ground.

    That is a hard education.


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