Skeptics’ Circle Number 77 – White Coat Underground

White Coat Underground has the overmedicalized edition. I’m pleased to see Happy Jihad House of Pancakes arguing for more skepticism in the humanities as part of the circle. And a great post on epidemiology and autism from Andrea.

Orac had some important things to say about consensus, and just to clarify my position on how a skeptic should regard consensus it’s simple. It is a sign of crankery to attack consensus as a concept, for example see this nonsense from creationist John West whining about consensus on evolution. However, a big part of being a scientist is challenging various consensus views (usually consensus views of lower strength than what the cranks are after – another sign). This is why so many crank arguments about consensus are so laughable to people who have actually worked in science. You don’t get published for writing up studies repeating the same results endlessly, science rewards novelty and new findings. If you have high-quality data that contradicts the consensus, you should attack it and your paper will likely be widely read. While it’s true that in many fields an old guard will defend their view to the death, the history of science is that of the data ultimately saving the day. It’s perfectly OK to attack a specific scientific consensus but you do it by publishing papers, and arguing with legitimate data and high-quality argument. A crank is one who attacks the mere idea of consensus, who acts through political channels to try and change scientific knowledge, who tries to subvert consensus with no data except maybe some cherry-picked nonsense,who uses a bunch of conspiracy theories to explain why no one believes them, and all the while cries persecution if they’re not immediately believed or if their BS isn’t a mandatory part of public school curricula.

Just to clarify.

Finally, of note today, Steven Novella has started a new blog Science Based Medicine that will likely be worthy of note.


  1. An elegantly clear distinction about how scientific concensus actually works!

    No one is very interested in “me, too” data unless there is insufficient evidence to support the original work (which can happen in field work), and the new evidence should clarify or further explore the hypothesis posited. As you point out, there has been plenty of concensus turnover through the decades.

    Thanks also for the kudos,

  2. Chris Noble

    Perhaps it would be a good idea to spell out how people should challenge a consensus in contradistinction to the method that cranks choose.

    Barry Marshall and Robin Warren might serve as a good example.

    They didn’t write a book entitled “What if everything you knew about stomach ulcers was wrong?”.

    They kept on researching and accumulating evidence to support their hypothesis.

    I’ve seen Denialists use Heliobacterium Pylori as an example of the consensus being wrong but they fail to see the fundamental differences in the way that Marshall and Warren went about changing the consensus.

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