The scientific consensus is not scientific

This post is a bit of an aside from normal, but I wanted to briefly touch on something that keeps coming up lately, this phrase, ‘scientific consensus’. With reference to the blog title, the one thing that a scientific consensus is not, is scientific! Rather, the placement of this phrase indicates that the scientific method has been abandoned in favour of groupthink.

In our age without gods, science has been elevated to one of our golden calves. ‘Trust the science’ they say. The science…maybe sometimes…but the scientists, well that is a different story. It seems as if the popular culture is still captured by the illusion of a measured, thoughtful group of people in the ubiquitous white coats who are able to carefully consider all opinions and theories and dispassionately arrive at a wise conclusion. We know it’s not really true, but for the sake of our own comforts, it’s desirable to maintain the illusion.

I was dispossessed of that pretense many years ago, while reading a science subject at university! It didn’t take long to realise that scientists are no different from the rest of us, and in many cases even worse. More subjective, more prone to confirmation biases, more intolerant of any other opinion, maybe because they are somewhat shielded from accountability by the very illusions we erect to keep this particular god safe.

This is where the phrase ‘paradigm shift’ applies. When the weight of evidence becomes so overwhelming in a particular direction that it becomes impossible to continue to defend the indefensible, the scientific tribe has a tendency to suddenly flip and migrate en masse to camp around the new truth. It may still be wrong, but it becomes the new shibboleth.

Does this seem a bit cynical? Well, perhaps, I’m not denying that there are those willing to genuinely seek the truth and pave a new way when required. But the weight of the scientific establishment is institutionally inclined not so much to seek the truth, but to protect the current position.

We are perhaps blessed that there is still objective truth, even if we only occasionally catch glimpses of it. The strength of truth is that is needs nothing to prop it up, whereas something untrue requires constant effort to defend and maintain. Something we are conspicuously good at, nevertheless it can’t be continued for ever!

So we continue to widely gyrate around the pole of truth – in science as much as in any other area. Perhaps recent events regarding what is ‘acceptable’ to discuss, and the related whiplash paradigm shift might have one associated blessing – to weaken our fixation on the scientific idol and to be able to see that science and scientists are not gods, and worship of them is more than a little unwise.

Yet my people have forgotten me;
    they burn incense to worthless idols,
which made them stumble in their ways,
    in the ancient paths.
They made them walk in byways,
    on roads not built up.

Jeremiah 18 v 15

I am the Lord; that is my name;
    my glory I give to no other,
    nor my praise to carved idols.

Isaiah 42 v 8

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