In Science, should we strive to find a consensus?

What does it mean in science to have a consensus, and is it relevant to complex questions having great uncertainty? 

The late author Michael Crichton, in his Caltech Michelin Lecture 2003, said, “In science consensus is irrelevant. … 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.”   Doubt is the seed corn of science.  Consensus is a political notion which, when pleaded, indicates that the pleader is totalitarian.  As Abu Ali ibn al-Haytham said in the eleventh century:

The seeker after truth [his splendid definition of the scientist] does not place his faith in any mere consensus, however venerable or widespread. Instead, he subjects what he has learned of it to his hard-won scientific knowledge, and to investigation, inspection, inquiry, checking, checking and checking again. The road to the truth is long and hard, but that is the road we must follow.

Reflecting on this we should be very skeptical of any so-called consensus of a complex scientific question such as climate, for the concept of consensus says that the questions have been answered, the science settled as the claims have been made and well publicized.    Indeed there is a great danger in that especially if the claims of consensus in climate science are false.   So read on learned reader.



What About the claims of a 97% Consensus?

I sincerely doubt that there is anything that can achieve 97% consensus amongst knowledgeable scientists that is both complex and not related to their future employment.  There have been a series of papers written on AGW consensus since the early 90s through the one summarized by the graphic and in the article below.   All of them do not achieve 97% upon close review by peers. 


See the links below and consensus slide presentation for more details on the other papers.  Also another paper Climate Change: No, It’s Not a 97 Percent Consensus   National Review on Consensus Link


There simply is no consensus if the right questions are asked of the people knowledgeable if the answers are anonymous, and these people have studied the issue and not just the politics.  It most likely could be argued that no such survey has yet been done. 


New AMS survey busts the 97% climate consensus claim

Anthony Watts / March 25, 2016

WUWT Article Link


Fully a third don’t agree that man is the primary driver


Another survey of 4,092 members of the American Meteorological Society (AMS) from George Mason University (home of Shukla and the RICO20) on climate change attitudes in that organization was released yesterday. However, the survey itself is tainted with the stench of the RICO20 and their calls for prosecution and jailing of “climate deniers”.


The survey results show a general acceptance of the view that climate change is happening, and that the cause is partly due to human activity, but there is a contingent that sticks out like a sore thumb.


Dr. Roy Spencer notes on his blog:


But what I find interesting is that the supposed 97% consensus on climate change (which we know is bogus anyway) turns into only 67% when we consider the number of people who believe climate change is mostly or entirely caused by humans, as indicated by this bar chart:


Fully 33% either believe climate change is not occurring, is mostly natural, or is at most half-natural and half-manmade (I tend toward that last category)…or simply think we “don’t know”.


For something that is supposed to be “settled science”, I find that rather remarkable.


Even given that 1/3 who don’t attribute man-made causes, personally, I think the numbers aren’t fully representative of what AMS members really think and that 1/3 number would actually be higher.


Two colleagues I know locally also got this survey, and they didn’t send it in because they didn’t believe their opinion or identity would actually be protected. Given that the operator of the survey, George Mason University is a hotbed of calls for prosecution and jailing of “deniers”, and that Edward Maibach is one of the people who signed the letter to the Whitehouse and who operated this particular AMS survey, I can’t say that I blame them. I wouldn’t have sent it in either when the man asking the questions might flag you for criminal prosecution for having an opinion he doesn’t like.


Survey results are available here:  Qualtrics Article Link


A video on the Petition Project and the answer to the AGW consensus not being real:



Section for a video or follow-on comment

We should revisit occasionally what the proper role of government is.   As the constitution was a good sense of direction, we need a core set of principles to add in order to deal with the future.


So many want to engineer society, remove risk, assist certain groups, rather than let individuals thrive and raise communities.  Why?


Is Democracy where we all "get it good and hard" or is it the best means to a free society?


Should we roll with the special interests, or make the government achieve its proper role, what is that role, and how to do this?


When do deficits and governments become too large?


Government is becoming more elitist while trying to sell corrections to problems it created, what makes this possible?


Add Comments


Powered by Disqus