How do you know when alternative views are real alternatives, and thus should be considered in a “balanced view” vs. when those views are not any longer valid and should be ignored? This sounds like a hard thing to do but it is not as hard as you might think. I suggest two different approaches: “Tipping Points” and “Clues that Something is Wrong Here.”
The Tipping Point approach works like this: As the percentage of qualified scientists that hold a particular view diminishes, when it reaches about 25 percent or so, the view should continue to be references but as a minority view. Many points of view have been around that range in the past and we are glad we did not eliminate them. For instance, the role of Archeopteryx in bird evolution has moved in and out of favor such that what may well be the correct view may have been close to that sort of minority at various times in the past. As plate tectonics started to develop as a theory, it was held at about this level of minority for a while. The idea of particulate inheritance lost favor for decades prior to the New Darwinian Synthesis, and may have been in that range for a while. Minority vies should be maintained, but labeled clearly as such, in science reviews or in policy development.
But when that view goes to single digits, something else happens. We remember that the percentage of people who think that they’ve been abducted by aliens, or that are certain they’ve seen ghosts, or other impossible things, is around there. If 90 percent of scientists in a given field thing that A is likely correct and B is not, then is time to start ignoring B.
The second aproach, “Clues that Something is Wrong Here,” works quite differently. Some people are going to not like this approach because it rings of ad hominem argumentation or argument from authority. And it is. But note that this is the second approach being suggested for a reason, and I think once you see how it works you’ll agree that it is valid.
There are many possible clues, and I suggest only a few here:
- The main proponents of the minority opinion are not part of the mainstream science.
- The most vocal proponents of the minority opinion are often politicians who are linked to a party or political movement with a priori reasons to hold this point of view.
- The main arguments being made at the policy level are non-scientific, and often include accusations of unfairness or bias.
- The main arguments made at the policy level about the validity of a certain interpretation of the available evidence is that it should be given more consideration because no one believes it any more. In other words, the argument is made that a particular point of view is right because the vast majority of practitioners in the field are certain that it is wrong.
- The victimization of the minority point of view starts to come into play.
- The appeal to support the fading minority point of view shifts primarily from the scientific community to easily swayed politically motivated members of the public.
- The appeal to support the fading minority point of view shifts primarily to those calling for investigative agencies to intervene on behalf of the view that is widely seen as wrong.
- And finally, the primary argument against the fading, by now fully discredited point of view is reference to the idea that there must be a conspiracy afoot against it, otherwise why would it appear to be completely wrong. And therefore it must be correct
You can see now why this is not a simple argument from authority or ad hominem. What has happened in the typical case is that those still stumping for the incorrect view are no longer valid experts, but rather, biased political entities or crazy people (or some combination of the two). There isn’t a single zoologist who thinks Bigfoot is real. Today, bigfoot “exerts” are either charlatans or disturbed individuals. There is not a single evovlutionary biologist who things the earth is 6000 years old. Today, each and every Young Earth Creationist is a preacher or a con artist or, again, disturbed. There are almost no climate scientists who think that Global Warming and other related climate change is not a) real and b) human caused in the majority. Those who defy this point of view these days are either in the employ of energy companies or, perhaps, Tea Partiers or biased Senators. It is not an ad hominem argument because the validity of the science is not being questioned on the basis of qualities (or lack thereof) of those supporting the views, but rather, the minority view is being ignored because those still professing it are not qualified to even enter the debate to begin with.