Saturday, December 13, 2008

Scientific Consensus: The Refuge of Weakness

In the Viewpoint article Scientific Consensus RLC refers to a Casey Luskin article at Evolution News & Views. Luskin's article notes the views of science fiction writer Michael Crichton who passed away recently. RLC quotes from a Crichton piece titled Aliens Cause Global Warming which appeared in the Wall Street Journal on November 7, 2008. The quote:


"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."


Consensus arguments are intrinsically weak. If you have confidence in your argument you do not need to cite the fact that most people go along with your argument. You can be the only one in a room holding a viewpoint and still be right.

RLC goes on to make this remark:

"Darwinian processes" means that only physical mechanisms have been at work in the creation of the diversity of structures, functions, and operations found in living things. In other words, Darwinian processes (e.g. natural selection and random mutation) exclude any role for mind and intention, and it's simply untrue that all real scientists embrace the exclusion.

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