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The ultimate confidence trick in science


As played by astrophysicist and Forbes columnist Ethan Siegel here and dissected here:

The title gives it away: “You Must Not ‘Do Your Own Research’ When It Comes To Science.” The writer, senior contributor Ethan Siegel, has a doctorate in astrophysics and teaches. He should know, right?

He should. But he’s pulling a trick. Like the magician, he starts with the truth. He says, “The techniques that most of us use to navigate most of our decisions in life – gathering information, evaluating it based on what we know, and choosing a course of action – can lead to spectacular failures when it comes to a scientific matter.” He goes on to say, “even those of us who are scientists ourselves, lack the relevant scientific expertise needed to adequately evaluate … research on our own.”…

So, when it comes to scientific things, we should listen to scientific experts. What happens, asks the mark in the audience, when two scientific experts say different things? Who do we listen to then?

Siegel responds, as he manipulates the cards, “scientific consensus.” It’s the only thing to believe. Never listen to “contrarian” scientists. He then does a series of false cuts, “you can no doubt find … a handful of medical professionals” who confirm “your preconceived notions.” That, however, is not research. “You are seeking information to confirm your own biases.”

What is the conclusion of the trick? “You need to be humble, and admit that you, yourself, lack the necessary expertise to evaluate the science before you.” Then, he turns over that third card: you must blindly follow whatever the scientific consensus says. Don’t question, don’t research, just acquiesce.

George Janek, “The Trick that Scientists Use to Tell You to Trust Scientists, Whatever They Say” at The Stream

As Janek goes on to point out, most advances come from those who bucked the consensus.

And in the age of massive science failures amid COVID Crazy, these confidence tricks are starting to wear thin.

Hat tip: Ken Francis, co-author with Theodore Dalrymple of The Terror of Existence: From Ecclesiastes to Theatre of the Absurd

Truthfreedom, The book is titled Wishful Thinking. The first chapter is titled "My Way or the Highway." The chapters are continually updated to fit the current narrative. ;-) -Q Querius
What is the difference between Siegel's "blindly follow the consensus" and a fundamentalist priest chanting "blindly follow God's word and do not dare to think for yourself"? Truthfreedom
Querius, So true. The materialist narrative reminds me of a book where each chapter is auto-conclusive. There is not a cogent story being told. These people (materialists) just hope the readers are stupid enough not to notice it. Maybe that's the reason why Dawkins the fool loves that metaphor of monkeys using typewriters. Because he understands that materialism is as stupid as the idea of a bunch of monkeys writing novels. Stupid metaphors to explain stupid philosophies. Truthfreedom
Truthfreedom, Logical consistency is completely irrelevant. Only orthodoxy on a case-by case basis is mandatory. -Q Querius
@Bob Ryan
Anyone who does not think Darwin was at the root of eugenics has never read Decent of Man, which was his second book.
Our evo/materialist friends tend to overlook Darwin's (very) racist and sexist comments. They have a weird fixation with Leviticus, trying to show us how bad slavery is and how we all should feel ashamed of The Bible. WHY a bunch of randomly assembled chemicals/ semi-evolved apes/ piles of dirt should not enslave each other, that is something that they CAN NOT explain. So they resort to clutching their pearls and shout at us that: "one pile of chemicals enslaving another pile of chemicals is BAD"! But hey, do not worry, because in the end, "morals do not exist/ are illusory". That is materialism in a nutshell: non-sense, contradictions galore, rampant hypocrisy and emotions running wild. :) Truthfreedom
Darwinian eugenics was the scientific consensus of its day. Blacks in the United States were seen as little more than savages to exterminate over time through sterilization. Until they could get around to complete sterilization, segregation was used to keep the savages from infecting the bloodline of the civilized races. Anyone who does not think Darwin was at the root of eugenics has never read Decent of Man, which was his second book. As a result of the scientific consensus of eugenics, it was believed black people could not fly planes. They lacked the intelligence to do the job, even though Canada had an integrated air force and there were black pilots, some from the United States, already fighting in WWII before America got involved. The Tuskegee airmen proved the consensus wrong. BobRyan
Seversky, You would hope so. Unfortunately, as with Semmelweis and many others, Big Science is controlled by powerful personalities and membership in exclusive circles. Their loyalty has been captured by ideologies and government funding. Many ethical and hardworking academics and researchers have experienced these limitations personally, especially if they've made a significant breakthrough. To be fair, Big Science does hold back a flood of quacks, but this is too often at the price of holding onto obsolete theories such as the involvement of the Bernoulli Principle for generating lift in airfoils. Try this experiment. Look online for explanations of lift in airplanes. Look in textbooks. Then go here: https://www.grc.nasa.gov/WWW/K-12/airplane/wrong1.html See what I mean? My question is How is it possible that such an easily falsifiable theory managed to survive this long? -Q Querius
Personally, I would not trust the fate of the planet to a single maverick nor to a small group of academics when there was other equally competent opinion out there that disagreed with them. I would hope that science would try to resolve the differences through empirical research. Seversky
Would you trust the fate of the planet to the same kind of academics who once were fear-mongering that we were headed into the next ice age, and some of whom advocated using nuclear devices to warm up the planet? "Yabbut, that was then. But now we really know what's happening." -Q Querius
As for climate change, I challenge any expert to show that an increase of CO2 can cause any noticeable warming. Especially given the science: CO2 has a very, very minor role as a GHG An Australian politician challenged Dr. Mann to demonstrate such a thing when Mann was down under. Mann failed to do so. ET
Most likely, if a maverick is actually on to something, sooner or later others will stumble across it and the maverick will be validated, although maybe not as soon as the maverick would like.
Wow. You have just given hope to those who fight against the charade of same sex "marriage". Thank you Seversky! Truthfreedom
Science is not done via any consensus. Science mandates that your claims be testable and tested. Until that happens no one should listen to any scientists. ET
Good point, Polistra. Big Science (I like the term) goes after the big bucks. It occurs to me that there are parallels in other domains such as Big Government, Big Media, and Big Religion.
But Jesus called them to Himself and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great men exercise authority over them. It is not this way among you, but whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slave; just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.” Matthew 20:25-28 NASB
-Q Querius
Take Count Rumford. A 100% contrarian. Totally opposed to the consensus. People didn’t list to him. They listened to the consensus.
Sir Benjamin Thompson (Count Rumford) was a highly successful researcher who, along with Sir Joseph Banks, founded the Royal Institution in London which became a premier research laboratory in the UK. His work on the insulating properties of various materials was criticized by scientific establishment figures of the time, apparently with some justification, but he was hardly some marginalized maverick. Science is a human endeavor so it will reflect normal human strengths and weaknesses. Some people will be in it for the science alone whereas others will be lured by fame and fortune. Not that there is a great deal of either to be had in science. For that you need to be a talentless 'celebrity' with your own TV "reality" show. Of course consensuses can be and have been wrong but you can only judge whether mavericks are more often right by comparing the number of them that have been proven right with the number that turned out to be wrong and disappeared back into obscurity. Just being a maverick is not enough. You also have to be right and be able to persuade others you are. Most likely, if a maverick is actually on to something, sooner or later others will stumble across it and the maverick will be validated, although maybe not as soon as the maverick would like. Seversky
Siegel has been defending the worst parts of Big Science against all aspects of reality for many years. No surprise. polistra
There are two, often incompatible objectives that one can follow: the advancement of science or the advancement of one's career. There are some scientific initiatives that are simply too hot to handle. Each field has a circle of insiders. If you provide modest enhancements of the current narrative and don't rock the boat politically, you'll live a relatively comfortable and unremarkable life. But if you're a Dr. Ignaz Semmelweis, for example, you will benefit many people but raise the hostility of many of your colleagues. You will sometimes posthumously be recognized as being "ahead of your time," but you'll still not receive credit for your sacrificial work, of course. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2870773/ Quite honestly, would you choose the life of a Dr. Semmelweis or the life of his supervisor, the eminent Professor Johann Klein? -Q Querius
Methinks Mr. Siegel is (poorly) doing philosophy? Truthfreedom
limiting consideration to the consensus box is a recipe for scientific stagnation. while consensus adherents turn in circles, in that consensus box, i scooped up and publicized a fistful of Nobel worthy advances! reference Moshe Emes series volume II 'Creation Science and Big Bang Cosmology' Pearlman
Never listen to “contrarian” scientists? Is Siegel for real? Has he never read history, Is he even sane? Take Count Rumford. A 100% contrarian. Totally opposed to the consensus. People didn't list to him. They listened to the consensus. But Count Rumford was right. The consensus was wrong. Completely wrong. Following the consensus caused Physics to lose 50 years. And if James Joule (a brewer, a creationist, and a mere amateur, and not a Peer Reviewed Scientist) had listened to the consensus, instead of believing Count Rumford, Physics would have lost another 50 years. TAMMIE LEE HAYNES
Sorry, but this is mostly wrong. Ethan Siegel, in that Forbes article, is mostly correct and is giving good advice. Siegel did make one mistake. He failed to recognize that people such as George Janek (in that stream.org post) might so badly misrepresent what Siegel was saying. Siegel is addressing the lay audience. He is not giving advice to other scientists. If he were addressing other scientists, he would not do so in Forbes.
The false shuffle: Mr. Siegel neglects to mention how often in history the scientific consensus of the day has been wrong. Course corrections came, but not from a small band of obsequious, like-minded scientists. They came from the very “contrarian” scientists Siegel disparages throughout his article.
This is where Janek goes wrong. Yes, corrections do come from contrarian scientists. But Siegel does not disparage contrarian scientists. Rather, Siegel warns lay people to stick to the consensus and to not follow the contrarians. Or, if you prefer, he disparages lay people who follow the contrarians. Siegel is not addressing contrarians. He does not need to. The contrarians, if they are scientifically competent, understand what they are doing and understand the risks to their careers. If these contrarians are ethical scientists, then they know that their job it to attempt to change the scientific consensus. If, instead, the contrarians are seeking disciples among lay people, then that is already a red flag. An ethical contrarian should be working only on his/her own research and on building a case to change the scientific consensus. Neil Rickert
Ethan Siegel, If scientific consensus was always right then free will research would be exactly the same as it was 60 years ago and it is most certainly not, if scientific consensus was right then there wouldn’t be a replication crisis in science pertaining to psychology, if scientific consensus was right then science would never progress There of been many times were scientific consensus was straight wrong, eugenics for example was scientific consensus 70 years ago and beyond Genetic determinism was also scientific consensus Scientific consensus on the structure of the cell was affectively a Pea soup There’s been many times were scientific consensus was entirely wrong but yet prevailed for many years His ideology has caused a lot of damage in my life because I always bent to scientific consensus and I never trusted in my own opinion on things I still suffer from excessive compulsive where I have to look everything up and go to the experts. And why because of his last statement of confirmation bias, so if I try to formulate up in opinion of any kind it is simply only because of my biased and I’m looking to confirm it therefore it invalidates me But I have found recently that seems to be all science particularly consensus science I hope he gets fired because he has just effectively said nobody may have an opinion except for the experts and scientific consensus I wonder what China’s scientific consensus is like I’m sure it’s not biased much like his opinion on the matter AaronS1978

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