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When is consensus in science based on knowledge and when is it just circling the wagons?

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A friend draws attention to an interesting 2013 article by Boaz Miller in Synthese:

Scientific consensus is widely deferred to in public debates as a social indicator of the existence of knowledge. However, it is far from clear that such deference to consensus is always justified. The existence of agreement in a community of researchers is a contingent fact, and researchers may reach a consensus for all kinds of reasons, such as fighting a common foe or sharing a common bias. Scientific consensus, by itself, does not necessarily indicate the existence of shared knowledge among the members of the consensus community. I address the question of under what conditions it is likely that a consensus is in fact knowledge based. I argue that a consensus is likely to be knowledge based when knowledge is the best explanation of the consensus, and I identify three conditions—social calibration, apparent consilience of evidence, and social diversity, for knowledge being the best explanation of a consensus. (Synthese (2013) 190:1293–1316 DOI 10.1007/s11229-012-0225-5) More.

It’s pretty clear that a lot of modern evolutionary theory it is just circling the wagons. For example, “Universal common ancestry” with no “universal common ancestor”?:

Yet evolutionary biologists—even those who share Woese’s view—continue to defend the idea of universal common ancestry. For example, W. Ford Doolittle wrote in 2009 that he doubts “there was ever a single universal common ancestor,” but “this does not mean that life lacks “‘universal common ancestry’” because “‘common ancestry’ doe not enail a ‘common ancestor.’” Why such mental gymnastics? Doolittle freely admits that it is because “much is at stake socio-politically,” namely the need to defeat “anti-evolutionists” in “the culture wars.”

That sort of thing tends to continue until the really crazy stuff starts, and then non-crazies must look at their options.

See also: Barbara Forrest, metaphysical naturalism, and the End of Science rent-a-riot

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4 Replies to “When is consensus in science based on knowledge and when is it just circling the wagons?

  1. 1
    kairosfocus says:

    News, great points. No authority — individual or collective — is better than the underlying facts, reasoning and assumptions. and when a “consensus” is ideological, that is a warning flag. Evolutionary Materialistic Scientism, we are looking straight at you, KF

  2. 2
    kmidpuddle says:


    Evolutionary Materialistic Scientism, we are looking straight at you, KF

    That beam in your eye must be distorting your view.

  3. 3
    kairosfocus says:


    Let me remind you of Lewontin:

    . . . to put a correct view of the universe into people’s heads [==> as in, “we” have cornered the market on truth, warrant and knowledge, making “our” “consensus” the yardstick of truth . . . ] we must first get an incorrect view out [–> as in, if you disagree with “us” of the secularist elite you are wrong, irrational and so dangerous you must be stopped, even at the price of manipulative indoctrination of hoi polloi] . . . the problem is to get them [= hoi polloi] to reject irrational and supernatural explanations of the world, the demons that exist only in their imaginations,

    [ –> as in, to think in terms of ethical theism is to be delusional, justifying “our” elitist and establishment-controlling interventions of power to “fix” the widespread mental disease]

    and to accept a social and intellectual apparatus, Science, as the only begetter of truth

    [–> NB: this is a knowledge claim about knowledge and its possible sources, i.e. it is a claim in philosophy not science; it is thus self-refuting]

    . . . . To Sagan, as to all but a few other scientists [–> “we” are the dominant elites], it is self-evident

    [–> actually, science and its knowledge claims are plainly not immediately and necessarily true on pain of absurdity, to one who understands them; this is another logical error, begging the question , confused for real self-evidence; whereby a claim shows itself not just true but true on pain of patent absurdity if one tries to deny it . . . and in fact it is evolutionary materialism that is readily shown to be self-refuting]

    that the practices of science provide the surest method of putting us in contact with physical reality [–> = all of reality to the evolutionary materialist], and that, in contrast, the demon-haunted world rests on a set of beliefs and behaviors that fail every reasonable test [–> i.e. an assertion that tellingly reveals a hostile mindset, not a warranted claim] . . . .

    It is not that the methods and institutions of science somehow compel us [= the evo-mat establishment] to accept a material explanation of the phenomenal world, but, on the contrary, that we are forced by our a priori adherence to material causes [–> another major begging of the question . . . ] to create an apparatus of investigation and a set of concepts that produce material explanations, no matter how counter-intuitive, no matter how mystifying to the uninitiated. Moreover, that materialism is absolute [–> i.e. here we see the fallacious, indoctrinated, ideological, closed mind . . . ], for we cannot allow a Divine Foot in the door . . . [–> irreconcilable hostility to ethical theism, already caricatured as believing delusionally in imaginary demons]. [Lewontin, Billions and billions of Demons, NYRB Jan 1997,cf. here. And, if you imagine this is “quote-mined” I invite you to read the fuller annotated citation here.]

    I trust you see the point, and see the problem.


    PS: In case you wish to continue projecting a strawman stereotype, kindly note that I am long since on record that of pathos, ethos, logos, only the last actually has capability to warrant, i.e. your attempted turnabout manifestly fails.

  4. 4
    asauber says:

    When is consensus in science based on knowledge

    I’d say “consensus” is just an injection of politics into science… in other words, a corruption of science.

    Science should be able to acquire and present knowledge without “consensus”.

    So when you see “consensus”, watch your wallets.


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