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What is "Scientific Consensus" ?

Forums Forums Philosophy What is "Scientific Consensus" ?

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    I do not believe that “scientific consensus” is evidence, even when it exists.

    Okay, scientific consensus is not evidence.  What scientific consensus?

    To me consensus is the informed, well considered, expert opinion based on the evidence at hand which has withstood extraordinary validation.


    Jun 24, 2016, 11:00am


    Ethan Siegel – Ph.D. astrophysicist, author, and science communicator, professor of physics and astronomy

    What Does ‘Scientific Consensus’ Mean?

    “… Both of these predictions were later borne out by observations, and to this day, the Big Bang is overwhelmingly accepted by scientists actively working in the field as the consensus position. What’s vital to realize about this is not that the consensus is immune to challenge; quite to the contrary, it’s important for these challenges to occur. It’s necessary for the progression of science that we dare our most cherished assumptions and conclusions to live up to the inquisitions posed to it by new data, methods, observations and tests. The cracks we find in our theories and ideas are what lead to scientific progress. And quite often, the people probing at the cracks are the very ones who oppose the consensus position.

    But with that in mind, when we talk about science being settled, we’re not talking about “scientific consensus” as the final answer, but rather as the starting point that everyone agrees on. Future research is usually not based on trying to find alternatives that work better (although we’re always open to it), but rather on how to refine and better understand what’s going on.

    The scientific consensus may turn out to be incomplete, and it’s conceivable (but not likely) that in some of these cases, there may turn out to be a better explanation for what’s occurring. But there is no scientific conspiracy or collusion. To make it as a scientist, you have to be passionate about relentlessly pursuing the truth the Universe tells us about itself, no matter where it leads you. You have to be willing to challenge your assumptions, to test them, and to build off of the quality work of others. Your results must be independently reproducible, and your conclusions must be consistent with the full suite of results that are out there, both in your sub-field and in related fields.

    If you want to construct an accurate picture of what governs the Universe, you need to build on all that we’ve learned up to this point. And when we say “scientific consensus,” that’s what we’re talking about: things we’ve already learned, and the solid foundation for where we go from here. And if there really is a problem with the consensus, it’s going to be the internal community of experts within that sub-field that’s going to find it. Believe me: as a scientist, there’s nothing we like more than learning something surprising and new.


    This is the deception formulated by the right wing braintrust – misrepresenting and ridicule:

    Margaret Thatcher’s definition of “consensus” as quite a dirty word:

    Consensus: “The process of abandoning all beliefs, principles, values, and policies in search of something in which no one believes, but to which no one objects; the process of avoiding the very issues that have to be solved, merely because you cannot get agreement on the way ahead. What great cause would have been fought and won under the banner: ‘I stand for consensus?”

    That’s politics and it’s dishonest and deliberately misrepresentative of what Scientific Consensus is about.  But the political ploy worked well enough.

    For decades climate scientists openly acknowledged they had no “consensus” – only after the remaining big uncertainties were resolved did a very conservative, limited and frankly obvious “consensus” arise – But the right wing is all bare knuckles politics and the left wing is out to lunch, so this intellectual vandalism has been allowed without a fight for too many decades.  Time for reaping the whirlwind.

    Still, we live in a society where right and left we depend on professional consensus, be it traveling down the road, rising in a elevator or flying in a jet, or having lunch in a restaurant that adheres to a health and safety consensus opinion and guidelines, even to the ambulance staff that’s keeping you alive while rushing you to an EP.

    Oh but lets ridicule the “expert well considered educated opinion” because we happen to hate that opinion.


    Good review, sound like a book to put on my listening list.

    The Meaning Of Consensus In Science
    David Morrison
    From: Volume 39, No. 3
    May / June 2015

    Four Revolutions in the Earth Sciences: From Heresy to Truth. By James Lawrence Powell.New York: Columbia University Press, 2015. ISBN 978-0-231-16448-1. 384 pp. $35.

    The scientific skeptic recognizes that even generally accepted scientific ideas might be wrong, but as skeptics we also need the intellectual tools to understand how consensus is achieved in science and what it means. James Lawrence Powell1, who has written several excellent books on contemporary issues in the geosciences (including Night Comes to the Cretaceous, Grand Canyon, and Dead Pool) and global warming (The Inquisition of Climate Science), was challenged to write this book by a friend who asked him how he could be so sure of the reality of global warming. After all, “science has been wrong before.”

    The simple answer is that scientists accept theories when the data demand that they do so. However, the process is not simple, and there have … https://skepticalinquirer.org/2015/05/the_meaning_of_consensus_in_science/

    The floor is now open for discussion.   ;- )


    I believe scientific consensus is reached when 97% of peer reviewed research papers submitted on a given subject come to the same conclusion.  Science deniers tend to think it’s some arbitrary decision made by some shady group of people, that there’s someone pulling the strings to decide what scientists believe.  But it’s just when 97% or more of published research reaches the same conclusion on a subject.

    So I guess you could say that scientific consensus is evidence that the actual evidence is pretty compelling.  It is evidence that the data is saying something so strongly that it has convinced at least 97% of the people actively researching it.  That’s good enough for me.  I don’t want to get a degree in everything, going millions of dollars in debt, just so that I’m educated enough to develop an informed opinion on every matter ever.


    I just read that second part with the quote “Science has been wrong before.”  I have a Witness friend you used to love saying that to me.  Until the day I responded, “And do you know how you found out they were wrong?  THEY TOLD YOU!  Why wouldn’t I trust people who tell me when they discover they were wrong?”  I believe he had brought up something about scientists thinking they had a new species of man, but it was really just a pig tooth.  They could have kept lying to me forever.  I never would have know the difference.  I didn’t bust them on it.  They just said, “Whoa!  Our bad!  False alarm, everyone.  Just a pig tooth!”  Just blurted it right out there without prompting as soon as they figured it out.


    Until the day I responded, “And do you know how you found out they were wrong?  THEY TOLD YOU!

    Fabulous point!

    Thanks for highlighting it.


    Oh and you’ll also hear scientists freely explain that they don’t have enough information to reach a consensus on this or that – until the evidence is collected and remaining questions can be resolved to everyone’s satisfaction.


    The history of science is littered with examples of consensus being simply plain wrong.

    You’re counting the misses and ignoring the hits. Sure science is wrong at times, but the fact it eventually get it right is it’s power, not it’s weakness.

    Compare the history of science with the history of a different method of describing how our world works. I think you’ll find science the winner to such a degree that to conclude otherwise could only be done by pretending you don’t see the difference.

    If I’m wrong, let me know the other method(s) that are better than science.


    But beware, consensus is no guarantee of correctness.

    There are NO “guarantees of correctness” in science.  Ever.  Everything is up for debate, always and forever.  When they say something is “settled science”, that’s for us dummies.  Scientists are completely aware that new evidence can reopen any case.  Even heliocentric theory is open for debate if evidence arises to dispute it.  And I would say that the notion that the Earth revolves around the Sun is just about as “settled” as any science can get.

    The history of science is littered with examples of consensus being simply plain wrong.

    Littered, you say?  Can you give me a few examples?  Be sure to provide your evidence that the theory in question had reached “consensus” and was not just “widely accepted”.  Because I can’t find any evidence that aether theory had ever reached consensus, just that it was disproved in the late 19th century.  Even if it had reached consensus, given that science is only a few hundred years old, if you have to go back over 100 years to find an example I think it’s a stretch to say that the history of science is “littered with examples”.

    • This reply was modified 6 months, 4 weeks ago by Widdershins.
    • This reply was modified 6 months, 4 weeks ago by Widdershins.

    Earlier history of medicine was rife with mistaken (even bizarre) ideas.  I don’t suppose they were particularly following the scientific method, tho.


    “Pieces of shirt!”  God I love that movie.



    “And do you know how you found out they were wrong?  THEY TOLD YOU!  Why wouldn’t I trust people who tell me when they discover they were wrong?”

    Hear, hear. The same has often been true with the “lying mainstream media.”





    Do you agree or disagree that scientific consensus is not 100% reliable as a means of establishing scientific truth? 

    I admit I just popped in here and haven’t read the discussion. My bad.

    But since Sherlock likes to point out logical fallacies, I’m gonna take a wild guess this is an example of the Straw Man:

    A straw man is a form of argument and an informal fallacy based on giving the impression of refuting an opponent’s argument, while actually refuting an argument that was not presented by that opponent. One who engages in this fallacy is said to be “attacking a straw man”.




    (This one was just links, no images)




    Are there any volunteers for stepping up and giving a yes/no answer to the question:

    Do you agree or disagree that scientific consensus is not 100% reliable as a means of establishing scientific truth?

    Me! I will: “Yes, I agree.”

    So do you feel vindicated now? Are you thinking that you finally got us to admit we’re all wrong and you are right?

    You can feel any way you want to, but just make sure you understand the terms “scientific consensus” and “scientific proof,” lest you wade into Straw Man territory.

    A scientific consensus, in general, is what most scientists believe to be true about a certain issue based on their interpretation of all of the evidence that we have at our disposal…

    …signifies the fact that a great many scientists from different backgrounds have considered the question at hand and have reached similar conclusions.

    That doesn’t mean that science is a panacea—it doesn’t mean that science is perfect or always 100% correct. It is important to remember that science is adaption; it’s change. But what it does mean is that we have a pretty good understanding of how things work…

    If anything, history shows how hard it is to get a new consensus in science. Scientists have proposed plenty of wrong ideas — from cold fusion to the connection between autism and childhood vaccines. But these are not consensus ideas. Wrong ideas that get into the heads of whole scientific communities generally don’t start with the scientists. They are part of the prevailing culture, or they represent holding places before scientists develop better theories.




    “Proof” implies that there is no room for error — that you can be 100% sure that what you have written down on the piece of paper is 100% representative of what you are talking about.
    And quite simply, that doesn’t exist in the real world…

    …Proof can only exist when there is no doubt, and there is always doubt. You could be a brain in a vat, living in a crazy simulation. You could be hallucinating everything.
    You cannot prove anything.




    Proofs exist only in mathematics and logic, not in science.  Mathematics and logic are both closed, self-contained systems of propositions, whereas science is empirical and deals with nature as it exists.

    The primary criterion and standard of evaluation of scientific theory is evidence, not proof….

    The creationists and other critics of evolution are absolutely correct when they point out that evolution is “just a theory” and it is not “proven.”  What they neglect to mention is that everything in science is just a theory and is never proven.






    Sherlock Holmes said,

    Do you agree or disagree that scientific consensus is not 100% reliable as a means of establishing scientific truth?

    I agree that science is the only reliable means of “discovering” natural truths.


    Is anyone familiar with Bayes Theorem?

    It’s a better description of how a probability can be found than just adding up summaries of papers. It relies on that established data, and calls it “prior probability”. You find other “priors” that are similar to what you are investigating and the percent of that turned out to be accurate is your “prior”. So your scanning for deer in the woods, sometimes you see something that might be a deer, but you’re wrong, the percent that you’re right is your probability. More important, it forces you to account for what you’re missing, evidence for and evidence against has to always add up to 100%. Once you get the hang of it, you can show how “ignoring the misses” and other rhetorical devices skew the equation. In other words, it’s a formula that works the way we think.

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