Is there any issue in which you disagree with the scientific consensus?

Discussion in 'General Science & Technology' started by Faure, Jan 17, 2010.

  1. Ophiolite Valued Senior Member

    It is no single thing, but rather the number of adjustments that have been required. Note that I am a non-specialist in cosmology and I am relying to a considerable extent for a proven talent at smelling out bullshit.

    I have no viable alternative. That is why you will find examples on this and other forums of me attacking anti-Big Bang posters for the weakness of their arguments and where I will espouse a standard Big Bang viewpoint. It's not just the best game in town, it seems to be the only game in town. But I don't have to like it.

    Philosophically inelegant? Something undefined 'winds up' something undefined by some undefinable process then everything runs down over billions and billions of years. A Universe that can reflect on itself, as this one now can, should be capable of more.
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  3. joepistole Deacon Blues Valued Senior Member

    This is an old disagreement in which I have been vindicated. In high school I was taught the smallest matter was the atom. That just never made any kind of sense to me. Atoms were not strange enough to be the smallest matter.

    My position has since been vindicated on this issue.

    The other issue of disagreement is with UFO's. Science is too quick to dismiss the phenomena. There is just too much good evidence there to dismiss out of hand. Something funny is going on there.

    Granted there are a lot of whackos running around abusing the issue and spreading a lot of misinformation. But where there is smoke, there is fire. Something odd is going on that should be investigated.

    Other than that, I think the scientific community has been very open and honest about its assesments...stating when things are not known. They have gotten burned too many times in the past saying they definately knew something only to find out that they were wrong; the atom being the smallest matter a case in point.
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  5. tfrxsis Registered Member

    This is understandable, but what is one example of an adjustment that you would consider counts towards a "number of adjustments".

    It appears that I came across as accusatory. I apologize: I was only curious about your disagreement. I'm new here, and have no specific expectation about any regular posters. If you have no preferred alternative, this is fine. I would, however, note that given that the consensus view of the sciences tends to change, it would be foolhardy to draw a line in the sand and declare that this is the best that the sciences would ever do. This is not a disagreement with anything you have put forward.

    Have you seen Lawrence Krauss's lecture "A Universe from Nothing" ( It does not address the question of how exactly the laws are laws in motion, but this is a question that is independent from BB.
    Last edited: Jan 18, 2010
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  7. Ophiolite Valued Senior Member

    Inflation. Then the adjustments to the rate of inflation. Then the the introduction of variable rates of inflation.
    You didn't, so no need to apologise, but thank you for the thought.
    And my hope that science will do better than BB at some point. However we have been pretty well locked into this paradigm since 1964(?) when Penzias and Wilson discovered the cosmic background radiation. If only it had been the pigeon droppings.

    I'll take a look at it. Thank you for the suggestion.
  8. tfrxsis Registered Member

    Especially in light of this example, I'd like to emphasise that I edited my post to correct a mistake, the URL is

    I believe that any theory that has to account for CMBR will look a lot like BB. How the standard model breaks down at those scales seems to indicate that the more interesting questions are to do with dark matter and the asymmetries.
  9. Nasor Valued Senior Member

    Of course the existence of a consensus is not per se proof of veracity, but if a large number of extremely knowledgeable experts generally agree on something, you can be pretty confident that it's probably true. Or at least, it's more likely to be true than any competing explanations that are not widely accepted by experts.
  10. Dinosaur Rational Skeptic Valued Senior Member

    Baron Max:The following is being pedantic & seems to be a pretense at being intellectual.
    In the context of this forum, there cannot be much variation in the definitions held by posters.

    Raithere: You are correct, one does not prove string theory by a majority vote if you include many who are untrained in physics, mathematics, logic, et cetera.
    However, when voting is restricted to those with pertinent credentials, a majority vote is significant.

    BTW: I was not aware that string theory has the backing of a majority of scientists.

    It is my understanding that the majority consider it to be consistent with observational evidence, but lacking in currently testable predictions which might provide some reason for accepting au lieu de other TOE’s.

    Joe Pistole: You must be over 100 years old or perhaps older.
    Circa 1915, the Bohr atom was described as similar to a tiny solar system. Such a description certainly indicates that the scientific community did not view the atom as the smallest entity. I doubt that you were in High School in 1915. Perhaps in your high school, science was taught by some body with teaching credentials, but with hardly any knowledge of science.

    I forget when particle scattering indicated that the atom had a central core which was much smaller than the apparent size of the atom. That might have been done prior to 1915.

    As for UFO’s, there is nothing but anecdotal evidence for their existence. Of course, this is a discussion for another thread. Perhaps you would care to revive one of the many relating to this issue.

    BTW: Bohr did not consider his atom to be a valid description. He used it as a model which could be used for speculative purposes in the search for a better model. In his era, it was known that a solar system model of the atom was not stable. Electron orbits would decay very quickly if they were analogous to solar system planetary orbits.
  11. Dinosaur Rational Skeptic Valued Senior Member

    Observational evidence for the Big Bang seems very strong.

    Those who wish to dispute it must direct their attention to extrapolation back beyond the time when the universe was opaque. I think that would be approximately 300,000 or less years after the current BB estimate of when it all started.

    BB theory extrapolates back to nanoseconds or less after the beginning. That extrapolation is accepted by most due to the lack of any explanation for how the observed expansion could start from a universe as big or bigger than a solar system or a star. The size at the time of the observed CMB is believed (with good cause) to be far larger than a solar system.

    Note that there were a lot of competing cosmologies prior to about 1950-1960when the Big Bang won over the others. All accepted the concept of an expanding universe. On that issue, BB is sound.
  12. Orleander OH JOY!!!! Valued Senior Member

    Life somewhere else in the universe.
    There is no proof of that.
    If I want to believe something with no proof, I might as well be a christian.
  13. Dywyddyr Penguinaciously duckalicious. Valued Senior Member

    Rutherford, 1909.
  14. Baron Max Registered Senior Member

    If you feel that's so simple, why don't you explain it then? I've found that the "variation in definitions" is often a major issue in discussions like this. Even scientists will often begin their papers or reports or publications by clearly defining terms and measure and methods.

    Please give and explain your definitions for us.

    "...won over the others."??? Was it a contest of some kind in the laboratory? Ahh, it was some kind of "consensus"? Or a "scientific consensus"?

    And "...all accepted the concept...."? All? Who? Is this the "consensus" or the "scientific consensus"? So now that the "BB is sound", does that mean that it can't ever be questioned again?

    Baron Max
  15. tfrxsis Registered Member

    Not really. Usually on questions that have no evidence for a winner there is rampant speculation, a majority vote tends to choose one competitor whose core proponents are high-status, as is usually the case when evidence is not a consideration. Note that it wasn't until CMBR that the majority vote was for BB, and not until COBE that the matter was regarded settled.

    Cosmology is being discussed here, but a more visceral, contemporary example would be the interpretation of QM: surveys tend to pick the Copenhagen interpretation (the first horse, invented by Niels Bohr and Werner Heisenberg) as the winning horse, even though there is no direct evidence selecting for this and not its competitors. I've only seen one person argue that the matter should be considered resolved, and they were arguing a lower-status position.
    Last edited: Jan 19, 2010
  16. nietzschefan Thread Killer Valued Senior Member

    Archaeology is probably the most political science there is ...outside political science.

    It seems really split up on all kinds of issues. The consensus seems to be made by whomever has the largest political/money backing.
  17. Dinosaur Rational Skeptic Valued Senior Member

    Baron Max: I usually do not have time for those who ask for definitions of terms which are neither too complex to understand nor subject to serious disagreement relating to meaning.

    I doubt that you will take the time to read this entire post. I hope you will at least take a quick look at the final remark & the two paragraphs preceding it.

    First: Scientific consensus relates to a consensus among scientists rather than a consensus among politicians, economists, or groups including people from many different disciplines. For example: Scientific consensus does not relate to opinions, agreements, et cetera within a group consisting of theologians, computer programmers, artists, writers of fiction, & scientists.

    Only a pedantic type trying to score intellectual points in a silly game, would ask for a definition of both consensus & scientific consensus.

    Second: Consensus as per Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary (Tenth Edition, 1993). Perhaps a bit out of date for many purposes, but probably okay for consensus.
    • Primary definition: General agreement.

    • The judgment arrived at by most of those concerned.

    • Group solidarity in sentiment & belief.
    Roget’s Thesaurus lists concord, assent, agreement, general or popular opinion, common belief, poll, sampling, silent majority.

    Of course a Thesaurus includes terms vaguely related to the term being discussed, so I doubt that any here would think that silent majority was in any way related to consensus.

    From the contexts in which I have seen consensus used, it does not imply complete agreement among all involved in expressing an opinion or belief.

    I doubt that any posting here (including you) have a concept of the term that is not close to the first two definitions from Webster’s. The third definition is usually in the context of a theological group (The Quakers use it) or some group not consisting of scientists (EG: A clan, family or tribe).

    Do you disagree with the above? If so, explain. Do you think any here might have significantly different views of the term? If so, give an example.

    The following indicates that you have no knowledge of the history of cosmology & the various theories considered viable up until about 1960 (give or take a few years).
    You should read more carefully: I did not say that the BB is sound. I said that the concept of an expanding universe is sound. To suggest that the BB can never be questioned is close to being an insult in this context. No knowledgeable person considers a scientific theory to be irrefutable for all time.

    For your information, there was a period of time (at least ten years) when the following cosmologies were discussed & considered viable by astrophysicists & cosmologists.
    • The Big Bang. This was originally a derogatory term applied by opponents of the theory. I think that Gamov & Lemaitre were among those who held to this theory, but I am not sure of these names.

    • Continuous Creation or the Steady State Universe. A man named Hoyle (Fred, I think & not the definer of card games) was the leading advocate of this theory, but might not have been the originator of it. Main concept was that the universe was the same, except for local details, for all time & in all places. Id Est: It would look pretty much the same no matter where the observer was in either space or time. Expansion was fueled by the continuous creation of small amounts of matter in every cubic meter of space. The rate & amount created was too small to detect & matched the amount lost over the horizon of the observable universe.

    • The Oscillating Universe: Alternating Big Bangs & Crunches. Do not remember who devised & advocated this one.

    • A universe with some regions containing clusters of anti-matter galaxies. Mutual destruction of matter & anti-matter at the boundaries between these regions & ordinary matter regions fueled the expansion & was responsible for the extreme energies of comic rays & Quasar radiation. I am fairly sure that a Norwegian cosmologist originated this one, but I do not remember his name.
    There might have been others that I do not remember.

    Observable evidence contradicted the theories other than the Big Bang. Even those advocating the other theories agreed that the Big Bang was a better explanation.

    One would definitely say that there was a consensus among cosmologists, with few disagreeing with the consensus opinion. One would not say that the controversy was a contest in the sense of a TV game show or an athletic event. It was a difference of opinion relating to an explanation of the apparent expansion of the universe, an issue on which almost all were in agreement after Hubble’s initial observations.

    BTW: In the context of the last two paragraphs above, do you really think that a definition of consensus is required in order to understand the semantics of the last paragraph?
  18. Try Again No, I'm not a mod. Registered Senior Member

    Macro evolution. Yes, all of it.
  19. Raithere plagued by infinities Valued Senior Member

    I don't agree that consensus of opinion has any bearing on whether a hypothesis is predictive or whether those predictions are valid. That being said, I do agree that many of the obstacles are the same whether the opinion is individual or consensus. A group can share the same biases and a priori assumptions as an individual and they may even become systemic as they are reinforced in the educational system and related research.

    I attempt not to disregard any opinion regardless of its source until I understand it. But yes, part of my position is indeed that it is a logical fallacy to appeal to both authority and popular opinion. As to Aumann's agreement theorem, I don't see that it applies here. My understanding of it (which is superficial) is that it requires a formal, specifically Bayesian, framework with set priors and goals and I don't know that the endeavor of science fits this description. If you have a different understanding do let me know.

    I realize that my track is somewhat tangential to yours but it's quite deliberate. Consensus does not strengthen the argument in the least and I find that it is not a good measure of truth. Science, in fact, can be viewed as an ongoing process of overturning the consensus opinion with new evidence, new perspectives, and new interpretations. IMO, it is this very process of continual adjustment and improvement where evidence and argument vastly overrule authority and consensus that recommends it as a method for discovering truths about the world.

    Secondarily to this, and to precede the following posts, I have difficulty defining exactly what a scientific consensus is. The primary language of science is mathematics but while we may accurately model the world mathematically translating this into meaningful conceptual models is far more difficult and suspect. Consensus is then regarding generalized interpretations which are going to be inaccurate or in dispute at some finer resolution or from a different perspective.

    If I'm understanding you correctly there, I agree. As I state above, I don't know that a scientific consensus is so easily established.

    Are we talking about significance or truth value? Certainly it is significant but if your suggesting it is reflective of veracity then how do you account for the myriad times the consensus of the experts has been wildly incorrect? We're not talking decimal places either but paradigmatic shifts. And how much of a consensus is needed to establish certitude? You state a majority but I would hardly be swayed on a matter where only 55% of the experts were in agreement.

  20. tfrxsis Registered Member

    You are not, despite whatever aspirations, a Bayesian. Nor, as you do not know every provable logical statement, are you a purely logical reasoner. What you are is a human, but if you endeavor to do better than a human at thinking about complex problems and appropriately integrating evidence, the wisest course of action would be to learn about how the ideally rational (and merely more rational) does this task, and learn whatever lessons you can.

    In disagreement, most people view their own position as fixed: the primary lesson from AAT is that for a given disagreement, it is most often the case that both parties need to integrate the data of the other and derive a new, mutual position, in order to better reflect the data. Applying this lesson to expertise: to the extent that you believe an expert has justified his expertise, even if it is only indirectly related to the beliefs you are updating, you should update to better agree with him, even if it contradicts what you believe. A strange move, but in the context of ideal rationalists, it is the winning move.

    Eh, my questions in that post were intended for Faure to answer. I just quoted him talking to you because I noticed him not answering the post.
  21. D H Some other guy Valued Senior Member

    Since no one has taken a solid hack at post #9,

    1. On the interpretation of QM -- there is no consensus. There are too many interpretations extant and they all yield the same end results (so far). The many-worlds interpretation is gaining ground, but it is far from the consensus view.

    2. On AGW, count me as a luke-warmer. I am skeptical, but I am not a "denier" (hate that term, BTW). On one hand, the simple physics in climatology models has more than a ring of truth to it. CO[sub]2[/sub] undoubtably has some effect on the global temperature. The issue for me is how much.

    The climatology models are a bit over-simplistic. I have several meteorologist colleagues from the early stages of my career. Meteorologists as a group do not think much of there climatological brethren. To quote one, "Climatologists are those people who were accepted into an atmospheric science graduate program but shouldn't have been. They use simple models because that is all they can comprehend."

    The last three months have pushed me considerably closer to the skeptic side. More on this later.

    Science of course does operate to some extent on an evolving consensus. To those of you who think otherwise, read some philosophy of science. That science does operate on a consensus can be both a boon and a hindrance. A consensus of some sort is an absolute necessity. Without a consensus there would be no communication. The existence of a scientific consensus focuses the nature of scientific investigations, and this focus is usually in the direction of areas that truly do need investigation.

    One obvious problem with scientific consensus is that it can hinder progress. A good example is Wegner's continental drift. Wegner was an outsider. Geologists were stuffy and closed. (They operated closer to the manner of social scientists than physical scientists.) It didn't help that Wegner did not have a mechanism to cause this continental drift. The basic idea that continents do move didn't take hold for another fifty years because the scientific consensus was that they do not move.

    Another problem with scientific consensus is that it can be manipulated. Examples of manipulation of scientific consensus include Lysenkoism and Japhetic theory in the old Soviet Union, various economic theories, and possibly AGW in the present day (I told you I'd get back to this.) The last three months have made me think that AGW may well be the modern-day version of Lysenkoism.


    Why? Because it conflicts with your religious beliefs? Try again, Try Again. Evolution, all of it, is one of the most strongly confirmed of all scientific theories. There is evidence, scads of it, and a well-confirmed mechanism. As far as scientific theories go, you can't get much better than evolution.


    That just begs the question, though. How did life form in those hot GMCs? Moreover, how did it make it all the way to the Earth through vacuum, incredible temperature fluctuations, and damaging radiation? Panspermia is far too speculative for my tastes.
  22. tfrxsis Registered Member

    Personally, I don't think the scandals should have surprised anyone. We've gotten too used to the natural sciences, where data is very easy to get certain about. But when people are less certain about the data, the social process of science seems to break down into the standard status games humans play. This sort of thing is a lot more apparent in the social sciences.

    Consensus also plays a vital role in education. If scientists could not establish a standard view apart from their own personal prejudices, it would be much more difficult to train the next generation such that they could collaborate with each other. This ties in to some extent with your comment that it focuses research: where agreement is weaker, there will be more in-field tension, which becomes apparent to prospective students; eventually contrarian upstarts take the tension as an interesting challenge and devise a novel alternative or a way to resolve the question.

    I would not consider Lysenkoism a manipulation of consensus, except perhaps in a weak sense that the consensus changed. It did not change because anyone changed their minds, it changed because everyone changed their heads.

    Part of my misgivings about my own AGW skepticism is that most of the consensus manipulation happens outside of the field, by proponents of crankier positions. I am, however, mostly unsure what to make of Bjørn Lomborg. He seems to make a few good points, has a clear head on his shoulders, and the response of the community he is contrary to has taken to discrediting rather than resolving his work. However, there do seem to be some within the community who are trying to field substantive answers to his challenges.
  23. fedr808 1100101 Valued Senior Member

    The history channel trying to explain the bermuda triangle with a black hole in the middle of the earth.


    With the history channel trying to explain ANYTHING scientific that doesnt have to do with the Big Bang, or the universe, or stars/galaxies.

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