I had to think about how science was going. Science is a fun animal. It is not a “thing”, it is a process. The process works as follows:
- One or more people make a falsifiable claim about how the physical world works. You support it with logic, math, computer code, examples, experiences, experimental results, thought experiments or other meaningful backup information.
- They make all of this information public so that others can replicate their work.
- Others try to find things that are wrong with the original claim, including errors in logic, math, computer code, examples, and the rest.
- If someone can prove that the original claim is false, that claim will be falsified and rejected.
- If no one can prove that the claim is false, then it will be accepted as scientifically valid for the time being … but only for the time being because any new information of any kind can show that the claim is indeed wrong.
Notice that two things must be there for this process, which we call “science”, to work. The first is total transparency. If the claimant refuses to provide the data, computer code, or any supporting evidence, the claim cannot be replicated or falsified and is therefore not part of the science.
The second necessary component is that the claim must be falsifiable. When I say, “There is a Pastafarian God who controls the universe through his noodle appendages,” no one can falsify that statement … so it is not a scientific claim.
Now let me point out what makes no difference in this process. The following things does not matter in real scientific investigation:
- Nationality, gender, level of education, previous achievements, publications, age, certificates, shoe size or hair color of the person making the claim. They mean nothing – the claim is either true or not, regardless of these meaningless side issues.
- The place where the claim is made. It’s either true or not, whether it’s published in a scientific journal, posted on the internet, or written on an outbuilding wall.
- Nationality, gender, educational level, previous accomplishments or publications, testimonials, shoe size or hair color of the person who identified problems with the entitlement.
- Peer review. The peer reviewers have invested a lifetime in their own work and beliefs and if their worldview is overturned by a new scientific paradigm they can be unemployed. As a result, peer review tends to act as the gatekeeper of consensus these days, preventing the publication of claims that are inconsistent with agreed theories. It is no guarantee of scientific validity. From the National Institutes of Health: “We have little evidence of the effectiveness of peer reviews, but we have considerable evidence of its shortcomings. Besides being bad at spotting gross errors and almost useless for fraud detection, it’s slow, expensive, wastes academic time, very subjective, kind of like a lottery, prone to bias and easily abused. “
- Personal attacks. Attacking the person instead of attacking the person’s ideas is called an “ad hominem” attack, from Latin which means “on the man”. The most common one in climate science is when someone calls their opponent a “denier”. This is a childish attempt to discredit the person instead of dealing with what they are saying. My rule of thumb for such personal attacks is, “If someone starts throwing mud, it is a sure sign that they are running out of ammunition.”
- And finally, to get to the point of this post, it doesn’t matter how many people believe the original claim. Consensus on the claim is pointless. It makes no difference if every learned person in the world, supported by the Catholic Church, believes that an idea is true – as Copernicus and Galileo have shown, scientific validity is not determined by consensus or voting.
In fact, all scientific advances are made the same way. Someone questions revealed wisdom. Someone does not believe the consistent explanation. Someone thinks the current theory is incorrect. Someone contradicts the scientific societies, the consensus of experts, the accepted paradigm.
And in the process, new scientific ideas are brought to light and agreed … until they are discarded again in the future.
So I thought I’d give some quotes from deep thinkers on this very question. Let me start with the polymath Michael Crichton, writer, director, medical student, television producer, Emmy winner, and most interesting man.
I want to pause here and talk about this notion of consensus and the rise of what has been called consensus science. I regard consensus science as an extremely pernicious development that should be stopped now. Historically, the right to consensus was the first refuge of villains; it is a way of avoiding debate by claiming that the matter is already settled. Whenever you hear that scientists are in agreement on something, grab your wallet because you are being betrayed. – Michael Crichton
Next, there are a few quotes from the OG Scientific Breakthroughs, Big Al, noted “Isaac Newton Denier”:
Blind belief in authority is the greatest enemy of truth. – Albert Einstein
To punish myself for my disregard for authority, fate has made me an authority myself. – Albert Einstein
When a pamphlet called 100 Authors Against Einstein was published, Einstein replied, “If I’m wrong, one would be enough.” – Albert Einstein, maybe apocryphal, but absolutely true
Then there is Richard Feynman, one of the best physicists of the last century:
Science is the belief in the ignorance of experts. – Richard Feynman
Have no respect for authority; Forget who said it and instead look at what it starts with, where it ends, and ask yourself, “Is that reasonable? – Richard Feynman
Here is Scott Adams, cartoonist, hypnotist, author, and general troublemaker:
I can say with absolute certainty that it is not a good idea to trust the majority of experts in an area that involves both complexity and large sums of money. – Scott Adams
Whenever you have money, reputation, power, ego, and complexity involved, it is irrational to assume that you are seeing objective science. – Scott Adams
And if you will allow me a little digression, I cannot pass up the opportunity without quoting Matt Groening, creator of the Simpsons:
If the authorities warn you about the sinfulness of sex, there is an important lesson to learn. … … not have sex with the authorities. – Matt Groening
Facts are meaningless! You could use facts to prove anything even remotely true – Homer (Simpson)
… But I digress. Let us return to the important issue of the futility of scientific consensus by quoting the aforementioned Galileo Galilei:
In the sciences, the authority of thousands of opinions is not as valuable as a tiny spark of sanity in a single person. – Galileo
There is general consensus among the authorities that the earth rests in the center of the universe, and they consider it inconceivable and even ridiculous to hold the contrary opinion. On closer inspection, however, the question will turn out to be unresolved and therefore definitely not to be despised. – Nicolaus Copernicus
This idea of questioning the authorities is not new either. One of the clearest visions of how science is the process of the experts’ disbelief comes from the 11th Persian doctor, philosopher and astronomer Abu ‘Ali al-Husayn ibn’ Abd Allah ibn Sina wrote over a thousand years ago:
The seeker of truth is not the one who studies the writings of the ancients and trusts in them following his natural disposition, but the one who suspects his belief in them and questions what he collects from it, who submits to them arguments and proofs and not the statements of People whose nature is fraught with all sorts of imperfections and flaws.
Hence, the duty of the man who examines the writings of scientists, if his aim is to learn the truth, is to make himself the enemy of everything he reads and to get his mind to the core and the margins to concentrate its content, attack it from all sides. He should also suspect himself in his critical examination so as not to fall into prejudice or indulgence. – Avicenna
Amazing insights from a man who writes in the year 1000 … nothing new under the sun.
And why did I write all this? Well, that’s because I’m tired of people saying, “But, Willis, don’t you know that all scientists agree on the ‘climate emergency’? Don’t you realize that you are up against a hundred years of sedentary climate science? Your work cannot possibly be true, it is not peer-reviewed, and besides, you are a climate denier! Surely you need to know that there is 97% consensus that bad people are ruining the climate, and that everyone who is anyone agrees that bad weather can be prevented by poor people paying more for gas? “
Yes, I know all of this … and for all of the reasons given by all of the above, I am not giving a rat gluteus minimus about the existence of any alleged consensus. This is not how science works, never was and never will be.
My best to each and every one of you, commentators, lurkers, haters, the slightly curious and everyone else.