Junkfood Science: “Consensus is a political concept, not a scientific one.”

October 17, 2007

“Consensus is a political concept, not a scientific one.”

A thought piece appeared in the Financial Times examining what is science and why it is so critical for us to distinguish it from scientific consensus. Author John Kay writes:

Science is the pursuit of the truth, not consensus

...Consensus is a political concept, not a scientific one. Consensus finds a way through conflicting opinions and interests. Consensus is achieved when the outcome of discussion leaves everyone feeling they have been given enough of what they want. The processes of proper science could hardly be more different. The accomplished politician is a negotiator, a conciliator, finding agreement where none seemed to exist. The accomplished scientist is an original, an extremist, disrupting established patterns of thought. Good science involves perpetual, open debate, in which every objection is aired and dissents are sharpened and clarified, not smoothed over.

Often the argument will continue for ever, and should, because the objective of science is not agreement on a course of action, but the pursuit of truth...

Numbers are critical to democracy, but science is not a democracy.... Science is a matter of evidence, not what a majority of scientists think....

Good science, as this author noted, involves all sides of an issue available for examination. Consider the topic of obesity. According to USB Research, the number of stories reporting on an obesity epidemic just in U.S. newspapers doubled between 2002 and 2004, to 9,000 articles, but few presented the contradicting evidence. “Everybody knows” there’s an obesity crisis. So when we hear something different, it can seem downright incredible.

Thanks Junkscience.com for the lead.

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