The Perils of Consensus

Victor Grauer writes:

The film, “The Big Short,” and the book, “No One Would Listen,” offer instructive object lessons on the dangers of blindly accepting a consensus, no matter how convincing it might sound.

The following is lightly edited version of a comment originally submitted to the RealClimate blog, but predictably it wound up in the “Bore Hole”:

I recently had the opportunity to view, for the second time, the very amusing and instructive film, “The Big Short.” And, by coincidence, I just completed the fascinating book, “No One Would Listen,” by would-be whistle blower Harry Markopolos. And I could not help but notice a theme common to both works: the potential dangers involved in uncritically accepting a widely held consensus view.

The protagonists of “The Big Short” see very clearly that the US housing market is unstable, and that the huge financial industry produced by the questionable packaging of mortgage-backed securities is about to collapse, taking the world economy with it. Seeing an opportunity to profit from their insights, they decide to short the market for such securities, but when they explain their strategy to the bankers, they are met with derision and laughter. After all, the consensus of literally everyone in the financial world is that the housing market is and always will be solid. And after all, the financial organizations dealing in such securities are among the most successful and highly regarded in the world. A powerful consensus indeed!

Harry Markopolos is a financial expert who, many years ago, figured out, on the basis of a critical analysis of the data, that Bernie Madoff was a fraud. Yet no matter how many times he tried (as I recall it was 8 times in all, dating back to 1999), he was never able to convince the Securities and Exchange Commission to properly investigate. Nor was he able to convince almost anyone investing with Madoff to look more closely into his operation. Why?

Once again, the consensus of just about everyone in the financial world was that Madoff was honest, forthright, solid, reliable and completely trustworthy. After all, he had produced impressive returns year after year for a very long time, he’d been “investigated” by the “experts” at the SEC (in a half-hearted effort that turned out to be a sham), and passed with flying colors. Markopolos was routinely ignored, mocked, and dismissed as some sort of crackpot. After all, he was bucking an overwhelming consensus in the world of finance that Madoff could do no wrong. Ironically it was not Markopolos, who had him figured out from the start, but Madoff himself, who finally blew the whistle. There was literally too much at stake for anyone else to do so.

The financial crisis anticipated by the protagonists of The Big Short shook the entire world and is still having dire repercussions everywhere. And if Bernie Madoff’s scam had been allowed to progress for another few years, his collapse might have had equally disastrous repercussions.

I’ll leave it to readers to draw their own conclusions regarding any possible parallels with the consensus on climate change.

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90 thoughts on “The Perils of Consensus

    • I have a boss like that: if you explain something to her and she doesn’t understand it…its your fault. Always.

    • “If you can’t explain it skmply you do not understand it.”
      Attributed to Einstin and Feynman

      • “If you can’t explain it skmply you do not understand it.”
        Attributed to Einstin and Feynman

        What about when it’s already simple enough a 5 year old would understand it, and people still don’t get it?

        Here, let me try on you. The average of 75 million land based station records, when you compare today’s temperature increase to tonight’s cooling, it will be slightly cooling tomorrow morning than it was this morning.

      • “Here, let me try on you. The average of 75 million land based station records, when you compare today’s temperature increase to tonight’s cooling, it will be slightly cooling tomorrow morning than it was this morning.”

        How’s this or simple: Averaging temperature readings from different locations is meaningless. It’s amazing how many people don’t get that.

      • How’s this or simple: Averaging temperature readings from different locations is meaningless. It’s amazing how many people don’t get that.

        That’s why I don’t do anything them these. If that was for me. What I work with is I isolate just the change from day to day, and then work with those.

    • This time, we’re going to be the ones in charge and we won’t make the mistakes that others have made.

  1. I have a unique method of analyzing surface data, I compare today’s warming to tonight’s cooling.
    It’s simple, straight forward, uses the NOAA/NCDC surface records, and don’t do any cherry picking.

    The results show it cools more at night than it warms the prior day.

    And it is astounding how it is dismissed, and the reasons given.

    Now I’ve not written a paper, in part because I don’t think anyone will accept it, it busts the whole dang AGW from Co2 meme.

    But I can relate to Mark.

    • Consider submitting something to Anthony or Judy. I read your stuff and it didn’t ring cowbells of doubt. I didn’t understand it perfectly and haven’t followed the rationales of the dismissals.

      Or, a slightly expanded precis?
      =============

      • Consider submitting something to Anthony or Judy

        This is in the plans, but I am slow at that sort of work (writing stuff that makes sense), and I’m still doing follow on research(which is what I’m good at).

    • For 6 months out of the year this should work; this is as we transition from Summer to Winter. The other 6 months of the year it should warm more in the day than it cooled the previous night.

      Maybe we could call those transitions cycles.

      • For 6 months out of the year this should work; this is as we transition from Summer to Winter. The other 6 months of the year it should warm more in the day than it cooled the previous night.

        Actually after both the warming and cooling cycle it’s still over all cooler after a full year(over a large number of stations in various sized areas), and when extended as far back as the 40’s, it’s still cooler, and back to 1980 it’s still cooler.
        Basically on average, it’s cooler tomorrow morning than this morning was. And it’s more than the estimated effect from co2 by day, by a lot. Plus my method utilizes correlated measurements for a year of station measurements, so the uncertainty is reduced as well.

    • So the UHI effect and increasing population have caused daytime (measured) highs to go ever higher. And the time averaged global temperature is higher because of the area under the curve during the daytime is greater than the nighttime cool down period area. Are you accounting for the area under the curve or just taking the differences between the heatup vs. the cool down values?

      • So the UHI effect and increasing population have caused daytime (measured) highs to go ever higher. And the time averaged global temperature is higher because of the area under the curve during the daytime is greater than the nighttime cool down period area. Are you accounting for the area under the curve or just taking the differences between the heatup vs. the cool down values?

        Excellent question, and points out one of the things I came across as I was doing this.
        So first, no area under the curve, pure measured temp change from today’s min to tomorrows min (though you can do the whole min to max, minus max to tomorrow min and get identical answers).
        Max temps could go up, and have a slight bit I think (that’s what an analysis of max to max shows). But regardless of UHI, station siting, clouds, water vapor and Co2, it’s all encapsulated into temperature, and it shows a bit more cooling. I can sum the daily increase, and sum the following nights cooling for the 65 million measurements from 1980 thru 2015, it’s about 10B F, and cooling is about 300k larger than warming.
        So this is significantly greater than any co2 effect on temperatures.

        I also have an explanation on why this is true, night time cooling is nonlinear, the radiative surface (space) the ground cools to stays about the same difference throughout the night, once air temps near dew points, the rate of cooling slows from many degrees per hour (3or4F/hr), it slows to less than 2F/hr. What this means to agw and co2 is the nonlinearity is temperature controlled by dew points, as deserts show they can drop 25 or 30F in a night, where the tropics are half that. So 10 minutes at the high cooling rate more cooling before the switch to the water vapor dominated domain will radiate any excess energy from co2 in the environment.

        And surface records show there is still the ability to cool more. I will note the 97 El Nino years were warmer, but cooling also went up, until the system lost the excess heat (the step also shows up, but in a different fashion, and I don’t want to intermingle these two topics to avoid confusion).

      • micro6500 writes

        I can sum the daily increase, and sum the following nights cooling for the 65 million measurements from 1980 thru 2015, it’s about 10B F, and cooling is about 300k larger than warming.

        So am I right in saying you’re comparing the trend of today’s Max minus today’s Min. vs… Today’s Max minus Tomorrow’s Min ?

        I’m wondering if there “needs” to be a TOBs adjustment made to that.

      • So am I right in saying you’re comparing the trend of today’s Max minus today’s Min. vs… Today’s Max minus Tomorrow’s Min ?

        I’m wondering if there “needs” to be a TOBs adjustment made to that.

        Yes that is what I’m doing.
        First, I am really skeptical we can looking back and unwind those types of issues from the future.
        Second I am now doing only stations with a complete year, for random switching of min/max as soon as the Temps go back to the correct order there will be a restoring error of equal and opposite sign. For stations that are completely backwards the rate would be wrong but I’m not sure if the overall average would be that far off.
        But we call also just not use those years.
        This it cools more than it warms still applies from 1980 on, and I believe tob issues had been corrected by then.

      • Actually now I think about it, that might be a better way to account for any TOBs bias. Take the average of the Today’s Max-Today’s Min and Today’s Max-Tomorrow’s Min. No assumptions required and any reading time biases should cancel out over the two days. Worth testing…

      • Actually now I think about it, that might be a better way to account for any TOBs bias. Take the average of the Today’s Max-Today’s Min and Today’s Max-Tomorrow’s Min. No assumptions required and any reading time biases should cancel out over the two days. Worth testing…

        If you write out a string of days, for a included station I do a complete year, it does restore, plus it should be random, so they will get averaged out by correct station over a year.
        Plus, I found no difference in the data comparing min-max-min to today’s min minus tomorrow’s min
        So my code does min minus tomorrow’s min, and max minus tomorrow’s max.

    • “The results show it cools more at night than it warms the prior day.” Either their numbers are wrong, my guess, or we’re headed for iceball earth…again?

    • Funny thing is i wrote an absurdist limerick on exactly this topic many many months ago — that the gross temperature rise during the day was less than the gross temperature fall during the night. My claim was that this proved the cooling effects of the sun. (Hey, its was an absurdist limerick, possibly the only one ever written!)

      It was written on scrap paper and piled together with some other crap. Spilled some spaghetti sauce on the pile and it dried and they all stuck together. Pulled them apart a couple months later and saw it again after forgetting completely about it. Where it is now i don’t know. A great literary epic lost!

      Eugene WR Gallun

    • Have you tried extrapolating your results so that you can forecast the climate 30 years ahead? That might be quite interesting!

      • Have you tried extrapolating your results so that you can forecast the climate 30 years ahead? That might be quite interesting!

        What I’m seeing is not a clear trend in temp, more a drunkards walk, but as one would expect in thermal dynamic warm years increase losses, and the following year brings Temps back down.

        Now, I heap a lot of cap on Mosh, most he really deserves :) but he did push me to not process stations that are not missing any readings that year, and in my yearly analysis it did seem to get rid of the big swings in min temp, I’m still digging, change it from 360 days min, to 365 and it’s rerunning now.
        So thanks Steve, cherish this I don’t expect you’ll get many :) but, if what I do/did was wrong I have to correct it, and I’m not going to hide it. I don’t like it from others, I can’t accept doing it myself.

  2. Both are excellent examples. There are further analogs. The subprime mortgage backed securities made a lot of underwriting money for the issuing banks; just like climate change makes money for climate change researchers and for subsidy needy renewables. Madoff’s feeder funds were taking a small slice of the action, and had no incentive to investigate (Madoff only let friends invest, and due diligence wasn’t friendly). Consensus follows the money, not the truth.

    • “Madoff only let friends invest”
      When I stop laughing I will try to figure out what is so funny about this.

  3. Self-interest seems to overide appropriate cynicism in all too many cases. Of course, judging self-interest is a bitch, and what con artists rely on.

  4. An Extraordinary Popular Delusion and Madness of the Crowd. The alarmism and catastrophism are bubbles. AGW is a mild boon and the greening miraculous.

    Heh, I can’t tell if the a&c bubbles have popped already or are still expanding. You tell me.
    =================

  5. Want to see the results of consensus – watch Canada this fall as they introduce a carbon tax – because it is the “right thing to do”(Minister Catherine Mckenna)

  6. The movie version of “The Big Short” is only mediocre, and numerous changes and dramatizations were made to make the movie more Hollywoodized; however, the BOOK “The Big Short” is one of the best books I’ve read in the last 10 years, and the BEST book on the financial crisis you will read (even if it is narrow in its scope). Please urge all your readers to run, not walk, to their nearest bookstore/computer and buy the book version of the Big Short by Michael Lewis.

    • I agree completely. That goes for any movie based on a book, They always leave out pertinent data, and generally make what I consider to be the wrong choices in condensing the book into a movie,.

      • That’s except for Michael Crichton’s “State of Fear”. Oh, wait. They never made State of Fear into a movie. I wonder why?

  7. Here’s another book worth reading: Listen Liberal! by Thomas Frank. In it he shows that the former party of the people has become the party of the professionals.

    These hyper-educated folks will believe anything they are told by other hyper-educated people … no critical thinking required. Frank does a good job of showing how consensus results and how it is having disasterous effects on the country.

    • CB said:
      “no critical thinking required”

      the skills required for such thinking were eliminated from the government controlled schools long ago. Can’t have folks actually thinking about what the government tells them to believe.

    • I’ve lost track of the number of times a professional scientist has told me that there’s no way another professional scientist would do the kind of things that the AGW’ers have been accused of, therefore they must be innocent.

      • That’s exactly what happens. The various professions are absolutely immune to outside criticism. No matter what facts are presented, they can be ignored. If you aren’t a member of the profession, your opinion doesn’t matter … period … might as well save your breath.

      • I think that one of the problems is that many scientists in other professions don’t look carefully at the techniques used by climate scientists and ask whether they would ever get away with what climate scientists get away with. A while back, WUWT posted an article about a “study” that used a computer model to project when de-oxygenation of the oceans might be observable over background noise. This “study” used a single validation procedure that compared the temporal standard deviation of oxygen levels of the computer simulation to the measured standard deviation at a single location proximate Hawaii. The validation step failed miserably – the real-world standard deviation was twice what the models projected. This would seem to indicate that the model trend, if accurately representing what was occurring in the real world, would take much longer than what the model simulated to rise above “background noise.”

        The authors acknowledged this briefly at the end. They said that, given the mismatch between modeled and observed standard deviations, the model results were “difficult to trust.” Nonetheless, the authors concluded that the paper was still relevant – get this – because the graphs looked alarming. Oh, they worded a little differently – the “dramatic illustration of the forced signal superimposed on natural variability” was what they described as being the usefulness of the paper – but when you read the paper critically, it’s a joke.

        Climate scientists have found their cash cow. No matter how tenuous the science, they’re going to hype the conclusions because that’s what keeps the grant money rolling in and keeps their paychecks coming.

  8. Don’t make it complicated. At base it’s the anti-capitalists who drive the fraud (although many ‘hitch-hikers’ have hoped on board for selfish gain). Forget not: Christiana Figueres executive secretary of the U.N.’s Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) has admitted that the goal of environmental activists is not to save the world from ecological calamity but to destroy capitalism. (http://news.investors.com/ibd-editorials/021015-738779-climate-change-scare-tool-to-destroy-capitalism.htm)

  9. Hmmm, when I first twigged to the problem of CO2 changes lagging temperature moves in the Antarctic ice core data, I posted a question about it on RealClimate or one the other very serious, early climate blogs discussing global warming. The response was a very condescending explanation of a perpetual motion machine. That convinced me that I needed to know a great deal more. Up to that time I had assumed the basic laboratory results regarding CO2 and LWIR and the general “consensus” regarding the effectsof CO2 were reasonable. It didn’t take long to find many dissenting voices with reasoning that was more logical and relied on sounder scientific and physical arguments that held together without perpetual motion lurking in the closet.

    • Same thing happened to me. ‘Wow! This is terrible news for the earth! Wait a sec….hmmmm….’ And I’ve been ‘hmmming’ ever since. I live in Chile right now and a funny characteristic of this country is anything is believed that comes from an ‘expert’. It’s also a consensus ruled culture. You can make a lot of money down here off of fools who will believe anything if it comes from a ‘consultant’ or ‘expert’.

    • Duster, same here. What finally got me was their claim (RealClimate’s) that a small (maybe 2% or 3%) increase in CO2 several years prior to the detectable warming initiated all the subsequent warming. After that it was OK that the CO2 followed the temperature since it had all been started by that initial increase in CO2. That one explanation taught me to never let coffee near my desk while reading RealClimate. I had to replace my keyboard, screen and half the papers on my desk.

  10. The problem is with the first one, The Big Short. This is an example of someone peddling a doomsday scenario to get people to invest their money with them, and sell a book. So we don’t know whether they are correct or not.
    There is again a lot of pressure to get financial institutions to support low income housing by using these mortgage securities, but he question is, is there enough discipline in the market to manage the risk.
    Whatever the answer, the problem with the first one is what enables the problem with the second. People are reluctant to believe anti status quo theories because there are far more bogus ones than ones that are correct. And they want to believe things are going to come out all right.

  11. On lazy Sunday mornings in 2006/2007 I would read the paper with HGTV on in the background. Lots of home flipping particularly in urban areas. After applying a little lipstick old row houses in distressed neighbourhoods were valued at half a million plus. Young couples would show up to buy the homes. I was amazed at two things: where do they get
    the money for such large mortgages and how is the house worth that much.

    We all learned the answers in 2008. The Green scam shares many of the same attributes of the housing scam. Where are the sustainable green jobs? Here in Tennessee an entire green supply chain has collapsed taking a pile of public money and subsidized jobs down with it. No post crash analysis followed in our press or politics. Both major political parties were behind it with the press acting as cheerleader. If you are not a citizen of the US avoid our bonds. Like housing their credit worthiness is based on historical data from an America that no longer exists.

    • There are two ways of looking at US bonds. One is that the US treasury sells the bonds on the prospect that an improving economy will pay them off without incurring inflation. The other is that without selling the bonds, the government would have to print a boat load of paper money. Eventually, with the current policies in place, growth is next to nothing, the government will have to print wads of cash to cover the bonds and then some to cover the interest. It’s the worst possible thing the government can do. To paraphrase, if you think you are getting poorer, you’re right .
      Combine that with the future debt obligations of Social Security, it’s a vortex of diaster. Social Security isn’t something that is a freebie from the government, the US government effectively taxed at 12% of your gross. Then they taxed you income tax on your gross. When I hear of them wanting to do away with SS, are they going to refund me all of the money I paid in plus interest. I don’t think so.
      I can go on. Immigration is an issue, it’s a double whammy, they add 10 years to their age, some have never contributed, ( how old is your mother, oh 66) and receive better health care than working stiffs. The ones that actually work, work till they are 60 and collect as if they are 70. Sweet deal.

      • Social Security was initially set up as a Ponzi scheme (think Bernie Madoff) using current income to pay current debts. Any excess funds are placed in the Social Security Trust Fund which are then ‘borrowed’ by Congress and basically moved into the General Fund to be used to buy votes for both the current Executive Branch and Congress.

      • They used the trust fund for the Iraqi war. You know a hotbed of terrorism and weapons of mass destruction. I felt bad for Colin Powell. Iraqi war was probably a test run for climate change. Lies and nothing but the lies.

  12. When I encounter the “argument from the authority of consensus” in a comment thread after a CAGW article, I have a prepared reply that I cut and paste:

    Not so long ago (1982) the cause of stomach ulcers was known to be stress and diet, by every doctor in the world ( a 99.999% consensus) except 2. Those 2, Barry Marshall and Robin Warren, proved that they are caused by a Bacterium known as H Pylori. In science, consensus can be overturned by one fact, rendering the concept worthless. The only value to consensus is as a tool in politics for manipulating those who will not think for themselves. Stop being manipulated and think for yourself.

    Use of the last sentence depends on how my opponent has behaved prior to my reply. Of course this is a simplification, but the example is recent enough for many to recall, and may relate to many readers personally. Feel free to cut and paste.

    I’m sure the many readers here can list other examples of mistaken consensus. Please do so for all of us to use.

  13. In the early 1930s, everyone knew that the bust was caused by the 1929 Boom. The SEC was formed to prevent another such bubble. They thought that proper accounting and reporting would prevent another financial mania. What’s more, one of the backers of the SEC boasted that it would “Put a cop at the corner of Wall and Broad Streets”. Graham and Dodd published a book on value investing, so that fund managers would never be foolish again.
    None of it worked.
    The boom that blew out in 2007 was number 6 in the series that started with the South Sea Bubble of 1720.

  14. In the Madoff case, the SEC had been hiring lots of lawyers instead of finance people, and they simply didn’t understand what Madoff was doing.
    Throughout history, the only way to survive was to be part of a group (tribe, village, kingdom). A loner was not protected and could be killed. In the Viking realms, if you were really bad, they didn’t execute you, they banned you (not part of a kingdom, alone)–if you survived your 5 year (or however long) ban, they would let you back in. Thus belonging has been a matter of life and death. While some of the things one had to believe or pretend to believe might be dangerous, most of them were tribal stuff (what to eat, how to act, which Gods to worship). The ability to buck a consensus on something based on rationality is not a natural talent.

  15. You missed the most important reason for why there was a consensus about the housing market and a supposed consensus about CAGW. That is, the investment banks and credit rating agencies had hired literal rocket scientist Ph.Ds to build unbelievably complex models to predict default risk and then used that knowledge to create unanalyzable securities based on those models. Buyers/investors of those securities could not analyze the credit risk independently. They were relying on the reputations of the model builders at the banks and credit rating agencies. They trusted the credit ratings assigned to the securities fairly represented the default risk they were taking on when they bought those securities.

    The models failed because the underlying assumptions were wrong – that is, the actual, observable default risk was much different from what the models predicted. They had reason to doubt complex financial models because Long Term Capital Management blew itself up during the Asian currency crisis/Russian default crisis in the late ’90s. LTCM had hired Nobel prize winners Myron Scholes who created the Black-Scholes option pricing mode and Nobel prize winner Robert Merton to build their models. I guess the Ph.D. rocket scientists hired by the investment banks and credit rating agencies believed they had learned from the mistakes made by the Nobel prize Ph.Ds during the LTCM episode.

    The reliance on models and deferring to authority (Ph.D.s with advanced “special knowledge”) strikes me as almost identical to the climate change hysteria. The difference is that the financial models failed because the assumptions were based on human behaviors, and humans can be “irrational” making predictions based on human behavior highly uncertain. The climate models avoid that because they are built on “hard science” and physics. But if the assumptions used in the climate models are wrong, the output will be just as wrong as the failed financial models. GIGO.

    • While there were and are many Ph.D. Mathematicians wandering around the financial sector the mortgage blowup was not hard to see thru. The math in getting an exact valuation for a basket of mortgages sliced into tranches is not particularly difficult though doing it in some optimized performant way is certainly tricky. But the fundamental basis for the mistake was simple. It was postulated that correlation stats on default would remain at historical levels even though housing prices had easily doubled in many areas and ltv would go negative for a huge percentage of loans if the general price index came back just a few years. It wasn’t rocket science to see that possibly. The bubble bubbled because too many people, financial institution included were raking it in. The big surprise was the breathtaking speed in which it unraveled.

      • the issue is complex, but i agree with david that part of it was simply people riding the wave to make as much money as they could before the wave crashed.

        it was too easy to borrow money to buy a home. i myself benefited from this – I borrowed nearly 100% of the price of my home in 2003/2004, but I have had a plan and have paid down that debt greatly, and my home has increased in value now at the 11 or 12 year mark.

        when i sought a mortgage, the mortgage guy told me he could get me a lot more money that I was looking for.

        nope. i did not go for that.

        in the bubble spots, people were borrowing against their first home, buying and flipping another and making money. if you could do this four times and clear 20K each time, you may not mind if you get burned on the final deal and lose 30k.

  16. Anything which appears to be true is a generalization (or stereotype). All generalizations are false. Therefore anything which appears to be true is false. This is literally the core principle on which modern society operates.

  17. “I’ll leave it to readers to draw their own conclusions regarding any possible parallels with the consensus on climate change.”
    _____________

    Which consensus is that? The scientific or sceptical consensus?

    • Since in this context the consensus is always the “majority” opinion, he means the bogus 97% (pseudo) scientific consensus. Nice try, though, at labeling the thermaggedonists the scientific side, so skepticism must be anti-science based. Thanks for playing.

      • I’m not labelling anyone Jeff. I’m just floating the idea that we all need to be on guard against bogus ideas; whether these be ‘mainstream’ scientific ideas or scepticism of those ideas.

        Both groups are prone to the acceptance of widely held views within their respective peer groups. None of us are immune. The evidence is the arbitrator.

  18. It is time to go back and read “The Emporer’s New Clothes.” Hans Christian Anderson has a lot of stories reflecting how people and society act illogically or foolishly – and the morality of the stories is disguised by the charming fanciful characters, settings, and preposterous happenings.

  19. Yes , but the Big Short article didn’t answer the most important question of all .
    When did Exxon know ?

    • I’m a climate scientist and I still don’t see much evidence that climate change will be disasterous so I’m not sure how Exxon was supposed to know this 30 years ago.

  20. Glory, glory, it’s nice to see consensus broken. Prof Peter Wadhams has just announced on UK BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that we should not rely on models to predict Arctic sea ice. He said because they don’t predict the end of Summer Arctic Sea Ice until the end of this century it means that we will miss the opportunity to act now to reduce CO2 in the atmosphere through complacency. Keep talking Prof, there are plenty more models that shouldn’t be relied on as well.

  21. In 1916, the consensus was that the universe could not be expanding.

    One man, Hubble proved them wrong.

    97% of scientists accepted Hubble was correct.

    Today’s scientists do not have the humility of their predecessors.

  22. Another analogy is low fat diets. All the scientists agreed that a low fat high carb diet was the best way to control your weight. Since then, America has become obese.

  23. Saturated fat comes to mind. Flawed consensus where “better safe than sorry” produced disasterous results

  24. The consensus at the end of the19th C, led by Lord Kelvin, was that ‘all there was to know in Physics had been fully discovered’; then in 1900 along came the reluctant revolutionary Max Planck.

    • Boltzmann’s statistical approach to thermodynamics based on atomic theory was ridiculed in the 19th C by, among others, Max Planck who did not believe in atoms. Planck was a classical thermodynamicist and regarded his constant h as just a mathematical trick to fit the curves based on measurement.He was reluctant to take any credit for quantum mechanics.

  25. Been there, done that.

    Bucking the consensus is never fun (and it is hazardous to your health and career).

  26. Re: The Big Short – my take was that the movie, while entertaining, was a rather glib and superficial gloss based on what was an absolutely fantastic book. The book lays out the evidence that makes it clear that in fact, a whole lot of people in the financial world knew that the 2008 crackup was coming – they just weren’t sure of the exact timing, so they gamed it out thinking that it would be more profitable to wait til the last minute to dump all their holding.

    A few of them won that bet, most of them lost, and the ordinary people, the mortgage holders and deposit holders and taxpayers, were of course the biggest losers of all.

    Which they were always intended to be.

  27. Scientific consensus is never final. That is what science means (among other things). But usually, if you are not an expert in the field, that is the way to bet.
    The scientific consensus is that smoking is bad for your health. That might be wrong, like in the movie “Sleeper” where Woody Allen is offered a cigarette as “the healthiest thing for you.” But the consensus is most likely correct, and until it changes I will not take up smoking.

  28. As many on this site have said: ‘Good scientists are skeptics’. I would add that all skeptics are not good scientists..or even scientists. Sometimes they are uneducated contrarians that think they’ve discovered an incantation that cures cancer, that there’s no greenhouse effect, or that local atmospheric temperature depends on air pressure rather than convection, conduction, and thermal radiation conversion to kinetic energy. They share a commn characteristic: they know they’re right, and that PhD Scientists are conspiring to deceive them.

  29. As many on this site have said: ‘Good scientists are skeptics’. I would add that all skeptics are not good scientists..or even scientists. Sometimes they are uneducated contrarians that think they’ve discovered an incantation that cures cancer, that there’s no greenhouse effect, or that local atmospheric temperature depends on air pressure rather than convection, conduction, and thermal radiation conversion to kinetic energy. They share a commn characteristic: they know theyu’re right, and that PhD Scientists are conspiring to deceive them.

  30. I am a big fan of “The Big Short” but have not read the book about Madoff. The point I wish to make is what are the two things linking both? The Securities and Exchange Commission. It is a complete joke.

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