What is the role of consensus in science?
The answer, of course, is "none."
Yet, time after time, we keep hearing that global warming "deniers'" position is unreasonable because it flies in the fact of scientific consensus. But outside of climate "science," skepticism is valued and consensus is scoffed at.
Here is a news story, out today, about the 2011 Nobel Prize in chemistry
JERUSALEM (AP) — When Israeli scientist Dan Shechtman claimed to have stumbled upon a new crystalline chemical structure that seemed to violate the laws of nature, colleagues mocked him, insulted him and exiled him from his research group.
After years in the scientific wilderness, though, he was proved right. And on Wednesday, he received the ultimate vindication: the Nobel Prize in chemistry.
"A good scientist is a humble and listening scientist and not one that is sure 100 percent in what he read in the textbooks,"said.
The shy, 70-year-old Shechtman said he never doubted his findings and considered himself merely the latest in a long line of scientists who advanced their fields by challenging the conventional wisdom and were shunned by the establishment because of it.
In 1982, Shechtman discovered what are now called "quasicrystals" — atoms arranged in patterns that seemed forbidden by nature.
"I was thrown out of my research group. They said I brought shame on them with what I was saying," he recalled. "I never took it personally. I knew I was right and they were wrong."
The discovery "fundamentally altered how chemists conceive of solid matter," the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences said in awarding the $1.5 million prize.
That must be the exception, right? Wrong! Here is a story from the Associated Press about the 2005 Nobel Prize for Medicine:
Peura, who met Marshall when both worked at the university and considers him a friend, said Marshall’s perseverance was responsible for the eventual acceptance of the theory. “Any lesser of a person probably would not have been able to withstand some of the ridicule and scorn that was thrown at him initially,” Peura said.
So, science is at its best when someone challenges conventional wisdom with experimental evidence and facts. Consensus? Unscientific.
Hat tip: Anthony Watts