You are either for us or agin us

The global climate change debate has something in common with the evolution “debate”. (As an aside, I’d call the former an actual debate. The latter is only a debate in the minds of the deluded.) The thing in common is that in both cases you have one side arguing against scientific consensus and the other side defending scientific consensus.

Generally people who are arguing against scientific consensus point to past failed hypotheses to indicate that science can be wrong, has been wrong in the past and should not be treated as infallible. They are right about this, of course, but they miss a very, very, very important point: it was science itself that corrected these mistakes. It was not op-ed pieces or vague conjectures by untrained people, it was “big science” that found the correct answer.

So people who defend scientific consensus are not defending a particular conclusion, they are defending the processes that make such conclusions possible at all. Without science we can’t debate global climate change or evolution.

The people who argue against scientific consensus often say, “We’re not anti-science, we are against the squashing of debate perpetrated by ‘big science’. They get a theory and everyone jumps on the bandwagon at the expense of other valid scientific explanations.”

They are wrong about this. Global climate change and evolution, to stick with my two examples, are under constant attack by scientists. There are a million mundane (and perhaps a couple profound) controversies that are debated within the scientific community constantly. Literally, it never ends. That is what science is.

If we assume that we have 10 competent, honest scientists in a room and 8 of them agree with hypothesis A and 2 of them agree with hypothesis B, we call hypothesis A the scientific consensus. It does not mean that A is true and B is false, it means that the arguments of A convince more scientists than the arguments of B.

I’m personally not an expert at climate science or evolution. I can’t really make up my own mind based on the scientific data — I don’t have the training. Chances are, neither do you. My problem with the “anti-science crowd” is that their disagreement with scientific consensus is not based on the science but instead based on other factors such as their political leanings or their religion. Those are piss-poor reasons to take a view radically different from scientific consensus.

The bottom line is, either you trust the scientific process or you don’t. The only people capable of creating more successful theories are scientists. Unless you are personally an expert on the scientific matters at hand, your only rational alternative is to defer to scientific consensus.

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