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How Scientific Consensus Has Been Incorrect

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posted on Jul, 1 2010 @ 09:05 AM
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Scientific Consensus Redux


Last week, the prestigious journal, the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, published an article that tried to assess the relative credibility of climate scientists who “support the tenets of anthropogenic climate change” versus those who do not. One goal of the study is to “provide an independent assessment of level of scientific consensus concerning anthropogenic climate change.” The researchers found that 97–98 percent of the climate researchers most actively publishing in the field are convinced of man-made climate change. In addition, using publication and citation data, the study found that the few climate change dissenters are far less scientifically prominent than convinced researchers. The article concludes, “This extensive analysis of the mainstream versus skeptical/contrarian researchers suggests a strong role for considering expert credibility in the relative weight of and attention to these groups of researchers in future discussions in media, policy, and public forums regarding anthropogenic climate change.” Translation: reporters, politicians, and citizens should stop listening to climate change skeptics.

Naturally, there has been some pushback against the article. For example, Georgia Institute of Technology climatologist Judith Curry who was not pigeonholed in the study told ScienceInsider, “This is a completely unconvincing analysis.” One of the chief objections to the findings is that peer review is stacked in favor of the consensus view, locking skeptics out of publishing in major scientific journals. John Christy, a prominent climate change researcher at the University of Alabama in Huntsville who is skeptical of catastrophic claims, asserted that because of “the tight interdependency between funding, reviewers, popularity. ... We [skeptical researchers] are being ‘black‑listed,’ as best I can tell, by our colleagues.”



Continued in next post


 

MOD NOTE: Posting work written by others


[edit on Sun Jul 4 2010 by DontTreadOnMe]




posted on Jul, 1 2010 @ 09:09 AM
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What does this tell us about scientific consensus? It's completely unreliable. Scientific consensus is often employed as a juggernaut in global warming debates and we've seen a report issued this week relying on consensus and denigrating skeptics as "lacking credibility" (referenced in the above essay).

People should think twice before employing the problematic "scientific consensus" as a tent stake for their arguments.



 

MOD NOTE: Posting work written by others

[edit on Sun Jul 4 2010 by DontTreadOnMe]



posted on Jul, 1 2010 @ 09:39 AM
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But for bystanders without the relevant knowledge scientific consensus is still the best thing to go on; otherwise you legitimise everything from creationism to flat earth theory as an equal opinion.

Consensus proves nothing but if you have no way of gathering, interpreting or understanding the requisite information in the first place then it is better to trust those who do rather than just take a stab in the dark.

I’d question the notion that scientific consensus is completely unreliable, considering the number of things where there is a consensus, overwhelming evidence and application; atomic theory to germ theory via evolutionary theory etc. Consensus is least reliable in young fields but even so my first point stands.



posted on Jul, 1 2010 @ 09:42 AM
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Thank you for posting this article; I found it to be a very enjoyable read; and refreshingly lacking in premature judgements. Have you ever come accross the work of one Thomas Kuhn ( The Structure of Scientific Revolutions )?

I think his term "paradigm" could be legitimately substituted for the term "scientific consensus" as it is used in the OP.

I just have one question: If scientific consensus is totally unreliable; what would you have us use instead? Any group of people will eventually reach a consensus, not just scientists - and chances are they will be wrong too sometimes. So if I had to choose between a group of people who think about the issue all the time and take it seriously and a group of people who dont, or dont think rigorously, then I would tend to choose the former. I am not saying this is always right, but since none of us are omnipotent, I do not see how else to consider this problem ( and believe me, I am a fan of amateur ; as opposed to professional) I think this is more of a case of conservation of knowledge rather than always being "right" - its not so much that the consensus was not right, but rather that it was less wrong. In human history we have to build up our knowledge through culture, we have no choice. So we hope our knowledge pools are accurate but in my experience no one pool is ever complete. - it is part of the human condidtion.



posted on Jul, 1 2010 @ 09:57 AM
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Originally posted by Mike_A
But for bystanders without the relevant knowledge scientific consensus is still the best thing to go on; otherwise you legitimise everything from creationism to flat earth theory as an equal opinion.


I disagree. Not all hypotheses carry merit. Such topics as creationism and flat earth theory are discredited immediately by a lack of supporting evidence and failure to endure the scientific review process. They don't require consensus for nullification.


I’d question the notion that scientific consensus is completely unreliable


This is a fair statement. It is not completely unreliable. However, it should be exercised with extreme caution as an argument in relatively new theories such as global warming.



posted on Jul, 1 2010 @ 10:01 AM
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Originally posted by liquidself
I just have one question: If scientific consensus is totally unreliable; what would you have us use instead?


We have to use it to a large extent, however, I wouldn't recommend using it as definitive evidence of the validity of a theory, rather a scientific zeitgeist that is subject to change. Too often it is employed in arguments as a sort of evidence of indisputable truth of a current theory and too often it is later proven otherwise. For example, in the recent global warming survey, to label skeptics as having questionable credibility is an argument resting on shaky ground.



posted on Jul, 1 2010 @ 11:13 AM
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reply to post by traditionaldrummer
 



This is a fair statement. It is not completely unreliable. However, it should be exercised with extreme caution as an argument in relatively new theories such as global warming.


This is my point; it really depends on who you are. If you have knowledge to assess the evidence yourself then consensus shouldn’t matter anyway but if you don’t have that ability then relying on the consensus is better than randomly picking a side.


Not all hypotheses carry merit. Such topics as creationism and flat earth theory are discredited immediately by a lack of supporting evidence


But as above if the layman doesn’t have the means of gathering or assessing the evidence then they must rely on the scientific consensus in order to make a decision. If both you and they took the view that such a consensus is too shaky for this then they cannot be criticized for taking a contrary view.

Among sufficiently educated people then I think what you say has merit but when applied to average people then I think relying on the scientific consensus is just better than the alternatives (except for getting an education of course!).



posted on Jul, 1 2010 @ 11:53 AM
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Originally posted by Mike_A
But as above if the layman doesn’t have the means of gathering or assessing the evidence then they must rely on the scientific consensus in order to make a decision.


I disagree, especially when scientific consensus has been too often incorrect. They only way to have a certitude on an issue is to acquire and review the evidence. This is especially easy in the internet era. Relying on consensus is often a shortcut around the labor involved with reviewing said evidence.


Among sufficiently educated people then I think what you say has merit but when applied to average people then I think relying on the scientific consensus is just better than the alternatives (except for getting an education of course!).


The appeal to consensus is a common tactic in swaying the opinions of "average people" in everything from agenda-backed science to presidential elections to how many dentists recommend Trident. In many ways it serves as a polling statistic employed to sway public opinion. But given the dubious nature of scientific consensus we must be vigilant about using it to form a decision on an issue that we may either argue or possibly even change our behavior or lifestyle on such information.



posted on Jul, 1 2010 @ 01:29 PM
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reply to post by traditionaldrummer
 


I don’t think reviewing the evidence is as practical as you suggest, at least not to the degree that it would be useful. I think the phrase “a little knowledge is a dangerous thing” is very appropriate here.

Most people just won’t have the time or education to properly understand a single area of study let alone all those that apply to the various issues that concern us today.

I also don’t think the scientific consensus is anywhere near as unreliable as argued, as I said in my first reply the scientific community can be described as being in consensus regarding almost every major scientific theory; picking out a few that turned out to be wrong doesn’t change the fact that betting against them is bad odds.

Again, I’m not saying that anything with the backing of the majority of the scientific community should not be questioned only that if one is unable to review and understand the evidence themselves (most people) then the scientific consensus is the best alternative. You could remain agnostic but when a theory has potential real world, short term effects I would say it’s best not to.



posted on Jul, 1 2010 @ 02:47 PM
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article in the current (July 2010) article of Discover magazine
about 'streetlight science' illustrates some of the issues
We like to think of 'Scientists' as well-equipped, well-prepared, thoughroughly trained superprofessionals who, like Spock, are completely logical. in the real world scientists are no more or less human than the rest of us, making do with materials/resources at hand, doing research that will produce funding and publishing, etc. and of course influenced by politics and beaureaucracy ('My department head will love this!')
as they say, don't believe everything you hear/read/are told.

sad fact is, we laymen have no real means to do our own research on many relevant matters.

(star)

[edit on 1-7-2010 by works4dhs]



posted on Jul, 1 2010 @ 03:24 PM
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For the most part, solid discoveries are not based on a consensus but rather on indisputable and observable evidence. Anything that is not proven in such a way is and should be open to debate and questioning. No one should take theories, especially ones as important as global warming / climate change at face value.



posted on Jul, 3 2010 @ 06:47 PM
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Originally posted by traditionaldrummer

This is a fair statement. It is not completely unreliable. However, it should be exercised with extreme caution as an argument in relatively new theories such as global warming.


But it is not a new theory. Some issues of it were considered in the 19th century, and already by the 1960's to 1970's it was considered and investigated---one prominent application was considering the relative temperatures of Venus and Mars after the first data from probes came in.

By the early 1990's experimental evidence was quite strong and today is quite conclusive.

There are disagreements in longer term predictions of course, but the underlying facts are now convincing that human changes of upper atmosphere chemistry cause changes in radiative balance and temperatures significant for climate.

Finally, physical effects can be measured and investigated with a substantially greater degree of confidence than something like "causes of cancer".



posted on Jul, 3 2010 @ 06:51 PM
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Originally posted by dbloch7986
For the most part, solid discoveries are not based on a consensus but rather on indisputable and observable evidence. Anything that is not proven in such a way is and should be open to debate and questioning. No one should take theories, especially ones as important as global warming / climate change at face value.


Indeed. That's why theories such as global warming have been investigated for decades with extensive theoretical and especially experimental and observational study. It was considered important enough to study seriously and rigorously, and it was.

There is a consensus among professional scientists because the strength of this evidence is now equal to the strength of the evidence in other scientific areas. There was a predictive assertion made from underlying mechanism and subsequent investigation and experimental evidence turned out as predicted, and other explanations did not fit the data well. Every part of the mainstream picture now has very strong theoretical and observational backing.

Example: There is a consensus among chemists that chemical molecules are composed of atoms on the periodic table governed by laws of quantum mechanics, even though there is not consensus about some aspects of particle physics such as Higgs and neutrino mass, and other exotica.

Let's remember that the underlying driver of global warming is inorganic chemistry & physics. There is no field of endeavor of humans---other than research mathematics---where the opinions of the professionals is much much much more correct and useful than those who aren't directly involved.

Some aspects of predicting magnitude of responses depend on complex biosphere interactions and these are less well known at present and everybody in the field say so, correctly.

[edit on 3-7-2010 by mbkennel]

[edit on 3-7-2010 by mbkennel]

[edit on 3-7-2010 by mbkennel]

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posted on Jul, 3 2010 @ 06:59 PM
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After all, several scientific consensuses before 1985 turned out to be wrong or exaggerated, e.g., saccharin, dietary fiber, fusion reactors, stratospheric ozone depletion, and even arguably acid rain a


ignoring human medical biology which is far less well known or conclusive than physics.

Scientific predictions about stratospheric ozone depletion were completely correct, and backed by observation, laboratory and in-situ measurements, theory, and upon reduction of CFC emissions, direct global experimentation.

This was a clear triumph of integrated climate, weather and chemistry.

Predicting engineering and economic difficulty of building something which would only exist in the future (fusion reactors) in regimes different from what was known at the time is entirely different from understanding physical measurements of a known system.



[edit on 3-7-2010 by mbkennel]



posted on Jul, 3 2010 @ 11:43 PM
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Originally posted by Mike_A
reply to post by traditionaldrummer
 

I don’t think reviewing the evidence is as practical as you suggest, at least not to the degree that it would be useful. I think the phrase “a little knowledge is a dangerous thing” is very appropriate here.

Absolutely. I don't know what it is you do for a living or for fun, traditionaldrummer, but if whatever it is involves a degree of expertise inaccessible to the average person, then you must surely have witnessed examples of the misconceptions entertained about your field by those who only see it from the outside.

When it comes to complex and difficult sciences like climatology, where even the experts admit to knowing very little, 'weighing the facts' from a lay point of view is worse than useless. Most people are incapable even of identifying what the facts are, and which are most relevant. They just don't have the necessary knowledge.

Things become even worse when, as in the climate change debate, a powerful and influential lobby - made up mostly of people who want to keep on consuming and polluting without let or hindrance - does its best to present the facts in a light favourable to its own agenda.

On the subject of scientific consensus vs. lay belief with regard to climate change, I think you'll find the career of Bjørn Lomborg illustrative.



posted on Jul, 3 2010 @ 11:50 PM
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First I wanted to thank you for your OP. I think it was a very interesting read and there is as you noted much merit to the thought that scientific consensus is not necessarily the same as "iron clad proof" as to the truth of a theory. Now you could even look further back in history to see many instances where most of the scientific minds of any time period have generally agreed on a theory being the truth only for them to be proven wrong and having that concensus completely change following the introduction of new information. That however is not my main reason for posting and is rather a general observation I have.

Now what I really wanted to mention as a knock against scientific consensus having any real credibility in this day and age is that the consensus is drastically affected either directly or indirectly by funding. That funding comes from corporations or governments almost exclusively.

Now we all now how intertwined those two entities have become so you could say that they have similar interests for the most part. Now since they set policy based on what they want, what they feel will ggive themmore power, more money, the research and researchers that agree with their policies are the ones who get funding and media coverage, those who's research doesn't jive with policy for the most part, either lose or never receive the funding.

I've seen this in person as my wife has experienced the politics at her work doing cancer research for many years. I could give specific examples but I feel they are not really necessary to prove my point as common sense should suffice.

Just a thought for people to consider and thanks again for your OP. Take care.



posted on Jul, 4 2010 @ 03:55 AM
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"Now you could even look further back in history to see many instances where most of the scientific minds of any time period have generally agreed on a theory being the truth only for them to be proven wrong and having that concensus completely change following the introduction of new information."

Huh? That's what scientific method is, a self-correcting mechanism. Out with the old and in with the new. Did you expect scientists to get everything bang on the first time round?



posted on Jul, 4 2010 @ 08:24 AM
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Originally posted by Astyanax

Absolutely. I don't know what it is you do for a living or for fun, traditionaldrummer, but if whatever it is involves a degree of expertise inaccessible to the average person, then you must surely have witnessed examples of the misconceptions entertained about your field by those who only see it from the outside.


I work in a lab in the field of tribology. New discoveries are constantly occurring and consensus is often subject to change.



Things become even worse when, as in the climate change debate, a powerful and influential lobby - made up mostly of people who want to keep on consuming and polluting without let or hindrance - does its best to present the facts in a light favourable to its own agenda.


The problem with the global warming debate is there are TWO polarized, powerful lobbies using it for agendas. One being industry and the other being government. When either entity pays the bills for "research" the results are due proper skepticism, and arriving at consensus based on such "research" is dangerous territory on which to make a stand.



posted on Jul, 4 2010 @ 08:26 AM
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Originally posted by Redwookieaz
Now what I really wanted to mention as a knock against scientific consensus having any real credibility in this day and age is that the consensus is drastically affected either directly or indirectly by funding. That funding comes from corporations or governments almost exclusively.


Right on!

I responded to a post prior to yours in which I pointed out roughly the same point. Kudos, my friend.



posted on Jul, 4 2010 @ 09:02 AM
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What i have found interesting is that most Palaeoclimatologist and geologist think global warming is not man made and a natural cycle.

Palaeoclimatology is the study of climate change taken on the scale of the entire history of Earth.
en.wikipedia.org...

A geologist is a scientist who studies the solid and liquid matter that constitutes the Earth as well as the processes and history that has shaped it. including the climate changes that shaped the different rock type and sediments.

Almost all of the climatologist that support AGW only track climate records in rock ice or tree rings going back at the most less then 3 million years. and call short term climate change a problem.

But geologist and Palaeoclimatologist go back the full history of the earth and look at the changes in relation to the climate now.
and all them see a slowly cooling earth with increasing cycles of ups and downs. but still trending down in the long run.

And this is the same thing i see when i look at the long term charts.
www.globalwarmingart.com...:65_Myr_Climate_Change_Rev_png
www.globalwarmingart.com...:Five_Myr_Climate_Change_Rev_png

The real joke is these charts comes from a pro AGW site and don't show any true long term global warming yet the AGW people claim they do.



[edit on 4-7-2010 by ANNED]



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