Michael Crichton… sadly missed

Posted on timeNovember 8th, 2008 by userPali Gap


I was very sad to hear of Michael Crichton’s death this week. Of course he was famous for his books and films (The Andromeda Strain, Rising Sun , State of Fear, Jurassic Park and more) – but to my mind he had great insight as a thinker.

Here’s something from a talk at the California Institute of Technology on Jan. 17, 2003 that I believe is spot on:

I want to pause here and talk about this notion of consensus, and the rise of what has been called consensus science. 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.

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. . . .

I would remind you to notice where the claim of consensus is invoked. Consensus is invoked only in situations where the science is not solid enough. Nobody says the consensus of scientists agrees that E=mc2. Nobody says the consensus is that the sun is 93 million miles away. It would never occur to anyone to speak that way. . . .

Consensus is the business of politics”  – that’s exactly it. If the  scientific revolution counted for anything it was surely the idea that our theories and ideas should be tested against Nature and Reason – not by the whim or bias of some arbitrary social group. Before that revolution it was the Church that exercised social control over ideas. The post-modern advocates of a consensus epistemology are simply replacing that discredited system with a form of control based on an entrenched academia (which in turn can be “managed” by the ruling political class on whom the academics are dependent for funds).

Let’s hope Science can survive!

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