Sunday, November 26, 2006

"Consensus is Nonsensus in Scientific Matters"

Michael R. Fox, Ph. D., writes a great article called "Consensus is Nonsensus in Scientific Matters" at Grassroot Institute of Hawaii.

In this article, he talks about situations in which consensus is an important part of decision-making, but points out that consensus is entirely inappropriate in scientific investigation and fact-finding. In his first paragraph, he writes,
The concept of consensus means little more than a majority of opinions on a given matter. In politics this is the best we can do in making decisions to proceed with political actions. In the scientific world consensus is meaningless, and often unscientific, and worse, often wrong. Even the act of seeking such a consensus as a form of proof is not science.
Dr. Fox gives examples of important scientific findings being suppressed due to its going against the consensus of the time--examples such as Galileo and Ignaz Semmelweis.

Dr. Fox's conclusion? It is, in his final two paragraphs:

Serious scientists should welcome criticism, and many have in the past. Hypotheses are to be examined, modified, or abandoned, while knowledge is advanced, understanding improved. But it is not welcomed these days, which is, sadly, a most unscientific situation.

When Michael Crichton said that “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”, he was right. When it comes to the natural sciences consensus is not science, and science is not consensus.

I thought this article made some important points about how we often make serious mistakes by seeking a consensus in science and then buying into that consensus.



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