Quote of the Week – Consensus

It seems disdain for “consensus” as we know it is nothing new:

“A consensus means that everyone agrees to say collectively what no one believes individually.”

– Abba Eban, Israeli diplomat (1915-2002)

h/t to WUWT reader JohninReno



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From the Business Dictionary: Consensus: Middle ground in decision making, between total assent and total disagreement. Consensus depends on participants having shared values and goals, and on having broad agreement on specific issues and overall direction. Consensus implies that everyone accepts and supports the decision, and understands the reasons for making it. See also collective responsibility.
Read more: http://www.businessdictionary.com/definition/consensus.html#ixzz27qzw36Wk
From Wikipedia:Consensus decision-making is a group decision making process that seeks the consent, not necessarily agreement about the “favorite” choice of all participants. Consensus may be defined professionally as an acceptable resolution, one that can be supported, even if not the “favorite” of each individual. Consensus is defined by Merriam-Webster as, first, general agreement, and second, group solidarity of belief or sentiment. It has its origin in the Latin word cōnsēnsus (agreement), which is from cōnsentiō meaning literally feel together.[1] It is used to describe both the decision and the process of reaching a decision. Consensus decision-making is thus concerned with the process of reaching a consensus decision, and the social and political effects of using this process.
In neither of these two definitions are the adjectives “correct” or “true” used, implying that the term; consensus, cannot be applied to scientific fact.
AGW proponents are constantly banging on about the consensus of scientific opinion, implying that AGW is real. It would appear that their grasp of English vocabulary is as tenuous as their grasp of scientific reality.


Wait, that’s confusing. So, when the Team all said that mann’s work was shoddy, among other things, were they expressing the consensus on him, and believe in his work individually, or is their consensus that he is right, but they don’t believe that, individually?


I’ll probably get sacked if I can be identified (northern New South Wales) but recently there was a consensus at the provincial university where I work as a part-time librarian that an academic who wrote a humerous poem supporting another very talented academic who’d been sacked after student complaints, was himself sacked.
A poem. Yep, these days you can be sacked for writing a poem in PC academia. The Vice Chancellor described my neighbour’s poem as a “reprehensible elegy”! Needless to say I congratulated my neighbour on being the first man to have ever been sacked for writing a “reprehensible elegy”.
Just in passing, why do students evaluate teachers these days? Back in my day teachers evaluated students.


Oops, humorous.

Steve Keohane

excellent definition!


Off topic a bit but I want to note here the the PBS Ombudsman in the USA has written a followup piece in his column at http://www.pbs.org/ombudsman/
Once again I have written back encouraging PBS to have courage (we get the Newshour on SBS in Australia)
Here is what I said:
While of course we see the Newshour on SBS in Australia you may not be interested in an Australian opinion, but I’ll give it anyway. By now however from myself and others you will have a list of some dozens of sceptical real scientists working on the Global Warming issue that you can call on for future programs.
If nothing else the storm in your mailbox shows there are TWO sides to this story, currently about 53% of Australians do not support global warming action and the sceptical ranks are growing fast.
I would urge PBS to take away from this that a controversy rages, there is scientific debate, there is social debate, and there is political debate – No issue in my recallection has divided society so much. It is PBS’s duty to report both sides of that controversy. The issue is not settled by the number of scientists who believe – it is settled on the facts of the matter and these remain contentious.
In Australia global warming policy has brought down several state and federal governments – This one issue is also about to bring down our inept, and corruption ridden federal government next year because of the lie “There will be no carbon tax under the government I lead” uttered by our now infamous Prime Minister. It took out the Victorian government, and brought down the NSW and QLD progressive governments in landslides. In Queensland – an unprecedented defeat, the progressives were reduced to the point they could hold caucus in a minibus with room to spare
This is the magnitude of the debate and the sceptics are winning, it deserves to be reported, don’t hide from it – report it
Sorry Mods, I now return you to your regular program


Apart from those who become abusive when one disagrees with the consensus view.

Luther Wu


Mike Spilligan

This is a valuable “quotable quote”, not just for the week but for some time to come, I think.

Jimmy Haigh

I like that. I wish I had thought of it.

John Ratcliffe

I predict that the consensus on WUWT will be to agree with that remark. The major difference being that it will remain to be true at the individual level.

Doubting Thomas

“To me, consensus seems to be the process of abandoning all beliefs, principles, values and policies. So it is something in which no one believes and to which no one objects.”
Margaret Thatcher


I rather prefer to “break it down” by looking at each part of the word. (Euphemistically, of course.)
Con = being against
sense = facts
us = inclusive group
Therefore, a consensus is those that are against facts.

Doubting Thomas

“Nothing is more obstinate than a fashionable consensus.”
Margaret Thatcher

Doubting Thomas

“Those who know that the consensus of many centuries has sanctioned the conception that the earth remains at rest in the middle of the heavens as its center, would, I reflected, regard it as an insane pronouncement if I made the opposite assertion that the earth moves.”
Nicolaus Copernicus

Doubting Thomas

“Whenever you hear the consensus of scientists agrees on something or other, reach for your wallet, because you’re being had.”
Michael Crichton

Doubting Thomas

“Indeed, scientific truth by consensus has had a uniformly bad history.”
David Douglass (American Physicist)

My quote of the week contribution:
“The love of theory is the root of all evil.” – William M. Briggs

John Ratcliffe says:
September 29, 2012 at 5:23 am
I predict that the consensus on WUWT will be to agree with that remark. The major difference being that it will remain to be true at the individual level.

Exception to every rule.


Consensus means not having to think for one’s self. Going with the flow….not having to argue with the loudest in the room. ‘Oh, OK – whatever….’
It takes confidence and determination to move groups off of consensus points or dogma. It aint easy. And kudos to Anthony for supplying this great platform so we can see how it is done.

In the context of science, the late Michael Crichton said that when scientists say “the consensus is …”, it means they simply don’t know.


That’s a keeper.


If everyone is thinking alike then somebody isn’t thinking. – George S. Patton

Doug Huffman

My version is; “The conspiracy of ignorance masquerades only as common sense.” Two of the million monkeys typing the same is “consensus”. When they whisper conspiratorialy, as does the media, then we have consensus in science journalism.


Remember the consensus view was germs did not cause infections.


John Ratcliffe says: September 29, 2012 at 5:23 am
I predict that the consensus on WUWT will be to agree with that remark. The major difference being that it will remain to be true at the individual level.
Yes indeed – he should probably have been taken to be defining 'A Political Concensus'!

It seems our friends at the PBS NewsHour have basic comprehension problems with the concept:
“PBS NewsHour: Against scientific consensus before they were for it” http://junkscience.com/2012/09/28/pbs-newshour-against-scientific-consensus-before-they-were-for-it/#more-31736

Hunter Paalman

Through the prism lightly, the other end of the spectrum voiced by a prof at Caltech:
“Science is the organized skepticism in the reliability of expert opinion.”
                            Richard Feynman


Consensus is agreement among those with a common interest, often financial.


LearDog: “Consensus means not having to think for one’s self. Going with the flow….not having to argue with the loudest in the room. ‘Oh, OK – whatever….’ ”
It needs reiterated here that a Consensus Decision Making process is solely and purposely about the utilization of peer pressure to quiet dissent. Assent is not needed, but dissent is anathema. It is in all cases a purely social issue and has not a thing to do with empiricism; and so nothing to do with the scientific method.


“Some psychology researchers argue that a scientific culture that too heavily favors new and counterintuitive ideas over the confirmation of existing results has led to too many findings that are striking for their novelty and published in respected journals—but are nonetheless false.”
“Some researchers are optimistic that many published findings will be replicated. But others are concerned that if the project confirms few studies, it could unfairly indict psychology. Indeed, the prospect of exposing psychology’s foibles has upset some scientists.”
Oh dear, the poor little darlings!
“The most startling thing about the latest scandal to hit social psychology isn’t the alleged violation of scientific ethics itself, scientists say, or the fact that it happened in the Netherlands, the home of fallen research star and serial fraudster Diederik Stapel, whose case shook the field to its core less than a year ago. Instead, what fascinates them most is how the new case, which led to the resignation of psychologist Dirk Smeesters of Erasmus University Rotterdam and the requested retraction of two of his papers by his school, came to light: through an unpublished statistical method to detect data fraud.
“If it proves valid, Simonsohn’s technique might find other possible cases of misconduct lurking in the vast body of scientific literature.
“Simonsohn already created a stir last year with a paper in Psychological Science showing that it’s “unacceptably easy” to prove almost anything using common ways to massage data and suggesting that a large proportion of papers in the field may be false positives.”
There is a consensus among psychologists that their work may be exposed as “cases of misconduct lurking in the vast body of scientific literature.” I wonder what other body of scientific literature this method of detecting data fraud could be applied to?

To the above examples of scientific consensus overturned–Copernicus’ heliocentric theory & Pasteur’s germ theory of disease–could among others be added Galileo’s falsifications of Aristotelian physics, celestial sphere hypothesis & Ptolemaic astronomy, Kepler’s discovery that planetary orbits are elliptical rather than circular, Lavoisier’s falsification of phlogiston, Buffon & Hutton’s views on the age of the earth, Cuvier on extinction, Darwin & Wallace’s discovery of a mechanism for the “transmutation” of species, Rutherford on the transmutation of elements (hence also extending the age of the earth), Wegener, et al. on continental drift, Bretz on mega-floods & Marshal & Warren, et al. on the cause of ulcers.
Climatology is now maybe at about the level of understanding that geology was in the mid-20th century (if that), before discovery of sea floor spreading, which explains continental drift, & recognition of the reality of catastrophic events, like the Bretz floods & Alvarez impact hypothesis. Svensmark & fellow solarists may well one day be accorded the respect now extended to Wegener & Bretz.

Wiki definition: Consensus decision-making is a group decision making process that seeks the consent [within the group]
Business Dictionary: Consensus depends on participants having shared values and goals, [within the group.]
So long as the consensus operation and agreement stays within the group it is entirely valid.
A problem arises when the group then proceeds to operate as though the consensus is valid outside the group, outside the domain of their group’s shared values and goals. When a group making the consensus sought consent within the group, then ignores, stifles, and overrules dissent from those outside the group, it ceases to be consensus and becomes mob rule.

“Consent of the governed” is a phrase synonymous with a political theory wherein a government’s legitimacy and moral right to use state power is only justified and legal when derived from the people or society over which that political power is exercised.

What is the legitimate link between the group consensus and consent of the governed? The only consensus with legitimacy to use state power is the elected Legislative branch of government. All other groups must take their consensus to that elected group to earn the elected body’s consent.

I thought that more than 1000 International Scientists Dissent Over Man-Made Global Warming Claim. http://www.climatedepot.com/a/9035/SPECIAL-REPORT-More-Than-1000-International-Scientists-Dissent-Over-ManMade-Global-Warming-Claims–Challenge-UN-IPCC–Gore
Isn’t that a consensus?

The term ‘consensus science’ is a self-contradiction, except when Ravetz et al are involved in re-defining science.

“Faith is believing what you know ain’t so.” – Mark Twain

Thanks Bobl!
I also went and left a piece of my mind. And I’m returning and posting a link to Donna’s “No Frakking Consensus” thread on a petition to PBS being anti-free speech.

Bobl says:
September 29, 2012 at 4:44 am
Off topic a bit but I want to note here the the PBS Ombudsman in the USA has written a followup piece in his column at http://www.pbs.org/ombudsman/
Thanks Bob, well worth reading. At least the ombudsman gave a really fair shake to the emails he received.

John Trigge (in Oz)

One of the most useful concepts I took from business management studies was the Comfortable Clone Syndrome (h/t Harvard Business Review).
Generally, managers have two responses to this phenomenon. On the one hand, managers who dislike conflict—or value only their own approach—actively avoid the clash of ideas. They hire and reward people of a particular stripe, usually people like themselves. Their organizations fall victim to what we call the comfortable clone syndrome: coworkers share similar interests and training; everyone thinks alike. Because all ideas pass through similar cognitive screens, only familiar ones survive. For example, a new-business development group formed entirely of employees with the same disciplinary background and set of experiences will assess every idea with an unvarying set of assumptions and analytical tools. Such a group will struggle to innovate, often in vain.
My personal observations are that pro-AGW folks seem more likely to fall foul of this than the anti-AGW crowd.


Being in a consensus means never having to say you’re wrong…


Consensus can be the most dangerous thing for any science. It stifles curiosity and questioning – the very source of discovery and invention. Without skepticism we would still be hanging witches.

Chris Whitley

Better that than the nutter conspiracy theories some people propose.

Tom in Worc (US)

” I have a red pencil box”
Benny Hill


The King once summoned the Royal Economist to advise him on the subject of coinage. The Royal Economist explained, using his portfolio of Theory, just what the King should do. The King was not persuaded, however, and decided to do something else. But what he did worked, and the King summoned the Royal Economist for colloquy. He pointed out that coinage was no longer a problem, that the economy was now bubbling along nicely, and that the people were happy.
The Royal Economist was not overjoyed at this outcome. ‘That’s all very well, Sire,’ he responded,
‘but how does it work in theory?’
He was dismissed from the Presence, and went off to have coffee with the Royal Climatologist, who told him a similar tale of woe.


LOL! Reminds of a story by Uncle Miltie & Aunty Rose (from Free to Choose, I think):
A Chemist, a Physicist & and an Economist are stranded on a desert island. Between them, they have a pocket knife, a few cans of baked beans and a small plastic tarp. The Chemist & Physicist are pretty confident that by carving a quick awl & divit fire starter, and pooling their shoelaces for a bow string, they can get a small driftwood fire going. The Chemist offers that he can approximate the boiling point of the beans from first principles & his knowledge of the boiling point of water at sea level. The Physicist continues, saying that she can calculate the pressure inside the cans at boiling point, and if they can weaken the perimiter of the can top, she can calculate the velocity of the beans as they explode from the cans, and then by using ballistics, determine where they should place the tarp to collect them.
Why all the fuss?, asks the Economist. Let’s just assume we have a can opener.


But the Uncle Miltie story wasn’t what I was going to post, this is:
“. . . a consensus examines a new thing with its feelings rather oftener than its mind.”
“This is warm work! . . . It always works just so when the red rag of a consensus jumps my fence and starts across my pasture.”
Mark Twain – from “Dr. Loeb’s Incredible Discovery”
Turns out that Dr. Loeb was wrong, but that’s another lesson in science: Not much happens unless you’re willing to risk being wrong, which means occasionally ignoring received wisdom.


Recently, listening to a TV news broadcast, a NASA spokeswoman announced that Curiosity had enabled the identification of Martian geology consistent with past sedimentary deposition in water, in this case an ancient stream bed. She waxed lyrical that the ‘consensus’ of scientists agreeing that Mars once had flowing water.
In post-modern science consensus drives the validity of the conclusion. Evidence is a side-show. In this case, the geological evidence of past fluvial processes on Mars, present day glacial flow and neutron spectrometry – all garnered from orbit, have provided the evidence that demonstrates the presence of water on Mars, ever before Curiosity arrived at Gale Crater, yet it was the consensus that was cited as the clincher, not the evidence, spun around the recent publicity surrounding NASA’s Curiosity.
The Concept of Consensus is unrelated to evidence. Second hand smoke demonstrates that nicely.
In a real sense, consensus is ‘group-think’ or ‘collectivist thinking’. It is thinking by ‘committee’. And therein lies the catch, well described by the words Robert Heinlein once wrote that, ‘the intelligence of a committee is inversely proportional to its number’.


Hey, how about my poem?
After murmuring it first, I was moved to pen a poem following this little inspiration by John Cook of SkS. John Cook had this to say on the Phase 4 of their ‘Consensus Project’ in thee-hut docs. (See here for more: http://www.bishop-hill.net/blog/2012/3/26/opengate-josh-158.html )

Phase 4: Repeat each year
Fingers crossed, Phase 3 will be complete by the end of 2012. Then in early 2013, we can repeat the process for all papers published in 2012 to show that the consensus is still strengthening. We beat the consensus drum often and regularly and make SkS the home of the perceived strengthening consensus.

I call my poem The Consensus Song.
Consensus, consensus, consensus
Consensus up, consensus down
Consensus back, consensus forth
Consensus Left, consensus Right
Consensus a lot, concensus not
Good consensus,
Better consensus
Strengthening consensus
Drum drum consensus

Drew K

Curious, with all the consensus, has anyone gone back and checked what the old climate models have said that the temperature would be like for this past decade. I read this blog every so often it is nice to read intelligent people having decent arguments over science.


Consensi are dangerous. The most famous (infamous? notorious?)
“scientific” consensus was that of 1615, when the RC Church reached
a consensus which declared Galileo’s support for Copernicus’ helio-
centric theory to be “a dangerous heresy.”
(The RC Church apologised to Galileo some 570 years, or so, later.
I don’t think I can bother waiting for the Church of Climatology’s
apologies …)