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Doug Axe to Science March Organizers: A Scientific Majority Doesn’t Equal “Settled Science”


Anticipating Saturday’s March for Science, biologist Douglas Axe notes a key distinction that habitually gets elided. The distinction is between a majority of scientists and “settled science.” Again and again, the two are treated as if they meant the same thing. They don’t.

The March demands conformity on a range of science issues, notably climate change. Writing at The Stream as part of a series of articles in collaboration with Discovery Institute’s Center for Science & Culture, Dr. Axe writes:

The dissenters do exist, of course. A study titled Scientists’ Views about Attribution of Global Warming makes this clear. According to that study, the view that humans are the main cause of recent global warming has solid majority support. And yet one in ten experts disagrees. Those minority thinkers amount to a large group in themselves — hundreds of scientists.

So, it’s one thing to say there’s a consensus view on the cause of climate change but another to say the matter has been settled. If science were an academic popularity contest, then one side of this issue is currently winning. But science clearly isn’t that. At its heart science is radically undemocratic. It’s the pursuit of correct answers regardless of popularity.

The March organizers know this full well. “Science should neither serve special interests nor be rejected based on personal convictions,” they claim. And yet they fail to see that the majority and minority views of climate change are science in the same way. Both sides apply scientific reasoning to the evidence. They just reach different conclusions. The impulse to dismiss one side simply because it’s the other side is familiar. We all experience this. But if we want to do justice either to science or to democracy, we must rise above it.

In the end, consensus isn’t always worth celebrating. Consensus by weight of evidence is a good thing, but consensus by peer pressure isn’t. Marches and protests, being all about pressure and power, tend to signal the latter.

So, when the March organizers say, “It is time for people who support science to take a public stand and be counted,” what they really seem to mean is it’s time to let the majority opinion of scientists dictate public policy.

In other words — think for yourself, but make sure your thinking conforms to that majority opinion if you don’t want to be labeled an enemy of science.

In other words — don’t think for yourself.

The March for Science is a march for conformity, as others have noticed (see comments by Stephen Meyer, John West, and Jonathan Wells).

Dr. Axe, director of Biologic Institute and the author of Undeniable: How Biology Confirms Our Intuition That Life Is Designed, knows well from personal experience the costs of thinking for yourself.

My experience comes from another controversy. The work I and others have done on evolution shows that the consensus view that life is an accident is wrong — even obviously wrong. My part in that work once cost me my job at a top research center. So I know firsthand how hard is it to go against the flow. Even so, the cost of slavishly going with the flow is surely greater. If I could go back in time, then I would lose my job again — not happily, but resolutely.

A March for Scientific Conscience — real conscience not virtue signaling disguised as conscience — now that’s something we could really get behind. Read the rest of Dr. Axe’s on-target observations here.

Photo credit: Bradhoc, via Flickr.