TBH, I don’t really like consensus messaging either

Given the recent interest in the merits (or lack thereof) of consensus messaging, I was planning to write something. However, since I’m likely to be busy all day (and I’m feeling lazy) I will simply reblog this post which largely says what I was going to say anyway. If I get a chance, I will try to write something about the recent Pearce et al. paper.

...and Then There's Physics

I might have to give Dan Kahan some credit. Even though I’m not convinced that consensus messaging is toxic and polarising in general, there are certainly circumstances in which it can be, as I discovered – again – on Twitter yesterday. There appear to be some physical scientists who object quite strongly to its use and, to be quite honest, I have some sympathy with their views; I don’t really like it either.

I wish we lived in a world in which what was obvious to those working in a field, was immediately obvious to everyone else. I wish we lived in a world where all you had to do was explain science clearly and carefully, and everyone would understand it, accept it, and recognise its significance. I wish we lived in a world in which scientists who engaged publicly would always include the caveats to their chosen scientific position…

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8 Responses to TBH, I don’t really like consensus messaging either

  1. Mal Adapted says:

    I used a random-number generator (a ‘coin’) to decide whether to post here or on the old thread.

    I’ve pretty much stopped citing actual consensus percentages, instead referring to the ‘lopsided consensus of working climate scientists’. Don’t know if it helps or not, but it’s not as easy to rebunk.

  2. Mal,
    Even though I’ve been an author on two consensus papers, I also rarely quote the percentage in a discussion about climate science (other than in posts about consensus studies/consensus messaging). To me, the actual percentage is not that important; we’re pretty certain that it is high, probably above 90%, but not quite 100%. Personally, I prefer discussing the scientific evidence, rather than focusing on the consensus, but that doesn’t – in my view – mean that highlighting that there is a strong consensus should not be done.

  3. Mal Adapted says:


    Agreed, actual percentages are not that important, and I tend to offer the same 90% to 100% you do. As long as I can truthfully say ‘lopsided’. With his customary pugnacity, Truculent Tom Fuller insists that some consensus is about 65%, although exactly what it’s about is never clear. Regardless, 65% is lopsided enough for me, and AFAICT it even seems to be enough for Truculent Tom.

    Also, whenever I talk about the consensus, I usually try to explain a little about the crucial role of peer consensus as a way for scientists to avoid fooling themselves.

  4. BBD says:

    Yup, me too. I never quote percentages as all teh bollocks about the methodology of specific papers immediately kicks in – I just burble on about the ‘very strong’ or ‘near-unanimous’ consensus among scientists etc.

  5. Harry Twinotter says:

    I think of the consensus studies as PR studies. They were a reaction to the contrarian claim that some/many/a lot/significant (what ever weasel word takes your fancy) scientists do not accept AGW.

    “Strong majority” is good enough for me.

  6. dikranmarsupial says:

    Yet more consensus messaging!

    only without the literature survey, which contradicts the message, but never mind ;o)

  7. Marco says:

    Playing the devil’s advocate for a moment, Goddard could argue that at this time the gobal temperature was lower than in the 1940s, and that this “cooling” (since 1940) was noticed by essentially all climate scientists. The sneaky part is that he does not state that there was unanimous agreement that it would *continue* to cool, and thus he does not contradict the literature survey, while still managing to *suggest* continued cooling was expected by climate scientists.

  8. dikranmarsupial says:

    Marco – indeed, very sneaky. The lack of warming from the 40s-70s means those predicting global warming at the time were making a very risky (i.e. easily falsifiable) claim at the time, Popperians ought to be pleased!

    Of course Goddard has never been critical of consensus messaging


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