No Consensus on Consensus:
How Not to Argue (Part III)

Logic & Rhetoric — By on December 4, 2006 at 12:35 am

[Note: This is the third entry in the “How Not to Argue” series.]
“The question of what to do about climate change is also still open,” wrote Naomi Oreskes in a 2004 article in the journal Science. “But there is a scientific consensus on the reality of anthropogenic climate change. Climate scientists have repeatedly tried to make this clear. It is time for the rest of us to listen.” Many people will nod in agreement with Oreskes dogamatic assertion while others will express vehemently disagree. For example, Richard Lindzen, a professor of Atmospheric Science at MIT, says, “Al Gore is wrong. There’s no ‘consensus’ on global warming.”
While the question of whether climate change is anthropogenic is certainly worthy of discussion, I think the debate illuminates an underlying premise that is often ignored and unchallenged. The unexamined assumption is that if there is a consensus among relevant scientific experts then we must defer to their purportedly informed opinion in making policy decisions.
Pondering this question raises two related queries: (a) Should we automatically defer to the consensus opinion when making policy decisions? and (b) Why are the opinions of scientists treated with more deference than other “experts”?
Let’s start with the second question. As the global warming debate has shown, the claim that the scientific community has reached a consensus is often used as the primary basis for advocating for changes in public policy. But what makes scientists a special class of experts? Why don’t we defer to the “consensus” opinion of, say, economists, on policy matters?
After all, there are, as economist Robert Whaples shows in a recent study, a few issues where economists have reached a consensus*:


–87.5 percent agree that “the U.S. should eliminate remaining tariffs and other barriers to trade.”
–85.2 percent agree that “the U.S. should eliminate agricultural subsidies.”
–77.2 percent agree that “the best way to deal with Social Security’s long-term funding gap is to increase the normal retirement age.”
–67.1 percent agree that “parents should be given educational vouchers which can be used at government-run or privately-run schools.”
–90.1 percent disagree with the position that “the U.S. should restrict employers from outsourcing work to foreign countries.”
The methodology of economists is arguably as reliable as that of climatologists. In fact, I would contend that as a field of study, economics has a broader range of reliable data than does the climate sciences. Should we defer to economists then when they reach a consensus? Should politicians base decisions about education vouchers or tariffs on the consensus of these experts?
Most people would argue that it would be absurd to automatically defer to an opinion simply because a majority of economists agree. So why do we show such deference to scientists? Should their opinions carry more weight when it comes to establishing policy?
(Before you answer, consider that just thirty years ago there was a proposal to melt the Arctic ice cap because the “consensus” among scientific experts was that global cooling was leading to a new Ice Age. What was once considered a solution is now considered one of the dire consequences of global warming.)
Lest I be accused of having a pro-economist/anti-scientist bias, let me clarify that my point is not that consensus of scientists is irrelevant to political arguments but rather that appealing to consensus is insufficient for almost all arguments.
The fact that many people agree on something does not imply that what they agree on is true, whether the issue is climatology or farm subsidies. An appeal to consensus is merely a form of the argumentum ad populum fallacy (appeal to the majority). The status of the fallacy doesn’t change just because the members of the majority all have Ph.Ds. If you want to establish a consensus for your argument, you have to do more than appeal to a consensus.
Note: There are circumstances when an appeal to the majority is not an ad populum fallacy. One example is when people, whether experts or not, are in a position to determine the truth by forming a consensus. For example, the claim, “Most people in America think it is polite to shake hands with someone as a greeting; therefore, it is polite for people in America to shake hands when greeting” would not be fallacious.
See also:

* HT: Greg Mankiw’s Blog



  • http://thebronxblogger.blogspot.com Matthew Goggins

    I agree with you — don’t automatically defer to experts.
    However, it is not necessarily a logical fallacy to cite expert opinion in an argument. Often it is very important to use expert opinion as a guide to reasonableness, or at least as a data point when trying to weigh alternatives.
    The logical fallacy creeps in when the expert opinion is brandied about as proof.

  • George

    “Scientific consensus” is simply a fig leaf to move the “global warming” agenda forward. Of course, the agenda is not about weather or climate, but about the ability of those in authority to control the energy economy.
    Anyne who knows anything about science would scoff at the supposed “value” of “scientific consensus”. Ask, Darwin, Einstein, Bohr, Gamow, or, for that matter, Galileo about “scientific consensus”. It has always stood foursquare for reactionary science and authoritarian censorship.
    Al Gore and Lysenko have much in common.

  • http://evangelicalperspective.blogspot.com Collin Brendemuehl

    Right or wrong (and I certainly believe the climatologists to be wrong for several reasons), let’s not minimize the power of a persuaded *and voting* populace. Truth is by no means the end of the discussion.

  • http://bevets.com/grapevine.htm bevets

    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…
    Finally, 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. ~ Michael Crichton

  • Bob

    Anyone who believes that consensus science is always right should look up the work of Drs. Robin Warren and Barry Marshall, who eventually won the Nobel Prize for their work:
    http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/health/4304290.stm
    The consensus belief was that stress caused stomach ulcers. The work of these doctors proved that bacteria cause most ulcers. Fortunately, they did not accept the consensus view. Dr. Marshall went so far as to infect himself with the bacterium to prove his point.

  • http://TheEverwiseBoonton.blogspot.com Boonton

    Pondering this question raises two related queries: (a) Should we automatically defer to the consensus opinion when making policy decisions? and (b) Why are the opinions of scientists treated with more deference than other “experts”?
    It’s interesting that the items you listed with a high level of consensus among economists are indeed treated with a lot of respect (namely tariffs/trade barriers are bad, agricultural subsidies should be eliminated, and employers should not be restricted from outsourcing work to foreign countries). Social Security and school vouchers have less than 80% agreement and while I love economics it is not yet a rock hard science.
    Almost always disagreement with these positions is centered around self-interest. To my knowledge no one has a viable argument against free trade other than “I don’t want my particular business or job to be threatened” and indeed economic ‘experts’ agree that free trade can threaten specific jobs and businesses.
    The opinion of economists is given quite a bit of respect here. When Bush, for example, imposed steel tariffs to protect US mills from ‘dumping’ economists noted that the cost of each job saved was on the order of $130K a year. No one provided a serious counterargument that this was wrong if memory serves. Counterarguments were of the form that the cost was worth it to preserve a domestic industry or a ‘way of life’. These are questions that economists do not have ‘expert’ opinions on. Most will indeed be skeptical that the ‘way of life’ of a steel worker is worth $130K a year…most will suspect that many workers would rather take $130K a year to not enjoy the ‘way of life’ of a steel worker. But being an economist doesn’t provide one with any added ability to hold such opinions…just having common sense is more than enough.
    So to address your question:
    A: No we should not automatically defer to the consensus opinion of experts but we should recognize that expertise means simply disagreeing without a good reason is not an argument. If the doctors say you have diabetes that carries a lot more weight than your opinion that you are simply suffering from eating too little sugary foods unless you have some convincing argument that the docs are wrong.
    B: As I demonstrated with economists ‘scientific experts’ are not treated with more deference than other experts or even non-experts. More often than not, IMO, non-experts are given more weight than they deserve (not always of course).
    At its core you should ask what does expert mean? Expert basically means someone who has spent more time than you have studying and mastering a body of knowledge. If that is the case then the question you need to ask is why are you not deferring to that expert when the issue comes up? I’m not saying there are never valid reasons to refrain from deferring to the expert but the obligation is on you to provide them.
    The fact that many people agree on something does not imply that what they agree on is true, whether the issue is climatology or farm subsidies. An appeal to consensus is merely a form of the argumentum ad populum fallacy (appeal to the majority). The status of the fallacy doesn’t change just because the members of the majority all have Ph.Ds. If you want to establish a consensus for your argument, you have to do more than appeal to a consensus.
    Not quite. What is going on with the appeal to ‘expert opinion’ is basically a form of saving time. It is saying “I don’t have time to learn about medicine, economics, chemistry, climatology etc.” therefore I will make an assumption that a person who has devoted a lot of time to these topics will have a higher probability of coming up with a correct answer than I will.
    Argumentum ad populum would center on an assumption that a simple majority somehow makes truth. In your last example if you assume manners are simply determined by whatever a majority thinks they are then yes that wouldn’t be an argumentum ad populum but if you don’t then arguing that shaking hands is polite because a majority of Americans thinks so would be committing that fallacy.
    One last thing:
    (Before you answer, consider that just thirty years ago there was a proposal to melt the Arctic ice cap because the “consensus” among scientific experts was that global cooling was leading to a new Ice Age. What was once considered a solution is now considered one of the dire consequences of global warming.)
    Err this is false. There was a hypothesis in the 70′s that we may suffer global cooling. It made a few books and even the cover of Newsweek once but that hardly is the same as a consensus of scientific experts. In fact this is itself a pretty bold myth of the anti-global warming crowd. If you actually examined what the true scientific consensus was about global cooling in the 1970′s (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Global_cooling#1971_Paper_on_Warming_and_Cooling_Factors) you’ll see that the consensus was simply great uncertainity and skepticism.

  • Greg Forster

    I certainly agree that the whole notion of “scientific consensus” is badly abused in the political realm. I’m a scientist myself, and I work in a field where the alleged “scientific consensus” is in fact directly at variance with what the actual evidence produced by empirical research shows. (In my own case this is more a matter of special interest groups manufacturing a false appearance of consensus among the professional scientists, rather than in the global warming case where you really do have a consensus among the professional scientists in favor of a false view, but the problem is essentially the same.)
    That having been said, I think people who are disgrunteld at the way “scientific consensus” is abused tend to go too far in the opposite direction. Good science requires that each scientist’s work be evaluated, tested, and replicated by the rest of the profession. The really critical activity of science is not what takes place in the lab, but what takes place in the journals. Each individual scientist’s work is prone to an incredible amount of error, because scientists are human beings, like everyone else. The real “science” happens when one scientist puts his work forward to be checked by other scientists. In fact, the whole value of what we call the “scientific method” is not that it produces the right results in every experiment, but that it systematizes our experiments in a way that makes it possible for other scientists to evaluate when they are and are not producing the “right” results. One scientist’s experiments are prone to that scientist’s errors, but if he follows “scientific method” his colleages will be better able to spot those errors.
    So you do have to have something like “scientific consensus” in order for science to produce meaningful results. You can’t know whether Scientist X’s findings are true until all the other scientists have had a chance to check Scientist X’s work. The whole reason the concept of “scientific consensus” is so powerful, and thus so liable to abuse, is precisely because it is so necessary.
    We just have to remember how liable to abuse it is, and be on guard against abuse.
    I’m going to start a thread for further discussion over in the EO Forums – which, by the way, I notice there’s no longer a link to on this site (a little oversight in the site’s new look, eh, Joe?). Go here:
    http://www.evangelicaloutpost.com/forum
    At the moment, as a temporary stopgap to deal with a major spam problem, in order to post on the forums you have to register and then write to me to get me to approve you. I’m very sorry that’s necessary, but we had a huge spam infestation and I don’t know how else to fight it.
    In any event, I’d really like to see the forum be of more use to EO readers, so please come on over and check us out.

  • http://TheEverwiseBoonton.blogspot.com Boonton

    Good post Greg,
    I agree with you on the meaning of consensus. The image of the lone scientist working by himself and overturning the entire field is largely a myth. Einstein, Darwin, Newton and others revolutionized their field by demonstrating their ideas to the larger community and allowing their ideas to be tested by anyone. Einstein’s work is taken seriously today not because of him but because of the hundreds maybe even thousands of independent tests that his theory was subjected too by scientists all over the world working in many diverse fields.
    So how would we evaluate a nobody who stood up and told us it was absurd to believe the speed of light is the fastest anything could ever move in the universe? We would note that a huge consensus of experts (aka scientists) are against him on that argument. Our next question would not be Joe’s question…”Why do we take those experts seriously?”. It would be “why should this guy’s statement overturn the consensus of experts?”.
    That guy very well may overturn the consensus but we need to know why before anything else happens.

  • Greg Forster

    I should have added that people who have already posted on EO Forums (like you, Boonton) are already set up with permission to post; you don’t have to go through any rigamarole.
    I hadn’t read your post when I posted my own comment, Boonton. Obviously I agree with most of what you say, but I disagree on one point.
    To find out which one, y’all will have to come over to the thread on the EO Forum!
    http://www.evangelicaloutpost.com/forum

  • The Raven

    I like Collin’s comment here:
    “Truth is by no means the end of the discussion.”
    Guys, you have to remember that if you believe in a supernatural invisible omnipresent galactic deity-type thingy, then you are not permitted to have any notions about science and empirical knowledge. These are the province of the rationalists, OK? We are the people who weigh evidence and think about it. Then we arrive at conclusions based on the evidence.
    This is very different from what Joe does with a posting like today’s. In this case, we start with Rush Limbaugh and the Bush administration. The conservative Republican wants to prevent our country from responding to the threat posed by global warming because… Well, I’m not sure why, yet, but I suspect it has something to do with protecting oil companies and the like. To the modern Evangelical, the term “environmental” is basically a pejorative epithet. Concern for the environment is a bad thing, the kind of attitude a tree-hugging hippie might adopt, but not you Chamber of Commerce types.
    So the idea of global warming is something that belongs to the evil liberals, and so it is important to argue against it. Which gives us today’s polemic that avows, “if 10,000 scientists agree we’re screwing up our planet, they must be wrong because there’s so many of them.”
    Please. People. I beg of you – stick with theology and your hymns and hosannas. Have a bake sale. But do not concern yourself with science or reality. We’ll take of that for you and keep you safe.

  • JohnW

    I think there is a “consensus” amoung the Energy Companies and their political operatives that global warming should be denied for their financial well being. It really serves their purposes well when a whole group of people can be led to believe that all this talk about global warming is just part of the godless liberal agenda to bring socialism to this country.
    I’d like to ask the rhetorical guestion: as christians,can we believe what the scientists are saying about global warming or should we not listen to them? They are a bunch of godless darwinists-why should we believe them?
    Joh

  • http://blog.revmike.us Rev. Mike

    Stephen L. Carter writes in his book, Civility: Manners, Morals, and the Etiquette of Democracy:

    … Our faith in science, although it has been dying for two decades, remains strong enough that we often succumb to the lure of scientism. Scientism is the effort to disguise as science things that have little to do with science, in the hope of making them look more attractive …
    … what makes scientism attractive is the hope that one can win a moral argument without discussing morality. The irony of scientism is that it simultaneously acknowledges and denies the traditional vision of singular truths. On the one hand, scientism is deeply post-modern, treating scientific knowledge as infinitely malleable, able to reach any result, support any argument. But that is only in the construction of scientific argument. In its public presentation, scientism treats science as settled and clear, a collection of irrefutable if unexplainable facts­ – not the asker of difficult questions but the provider of easy answers. The debater who goes to scientism wants the audience to understand that only a flat-earther would disagree.
    Scientism’s exaltation of scientific results (but not scientific method) is a transparent device for avoiding debate. If I make a scientistic claim, my message is that I have not mere opinion but actual science – hence, truth – on my side, suggesting that anybody who disagrees with me should simply shut up and go away. This attitude treats those on the other side of whatever may be the underlying moral issue as though they cannot possibly have anything important to say, and certainly nothing persuasive. Scientism thus denies my opponents the fundamental respect that is derived from the requirement that we love our neighbors. There is no trust. There is no generosity. There is no hope of civil listening at all – there is not even any conversation.

  • http://TheEverwiseBoonton.blogspot.com Boonton

    So the idea of global warming is something that belongs to the evil liberals, and so it is important to argue against it. Which gives us today’s polemic that avows, “if 10,000 scientists agree we’re screwing up our planet, they must be wrong because there’s so many of them.”
    Ahh but that isn’t a scientific statement. Just because 10,000 scientists agree greenhouse gasses cause global warming that doesn’t answer the question of what to do. How much of a problem is warming? How expensive is it to stop it now versus dealing with it 40 years from now? These questions are not settled and probably cannot be any time soon.
    To use another example, at this point there is no serious argument that smoking doesn’t cause lung cancer. Even tobacco companies agree with that. Yet that hardly means we all agree on what our policy towards smoking should be. Even though there is no disagreement about it causing lots of health problems there’s a huge spectrum of opinion ranging from total prohibition to total libertarianism. There’s even a serious position that despite the decreased lifespan the joy of smoking is an acceptable trade off.

  • ex-preacher

    I would suggest that the global warming consensus should be taken more seriously than the other examples you mentioned because of the dire consequences of ignoring this potential problem. Let’s say that there’s only a 50% chance that Gore & co. are right. Are we willing to bet those kind of odds? Those who anticipate being raptured by Jesus any day now might think such odds are acceptable. Those of us who intend to leave a decent future to our descendants are less willing to accept such poor odds.
    The following is from sourcewatch.org on Richard S. Lindzen:
    Ross Gelbspan, journalist and author, wrote a 1995 article in Harper’s Magazine which was very critical of Lindzen and other global warming skeptics. In the article, Gelbspan reports Lindzen charged “oil and coal interests $2,500 a day for his consulting services; [and] his 1991 trip to testify before a Senate committee was paid for by Western Fuels and a speech he wrote, entitled ‘Global Warming: the Origin and Nature of Alleged Scientific Consensus,’ was underwritten by OPEC.” [3]
    In November 2004, climate change skeptic Richard Lindzen was quoted saying he’d be willing to bet that the earth’s climate will be cooler in 20 years than it is today. When British climate researcher James Annan contacted him, however, Lindzen would only agree to take the bet if Annan offered a 50-to-1 payout. Subsequent offers of a wager were also refused by Pat Michaels, Chip Knappenberger, Piers Corbyn, Myron Ebell, Zbigniew Jaworowski, Sherwood Idso and William Kininmonth. At long last, however, Annan has persuaded Russian solar physicists Galina Mashnich and Vladimir Bashkirtsev to take a $10,000 bet. “There isn’t much money in climate science and I’m still looking for that gold watch at retirement,” Annan says. “A pay-off would be a nice top-up to my pension.”

  • http://evangelicalperspective.blogspot.com Collin Brendemuehl

    Raven,
    The matter of GW is not generally debatd — it’s the matter of cause where we disagree. I’ve spent some time with geologists who vehemently disagree with the climatologists — and they’re not “christian” at all in their approach.
    Unfortunately you miss the point of the discussion of motivations (philosophy of science), which is not a matter of science per se. That’s why I state that finding the Truth, whatever that is on this issue, will not be then end of the discussion. There’s power and money at stake for special interests. And, as you well-state, a few evil liberals. :)

  • tommythecat

    flood the first time…
    fire the next…
    uh, i’m not a scientist, but fire sounds like global warming to me.

  • http://www.powersthatblog.blogspot.com CrazyDiamond

    Also, science can only tell you what is repeatably measurable; it has no ability to tell you what you should or shouldn’t do.
    A scientist can tell you efficient ways to kill six million mosquitoes or six million Jews, but not whether you should or shouldn’t do either.

  • Brandon

    Guys, you have to remember that if you believe in a supernatural invisible omnipresent galactic deity-type thingy, then you are not permitted to have any notions about science and empirical knowledge.
    Huh. How did you arrive at that conclusion?

  • The Raven

    “A scientist can tell you efficient ways to kill six million mosquitoes or six million Jews, but not whether you should or shouldn’t do either.”
    This is a very strong observation – nicely done, CD.
    It does, however, beg the question of whether religion is the only enjoining philosophy that would address such matters – or whether religion is even relevant in pursuit of an answer to them.
    I would argue the first part by asserting that a biologist or an ecologist would be a very good authority to consult with respect to the environmental impact of exterminating a large mosquito population. This isn’t trivial – there are growing calls for the resumption of DDT use to control malaria. Regardless of whether DDT is an environmental hazard, mosquitoes are a major food source for various insects, birds, and mammals. Although mosquitos are a pest, a rational approach to erradicating them would suggest that they be controlled to the minimum degree necessary. There are different species of mosquitoes with varying habits, and a scientist could inform us as to which are the most likely to be troublesome and how to control their numbers in an environmentally sound fashion. So to this question, I’d still turn to the scientist and I’d be very likely to get good advice.
    Curiously, the teachings of Christianity would have little to say about the matter, except perhaps a bland platitudinous reference to man being given “dominion over all of creation” or somesuch and that it is our God-given birthright to slay as many critters as pleases us. Or maybe we are to be stewards of the mosquitoes. Either way, the Bible is not the tool to employ in an examination of this nature.
    Onward to the Jewish question. Here, the Bible is pretty much all over the place. As a book, it records mass slaughterings – commanded by God – so that we know the Yahweh diety is comfortable and pleased with acts of sanctioned genocide. Thus, we’d have to explore whether something in the Bible could be used to justify its application with respect to a large number of people who do not recognize Jesus as the incarnation of Yahweh. Here, the Jews would be on shaky ground. However, they are referenced in Revelations as playing a part in the Armageddon event, so one imagines a good Bible scholar would point out that we should probably keep them around until Judgement Day, at which point they’ll all be condemned to burn in Hell for eternity.
    None of the foregoing should be construed as an argument for killing or not killing 6 million Jews (or Arabs, Chinese, etc.). It is an illustration that the Bible would be a strange tool to leverage either way. (My understanding of the Commandment about not killing is that it would not apply to the question so I haven’t raised it.)
    At essence, just about every religion can be boiled down to a few very simple ideas: Be excellent. Avoid causing harm.
    The reason the world’s various religions teach these basic ideas is that they are natural and intuitively obvious. The psychological underpinning of this was explaned by Piaget and Kohlberg. Their work forms the basis of our formal understanding of morality, which isn’t a didactive list of “dos and don’ts” found in some old book, but rather a normal part of cognitive development. Here’s a summary of Kohlberg’s theory at Stage 3 (occurs roughly around ages 12-14):
    Stage 3. Good Interpersonal Relationships.
    At this stage children–who are by now usually entering their teens–see morality as more than simple deals. They believe that people should live up to the expectations of the family and community and behave in “good” ways. Good behavior means having good motives and interpersonal feelings such as love, empathy, trust, and concern for others.

    So, we don’t normally run around killing 6 million of anybody because just about all of us – psychopaths excepted – acquire a sense of “love, empathy, trust,” and compassion as a normal part of our cognitive development. This is precisely why Christians go astray when they claim that atheists “have no morality”: because morality is not a religion-based component of being human. You get it in your genetic code at the DNA level.
    So far, the scientists are doing really well with this question!
    To go further, the idea of reciprocalism is the very reason why we don’t slaughter people. It’s why there is concern for the ongoing genocide in Darfur. It’s why we feel alarm that Iraqis are killing large numbers of their fellow citizens with power cords and heated pieces of rebar. It’s why some of us oppose the cruel and degrading treatment of America’s captives who are labeled potential “terrorists.”
    As a rationalist, I am fully in opposition to my government’s belief that what we have done to people like Joseph Padilla is acceptable. There is no justification for the systematic brutalization of a helpless prisoner. We know, from years of psychological research, that there are proven methods of obtaining cooperative behavior that do not require the infliction of pain and humiliation. Yet, earlier this year, this very question raged back and forth here at EA. Christianity and the Bible, it transpired, were no guide to arriving at a conclusion, but some felt that if George W. Bush wanted torture, then by all means torture should be had.
    To someone like me, there is no question. And that realization stems from the Third Stage of moral development. Given that most – not all, but most – of our elected leaders are fairly charismatic and intelligent, we can presume that their grasp of morality is such that killing 6 million Jewish people for spurious reasons is simply not an option on the table. Science tells us why. The Bible leads only to equivocating confusion. What all of this gets around to underscoring is the fact that there really are no specific areas in which religion, the Bible, or theologians have some particular expertise that is off-limits to the realm of reason and science.

  • tommythecat

    so, if bush said jews are eveil becasue they killed christ, would christians follow Him in killing jews?

  • JohnW

    tommythecat, if Bush said Homeland Security was implementing a new policy of having all arab americans wear a big cresent on their clothing to identify themselves, most of his supporters would think it was a great idea.
    JohnW

  • http://www.powersthatblog.blogspot.com CrazyDiamond


    It does, however, beg the question of whether religion is the only enjoining philosophy that would address such matters – or whether religion is even relevant in pursuit of an answer to them.


    I’m not sure my statement does beg that question, Raven. I’m just pointing out an inherent property of science – that it cannot tell you what you should do. Your judgement of what you should do, if referencing the predictions of science, will not be based on science but on other parts of your spiritual-based or material-based philosophy.
    The scientist you consult may predict one effect or another – loss of habitat for mosquito-dependent bird species, gain of habitat for humans, loss for both or gains for both – but that still won’t tell you what you (or a society) should do. That judgement will depend on whether you think habitat loss or gain for one species or another is “good” or “bad”. That has nothing to do with science, only with your philosophy. Citing this scientist or that one or even a whole bunch of us (as evidence for what we should do) is, as pointed out in the post, an argumentum ad populum error. After seventeen years as a professional scientist, I can argue equally well for any compassionate or horrifying action you care to name on the basis of science; it’s just a matter of what basic philosophy to pick, what is fundamentally deemed axiomatically “good” or “bad”.
    Killing six million Jews certainly decreased competition for resources for some people, while lowering the genetic variation available for others. From the perspective of evolution, where you believe our basic moral instincts are formed, the best thing possible for me would be to find a way to kill off all the men on the planet and spend my life impregnating the women, because he who dies with the most great-grandchildren wins.
    From another perspective, if morality is part of our genetic code, what do we say to those whose genes lead them to torture and mass murder? So my genes say one thing, your genes another. Which one is right? To say that the behaviors approved by the majority of gene combinations on this planet is the correct morality is another form of the error. We might call it “
    argumentum ad populum genetica“.
    Every shift in the gene pool would mean a shift in morality. Sometimes the Golden Rule genes might dominate; other times, the “Do unto others before the mothers do unto you” genes would dominate. If morality is based on science, morality does not exist.

  • CrazyDiamond

    argumentum ad populum error. After seventeen years as a professional scientist, I can argue equally well for any compassionate or horrifying action you care to name on the basis of science; it’s just a matter of what basic philosophy to pick, what is fundamentally deemed axiomatically “good” or “bad”.

    Whoops! That should have read

    argumentum ad populum error. After seventeen years as a professional scientist, I can argue equally well for any compassionate or horrifying action you care to name on the basis of science; it’s just a matter of what basic philosophy to pick, what is fundamentally deemed axiomatically “good” or “bad”.

    Didn’t mean to make it look like I was posting something extra-special-wonderfully-critically important there.

  • matt

    because economists aren’t experts on global climate trends. moron.