James Delingpole and the Scientific Consensus

I’ve just watched the latest edition of the BBC’s Horizon programme, Science under Attack, in which Paul Nurse, the current head of the UK’s Royal Society goes out to try to understand why there is so little trust in science at a time when our reliance of technical devices and the results of scientific enquiry are greater than ever before.

It’s a fascinating programme, very thought provoking, and a hugely enjoyable one. Paul Nurse also comes across as a clear thinking but very gentle, amiable individual who gets his points across quietly and seems to try as much as possible to let the story tell itself.

In what was for me, the high point of the programme, he goes to meet James Delingpole. If you haven’t heard of him, Delingpole is a blogger and columnist with the Telegraph who has gained a huge audience because he has been responsible for bringing the “Climategate” (his word) “scandal” to a wider audience.

Part way through the interview, unprompted, Delingpole says something quite extraordinary: “Science has never been about consensus”. Pardon me? Did I hear that correctly?

Needless to say, Nurse does not let this comment pass unchallenged. He says that the consensus, rightly or wrongly, is the majority opinion at the time in the light of the available facts. He also adds that for most scientists, to break out of the consensus is precisely the way to make their career and become famous – he doesn’t say that you win Nobel Prizes by stepping away from the consensus view, but that is the sub-text.

And then, Nurse does something very clever (or underhand and devious, if you look at the comments  on Delingpole’s blog). He asks whether, if faced with a dread disease, whether Delingpole would be prepared to go against the medical consensus – i.e. the generally agreed best practice in the light of the symptoms and diagnosis. Delingpole is completely blind-sided by this and is left gasping and floundering. All he can do is try to recover his composure and then demand that the discussion be moved back to climate science because medicine, he says, is irrelevant.

And this is where Delingpole is so totally wrong and shows how little he knows about how the science he so criticises actually works. For him, the word consensus seems to be a synonym for the word conspiracy. It is a strangely paranoid world that he inhabits. And in his blog (which everyone should take a look at because he takes the ad hominem attack to a new level) he completely misses the point of the programme. What Nurse is trying to get at is why in so many areas of science, the agreed consensus rejected by so many people.  Or rejected selectively. Which is why he has gone to Delingpole.

As a chemist and practicing scientist, “the consensus” is the stuff of textbooks. When I pick up my copy of Cotton and Wilkinson’s Advanced Inorganic Chemistry, I am looking for the broad consensus view and it is worth thinking about what this “consensus” actually boils down to.

I can look up, say, the ionization energy of hydrogen. This is not a number we can know the true value of. The only way we can know it is through measurement. I measure it using a prism, a hydrogen lamp, and some graph paper and get a value. I make an estimate of the uncertainty (what you call “the estimated error”) and then submit that to a journal. They publish it. Of course, that’s not the value. Chances are, someone else is interested in hydrogen and goes off, uses a transimission grating and gets a new value. It’s different from mine. How do we know who is right? Well, what we do is yet another measurement. And then another and then another. The more measurements we make, by different methods, using different assumptions, the closer we are likely to be to the answer. Eventually, everyone converges on a value that satisfies almost everyone. [If you really want to know the ionization energy of hydrogen to six significant figures, the NIST spectroscopy pages are the place to go - the value seems to have converged in the mid 1980's and the implicit confidence level is  close to 1 part in 106]. Coming up with such values for every element gives us trends in ionization energies that help us understand bonding, electronic structure, the colours of compounds, and the oscillator strength of vibrational or electronic absorption bands. In other words, from small measurements, come further hypotheses that, as they are corroborated mutual support each other and end up forming part of an ever wider and higher level “consensus”.

And it is here that Delingpole, in his desire to play to the gallery – should we be surprised that he got 1.2 Million hits on his site in a day when he “broke the Climategate scandal” – completely misunderstands the issues. He has been seduced by the recurrent and romantic meme of the underdog triumphing against the establishment. Of the little guy – Copernicus, Galileo, Koch, Pasteur – who beats the corporate big boys at their own game. He sees himself unsheathing his sword in this battle, doing his bit for truth. He is Erin Brokovich.

But what Delingpole forgets is that Sennert, Boltzmann, Planck and others are the memorable exceptions (some of them anyway). And as historians of science will tell you, the stories of under-doggery that you get in those classic tales of scientific derring-do, like Paul de Kruyff’s Microbe Hunters are just that – tales.  The story is always more complicated and the meme is a powerful rhetorical device, but not one that is really justified by statistics.

More importantly that it was the very voices in the wilderness – Tyndall, Arrhenius, Callendar and Keeling – that have slowly become the consensus. Delingpole has missed the revolution. The dialectical process of science is running its course and the only weapon he has left is insult and slander because he hasn’t go the quantitative background to do anything else.

It’s sad. But I’m sure it’s very lucrative too.

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About Andrea Sella

My name is Andrea Sella. I teach and do research in chemistry at UCL in central London in the UK. I also spend a lot time doing public science, and worrying about how to keep my family's energy consumption down.
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39 Responses to James Delingpole and the Scientific Consensus

  1. Rob Jackson says:

    I enjoyed reading this, and agree with the points made. I watched the programme on Monday, and since then have been intending to write something on it as well, since I think Paul Nurse downplayed (or didn’t even mention) all the good work that may people are doing to communicate science! When I do post something later, I’ll put a reference and trackback to this post.

  2. Rob Jackson says:

    Of course, I meant ‘many’ people in the previous comment.

  3. Paul McGlade says:

    The obvious response to the old “they said Galileo was mad” trope is to point out that they also say that “they” also correctly identified large numbers of mad people as mad.

    So without a proper statistical analysis of “their” false positives, false negatives , true positives and true positives, bringing up Galileo just highlights a poor understanding of statistics (and science in general, given that Galileo was also wrong about some things as well)

    • Andrea Sella says:

      I wonder. It’s a good question and the point is well taken.
      Have historians of science done statistical analyses of correct and wrong science? It would make for an interesting project. But over the years, I’ve seen enough wonderful outliers from the chemical consensus turn out to be either fabrications or catastrophic mistakes to know that they will soon be forgotten and vanish into the dust of the old literature.
      Think of the resolution of protio, deutero, tritio methyl groups [Fraud]. Or the enantiomeric excesses obtained by using clockwise and anticlockwise magnetic stirrers [Fraud]. Cold fusion [Triumph of optimism]. Polywater [Contaminated samples]. Bond stretch isomerism [Impurities affecting crystallographic interpretation]. And so on……
      Deviations from the consensus happen a lot. But most of them vanish in the sea of reproducibility. And Galileo too, is not often remembered for getting the explanation of Torricelli’s mercury experiment wrong…….
      Years ago I remember a satirical comment about the New York Marathon – why are the 10,000 people who run more significant than the 2 million who sat and watched. Great winners are memorable. The rest….. oh well. I’m just part of that crowd.

    • Andrew Mckinley says:

      “they” also correctly identified large numbers of mad people as mad.”

      And Delingpole is as mad as they come.

  4. Mark Saunders says:

    Not all scientists are equal. Not all science is equal.

    Do climatologists do a lot of double-blind experiments? Do they publish their data and methods rather than suppressing them? Then why compare climatology to medicine, or chemistry?

    When climatology develops models that encompass previous climate change, let alone predict future change, then perhaps we can start taking it seriously as a science. At the moment, it seems to be the purview of charlatans peddling solutions that require them to find problems.

    • Andrea Sella says:

      Suppressing what? You want datasets? Look here:

      http://www.realclimate.org/index.php/data-sources/

      There’s more data than anyone can handle on their own. And I think you should have a look at this plot from RealClimate which gives the current temperature data plotted against the models the IPCC uses.

      The agreement is startlingly good.
      (the full post is here: http://www.realclimate.org/index.php/archives/2011/01/2010-updates-to-model-data-comparisons/)

      You can, of course, tell me that Gavin Schmidt and his colleagues are part of this cabal. That does nothing to alter the data. You can accuse scientists of being charlatans and peddlers of nonsense but – to quote that old saying – would you take your kids for a hike in the mountains when the notoriously unreliable weather forecasts tell you there’s a storm brewing? And not even take a raincoat?

      • Martin_Lack says:

        Dear Andrea,

        I am fascinated by the in-depth nature of your critique of James Delingpole (JD), which makes mine seem very tame by comparison. I am also very impressed by the way in which you have divided your blog up into lots of categories (as I have not done this); although I have made much more use of tags (and presented a tag cloud on the sidebar to my new blog [which only went live last week]). Since you have been on the WordPress site for some time, I am therefore hoping you can help me – because I do not seem to be able to find the answer on the global Home Page or within the Dashboard Help function…

        Surely it must be possible for other WordPress users (and/or external Search Engines) to find individual blogger posts based on theit tags (as opposed to words in the titles and/or categories)? That said, can I make one suggestion for you – which I found eventually because it annoyed me so much – go to Settings option at the very bottom of your Dashboard menu, and at very least insert the word “Not” [just another...] at the beginning of your Tagline (i.e. the second item in General Settings). Preferably, come up with some snappy thing of your own to replace the silly default message (as i would like to think I have done).

        Hoping you can reciprocate (by helping me too),

        Kind regards,
        Martin Lack
        Creator/Author of “A truly Biospheric blog on the Politics of the Environment”

        P.S. No need to rush to reply because – as made clear in my mad discussion with a certain Peter Freeman on the ‘About’ page of my blog – I am going to be on holiday from 22 August to 6 September.

  5. Pete says:

    I think the programme showed that Dellingpole is just another hack with lots of opinions on stuff that he knows nothing about. People really shouldn’t bother giving him any attention, he’s not worth it.

    • Rhisiart Gwilym says:

      Dead right Pete! Delingpole and the Torygraph deserve each other.

      The denialists will have their — brief — day, and they’ll cause some brief damage to our collective will to do something effective about climate change (stop making it worse; start doing widespread things to help damp it down, such as massive tree-planting worldwide, worldwide terra-preta biochar soil-improvement/carbon re-sequestration programmes, etc).

      But the fact is that the real world, where the climate is indeed shifting ominously because of the ill effects of AGW, will sweep these small, shallow, reality-insulated, malicious, useful-to-bigbiz idiots away pretty quickly. Their fad will be obliterated by the realities.

      We’re all scheduled pretty soon now to be obliged, by Gaia’s upcoming multiple kickings (already showing themselves in warm-up mode right now), to sober up and stop kidding ourselves that whatever we want to be true must be true, regardless of objective reality.

      In any case, this particular kind of infantilism is much more a transient trait of the Pampered Twenty Percent of the world’s humans, rather than of the Abused and Deprived Eighty percent. They have their faces ground much more sternly into the realities than do we pampered jades. And since most of us PTPers are scheduled now to be ejected over the next decade or two into the swelling ranks of the ADEP, as the Limits To Growth put a final end to growthforever and ever-increasing obeso-prosperity (for the PTP), we can expect such idiotic delusions as Delingpole’s to evaporate PDQ.

      Treat him as the laughable troll that he is: a malevolent, ill-informed, bumptious, public-school-deformed twerp (a prime example of what a much more savvy hack, Peter Wilby, speaking of his journalistic peers, calls ‘unskilled middle-class’), with an ego grotesquely too big for his meagre talents, to be ignored for now, and soon hereafter to be forgotten entirely.

  6. Mat says:

    Agree with all of this, but in the specific case of the Horizon episode, Nurse had time to prepare the question, Delingpole not. Editorial judgement was to leave in the embarrsing pause, which I would suggest would not be left in if Delingpole had thrown Nurse a question he struggled with.

    I enjoyed the programme, and the skewering to be honest, but I don’t think it helps the case when presented that way.

    • Andrea Sella says:

      While I take your point, and they probably would have edited things to make Nurse look better – indeed, they did intercut a “noddy” from nurse with that gentle smile on his face that was probably a bit cheeky. But my main objection to Delingpole was his absurd notion that science does not operate by consensus. It’s a nonsense soundbite that I’m sure goes down well in some circles. But it is totally wrong and we have to be out there telling such flat earthers how things work.
      That section of the programme made for uncomfortable viewing and, naturally Delingpole is furious. But his comment was completely unprompted and the analogy from Nurse was beautifully drawn.

      • Andy Roper says:

        The analogy from Nurse was not that good. There is much more data available regarding successful treatments of Cancer patients. The only data we have to suggest the Earth will reach “dangerous” levels of Global warming in 50 or a 100 or more years are from computer models. Unfortunately these can only be proven to be correct in 50 years time.

    • David Salter says:

      How did Nurse have time to prepare his analagy on consensus, when it was Delingpole who brought the subject up?

      • Andrea Sella says:

        Thanks David. Some good points. But I’m a bit puzzled by your second post. “How did Nurse have time to prepare his analogy”? What an odd question.
        Let’s face it, Nurse is no fool. And academics are trained over years and years to pick holes in arguments, just as journalists are. It is one reason why running a university must be such a nightmare . But I think t was an entirely fair question, much fairer and gentler, say, than those of interviewers like Jeremy Paxman. And (I agree it’s rather pathetic) but we love the bull fight, don’t we? Awful though it is to watch, occasionally politicians and others get caught in what Peter Cook called “a logical cleft stick” from which they have no way out.
        Delingpole was forced to bluster and said that the question was irrelevant. But what was so clear was that he was completely caught out, having been seduced by the sound of his own words. He is not the first. And he won’t be the last.
        The point is that it really shows that Mr Delingpole doesn’t understand how science advances. He completely misunderstands the dialectical process of science (if we want to be pompously Hegelian about this). He seems to think that our understanding of the atmosphere must be in a different class. He also has this idea that “vested interests” are somehow standing in the way of “truth”. It is an odd position to take for someone of his political leanings. Of course science is conservative, and story behind the latest Nobel Prize in Chemistry – for quasicrystals – is a case in point. The point is that the dialectic – the cut and thrust between theory, experiment, rationalization and more experiment – is what leads to an understanding of, and sometimes cures for, diseases. Let’s face it, there was a Galenic consensus based on humours and miasmas that lasted 2000 years in medicine and that was brought crashing down by the likes of Koch and Pasteur. That consensus has now been hugely augmented by our understanding of immunology, biochemistry, and genetics. Along the way there have been furious battles between different opposing parties. This is what ultimately led to the agreed consensus and to the stuff that appears in our medical textbooks. You want to go to a homoeopath or to a Christian (or other) healer. Fair enough and good luck to you. But the question of whether you are going to deliberately go against that accumulated knowledge is a fair on. Who cares when you have a sniffle. But if you’ve got something serious, I bet that your answer will be different. And Mr Delingpole did not answer the question because to do so would have been to destroy everything he has be talking about for the past few years.
        As I said in my review, the point is that Delingpole is almost certainly on the wrong end of the argument. It’s a bit like a 19th century comentator suddenly jumping up and saying that the Sun goes round the earth because there are anomalies in the orbit of Mercury. Yup. The anomalies are there. But does that change the basic facts on the ground.

  7. Simon Trott says:

    James Delingpole states on his blog “But with no ‘global warming’ since 1998, ” however this is quite misleading as he picks a particularly warm year as his starting point. Shift just a year either way and it becomes clear that it is Mr Delingpole himself who is using “incompetence to skullduggery” in the way he conducts himself.

    • Andy Roper says:

      But this is precisely the problem when using charts that cover large time periods – either side of the debate can pick sections which back up their argument. James Delingpole is correct though, although the last decade was the warmest it has not gone above the 1998 El Nino/ La Nina year and has in fact been fairly stable since, this year being an exception although we have had more El Nino/ La Nina activity.

  8. astrologerthe says:

    Welcome academia science to the real world. The shadowy side of Capitalism I’m afraid to say. Short term goals & maximum profit making, Paul Nurse should know what that consensus means: lots of expensive medication and burning fossil fuels. Acquiring a better spin doctor may cure some science ailments in this type of business environment. Good try with the GM crops!

  9. Matthew says:

    I too really enjoyed the documentary and also watching Delingpole squirm a bit. However, to address his consensus point – I took what he said to mean that science doesn’t seek consensus. That has never been the goal of scientific inquiry. Consensus may have occurred (using Nurse’s definition), but that is a secondary characteristic of overwhelming data analysis suggesting anthropogenic climate change. The problem that Delingpole (I actually think quite rightly shows) is that in political circles the issue of scientific consensus is overly forced in order for politicians to say “this is sound science, the matter is closed, scientists agree, here is our climate policy”. The problem is that “consensus” is often used as a political tool to close down a policy debate, rather than recognised as a secondary characteristic of lots of science pointing in the same direction. Where Delingpole’s argument falls apart, is that he uses the two aspects interchangeably.

  10. Bishop Hill says:

    Simon

    Can you give me a link to support that? I’m reading here that all datasets are showing trends that are near as dammit zero since Jan 2001.

  11. tzopilotl says:

    …i wonder about consensus. we have a christian consensus about religion but it’s
    a whack job by the church involved. consensus is about unity and unity is about
    having an effect on other unitys until we either become their unity or they become
    ours or we both become a dichotomy of worms.
    science is sense, so consensus fits its logic, sits beside it, but location is just a log
    and not the root, branch or leaf we see when we look at tree’s truth.
    in the Arctic year, freuchan and salomonsen, 1958, putnam, p.240, states:
    in spitzbergen the temperature increased 02F in the decade 1911-1920,
    in 1921-1930, 8.2F, in 1931-1935, 16.5F, in subsequent years the temp.
    continued to increase and, in 1937-1939 the spitzbergen temp. was 29-30F
    above the normal of 1911.
    we now have consensus on global warming, then we didn’t, but that didn’t
    stop the truth of warming. however, we use consensus as an enhancer, then,
    like a microscope drill into the subject until we lose sight of the macroscopic,
    losing our perspective and common senses at the same time, just as europe did
    during the inquisition, we’ve gone viral on global warming. not the greatest
    managerial brain, homo sap sap, good enough to to sight a gun but not much more.
    ah, sense, from, ce(N)=one, consensus=s/ce(N)=one.

  12. theoriginaljohnnyfantastic says:

    I find it hilarious that an English graduate with as far as I can tell, no scientific training, has the guts to tell the President of the Royal Society what science is and how it should be done!

    The proof came when he slagged off the ‘Nature trick’, thinking that two different things were being measured. Of course, this is utter nonsense as the switch was being made from measurement technique, to reduce the propensity to systematic error.

    Can we run a fundraiser to get him to do an Open University science degree? Stuff that, he should be able to afford that himself…

    • Bishop Hill says:

      If a proxy tracks instrumental from 1850 to 1960 but then diverges for unknown reasons, how do we know that the proxy is valid for reconstructing temperatures in periods prior to 1850?

      This is why the divergence should have been shown to the policymakers and why what Jones did was wrong. By deleting the divergence and replacing it with instrumental data, he makes it look as though the proxies always track instrumental. He has hidden the uncertainty from the politicians.

  13. Bruce Etherington says:

    I still haven’t seen the Horizon programme, but one of the really interesting reversals on James Delingpole’s blog and comments is that traditionally it has been the scientist feeling bruised with their brush with television as there carefully thought out detailed explanations were edited and cut for effect.

    In this case it has been the journalist who seems unprepared (and unaccepting) of a scientist’s use of media practices.

  14. Silki says:

    This was a good documentary… the interview with Dellingpole was, without exaggeration, hilarious! The clip showing his impassioned announcement to the world that the story HE had uncovered was to ‘save western civilization’ (http://www.bbc.co.uk/i/y4yql/?t=26m12s) was more revealing of his view of himself than anything else.

    So ignoring scientific evidence, not researching the data for himself, and most importantly, not having the time or the expertise to understand the information (his words again) are grounds for his earth-shattering announcement… I think not.

    Then to see him flap when faced with a genuinely powerful repost, was priceless.

  15. John Monro says:

    Delingpole is an arrogant idiot. But he gains credence by being allowed his own blog on the Telegraph – he is guilty of writing the most venomous and spiteful comments in his blog, which is echoed by others who share his arrogance and ignorance in their comments in his blog. The Telegraph is pursuing a mission to downplay or ridicule anthropogenic global warming. I don’t know why the Telegraph should so this, there are many intelligent people write for this paper, I don’t know what their opinion is of having to share their life work with such a fool. I live in New Zealand, and our own local paper in Wellington is similarly biased, and will regularly publish deceptive articles about global warming copied from The Telegraph. The last was a couple of days ago, headlined “Himalayan glaciers not melting because of climate change, says report”. Yet the article went on to describe a study in the Karakorum range, a small part only of the Himalaya, where 50% of glaciers are advancing. (I assume the other 50% are static or retreating) This is not surprising, no climate scientist suggests all glaciers are melting at the same rate, it would be perfectly in keeping with global warming that a few were advancing due to local weather conditions, which is exactly what this report describes. But the headline is plainly not summarising the article, the casual reader is being deliberately deceived. It’s against this background that Delingpole gains some measure of credibility, and the Telegraph should be ashamed of their support for this intellectually challenged impostor.

    • Jo Hume says:

      “Telegraph should be ashamed of their support for this intellectually challenged impostor”

      Yes, it should be, but given that Delingpole fits nicely into the family there I can’t see him being booted out anytime soon!

      To be fair to Delingpole (and I don’t really want to be) the interview was apparently heavily edited – I would very much like to see the uncut version.

      I’ve ventured onto his blog a few times recently but found it far too infuriating. Not only the entries themselves, but the hero-worshipping idiots who hang around there, calling anyone who tries to make an interesting (but opposing) viewpoint a troll, and basically aiming unwarranted abuse at them. But it’s not that surprising, they clearly learned from the master.

    • Andrew Mckinley says:

      The Telegraph are more bothered about sensational headlines than scientific truth. The readers of the Telegraph are mostly reactionary old Tories anyway. They don’t want science, they want something that confirms their paranoid right wing fantasies.

  16. Delingpole et al. try to position themselves as the vanguard of new thinking in climate science. We need to explain that they are in fact the rearguard of the old climate science of the early 20th century, when the climate forcing effect CO2 was grossly underestimated due to a misunderstanding of Koch’s CO2 experiment.

  17. David Salter says:

    I have just watched the Horizon programme where Paul Nurse interviews Delingpole. Yes I agree it was heavily edited (the full interview was apparently 3 hours) but it clearly demonstrates the purpose of the programme, which was to highlight the problem that public understanding of science is confused because there are too many people making claims on subjects that they don’t fully understand. And because of the Internet, these people are able to influence many more people than they used to. Add to this the fact that the struggling media are now having to resort to more outlandish headings in order to sell their outdated format – and that their business model has now changed to “selling gullible readers to advertisers” – so they print nonesense which attracts the kind of people that their advertisers need in order to sell them stuff they don’t need. It’s a corrupt system, but what can we do? People will do what they need to do to make a living, regardless of whether or not that activity is beneficial to the human race.

  18. Martin_Lack says:

    It is interesting to see that people are still discussing this interview 8 months after it was first screened in the UK. As others have said, JD was completely caught out and made some very foolish remarks as a result. What is truly amazing, however, is that his ability, as a non-scientist criticising and unermining climate science ased purely on ideological prejuduce, does not seem to have been in any way affected.

    • Andrea Sella says:

      It’s a good example of how the Internet has become such an echo chamber. I’m sometimes temped to take down my post. Why? Well it’s not exaclty a deep remark to say that we all make mistakes. But nowadays the media and YouTube ensure that if you pick your nose inappropriatelly, let alone say something asinine, then it will stay with you for as long as you live. Once high school or university pranks could be forgotten. Now they ruin careers. American politicians find themselves having to defend or deny taking soft drugs in their twenties, the kind of behaviour that many people outgrow. Bill Clinton’s “I didn’t inhale” was one way of dealing with it. In my case I always hope that people will grow and alter in interesting ways, rather than become more entrenched in their views.
      Björn Lomborg, for example, has changed his views substantially in the years since his Sceptical Environmentalist, even though i’m not sure I really agree with him.
      Were Delingpole to show more flexiblity and nuance in this thinking, I think i might take my remarks down. But all I see is him repeating the same thing in ever more shrill and polemical terms. Polemics are fun to read and even more fun to write. But they seldom contribute to debate – all they do is harden everyone’s position. And that doesn’t get anyone anywhere.

      • Martin_Lack says:

        Thanks for this reply, Andrea. After leaving Mr Delingpole alone for a couple of weeks, next Monday I will return to his mad book Watermelons in the context of my review of Mary Mellor’s chapter on ‘Socialism’ in Dobson and Eckersley’s Political Theory and the Ecological Challenge. This will include a critique of his Man-Bear-Pig analogy and his general tendency to invert reality. However, if you can’t wait that long, you should check-out the people he has probably paid to argue with me on Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk where I have posted a review of his stupid book.

      • Andrea Sella says:

        I will look around for both – thanks for the link.

  19. Consensus in medicine has been crap before as well. One cannot operate on consensus alone and scientists, BEING SCIENTISTS, should be allowed to actually go against it. In the case of medical treatment, one is likely to go with the “consensus” (really, w/e the hell the doctor says is to be done), but one should not be so foolish to choose a consensus when it is, in their view, most likely wrong. We should retain freedom of independent thought or we all will get nowhere fast. I would guess that the theory of evolution is the greatest example of this and has probably set back biology a century or more (while supposedly being its underlying theory).

    • Andrea Sella says:

      Wow. Quite a series of statements here in quick succession. A brief answer.
      That there may not have been consensus in medicine in the past is irrelevant. Medical textbooks, regardless of author or publisher, all say the same thing. That there may not be agreement on some detailed areas of medicine is entirely to be expected. But I assume that you are not suggesting here that Koch and Pasteur’s germ theory of disease, now with a solid 150 year track record, is in question. Nor, I hope, are you implying that the genetic basis of disease – examples such as sickle cell anaemia or thalassaemia, are not sound?
      In going against the advice of a trained doctor, I wonder on what basis you are going to make the judgement that the consensus “is likely to be wrong”? Consensus is based on the agreement of theory and observation/experiment. It develops gradually and steadily with time. There will always be those that object to it – faith healers, chiropractors, energy realigners and so on. But unless evidence can be gathered that either completely refutes the consensus or brings them into the fold (so to speak), you follow the advice outside the consensus at your peril.
      Finally, your assertion that the theory of evolution has set back biology by a century or more, is quite astonishing and I wonder what evidence you have to back this. From molecular biology to mathematical modelling, from fossils to epidemiology, and much more, all of the evidence points to its correctness. Indeed the current problems we have with the resistance of pathogens, from streptococcus to plasmodium, to our drugs, is real time evidence for the underlying correctness of the idea. Have you got some other mechanism to explain why resistance to drugs emerges and spreads?
      If as an alternative the evolution you are going to posit Biblical or other revelation then I’m afraid we have no common ground because it is not based in evidence or observation. It saddens me that by opting for the literal and conveniently packaged simplicity of revelation that so many people effectively shut their eyes to the marvels and truly profound mysteries that the universe presents us with.

      • David Salter says:

        Germ theory should indeed be under question. The statement “Bacteria cause disease” is only true from a very simplisitic viewpoint. Only a very tiny percentage of bacteria are pathogenic to humans, and bacteria is everywhere. 90% of the human body is made of bacteria. So to rage war on all bacteria is very bad. The “friendly” bacteria is actually protective against the rare harmful few. It is far more effective to focus on helping the body’s immune system to deal with the pathogens as nature intended. But this would require a huge shift of perspective, and possibly the demise of the current toxic-chemical based pharma culture. Certainly a good thing in my view.

        Regarding the skepticism of evolution theory: How do I already know that the only people daft enough to doubt the overwhelming physical evidence, do so because of religious ideas dreamed up by 2000 year old illiterate peasants?

  20. Dave says:

    Delingpole is a complete, total and utter twat. Lets leave it at that.

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