Matt Ridley, whose specialty has been evolution, genetics, and society, got himself into a spot of trouble for discovering that some of the solid science behind climate change is about as solid as an ice cream bar. Solid in the freezer, to be sure, but put it on the counter where everyone can see it and … (Ridley made the mistake of realizing that the famous hockey stick graph is not a reliable indicator of anything except the reasons for not annoying a comedian.*) He has this to say in what he describes as his last “Mind and Matter” column for the Wall Street Journal:
Last week a friend chided me for not agreeing with the scientific consensus that climate change is likely to be dangerous. I responded that, according to polls, the “consensus” about climate change only extends to the propositions that it has been happening and is partly man-made, both of which I readily agree with. Forecasts show huge uncertainty.
Besides, science does not respect consensus. There was once widespread agreement about phlogiston (a nonexistent element said to be a crucial part of combustion), eugenics, the impossibility of continental drift, the idea that genes were made of protein (not DNA) and stomach ulcers were caused by stress, and so forth—all of which proved false. Science, Richard Feyman once said, is “the belief in the ignorance of experts.”
Ridley has said similar things before. We wonder if he ever applies these thoughts to Darwin’s theory, the way others have been doing of late.
At any rate, it reminds us of something a design sympathizer told us when American Scientific Affiliation decided to polish apples for consensus science:
If everyone tried to do “consensus science,” there would BE no science — meaning, risky hypothesis-formation, leading to new knowledge.
This could probably be described by an elegant mathematical model, but this simple analogy will have to do for now. Imagine a flock of sheep, where every sheep wants to be as close as possible to the center of the herd — the “consensus” point, if you will. Given that the center point is, by definition, not the risky periphery, no sheep will stay at the edge even for a moment if he can avoid it.
Thus no sheep will venture out on his own. No new hypotheses.
* One climate apocalypse diehard is suing comic writer Mark Steyn for dissing his hockey stick, which has led to just the kind of publicity that all scientists dread and that he should have foreseen …