Crichton on “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.

Michael Crichton, Aliens cause Global Warming [January 17, 2003 speech at the California Institute of Technology]

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Comments

  • Mathew  On September 20, 2008 at 1:20 am

    I agree :)

  • Ramesh Srivats  On January 11, 2009 at 6:20 pm

    You ought to read this article – http://www.hindu.com/2009/01/11/stories/2009011160490900.htm

    A vivid demonstration of how meaningless and vague statements push an agenda under the guise of science. Utterly disgusting. And this is the stuff published in mainline dailies.

  • Aristotle The Geek  On January 11, 2009 at 9:30 pm

    You know what this reminds me of? The opposition – FUD spread – against Rearden Metal. Swami has been writing about this for quite some time now in his columns-
    * In “The threat of green fascism”

    It is with some reluctance that I find myself using the expression green fascism. Greenpeace and various Indian organisations have done lots of good work in improving environmental awareness. But their attitude to biotechnology is too Hitlerian for comfort. They will protest that they are not asking for gas chambers, they are merely asking for extensive testing of GM varieties to ensure that there are no dangers. This is mendacity. Most of them simply do not want GM foods, and so have hit on the ploy of demanding ever-new tests about ever-new dangers. They will be happy to keep enunciating new possible dangers and keep demanding additional tests forever. One of the tests they have demanded for bio-engineered cotton could take 20 years. This amounts to ensuring genetic purity through never-ending tests rather than gas chambers. An improvement in procedure, no doubt, but not in philosophy.

    * In “Green killers and pseudo-science”

    The traditional organic farming which Shiva recommends is the very technology that led to mass starvation in India for centuries, with up to one-tenth of the population perishing in periodic famines.

    Mass starvation was finally ended by the green revolution, which brought in modern genetics and chemical inputs. GM takes scientific innovation a step further. GM foods have not affected public health in any country, including the ultra-health-conscious USA.

    GM plants are laboratory crosses across genomes. But nature too is replete with crosses across genomes. This is one way species have evolved for millions of years. To condemn such crosses as dangerous or unnatural is pseudo-science of sort that led Hitler to fulminate against the mixing of races.

    Hitler believed that the Aryans were a superior race. He was aghast at the thought of Aryan blood mixing with the inferior blood of Jews or blacks. His belief that crosses across races would produce genetic horrors had no scientific basis. Yet he banned the mixing of races, and sought to eliminate (as a Final Solution) those he deemed inferior and dangerous.

    Greenpeace and Co. extend this same argument to plants. They claim that natural species are pure and superior, while GM varieties are inferior and dangerous. Like Hitler, they express horror at the mixing of species. They do not want to allow people to choose what to plant or eat. They want an outright ban.

    An argument can be made about GM-tech companies and their enforcement of patent rights, but what the “environmentalists” are doing is plain nonsense.

    • Shane Houstein  On July 9, 2009 at 5:37 am

      “…the ultra-health-conscious USA”

      You have got to be joking! People in the USA are unhealthy, over-weight, junk food addicts. With the rate of cancer approaching 25%.

      The gross inaccuracy of this statement is enough to make me sick… almost as sick as the average American!

      • Aristotle The Geek  On July 9, 2009 at 12:41 pm

        I think he is talking about the paternalistic US State which has the habit of regulating everything in sight.

  • suzane acaso  On September 4, 2010 at 7:32 am

    i want to know what the difference between consensus science and frontier science? to which does environmental science belong?

    • Aristotle The Geek  On September 4, 2010 at 2:57 pm

      There is just one kind of science; science done right is plain science. “Consensus science,” on the other hand, is a pejorative that refers to the politicization of the scientific process.

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