What is scientific consensus?

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A group of scientists attending a major conference get together in a bar. They talk, but they agree on nothing because they are critical academics. The server comes along to take the beer order and says, “I noticed you all are constantly arguing. What are you arguing about?”

“Sensitivity,” one of them says. “It is the number of degrees C the Earth’s surface will warm with a doubling of CO2 in the atmosphere. Is it 2, 3, 4? … We cant settle on a number”

The server considers their plight for a moment. Suddenly, she rips several sheets out of her order book and hands one to each of the scientists. She notices they all already have pens and mechanical pencils in their shirt pockets.

“Each of you write down a number for sensitivity. Don’t share. I’ll look at them all and if they are all the same number I’ll bring you your beer for free for the rest of the evening.”

The scientists comply. She looks at their numbers. They are all the same. Despite the quibbling they all had the same sense for what the number for climate “sensitivity” likely is. They get free beer for the evening.

Scientific consensus is what most scientists will nitpick about but ultimately agree on if free beer is at stake.

My first homework assignment for Making Sense of Climate Denial.

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16 thoughts on “What is scientific consensus?

  1. I’m a scientist who’s critical to what I do… (And it often involves working with a team to reach consensus on issues.)

    But I never get free beer! Wah!

  2. Michael: cute, but have you never used or heard of whisky stones? Their use means good scotch, bourbon, or whiskey is never sullied by ice or water.

  3. Sullied?

    Dean, here in the home of whisky many believe that a good whisky is improved by a splash of water, it releases the flavours.

    I like mine on the rocks, which annoys some purists, but I think your idea of cooling without diluting might incense them even more!

  4. We had a homework assignment? I missed that one, unless it was the one where we had check off that we participated on the discussion boards. So far, I like that course; and I like that the video has the option of different speeds, plus has the side bar transcript.

  5. Gavin,
    No offense meant, I hope you realized that.

    The folks I know who put in water seem to think a “splash” is the amount of water a blue whale throws up when its tail hits the ocean.

  6. Clever, but such an example could also be the result of groupthink, no?

    Good post though.

  7. In that the incentive of ice cream may serve as a demotivator for expressing a dissenting belief…

  8. The “nip-picking” process is why the numbers were the same. Nit-picking, collaborating, arguing, debating, etc. is all a part of the process. Nothing goes better with a cold beer.

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