What does ‘scientific consensus’ mean?
Ethan Siegel
6715

The most interesting aspect of science, from my perspective, is that a century of consensus can be overturned by one experiment.

I can’t help but notice that in your list of scientific consensuses, you did not list the many failures through history. To name a few

-The geocentric view of the Universe

-The static view of the continents on Earth

-There are no such things as Germs

-Ulcers are caused by acidic foods

-The Universe is Flat or Contracting

Each of these ideas were, in their time, considered accepted knowledge. But each one eventually was overturned. In many cases, the scientists who fought the consensus were viciously attacked and driven to the fringes for years. Some were only vindicated after their death. While science should be open to new ideas, it is clear that to oppose the consensus is to often risk your professional career and livelihood.

That is not to say that scientific consensus should not hold a place of importance in the community! The consensus often represents many people working for many months or years to make incremental advancements, and should not just be discarded when someone disagrees. But, it should be regarded as the best we have unless or until something better comes along. And just remember, the next time you call someone a denier, that person could win the Nobel prize a few short decades later.

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