Today, there seem to be many vested interests in scientific consensus. Universities and science associations often make use of the concept when explaining the importance of science in society and in making pronouncements on issues of public significance. Consensus is relevant to funding agencies, who focus their awards on science that appears to be building on an existing knowledge base. It is a factor in peer review, for it is much harder to get unorthodox ideas past the journal review processes. It influences the media: who is regarded as an ‘expert’ and who should not get exposure because of their unorthodox ideas. How refreshing, then, to find the Royal Institute of Philosophy offering some cautionary words in an editorial:
“One of the most striking aspects of Karl Popper’s philosophy of science is his insistence that scientific consensus is sleep inducing, intellectually speaking. He did not actually put it quite like that. What he pointed out was that the most successful scientific theory ever devised turned out to be false, even though it had been treated as scientifically practically unquestionable for nigh on two centuries. Popper was thinking of Newton’s theory, whose refutation (as Popper saw it) in 1917 was a key moment in his own intellectual life.”
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