Mike the Mad Biologist

One of the rhetorical strategies that has been employed against science deniers has been the claim that a ‘broad scientific consensus exists’ to support a certain position (e.g., global warming, evolution). A problem with this strategy is shown by the blog belonging to this commenter (I don’t give links to wackaloons) which provides lists of scientists that don’t think global warming is partly due to human influences.

This misses the entire meaning of scientific consensus: it’s a process, not a list of names.

This is not how a scientific consensus is reached:

“Dude, the earth is kinda hot.”

(pounds drink)

“Definitely, it’s global warming.”

“Definitely. What do you think, dude?”

“Oh yeah, me too.”

(everybody drinks)

This is basically what many of those lists provided by the above commenter are*. While some on those lists attempt to provide evidence, it’s easily refuted by experts. A list of names isn’t a scientific consensus, whether it be a list of global warming deniers or Biologists Named Steve that support evolution (although the latter is funny as hell–that list is much larger than scientists who support ID).

Reaching a scientific consensus is a process that involves multiple datasets, lines of evidence, and repeated criticism and refinement of hypotheses. It is not a survey. Nor is it a matter of ‘faith’:


My ‘belief’ in climatologists is not based in ‘faith’, but trust. I trust that climatologists use similar scientific methods, principles, and evaluation structures to those that I use in biology.
[While] it is not beyond my reach to assess the claims of climatology, even if I currently lack the skills to do so. However, I’m kinda busy, and I find biology more interesting, so I will take their word as scientists. When the overwhelming number of climatologists claim, along with professional society after professional society, that global warming is real, and that there is a significant human effect, I trust their professional judgement. Most scientists who are not biologists trust the overwhelming evidence for the theories of common descent and evolution (even if it’s been so long since they had to think about evolution that they don’t remember all or most of the evidence)….

We need to make it clear that we trust the scientific process, and that this trust is not based in faith but reason, experience, and observation.

One thing that will help in the War on Science (and don’t think for a moment it’s over) is clarity about what a scientific consensus really means.

*As mentioned in this post about elitism, most scientists aren’t qualified to rigorously judge the claims in other fields. That doesn’t stop a minority of them from doing so.

Comments

  1. #1 harbinger
    January 30, 2009

    Your argument would be fine if the so-called climatologists were really that. However, starting with the head of IPCC who is a railway engineer by training, later moving to economics, we find many are not climate scientists at all.

    Stephen Schneider, IPCC lead author and a long-time warmer, prior to which he was a cooler in the 70′s, is a biologist. Another lead author, Bill Hare, is a long term climate activist and the International Campaign Manager for Greenpeace, but he masquerades as a scientist at Potsdam, where he is on sabbatical from Greenpeace. He is also a major player in the International Climate Network of NGO’s. I can find no record of his climate qualifications. Another lead author and co-chair of WGIII, Professor Edenhofer of Potsdam, is qualified in philosophy and economics.

    The UK Tyndall Centre is full of sociologists, mathematicians and engineers, yet they pontificate regularly on climate matters and are described as climate scientists. Similar situations prevail at many other institutions, all of which are heavily networked so that they all sing from the same hymn sheet.

    The IPCC themselves use the list argument by claiming that 2500 scientists produce their reports, when in fact it is a small core of agenda scientists such as Schneider et al who select the papers which will be used. It is a combination of those same lead authors and government representatives who produce the Summary for Policy Makers.

    The IPCC is not a scientific process, it is political.

  2. #2 figurin
    June 12, 2009

    The IPCC is not a scientific process, it is political.

  3. #3 magic
    August 22, 2009

    very thanks for article