Jay Richards explains when you should doubt “scientific consensus”

Jay Richards writing in The American, a publication of the American Enterprise Institute. (H/T Evolution News via Apologetics 315)

This short article summarizes 10 things to look for that hint that “scientific consensus” as a substitute for arguments and evidence.


How is the ordinary citizen to distinguish, as Andrew Coyne puts it, “between genuine authority and mere received wisdom? Conversely, how do we tell crankish imperviousness to evidence from legitimate skepticism?” Are we obligated to trust whatever we’re told is based on a scientific consensus unless we can study the science ourselves? When can you doubt a consensus? When should you doubt it?

Your best bet is to look at the process that produced, maintains, and communicates the ostensible consensus. I don’t know of any exhaustive list of signs of suspicion, but, using climate change as a test study, I propose this checklist as a rough-and-ready list of signs for when to consider doubting a scientific “consensus,” whatever the subject. One of these signs may be enough to give pause. If they start to pile up, then it’s wise to be suspicious.

Here are the 10 points he discusses:

  • Bundling well-evidenced claims together with speculative claims
  • The use of ad hominem attacks against dissenters
  • The use of coercion to force scientists to join the consensus
  • Publishing and peer review that is cliquish
  • Unwarranted exclusion of dissenters from peer-reviewed literature
  • Misrepresentation of peer-reviewed literature
  • A rush to declare a consensus before it even exists
  • When the subject matter is not easily testable (e.g. – simulations)
  • When defenders resort to phrases like “Scientists say…”
  • When science is used to push for dramatic policies
  • When journalists are not reporting the issue objectively
  • When supports appeal to scientific consensus instead of arguments

One can easily see how this list applies not only to global warming alarmism, but to Darwinism as well.

2 thoughts on “Jay Richards explains when you should doubt “scientific consensus””

  1. You (respectively, Richards) make some valuable points above (and I have myself
    written on the dangers of consensus in another area).

    You are a bit unfair to include Darwinism, however. Not only have the theory of evolution moved on far beyond Darwin’s original conception, but it is a case of a valid scientific consensus based on convincing-by-arguments, as opposed to e.g. the gender-feministic “harass our opponents until they agree, go to ground, or are marginalized”.


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