Consensus: It ain’t just politics in science.
“A scientific consensus is not a political election, nor a popularity contest, but a recognition of reality. Science is not a democracy where we all get together to make up and draft the bills of the laws of Nature, drawing straws for whichever one we like the most while wringing our hands with glee.”
I don’t know who to attribute that to, but it sums up something I’ve said before on this blog.
In science a consensus is reached when the findings of multiple fields of study converge on the same conclusions about whatever is discussed, whether it’s biological evolution, complexity theory, climate change, or the germ theory of disease, refined through a process of further research and debate.
The beauty of such a consensus is that it cuts across multiple disciplines, multiple scientific subcommunities, with thousands or even millions of data points converging toward that one set of findings, using the best methods and tools available at the time.
What makes scientific methods so effective and unique in acquiring knowledge is that they also let us test what we find to determine whether it makes the best possible match to how things actually appear to be.
If you expect the natural and social sciences to yield absolute, timeless truths about the world, then you’re setting your sights too high and are bound to be disappointed, perhaps even concluding (unsoundly) that we can’t know anything. But if that’s true, how can we know that? — it’s a self-contradicting proposition, and so a false one.
Any credible scientist will tell you that they don’t think they have it all figured out. Even before testing knowledge, science is about discovering new things.
Also, no credible research worker will claim that science is infallible — it’s messy, sometimes riddled with error, and always a bit shy of complete closure, but no other set of methods is as effective in doing what it does.
It does what it needs to do to tell us when we are wrong, and in so doing, when we’re on the right track.
Any consensus, even the most rock-solid, can be shown false by better methods and tools than those which established that consensus in the first place. With some ideas, though, that hasn’t happened yet.
To paraphrase Richard Dawkins, it’s “as close to certainty as possible that biological evolution is the correct explanation for the diversity of life, and it is as unlikely to be falsified as the fact that the Earth and other planets orbit the Sun,” or at least orbit with the Sun around a mutual center of gravity.
Despite what creationists claim, evolution is falsifiable. A verified fossilized and accurately dated Domestic Shorthair kitten (Sorry, Mister Eccles…) found in Permian geological strata is all it would take to cause researchers to seriously reconsider evolution’s validity.
Even if we were to come to doubt that evolution is correct, that still lends no real support to the existence of anyone’s particular idea of a Creator, and we’ve invented thousands of them, all just as revered and thought just as real in their own time as any gods worshiped today.
Unlike politicians, to avoid the academic equivalent of career suicide, research workers are obliged to abide by what the data say in the course of their day jobs, and scientists who flout this principle in their work are roundly called out and frequently ostracized by their more professionally ethical colleagues…
…which system generally works to discourage dishonest conduct in the research community and encourage a general climate of honesty in the practice of science.
Why? Because that’s the only way to get results that work.
Most scientists, also unlike politicians, don’t get to pocket most of the cash they get from their research grants — much of it is spent on the costs of conducting research; hiring and paying trained research assistants, purchasing and maintaining instruments and other equipment to be used in a study, transportation and maintenance costs for field research, storage and preservation of specimens, etc, etc, etc.
Besides, public office holders make much more than scientists anyway, getting rich from campaign donations going into their ‘war chest’ that they often get to keep, as well as bribes from lobbyists and kickbacks from corporations and other organizations who they support in their policy and legislation. This doesn’t even include their salaries, paid vacations, medical benefits, and any stock trading they may make on the side while in office.
So much for claims by politicians that science is a special interest. Oh, those nasty, pernicious facts with their liberal bias…
Scientists ultimately answer not to a political process or partisan ideology, but to a higher power, Reality herself…
…and it is best not to spurn her, for she can be rather insistent on having her way, and vengeful when denied.
Posted on Monday, 0:32, September 10, 2012, in General Science, Logic/Philosophy and tagged Criticism of Darwinism, Evolution, Philosophy of Science, Science, Scientific consensus, Scientist. Bookmark the permalink. 7 Comments.