Consensus Is Not Science

In “tips” on WUWT there was a pointer to an article that does a wonderful job of demonstrating just why “consensus science” is an oxymoron. It is written by Mike Smith the Meteorologist (not me, yet another “Mike Smith”… there is one of us per 2000 of working population. I have seen the death of Mike Smith in a boating accident reported on the nightly news by, yes, Mike Smith as Mike Smith watched it on TV…)

Well worth the read of the whole thing, so I’m just putting a ‘teaser’ here. Hit the link, it is better read as a whole…

http://meteorologicalmusings.blogspot.com/2011/07/midnight-train-to-middle-ages.html

The single best course I took in my education at the University of Oklahoma was called “history of science” and it explained, in detail, the “scientific method.” Briefly, in order to be “science,” an idea must follow the following process,

A person has a new idea about how something works and does some preliminary investigation. It seems to hold up and seems worth pursuing. This is called a hypothesis.
The person (it doesn’t matter if the person is a scientist, what matters is the process in this case) does some experimentation and the hypothesis holds up.
The person publishes the hypothesis so it can be reviewed by all interested parties. Other parties must be able replicate the experimental results.
If the hypothesis passes muster (i.e., the results are accurate and reproducible) then it becomes a scientific theory.
A theory is considered to be “science” until someone can show it does not work in the real world. For example, primitive telescopes seemed to show the sun rotated around the earth. When new data showed otherwise, the theory of an earth-centric universe was discarded.
Note there is no place in the scientific method for “consensus.” Science is what can be demonstrated in the real world, nothing more and nothing less. Opinions matter in many areas of human endeavor, but they are not “science.”

Further down, after a few well placed jabs at an article by Dr. Gutting, we have (quotes from Gutting in italics):


Finally, given a consensus on a claim among recognized experts, we nonexperts have no basis for rejecting the truth of the claim…

There is, moreover, no denying that there is a strong consensus among climate scientists on the existence of A.G.W. — in their view, human activities are warming the planet…

He uses the term “consensus” seven more times in the article but the above is enough to give you the idea. To Dr. Gutting, the mere fact that a “consensus” exists is conclusive! This isn’t science, it is anti-science.

There was a consensus in science (and religion) that the earth was the center of the universe when Galileo argued the sun was the center of the solar system.

So, the original in full flows smoothly, and with wonderful effect. Best to read it at the link. Now would be good. Yes, you. Now.

It’s OK, I’ll wait for you to get back…

What is “Consensus”?

As noted in the wiki, “consensus” is about a “group solidarity of belief”, not science…

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Consensus

Consensus decision-making is a group decision making process that seeks not only the agreement of most participants but also the resolution or mitigation of minority objections. Consensus is defined by Merriam-Webster as, first – general agreement and, second – group solidarity of belief or sentiment. It has its origin in a Latin word meaning literally feel together. It is used to describe both general agreement and the process of getting to such agreement. Consensus decision-making is thus concerned primarily with that process.

Feelings and belief are the domain of religion, not science. Of particular note is the comment in the wiki about non-consensus methods:

Examples of non-consensus
The peer review process in most scientific journals does not use a consensus based process. Referees submit their opinions individually and there is not a strong effort to reach a group opinion.

So, when you hear people talk about ‘consensus science’, take just a moment to ask them which God or Gods they are embracing with that notion… Gaia perhaps?

The Greek Goddess Gaia by Feuerbach

The Greek Goddess Gaia by Feuerbach

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About E.M.Smith

A technical managerial sort interested in things from Stonehenge to computer science. My present "hot buttons' are the mythology of Climate Change and ancient metrology; but things change...
This entry was posted in AGW Science and Background, Science Bits and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

17 Responses to Consensus Is Not Science

  1. PhilJourdan says:

    He does write a good article, but it is just preaching to the choir. For those asking questions (kindly called skeptics, derisively called deniers), the fact that “consensus” has no place in the scientific process is a given. For the ones that want to blindly accept the “pre-hypothesis” as fact, the issue of the consensus is proof (as Gutting represents).

    How many years did man wander through the dark ages before Galileo (among others) started to bring them back into the light of knowledge? Do we have to wait that long again? We can only hope that with alternate means of information in today’s age, that the wandering in the dark will not be a repeat of the dark ages as far as duration.

  2. Thanks for the message.

    Yes, indeed, consensus is a propaganda tool – not science!

    Government-financed consensus is at the base of the current climate scandal, and collapse of economies and national governments.

    See comment #10 on today’s issue of Air Vents:

    http://noconsensus.wordpress.com/2011/07/15/subsampled-confidence-intervals-zeke/

    With kind regards,
    Oliver K. Manuel
    Former NASA Principal
    Investigator for Apollo

  3. Ian W says:

    I find it interesting that Al Gore used the title ‘An Inconvenient Truth’ – which is actually what science is about. But then proceeds to talk about ‘consensus’.

  4. Another Ian says:

    O/T. E.M. have you seen this?

    http://wwwcsif.cs.ucdavis.edu/~leeey/stupidity/basic.htm

    From a comment at Steve Goddard

  5. Pascvaks says:

    @AnotherIan

    Not really O/T at all. Consensus can be very stupid.

  6. wolfwalker says:

    “Consensus is not science.”

    Indeed. My favorite example of this is dinosaurology. Forty years ago, the “scientific consensus” was that dinosaurs were merely lizards and crocodiles writ huge: cold-blooded, stupid, slow, swamp-dwelling animals. Then John Ostrom and some of his students started questioning that, and supporting their questions with evidence. Today, hardly a week goes by that you don’t see another news article about this or that discovery or analysis that supports the concept of warm-blooded, active dinosaurs.

  7. George says:

    I wonder what Copernicus would think about the concept of consensus; or Alfred Wegener for that matter.

  8. Pascvaks says:

    The subject “Of Consensus and Science” seems to be growing legs. Who knew there was such a consensus? Everyone is talking about it.

    http://judithcurry.com/2011/07/16/manufacturing-consensus/

  9. E.M.Smith says:

    @Another Ian:

    That’s a good one! Not seen it before, but I’m keeping a copy ;-)

    I agree with Pascvaks’ evaluation…

    @Wolfwalker:

    Oooh, that’s a good one. Science is more defined by the non-consensus breaking up a chummy old consensus…

    @George:

    Or Einstein…

    @Pascvaks:

    There may be hope for Judith Curry yet…

    From that link:

    JC conclusion: Lets return for a moment to the previous post on agnoiology and this statement by Lehrer:

    We shall argue that consensus among a reference group of experts thus concerned is relevant only if agreement is not sought. If a consensus arises unsought in the search for truth and the avoidance of error, such consensus provides grounds which, though they may be overridden, suffice for concluding that conformity is reasonable and dissent is not. If, however, consensus is aimed at by the members of the reference group and arrived at by intent, it becomes conspiratorial and irrelevant to our intellectual concern.

    Goodwin makes a strong argument that the IPCC is a manufactured consensus that has been reached by intent. As such, Lehrer argued in 1975 that such a consensus is conspiratorial and irrelevant to our intellectual concern.

    The IPCC needs to lose the emphasis on consensus and pay far more attention to understanding uncertainty and to actual reasoning. I’ll close with this statement by Oppenheimer et al. (2007)

    The establishment of consensus by the IPCC is no longer as important to governments as a full exploration of uncertainty.

    and from the wiki (that looks to have input from her directly):

    “An opening mind”
    In a June 2011 essay posted at her blog, Curry describes how her thinking on the “climate change controversy” has changed in the past five years:
    I’ve been engaging with skeptics since 2006 (before starting Climate Etc., I engaged mainly at Climate Audit). People were suspicious and wondered what I was up to, but the vilification didn’t start until I recommended that people read The Hockey Stick Illusion. The book itself, plus more significantly my vilification simply for recommending that people read the book, has pushed me over the ledge and into a mode of aggressively challenging the IPCC consensus. . . . It is my sad conclusion that opening your mind on this subject sends you down the slippery slope of challenging many aspects of the IPCC consensus.
    Shortly after I started Climate Etc., I received this email message from a colleague:

    A few years ago, I started interacting with a skeptic who somehow passed through my “ignore skeptics” filter. He has an engineering degree and is quite knowledgable. My rationale that “all skeptics are troglodytes” has been tattered, and my view of the climate debate has irreversibly changed.

    Opening your mind on this subject is a slippery slope into listening to what skeptics have to say. Sure there are a lot of crazies out there, but there is some very serious skepticism at ClimateAudit and other technical skeptic and lukewarmer blogs. I look forward to a growing climate heretics club, where people that generally support the IPCC consensus (either currently or in the past) dare to question aspects of it.

    Well. I’ll have to revisit my default expectation that “warmers” are unwilling to open to divergent viewpoints…

  10. When I hear someone talk of “scientific consensus” I take joy in reminding them about how most scientists were duped by the Piltdown man hoax for more than 40 years ;)

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Piltdown_Man

  11. This consensus issue is quite complex.

    Certainly, consensus, if it means agreement, means nothing in regard to the validity of a hypothesis. 100% consensus still only means ‘the best we can come up with’. Definitely not science. As stated by many, demonstrably so.

    Re the AGW issue, we have two consensus’. (Whatever the word).

    The consensus ‘for AGW’ is backed by a group of self-interested people, supported by the media and believed by governments, and by a large percentage of the public, neither of whom know any better.

    The second, is a conglomeration of scientists and followers of varying persuasions who are doing their best to assess all the scientific factors and believe they have better scientific evidence. Some of them also have agendas.

    In a case like this, a ‘general’ consensus, still not science, might perhaps be an acceptable basis on which to make political decisions.

    This not being the case here, and with the science being disputed, we have neither acceptable science nor meaningful consensus to work with.

    The science of the planet’s climate functioning is clearly not at a stage where it can be logically called ‘science’, only hypotheses.

    So this discussion on consensus is purely, itself hypothesising, unless it is applied to a subject like AGW, where it can take on some actual substance.

    I am much more interested in the substance than the hypothesis.

  12. j ferguson says:

    E.M.
    Is “science is not consensus” different from “consensus is not science.” I sort of think so. forgive the pettiness, but we have to keep clear heads in these things.

  13. ecuamantis says:

    Reminds me of the Tarot card “The Tower”:

    http://www.zodiacarts.com/gallery/TarotCards/16.shtml

    The card represents people being shocked into awakening from their lies and illusions that built their “Ivory towers”. They build their “ivory towers” through wrong use of language and ill use of their reasoning abilities, or lack thereof.

    They all haven’t been shocked into reality yet, but that time is coming very soon. Like a slow motion lightning bolt (from the sun) shocking their ivory tower into an awakening. One by one they’re being knocked off.

  14. E.M.Smith says:

    @J Ferguson: Seems fairly symmetric to me. To have asymmetry, one must be a subset of the other. I don’t see “science” as a subset of consensus, nor do I see “consensus” as a subset of science (though I could see an argument for a consensus subset as a kind of QA check on what you teach in high school… for example. But that starts to be a ‘political science’ question, not a general hard sciences one…

    So what are you seeing that I’m not?

    @ecuamantis:

    Every paradigm shift begins with a “boot to the head” to a few…

  15. Jason Calley says:

    @ E.M. Every paradigm shift begins with a “boot to the head” to a few…

    Or, to use the elegant phrasing of the extraordinary Gustave Le Bon: “The beginning of a revolution is in reality the end of a belief.”

  16. j ferguson says:

    I was seeing consensus as a subset of science, but maybe you are right, the two things don’t, and shouldn’t be thought to have anything to do with each other. One would hope that thinking clearly would be the easiest, but for me it’s the hardest.

  17. E.M.Smith says:

    @J Ferguson:

    I spend most of my time trying to ‘keep a tidy mind’ and I still don’t always … but it’s worth the effort…

    @Jason Calley:

    Perhaps: “Reality: where beliefs go to die…” ?

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