I was talking in today’s class about how political pressures can come on scientists, using the very local example of Mike Mann. If you are a climate change denier, you need his hockey stick to go away. It will go away only if it is wrong. This means many politicians and political operatives criticize the science behind it, even though the majority of climate scientists accept that it broadly correct. If you are a climate change denier, you get out of that one by saying that there is a conspiracy among climate scientists to stay silent about the truth in order to get grants.
I think it is really important to get across to my class that scientists can’t do conspiracies. We are an extremely competitive bunch who make our reputations by finding flaws in other peoples’ reasoning – the bigger the flaw, the more we can over turn, the better. In fact, I go one stage further. I assert that scientists are better at rooting out incorrect science than anyone else.
Which led me to challenge the class: $100 to the first class member who can name a non-scientist whose insights have led to a scientific consensus being over turned. I can think of lots of scientists who have overturned a scientific consensus. I can’t think of a single politician, religious leader, snake oil salesman, mystic, rock star, lawyer… who has done that.