“It is not science if it is established by consensus”

Rush Limbaugh, channeling the late Michael Crichton, and repeating a common denier talking point:

Science does not… cannot be determined by consensus.

Now I know that the way you’ve been educated and taught is that (sneering) consensus is good. Consensus is the result of people talking, and discussing and compromising. Yesss….and compromise, that’s good, because that’s people working together. Barney compromises. The Muppets compromise. Big Bird compromises. (end sneering)

And so, compromise led to consensus on science, and global warming.

Except for one problem. It specifically is not science if it is established by consensus. Science is not subject to opinion. And this is the problem with global warming.

MediaMatters headlines this rant “Limbaugh Dismisses Climate Change Specifically Because There Is A Scientific Consensus That It Exists” and that’s a tad unfair. He seems to me to be saying that “something established by negotiation is not something established by science” which is true enough. You might even say “that which is established by negotiation cannot be considered a product of science”.

Of course, that isn’t what “scientific consensus” means.

Despite his bizarre and presumably dishonest suggestion that “global warming” is a result of some sort of “compromise”, (???) Limbaugh is making a far more coherent point than MediaMatters implies.

The sneaking in of the word “compromise” is what makes a lie of all this. But science (*) is utterly indifferent to compromise. That’s true.

If somebody would explain to me how “global warming” is the result of a childish feel-good compromise, I’ll take the rest of what Limbaugh says seriously. The confusion about how science proceeds is pretty glaringly obvious here – how does something go from being a hypothesis to being an accepted fact? The people who whinge about “consensus” never seem to say.

If you think “scientific consensus” is about compromise you don’t understand what makes science special.

Science is about evidence. You can’t bargain with nature! There is no capacity for compromise within science. That’s what makes lukewarmers uncomfortable. The amount of risk we are taking for a given set of actions is not negotiable.

Nature does not have a seat at the table. Nature is the table.


(*) “science” construed as the epistemic process and its results, not as the community which practices it


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