Consensus : how does science work ?

What does “consensus” mean ?

First things first, a consensus is “a generally accepted opinion or decision among a group of people” (1)

In the case of science, a consensus is made inside the “scientific sphere” and the general public can’t and won’t have a word to say about it.

Why ? Let us explain.

Elitism ?

The objective behind that “rule” isn’t to exclude the public from science debates or from any science related stuff at all.

The only objective is to find a conclusion about a subject that follows a very strict protocol called the “scientific method“.

Obviously, citizens are totally able to understand and to follow such a protocol but it’s very unlikely they can both have the expertise in a specific subject and the ability to follow very strict rules to stay as objective as possible if they’re not a scientist themselves.

What is so problematic ?

General public is very unaware of how science actually works. The main problem is that any “consensus” is taken as an opinion but it’s actually quite the opposite. A consensus is made by looking at a LOT of studies and their conclusions to be able to determine a potential final answer to a specific subject. This makes it a VERY objective conclusion, not an opinion.

For example : climate change.

The actual consensus on climate change is that it’s happening and it’s mainly caused by humanity.

This statement is NOT an opinion and is NOT subject to any debate outside of the scientific sphere.
Scientists agreed on this idea at a rate of around 90% and up to 98% since many years. (2)

Does that mean that it’s the very truth and that the scientific consensus will never change on this question ?
Absolutely not. It just means that with all the information we gathered to this day, we are not able to determine a potential other cause for the climate change.

But a consensus does not mean unanimity !

That’s totally right, actually, this is an other problem. Some people will use it as an argument and will try to convince you that some scientists will disagree with the actual consensus and it’s a proof that science is wrong.

First, this is very wrong to accept the opinion of a few scientists among a very very large majority of their pairs JUST BECAUSE they seem to agree with your opinion.

Most of the time, scientists who won’t agree with a consensus are NOT experts in the domain of the said consensus (for example a scientist that is not a climate expert doesn’t have the same impact as an expert on the “Human made” climate change consensus).

But some of them will be experts.
And this is where we enter an important part. It is essential for science to have people that will keep pushing to prove that the actual consensus is wrong as long as we still have things that don’t fit in the actual theory.

But these people are NOT saying that the consensus is false and are NOT a proof that the actual consensus isn’t serious, objective and scientific.

But in history, consensuses have already changed multiple time !

Absolutely, as we said before, a consensus is made with the materials we have gathered to this day. It means that it could potentially change. But for that, we don’t need only to find that one data is inexplicable or is against the actual consensus. Nope, you’ll need a LOT of data to start a scientific consensus shift.

A problem between a single data and the theory can have multiple causes and most of the time it’s caused by the way data has been gathered.

But it may occur that a data and the main theory don’t fit together for real. Does it mean the theory has to be thrown to junk ? Absolutely not. A theory isn’t perfect and can be completed by further discoveries !

But the final answer is : unless you’re a scientist, just believe the actual consensus and refer yourself to it. Understand why it’s believed to be the best theory and maybe even be curious about what doesn’t fit in the theory yet. Being skeptical is a very good thing, being curious too. But don’t fall into conspiracy theories. You can doubt a research’s results, you can doubt a few researches’ results, but you can’t doubt several thousands of studies made all around the world, by a ton of different people with a lot of different interests, that come to the exact same conclusions.

Trust the consensus. Don’t fall for Bullshit Science.

You can also check “To go further” at the end of our article, you may find very interesting material.

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References :

https://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/consensus (1)
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Climate_science_opinion_graph_3Path.svg (2)

To go further :

List of scientists who disagree with the scientific consensus on global warming :
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_scientists_who_disagree_with_the_scientific_consensus_on_global_warming

Scientific consensus on Wikipedia with a lot of sources, a MUST READ :
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scientific_consensus

What’s a scientific theory ? :
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scientific_theory

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