Most Dangerous Word

Most Dangerous Word

Consensus is a political word, and should never be used where science is involved.

It could easily be the most dangerous word in the English language.

While usually having a positive connotation implying agreement, especially in a political context, it has now become associated with oversimplifying and suppressing factual scientific information.

Science utilizes facts. Science puts forth propositions, i.e., hypotheses, that can be tested through measurement of observations, which either support or disprove the proposition.

Facts are inevitably quantified using numbers and formulas.

For example: The speed of light is186,000 miles/sec, energy emitted from a nuclear reaction is e=mc2 and electrical power is P=pf EI.

Instead of referring to specific facts, those who write on scientific issues are now resorting to ignoring the facts and substituting a consensus statement instead.

For example, “The scientific consensus is, thus and such.”

It’s like saying, “The scientific consensus is that a nuclear reaction is devastating.”

That conveys very little about the science of a nuclear reaction.

For example: Can there be a controlled nuclear reaction suitable for generating electricity?

The April 29 issue of Economist magazine, in its zeal to promote the idea that CO2 causes global warming, recently said:

“The consensus is that global sea levels will rise by 74cm by the end of the century.”

April 29, 2017 Cover Economist Magazine
April 29, 2017 Cover Economist Magazine

In this article, the Economist claimed there was consensus about sea level rise, but the facts are different.

Recent satellite data show that sea levels are projected to rise 10 inches by the end of the century, while the Economist claims it will rise 74 cm, or 29 inches.

Satellite data is more accurate than isolated measurements taken around the world.

This is true for temperature readings and for tidal gauge readings.

  • Land-based temperature readings are affected by several factors including the heat island affect and the wide, and unequal distribution of temperature stations. For example see,
  • Tidal gauges reflect local conditions, including subsidence, and are distributed unevenly around the world.

NOAA, in one of its more bazar forecasts, said the seas will rise 8 feet by this century’s end.

The IPCC has several scenarios for sea level rise which vary from 11 inches to 39 inches by the end of the century.

Factually, there is no consensus on sea level rise. The Economist’s assertion that sea levels are projected to rise by 29 inches is blatantly wrong.

The Economist elected to use a forecast that was three times greater than recent satellite projections, and roughly three times greater than the IPCC’s projection without glacier melt.

The Economist’s projection was not only inaccurate, it was, in all likelihood, intended to influence its readers to support the Economist’s views that CO2 causes global warming.

It should be noted that the IPCC projection for thermal expansion is 11 inches of sea level rise, while all the larger projections are the result of glacier ice melt.

In other words, anything greater than 11 inches is speculative as there is considerable uncertainty about the extent that glaciers are melting.

Every use of the term consensus in science demonstrates a lack of ability to establish facts that can lead to a conclusion.

Here is a quotation from Michael Crichton’s Caltech lecture, January 17, 2003,

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.

Michael Chrichton was an author, scientist and director. He also wrote the Andromeda Strain and Jurassic Park.

Whenever consensus is used, it is safe to assume the ensuing statement is political, and not science.

Any reporter or publication that resorts to using “consensus” as the basis for any scientific claim, or the assumption that there is a consensus, is distorting the truth.

Consensus is antithetical to science.



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