Who cares about the ‘consensus’

This is a very quick post, as I am a little challenged for time at the moment.

I came accross a very good post over at Climate etc. regarding the ‘consensus‘. One of the most interesting arguments that I picked up was that we should not care about the consensus argument, as consensus is not the benchmark of good science. Judith Currie wades into the question with the following:

The climate community worked for 20 years to establish a consensus.  The impact of the consensus probably peaked in 2006-2007, at the time of publication of the AR4.  Courtesy of the CRU emails, we now understand the sausage making that went into creating the consensus.  Manufacturing a consensus in the context of the IPCC has acted to hyper-politicize the scientific and policy debate, to the detriment of both.  Its time to abandon the concept of consensus; consensus matters far less than simply being right and the arguments themselves that ought to be the focus for discussion.

My concern about the use of the supposed consensus to stifle the debate is more mundane. For most people, there is only a limited interest in the climate change debate. Unlike those who take an active interest, they are not going to delve into philosophy of science, or read the complex discussions about what is good and what is not good science. I suspect that, for many people, the idea of a consensus of scientists will simply be taken as being an indicator of the truth of the argument.

I agree that there is a difficulty of what the consensus might be about – e.g. the planet has warmed versus we are all doomed if we do not change our behaviour – but this is perhaps not how most of the public might see it. The way that the consensus is presented is that there is broad agreement on the latter of my two examples.

As such, I think the promotion of the idea of a consensus really matters. It is important that we take into account the nature of the interest of most people in the climate change debate, and recognise that those who are less interested will often only take home simple messages from what they hear/see/read. The message of a ‘consensus’ is powerful, and is therefore worth addressing.

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One response to “Who cares about the ‘consensus’

  1. There is no “supposed” consensus. There is an actual consensus. The consensus reflects the collective judgment of the scientific community. The scientific consensus makes it possible for the rest of us to know what’s going on. Accepting the scientific consensus has proven to be extraordinarily useful.

    Arguing that there is no consensus is just silly. There is not a single proper scientific publication or organization that does not agree with the conclusions of the IPCC.

    That a bunch of people without scientific facts to back up their beliefs disagree does not mean there’s no consensus.

    The consensus is: It’s getting warmer, and it’s because of human emissions.

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