Michael Crichton and the Fallacy of “Consensus Science”

Many of you may be familiar with Michael Crichton the novelist. He wrote Andromeda Strain and Jurassic Park. But what you might not know is that Crichton was an outspoken critic of the pseudo-science surrounding “global warming.” In a lecture called “Aliens Cause Global Warming,” which he delivered at Caltech in 2003, he lambasted what he considered to be the cause of global warming madness—that ugly oxymoron “consensus science.” I highly recommend you read the entirety of his lecture. It is thought-provoking, informative, and entertaining. Of course, since Crichton’s death, “global warming” has transitioned over to “climate change,” perhaps because the “warming” part kept proving an inaccurate descriptor (curse that pesky Gore Effect). But Crichton’s words about consensus science are as applicable as ever:

I regard consensus science as an extremely pernicious development that ought to be stopped cold in its tracks. Historically, the claim of consensus has been the first refuge of scoundrels; it is a way to avoid debate by claiming that the matter is already settled. Whenever you hear the consensus of scientists agrees on something or other, reach for your wallet, because you’re being had.

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.

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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.

Doesn’t Crichton’s perspective seem obvious? And yet we have suffered, and are suffering, under the arbitrary policies and preclusive definitions of consensus bullies in almost every area of knowledge—from education to evolution to “climate change” to you name it—science has moved out of the realm of fact and knowledge and more and more into the realm of politics. It has become the realm of peer-reviews and bureacracies. It is government-subsidized and government-directed. The rogue “mad” scientist defying the world’s expectations from his self-constructed laboratory exists only in novels anymore. If there is no such thing as Truth, then solidarity and arbitrary convention is the best we can hope for. Crichton bemoans this fact, giving some possible reasons why we have lost a robust and independent scientific sector:

As the twentieth century drew to a close, the connection between hard scientific fact and public policy became increasingly elastic. In part this was possible because of the complacency of the scientific profession; in part because of the lack of good science education among the public; in part, because of the rise of specialized advocacy groups which have been enormously effective in getting publicity and shaping policy; and in great part because of the decline of the media as an independent assessor of fact. The deterioration of the American media is a dire loss for our country. When distinguished institutions like the New York Times can no longer differentiate between factual content and editorial opinion, but rather mix both freely on their front page, then who will hold anyone to a higher standard?

No one. Anyone trying to hold the consensus to a higher standard is blasted with ad hominem attacks and thrown out of the forum of “rational” discussion by a group of intellectual yes men on credential-steroids. Try to question the theory of macro-evolution? You’re unscientific. You’re mixing religion and science. Question anthropogenic climate change? You’re a tin-hatter—an intellectual pariah in the same category as a Holocaust Denier. Obama called us members of the “flat-Earth society” for our very frustrating refusal to kowtow to environmental alarmism. And that’s the end of the discussion. According to so many “scientists” in the pocket of politicians, the issue of anthropogenic climate change is already settled. If you question it, you’re not a bad scientist. You’re not doing science at all. Let’s listen to what Crichton has to say about this:

And so, in this elastic anything-goes world where science—or non-science—is the handmaiden of questionable public policy, we arrive at last at global warming. It is not my purpose here to rehash the details of this most magnificent of the demons haunting the world. I would just remind you of the now-familiar pattern by which these things are established. Evidentiary uncertainties are glossed over in the unseemly rush for an overarching policy, and for grants to support the policy by delivering findings that are desired by the patron. Next, the isolation of those scientists who won’t get with the program, and the characterization of those scientists as outsiders and “skeptics” in quotation marks—suspect individuals with suspect motives, industry flunkies, reactionaries, or simply anti-environmental nutcases. In short order, debate ends, even though prominent scientists are uncomfortable about how things are being done.

Boom. Now if only he had applied that same skepticism to his belief in macro-evolution, he really would have been getting somewhere (or nowhere depending on how you look at it). One thing’s for sure, he would have known what it’s like to be an intellectual outcast. Sometimes, and increasingly so in our generation, when you stand with the truth, you stand alone. But I wouldn’t want to be standing in any other place.

The views expressed in this opinion article are solely those of their author and are not necessarily either shared or endorsed by EagleRising.com

About the author

Michael Minkoff

Michael Minkoff writes, edits, and typesets from his office in Powder Springs, Georgia. He honestly does not prefer writing about politics, but he sincerely hopes you enjoy reading about it. He also wonders why he is typing this in the third person.

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