Poll–choose your favorite scientific consensus

I’ve written a lot about the scientific consensus, which is the collective opinion and judgement of scientists in a particular field of study. This consensus implies general agreement, and disagreement is limited (sometimes from individuals who are not experts in the field) and considered insignificant.

The scientific consensus is powerful, and can only be refuted by evidence. Not debate. Not belief. Not flipping a coin.

So here are some of my favorite scientific consensuses (yes, that’s the plural, as far as I can tell). Which one(s) do you  accept? Vote early, vote often.

The Original Skeptical Raptor
Chief Executive Officer at SkepticalRaptor
Lifetime lover of science, especially biomedical research. Spent years in academics, business development, research, and traveling the world shilling for Big Pharma. I love sports, mostly college basketball and football, hockey, and baseball. I enjoy great food and intelligent conversation. And a delicious morning coffee!

19 Replies to “Poll–choose your favorite scientific consensus”

  1. Hm… what exactly _is_ the difference between scientific fact and scientific consensus? In my mind, they’re pretty much the same thing.

  2. Consensus among scientists actually means very little. It’s consensus among experiments that’s really critical. The more experiments support a theory, the better supported the theory. The more scientists who support a theory… nada. It tells us nothing about the validity of the theory.

    Now, as for the idea that such theories can only be rejected if you have evidence, that’s true regardless of whether or not there is a consensus. Once there is supporting evidence for a theory, you need evidence to the contrary to reject it. Of course, OTHER expert opinion is evidence.

    1. On the contrary, expert opinion (or any kind of opinion, for that matter) is not evidence.
      That being said, opinion is indeed sometimes based on evidence. However it’s the evidence, not the opinions, that plays a role here.

      1. Expert opinion is indeed evidence. Why? Because that’s essentially the definition of an expert. An expert is someone who we assume we can rely on for correct information. If an expert says that “x is true” we assume that he or she has sufficient evidence to back up that statement.

        1. I agree with most of what you said, including that an expert is someone who we assume we can rely on (and of course assumption is not certainty, although this is irrelevant to my point). Assumption about underlying evidence is not the evidence itself.

          If you look at the last sentence in your reply (with which I am in total agreement), you will see that even you made the correct distinction between opinion and evidence. You say that an expert should have “sufficient evidence to back up” their opinion. Since evidence is something that supports (or disproves) an opinion, it follows that evidence and opinion are two distinct things.

          Reading back to your first comment, notice that again you make the correct distinction in your first paragraph. Experiments (as in experimental evidence) are indeed evidence and, as you said, this is the important part. Consensus or the number of supporting scientists tells us nothing (i.e. is not evidence). Basically I agree with your entire comment, except the last sentence (“other expert opinion is evidence”).

            1. Can, yes. Should, no. And I don’t like the word “proxy” because some might assume that it can be substituted for evidence, which it isn’t. I would only say that expert opinion is an indication that evidence could exist, which is not saying much (of course, this in the context of what bearing expert opinion has on accepting or rejecting theories).

            2. When you read a peer reviewed paper and it cites another article, do you assume that the cited article is correct? Yes. That’s expert information. It means that the information is indeed backed up b evidence. When an expert makes a claim within his field of expertise, we do indeed assume that he has evidence to back that claim.

              ONLY when you have evidence to the contrary can you reject a claim made by an expert on the topic in which he is an expert.

            3. No, you do not assume the article is correct. Or at least, you do not mistake that assumption for evidence. If you did, people would not bother to replicate studies, for example.

              You are equating two different things – assumption about evidence, and the evidence itself.

            4. Evidence is just something used to support a claim. You’re confusing evidence with empirical evidence. Now, with that in mind, an expert is someone who has comprehensive and authoritative knowledge on a topic. Therefore, assuming that the person is being honest (and we assume sources of evidence are honest) a claim made by an expert is indeed valid evidence. Because if it were not, the person would not be an expert, under the assumption that the expert is being honest.

            5. What is the difference between “evidence” and “empirical evidence”?

            6. The route through which the evidence is acquired does not affect my previous arguments at all. Don’t distinguish between these two types, it is irrelevant.

            7. Yes. It does. Because you are confusing evidence with empirical evidence. Evidence is any information which provides us insight into the truth value of a claim. Given that an expert is, by definition, someone with comprehensive and authoritative knowledge, then under the assumption that the expert is telling the truth, as best as he knows it, the logical consequence is that what he is saying is valid evidence.

              If it were not, then it would contradict the assumption that he had comprehensive and authoritative knowledge.

            8. I’m sorry, but it does not.

              First of all, by your own definition, “empirical evidence” is “evidence” (because empirical evidence also provides insight into the turth value of a claim). Ergo, they are the same thing.

              Secondly, that’s not what evidence is. Evidence is something that provides *proof* of the truth value of a claim. The rest of your argument fails from here.

            9. No. They are not the same thing. Not all evidence is obtained through empirical observation. Note that obtainment is not the same thing as transfer (learning the information from another).

              Evidence does not provide any form of proof. It provides insight into the truthiness of a claim.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.