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Let’s be clear: the work of science has nothing whatever to do with consensus. Consensus is the business of politics. Science, on the contrary, requires only one investigator who happens to be right, which means that he or she has results that are verifiable by reference to the real world. In science consensus is irrelevant. What is relevant is reproducible results. The greatest scientists in history are great precisely because they broke with the consensus.

There is no such thing as consensus science. If it’s consensus, it isn’t science. If it’s science, it isn’t consensus. Period.

-‘Aliens Cause Global Warming’. Michael Crichton, California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, CA. January 17, 2003

Here are two flowcharts to help anyone apply Crichton’s methodology.

1. Crichton’s simplified science/not science methodology

Crichton scientific consensus 1

Explanation: “There is no such thing as consensus science. If it’s consensus, it isn’t science. If it’s science, it isn’t consensus. Period.”

2. Crichton’s science/not science methodology, with particular regard to reproducibilityCrichton scientific consensus 2

Explanation: “Science, on the contrary, requires only one investigator who happens to be right, which means that he or she has results that are verifiable by reference to the real world. In science consensus is irrelevant. What is relevant is reproducible results.” Given that, as Crichton established, consensus = not science, and whereas the dictionary definition of consensus is a general agreement, then when a result is repeated (and agreed upon) by others, it will become the consensus and therefore cease to be science.

Further reading:

On evaluating claims of scientific consensus [link]

Coming to a consensus based on data, experimentation, and evidence [link]

11 Responses to “Is it science or consensus? The Michael Crichton science/not science methodology”

  1. Kate says:

    Nicely done, Cam, and actually makes a lot of sense if you read his work!

  2. Milan says:

    Your flowcharts are very amusing.

  3. CAM says:

    Oh, I think the credit goes to Crichton. He’s the comedy genius here.

  4. Tim says:

    What Crichton was clearly implying is that just because a whole bunch of scientists agree on something, it doesn’t make it right or science (ie the world is flat, the sun revolves around the earth, etc). Science is science whether or not the majority agrees with the results. Even in your explanation from Crichton on how you formulated your charts, it shows you didn’t read what he said. He didn’t say that ONLY one person can be right in order for it to be science. His point was that it only REQUIRES one.
    Here’s an example: If a consensus of scientists said 2+2=5, it doesn’t make them right just because the majority agrees. All it takes to put consensus science as the sham that it is is for one scientist to prove that 2+2=4. So if that one person has “results that are verifiable by reference to the real world” (as in provable or “reproducible” and not just theoretical like global warming), it doesn’t matter how many people agree otherwise if they’re wrong, it only matters what that one person can prove. No one has (or will) prove that anthropological global warming is real. That is why consensus science is not real science. So despite Al Gore claiming that the “consensus science” is in, it only needs one person to scientifically prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that climate change is natural to shatter the whole AGW theory and its consensus.

  5. Steve says:

    Tim has got it right. The flowcharts are a complete travesty of Crichton’s argument. If you read his whole article, instead of taking quotes out of context, it is clear that he has no problem with consensus per se. What infuriates him, and should infuriate anyone with an interest in true science, is the almost universal condemnation of “climate skeptics” on the basis that the consensus of scientists is against them. The science is in, they keep saying, but where (apart from the specialist meteorological journals, which most of us could not understand) is it?
    I have just read scientificamerican.com’s latest “In Depth” report on “The Future of Climate Change”, which had links to 35 or so articles; as far as I could see, only ONE article dealt with scientific evidence at all – and that one, ironically, was entitled “How Sunlight Controls Climate”.

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  8. Mark says:

    First off, Crichton was an MD (though never obtained a license to practice), not a scientist, and I would add he did not have a very scientific mind. If you read his memoir “Travels”, you’ll see that during his life he was a firm believer in completely unscientific nonsense like spoon bending, auras, and astral projection. So his views on science are scarcely more authoritative than Danielle Steele’s. Second, he was quite wrong on how science works in his “one researcher” argument, for two reasons. 1. Fields like climate science are interdisciplinary, and are built on lines of evidence from multiple disciplines. No one researcher’s work would be expansive enough in scope to show that anthropogenic climate change is “right” or “wrong”, at the very most it can only show that the line of evidence in his discipline that supports AGW is “right” or “wrong.” 2. Science requires peer review and independent reproducibility, so one researcher’s work doesn’t mean much until multiple independent scientists have reproduced his work and found the same results (starting to sound like “consensus” to you yet?). This is one of the reasons why meta analyses are so much better for understanding the state of understanding of a particular discipline than just reading the blurb of the latest “groundbreaking” study poorly reported on by journalists who don’t really understand and thus misreport in mainstream media.
    Too often, AGW skeptics who don’t understand how science works misunderstand consensus and believe it means taking a vote on whether AGW is real or not. Consensus is a multilayered process, that starts with each line of evidence, with independent scientists reviewing the data and seeing whether it stands up to scrutiny, and then whether the conclusions reached from that evidence stands up to scrutiny. That is consensus. Then there is meta analysis of all the lines of evidence in one question in one discipline. Then the data and conclusions of all the related questions in one discipline are viewed by the investigators in that discipline who organically reach a general understanding of the implications of the conclusions on those related questions on the larger issue, like evolution or climate change. Then interdisciplinary communication takes place, and investigators come to understand their own results in the context of the results of investigators in other disciplines, and that is how consensus on large questions like AGW emerges.

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