The Scientific Consensus

Last week, Reason came out with an interesting article on scientific consensuses.

On July 1, 1979 the Washington Post reported “The real issue raised by saccharin [the artificial sweetener] is not whether it causes cancer (there is now a broad scientific consensus that it does)”.

  • Decades later the National Cancer Institute concluded “there is no clear evidence that saccharin causes cancer in humans”.

On October 6, 1979 the Washington Post stated that the consensus among scientists had profoundly shifted regarding the causes of cancer with the primary focus now on diet – for instance, increased fiber decreases the chances of contracting colon cancer.

  • After a few decades, a new study looking at almost 90,000 women concluded, there was no association between dietary fiber consumption and colon caner. In 2005 another study with a large sample size confirmed this conclusion.

On December 17, 1979 Newsweek described the scientific consensus that fusion energy reactors would be economical to use within five years.

  • The current estimation is that a fusion reactor will not be ready until 2026 when the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor will begin testing.

Last month, the journal of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences included an article that concluded 97- 98% of scientist that are actively publishing in peer-reviewed journals agree that climate change is mainly caused by humans.

You probably already see where Reason is going with this. What is considered a scientific consensus now might not be in several decades.

Moreover, John Christy of the University of Alabama explains that the bigger problem is that “We [skeptics] are being black-listed“. Right now, it is difficult to get published in a peer-review journal if you challenge the “consensus” and nearly impossible to get grant money for research to prove the hypothesis wrong. And that’s the point of the scientific method – to disprove your hypothesis. The scientific community should value other scientific research and not block it from publication.