So, how much does a consensus in science matter when it comes to believing something that goes against it.
a) For other scientists (in fields relevant to the issue)?
b) For non-scientists?
My answers right now:
a) Not important if the scientists know what they're talking about and publish their work so that they can be criticized by their peers. Contesting the consensus is a basic principle of science.
It's not OK, though, for these scientists to make their claims in the media and basically to manipulate people by doing so. I don't mean there should be an embargo or anything, just that they shouldn't advertise for something that is considered wrong by most other scientists. Non-scientists will get the wrong impression that there is a greater debate in the scientific community than it really is. Examples of this are creationism, global warming deniers, relativity challengers and so on. Not that these claims should be taboo, but those who are doing the research shouldn't advertise that their findings are genuine. Let them convince their peers first, because the only reason to advertise such claims is to convince ignorant people of something they wouldn't accept because of the evidence for these claims. This evidence is to be studied by professionals, who have spent their careers studying just so that they are qualified to properly analyze data and derive a conclusion.
b) Very important, because the consensus says a lot about the likelihood of the claims being true. While it is certainly true that only evidence should be used to drive science forward, non-scientists are by definition not capable of correctly analyzing this evidence. What most people can rely on is what the experts tell them. How else could someone who hasn't studied years in a particular field of science conclude that most scientists in that field are wrong? This would only happen if the non-scientist was manipulated through the media, like how those who believe in intelligent design really do believe it because they saw some scientists claiming it's real. As retarded as it sounds, there really are biologists, with PhDs and everything, who are claiming that ID has validity. This brings me to my next point, which is that it also matters who these scientists are. I mean, it's one thing if the let's say 3% of the scientists, who are making a certain claim that goes against the 97% left, are people who only have PhDs but no real achievements in their field and therefore real knowledge, and quite another if the best in their field are included in those 3%. There is a great difference between those who are pushing science forward and those who are merely happy to call themselves scientists.
So, my point is that we should look at the scientific consensus and believe it, as a reasonable thing to do, rather than contest it with no real backbone to support our claims. I mean, amongst tons of scientific studies, how could we decide that the 3% that support our preconception are right? It would be arbitrary at best. But to decide that it's more likely that the consensus is right is statistically reasonable. That's because the consensus is right most of the time claims are made that contradict it, even if these claims are made by scientists and published in scientific journals. When the claims convince most scientists, then we should accept their probable validity.
What do you think about all this stuff?
P.S. I started this discussion after arguing global warming and racial differences with some atheists from my country. Some of them were citing studies that said global warming is not anthropogenic and others that said race is a factor in the statistical differences between certain features of populations with the same skin color. Instead of trying to bring forward scientific evidence to counter their claims, I decided to appeal to reason and show the consensus. While they agreed that there is a consensus, they kept saying that science is not done on consensus. But I was trying to explain them that we aren't qualified to investigate the issues scientifically and that we couldn't decide which studies are true and which are not. What we can do is look at the consensus and conclude that the claims that counter it aren't substantiated enough to convince most scientists of their veracity. But in vain I cited National Academies of Science from all over the world and most other great institutes for research, they kept claiming that science is not done on consensus, as if that would mean anything in that particular context.
Although they are atheists, I don't regard them any better than I regard creationists, conspiracy theorists, flat-Earth adepts or geocentric universe believers. They only rely on the preconceptions they got from the media and that's not good enough for people who want to be rational.
Unfortunately, few people have a basic grasp of what science is and how it works. I think that, even though I hated science in school, wasn't every good at it, I was able to come out with a decent understanding of science as a method, a discipline for understanding "how things work." And, as I understand it, part of science (well, part of many disciplines) is consensus - otherwise there'd be too much time spent reinventing the wheel, so to speak, and not enough time spent moving forward. But for those who are doing science that has something direct, immediate to say about "how things work" the scientific consensus can come up against an ideological or a political/economic consensus. That, I believe, is the case with AGW. Yes, there is scientific consensus on AGW. The implications that flow out of that consensus - i.e., the various possible solutions to the problems of AGW - run headlong against certain political/economic ideologies. But instead of saying we don't like the possible solutions to this problem because it would destroy our freedoms, national sovereignty, whatever - those who value their ideology over the reality of "how things work" attack the science itself. And, if the science is wrong than there is no need to impose solutions their ideologies tell them are undesireable. It would be lovely if everyone agreed to live in the reality-based world and it would be lovely if AGW deniers would say, okay, don't like it but the evidence of AGW seems to be pretty unequivocable, let's see if we can't put on our thinking caps and come up with solutions that address AGW and also address our concerns about freedom, sovereignty, etc. I guess that would be too much to ask. Instead, they mislead and lie not only about the problems of AGW but also about science in general thereby diminishing the already low level of scientific literacy in this country and elsewhere.
I think part of what I was trying to say here is what Adriana just said: many people are AGW deniers not based on good faith analysis of the science but rather based on their political ideology (as Adriana said "fundamentalist" free marketeers). They simply do not like the political/economic implications of a finding that, yes, AGW is a big problem that we must do something about. And, like Adriana, I have seen many comments from these so-called AGW "skeptics" on atheist forums.
re: those maps that were posted... notice how Canada, with our meager 30 million people is the dark red. There are interesting ties between our politics and the USA's. Canada is the USA's main supplier of petroleum, not the Arab world, most of our oil is extracted in Alberta, TAR SANDS are a major source of Albertan oil. The TAR SANDS extraction process alone produces more green house gases than all Canadian motor vehicles put together. The TAR SANDS earn petrochemical companies A LOT OF MONEY. Albertan politics are completely entwined with petrochemical money. Canada's TAR SANDS are the single largest industrial project in the world (area of England and Wales combined). The United Nations has declared them to be the singlest greatest weather changer on the planet. The Syncrude (crudely made) dam holds back 3x more fluid than the Three Gorges Dam on the Yantze River.
Is there any action against any of this, other than talk, zero. When reality stands between profit and people, profit always wins.