Friday, November 14, 2008

Consensus Science

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. . . .

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, excerpt from "Aliens Cause Global Warming" lecture at CalTech

3 comments:

colleen said...

mmm that's good.

Mr. Bear said...

I like the quote. Did you quote this because Crichton died recently, or for another reason?

L.A.R said...

The ability to reproduce results is indeed the basis of Science -- that's the whole idea of the scientific method. I think Mr. Crichton was right on with this one. A good notion to keep in mind. thank yew.