Consensus and voting for conclusion

Jessica Palmer does her take on “Scientific Consensus” and other dirty words. In so doing, she provides an excellent example of contradicting her own thesis. Indicators abound. First is the title. It is loaded. Then there is the take about ‘people.’ And, if that is not enough, there is a dig at Fox News (as if she has never heard of Rathergate or other well known media scandals). After that is the political labeling of who is ‘for’ science and who ‘against.’ Finally is the petard hoisted that can be seen as saying anyone who doesn’t agree with a ‘consensus of scientists’ is anti-science.

The hit on the idea of people in science is a good one but misses the proper reason why. Yes, science is a human activity but, no, it is not governed by such things as voting or affirmation of rightness. It is human in that it is an education and communications process. A scientist does research to help create new intellectual constructs that can be useful in understanding reality. One of the ways that usefulness is determined is by how others can understand it in a constructive way. Science does not work when ideas and concepts are conveyed by an ‘I tell you so’ authority but rather on a ‘here is why this is a good idea’ authority. The consensus concept is only a reinforcement by group think – the ‘I tell you’ becomes ‘we tell you’ and, hence, more potent.

The very fundamental issue in science is about how people deal with new ideas and concepts and incorporate them into their world view. It is about individual change. That change represents learning. Promulgation of a consensus is communication of dogma and not science. The approach of science is one that does depend upon evidence, observation, and data and a high degree of intellectual integrity in communicating ideas and concepts in such a way that others can see the quality of those ideas and concepts for their own learning.

Blog entries such as Palmer’s are also learning and change artifacts as they show a person trying to come to grips with dissonance. A belief in the dogma of a group is much more comforting than stepping out to examine exactly why “scientific consensus” is an issue in the public eye in the first place.

People do see things differently. The problem is whether their view is honest or not.

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