Consensus, science and “consensus science”

I found this story thanks to this blog post-

[I] wrote about Al Gore and global warming — and Václav Klaus and global warming. Gore calls those who disagree with him (such as Klaus) “deniers.” This is rather obviously meant to be parallel to Holocaust deniers. He also speaks constantly of “the science,” as in “accept the science.” The consensus of the scientific community is clear. We must have no more discussion. “The science” has spoken.

Well, a reader sent me an excerpt from a Michael Crichton lecture, and I found it quite powerful:

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.

And I was reminded of a story I learned from Tony Daniels (a.k.a. Theodore Dalrymple). It’s sometime in the 1930s, I believe, before the Reich has really gotten going. A hundred “Aryan” scientists sign a letter against Einstein, saying that the theory of relativity is a Jewish hoax (or whatever). Asked for his response, Einstein says, “If what they are saying were true, one signature would have been enough.”

That is my favorite story about majorities or mobs.

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