Is There a "Consensus" in Science? Remembering the Late Michael Crichton
Anyone who was awed when they watched Jurassic Park and saw realistic-looking dinosaurs walking around on the big screen for the first time should take a moment to remember Michael Crichton. Crichton, a famous science-fiction author, wrote the books that became the Jurassic Park movie series, as well as many other popular novels. He also had an appreciation for the importance of dissenting views within the scientific community and was a keen observer of how some in the scientific community use rhetoric to quash minority scientific viewpoints. Crichton passed away earlier this month after losing a battle with cancer, so in remembrance of Michael Crichton, I'd like to re-post this quote from a speech he gave that was recently reprinted in the Wall Street Journal:
"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 ought to be stopped cold in its tracks. Historically, the claim of consensus has been the first refuge of scoundrels; it is a way to avoid debate by claiming that the matter is already settled. Whenever you hear the consensus of scientists agrees on something or other, reach for your wallet, because you're being had.Rest in peace, Michael Crichton.
"Let's be clear: The work of science has nothing whatever to do with consensus. Consensus is the business of politics. Science, on the contrary, requires only one investigator who happens to be right, which means that he or she has results that are verifiable by reference to the real world. In science consensus is irrelevant. What is relevant is reproducible results. The greatest scientists in history are great precisely because they broke with the consensus.
"There is no such thing as consensus science. If it's consensus, it isn't science. If it's science, it isn't consensus. Period. . . .
"I would remind you to notice where the claim of consensus is invoked. Consensus is invoked only in situations where the science is not solid enough. Nobody says the consensus of scientists agrees that E=mc2. Nobody says the consensus is that the sun is 93 million miles away. It would never occur to anyone to speak that way. ."
(Michael Crichton, "'Aliens Cause Global Warming'," reprinted in Wall Street Journal, November 7, 2008.)