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Scientific Consensus is sleep inducing

Today, there seem to be many vested interests in scientific consensus. Universities and science associations often make use of the concept when explaining the importance of science in society and in making pronouncements on issues of public significance. Consensus is relevant to funding agencies, who focus their awards on science that appears to be building on an existing knowledge base. It is a factor in peer review, for it is much harder to get unorthodox ideas past the journal review processes. It influences the media: who is regarded as an ‘expert’ and who should not get exposure because of their unorthodox ideas. How refreshing, then, to find the Royal Institute of Philosophy offering some cautionary words in an editorial:

“One of the most striking aspects of Karl Popper’s philosophy of science is his insistence that scientific consensus is sleep inducing, intellectually speaking. He did not actually put it quite like that. What he pointed out was that the most successful scientific theory ever devised turned out to be false, even though it had been treated as scientifically practically unquestionable for nigh on two centuries. Popper was thinking of Newton’s theory, whose refutation (as Popper saw it) in 1917 was a key moment in his own intellectual life.”

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3 Responses to Scientific Consensus is sleep inducing

  1. 1

    I agree and find always in my studies of geomorphology, geology, or biogeography or biology even, that ideas or conclusions that are solid are then overthrown and gasps of praise to those who do it.
    As a YEC guy its given me the greatest and more confidence to never be impressed with any conclusions by these fields.
    In fact it tells me origin issues are indeed not open to the scientific method unless trivial points.
    I believe Einstein said Newtons ideas were just a special case in the bigger truth or equation. so Newton, the most famous and influential thinker in his field for centuries, was corrected and found wrong in sum total of his intent to explain the world.
    So everything in “science” is open to equal , more, or some, correction at least as a option.
    Evolution thumpers should heed that they might be the wrong guys and soon quite embarrassed.
    Biology is so much more complex and superior in its equations then simple forces of motion etc.
    This forum is proof of how a relatively few people can be such a problem or danger to an orthodoxy.
    If that orthodoxy was right and strong there would not be such noise and need to EXPELL the dissenters.

  2. Robert Byers @ 1
    In fact it tells me origin issues are indeed not open to the scientific method unless trivial points.

    Thanks for your comments. I’d like to suggest some thoughts on the above – because I do think that it is possible to look at origins issues scientifically. The first corrective needed relates to methodology. It is simply not possible to move from empirical science to the study of origins because history is past and gone and we are not able to observe, measure and record directly. The methodologies we need are more likely to be found in archaeological science and/or forensic science. I am a strong advocate of multiple working hypotheses, and our scientific work involves finding ways to test these hypotheses. This is another reason for being very suspicious of consensus science when it claims to speak definitively about origins. You may find people talking about alternative approaches being tested and falsified, but they nearly all are rooted in the 19th Century and the advocates of consensus have little or no interest in engaging with contemporary scientists who are developing contemporary hypotheses that challenge the consensus.

  3. RobertByers (1),

    “So everything in “science” is open to equal , more, or some, correction at least as a option.”

    That is right. Absolutely everything in science is provisional, and liable to be subject to correction if new and better evidence comes along to displace the existing theory. That is why it’s often stated that science never “proves” anything, because new fact can always overturn old theories. “Proof” is for maths, not the physical or biological sciences.

    “I believe Einstein said Newtons ideas were just a special case in the bigger truth or equation. so Newton, the most famous and influential thinker in his field for centuries, was corrected and found wrong in sum total of his intent to explain the world.”

    If you want to be absolutely precise you could say yes, Newton was wrong. But by the same token we couldn’t say that Einstein is right either – we don’t know yet. In reality, Newton’s work is still used today because it gives an excellent match with what we see in the real world that humans occupy. Basically, it’s good enough for our purposes. It only really breaks down for extreme cases of physics, such as when you want to use GPS or know why Mercury’s orbit precesses the way it does, for which Einstein’s work gives a much, much better match. But don’t try to use Einstein for normal day to day human level physics – the math is far too complicated and impractical compared with using Newton.

    Look at it this way: Newton’s work was a great improvement on what went before (and is still used today). Einstein’s work was better still in terms of being an accurate model of what happens in nature. Perhaps there’s something better than Einstein’s work out there too. Science is about getting a continuous, and never ending, improvement on our understanding over what’s gone before – hence Newton’s comments that if he has seen further than others it’s because he has stood on the shoulders of giants.

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