If your doctor discourages you from seeking another opinion, you have even more reason to get one. (more) Honest contrarians who expect reasonable outsiders to give their contrarian view more than normal credence should point to strong outside indicators that correlate enough with contrarians tending more to be right. (
A. - not trying to hijack the debate, but are you saying that the climate scientists (those who form the "consensus" in this case) stand to gain a lot of money if the problem is ignored?
If the media did a poor job in the first place, there's no guarantee they'll ably handle scientist complaints.
I don't want to turn this in to an abortion debate (and perhaps more to the point I don't think Robin does and its his blog), but I would say that its reasonable to say that there is a scientific consensus, or beyond just consensus, that life is present at conception. What there is no consensus about, and what isn't even really a scientific issue, is the significance of that point. Life existing was never really an issue. Some would say "a person existing" is (and then you have to define "a person"), others would say "a new human life" is the relevant issue, others would talk about a life combined with statements about potential. Others would say that it doesn't matter, that some other point is the issue (for example those that argue that even if the fetus is a person, the woman should not be 'enslaved to it'). But no one with any real understanding, from any side of the controversy would actually dispute that a fetus is alive.
An issue like abortion simply can't be decided by scientific consensus even if one exists.
The fusion issue is about a specific time table for the future, for the success of a combination of multiple complex new processes. Such predictions are always questionable.
But even with the other issues I think simply deferring to the consensus is potentially rather problematic.
As for interest in proclaiming consensus on the fusion and the abortion issues, I think your right that such self interest existed in those cases, but it is hardly limited to them. I'd say its relevant to at least part of different opinions on the issues of anthropocentric climate change and the proper response to it.
If scientists in the relevant fields didn't believe the media reports of a scientific consensus on all the health scares of the past few decades (remember salt?), they sure didn't do a whole lot to protest the appellation.
1) I agree with both of these, especially on the fusion. I worked in fusion research as a student in the 1990s; there was never any consensus.
2) I do not trust medical results. Those get turned over way too frequently.
3) No one ever mentions the scientific consensus that the sun is 6000 K.
4) I wonder how many times a positive result (rejecting the null hypothesis) has taken over the scientific consensus and then gone away, outside of medicine/social sciences? Zero? Does Piltdown man count? I can't think of any. There was the recent cognitive scientist, but other people couldn't reproduce his results -- hardly a consensus. The big ones from Kuhn's book are all things that were new ideas that weren't accepted immediately. Not the same as a consensus that adopted a new incorrect result, changing the status quo. String theory? There is no consensus there. Looking it up on wikipedia, I get N rays and polywater, but neither rose to the level of consensus.
This is just a dumbed-down version of the Pessimistic Meta-Induction with all the same flaws.
Scientific discoveries have nothing whatsoever to do with consensus. Scientific discoveries are proved or disproved on the basis of facts, i.e., on evidence. Almost every scientific consensus of the past 2,000 years has eventually been proven incorrect. Conversely, every new paradigm shift has been considered ridiculous by the scientific consensus until the facts proved otherwise.
What's more, the scientists whose opinions are sought in order to bolster a particular point of view are often not experts on the topic being discussed. This was especially true in the arguments regarding nuclear winter, and it is even more true in the global warming controversy. As soon as someone has to rely on consensus to support their position, it automatically indicates that they do not have the evidence to support their theory.
I think the best sign that a fake consensus is developing is if people are using petitions instead of arguments. We hardly ever hear of pro-evolution or anti-tobacco petitions even though those topics have been politicized.
I have a theory that when scientists sign petitions instead of stating their beliefs individually, it is because they are trying to hide behind each other. If the petition turns out to be nonsense, they can blame somebody else.
In the case of global warming, both sides have been organizing petitions.
I'm also wondering how many of the "scientific consensus" articles pre-1985 are still considered correct today. There were 36 articles, but many were duplicates.
It would be useful to try to distinguish between outsiders fabricating a consensus, experts fabricating a consensus, and actual expert consensus. I'm not sure it would change the results too much, though.
This research shows that a journalist mentioning in an article 'X is scientific consensus' has only a weak correlation with actual scientific consensus; demonstrating that the current journalistic techniques of determining the existance of a consensus are faulty.
It would be interesting for each of these topics to sample the publications in peer-reviewed journals around that year, and verifying if the actual expressed opinions matched what Washington Post called a consensus.
Joshua Zelinsky's point about vested interests is an important one, and indeed I would be naturally more skeptical of any "scientific consensus" by which people stand to gain large amounts of money. The thing about the APGW consensus is that the opposite is true - there's lots of money to be gained by ignoring the problem (in the short term at least).
It seems to me that you're correct, that the phrase "scientific consensus" is used mostly when there is some political or social conflict. I'm not sure it's always used to misrepresent the level of uncertainty.
When confronting religious extremists, I'm not sure the word "consensus" per se is used, but certainly the same manner of argument is deployed, regarding biological evolution or big bang or geology etc. And here it's an objective representation of fact. This kind of "power play" is necessary not because biological evolution is lacking in merit, but because religious leaders actively misinform and deceive their followers.
Industry leaders also have incentive to misinform and deceive the politicians and the public, and certainly they do. To what extent this extends to the safety of their products or practices is of course what we debate. But the point is, their resources make them formidable opposition, and this might be why the "consensus" power play is used.
I don't understand the example of colon cancer. It's hard to read with the ellipses, but it seems to me that the studies indicating dietary fiber reduces risk of colon cancer were going against the consensus, and the consensus has been confirmed with the more recent studies.
I'm under the impression that break-even fusion has occurred, though it's still not sustainable. Also, fusion-energy projections were based on promised federal funding which never came through. Also I find it hard to believe there was really a consensus that progress would be made so fast; I suspect as said above it was a poll of insiders.
I don't know, but I'm under the impression acid rain and ozone depletion have not panned out as major problems precisely because their sources were successfully regulated in a timely manner. This might be true of the food additive carcinogens as well (you speak about betting markets; if a new substance had been found to cause cancer in rats, would you consume, or allow your family to consume, corresponding amounts of it?)
The choice to call something a consensus is in part a political power play, and is most useful when the outcome is in fact uncertain. (Nobody needs to bully folks into accepting gravity). Consensus talk can be viewed like a dictator spending lots of time and energy on rallies - it screams "strength," but signals weakness.
Lots of references to the Washington Post. And Newsweek is (or was) owned by them.
I wrote a little while back "My general heuristic is to accept that I am probably not smarter than the expert consensus and to consider their conclusions the most likely. [...] I accept that the expert consensus can be wrong, so I don’t necessarily have strong commitments to particular beliefs". I haven't changed my mind, but I am now more mistrustful of the Washington Post.