Consensus

This term is often used in public discussions as an attempt by one side or the other to insist on a level of collective agreement so vast that it is silly to disagree.  While the word is sometimes used in reference to public conversation generally, it is most often used in reference to the scientific community.  

Thus, liberal activists insist that the scientific research around homosexuality, climate change, and evolution shows “a clear consensus” in line with their convictions - while the religious conservative community has made similar arguments about the traditional family, man-woman marriage, and other conservative causes.

What exactly constitutes or merits a scientific consensus is another point of disagreement.  Whereas some highlight common patterns in randomly controlled trials (RCT), for instance, as gold-standard evidence of scientific consensus, others point out that these same RCT studies are often (sometimes exclusively) funded by various industries.  

While some would argue that some consensuses are real and legitimate - reflecting a reasonable way to settle a conversation - others see most or even all attempts at consensus as attempts to silence minority voices (since views outside of the consensus often become ignored or labeled as fanatic). Some claim that in reality, so-called consensuses are often actually achieved through coercion by the most vocal or powerful actors. In this view, the optimum social political condition is not consensus but a continual and disciplined contestationbetween disagreeing parties, who engage with each other through persuasion and dialogue.

QUESTIONS TO PLAY WITH:

-What would you say constitutes a legitimate consensus, whether scientific or popular?  

-Do you believe a scientific consensus should settle a conversation - and reduce the amount of public back and forth?  

-Is every consensus equally valuable?  In other words, are there consensuses you trust more than others?  

Conversation Catalysts: 

The works of Chantal Mouffe especially,  Agonistic Pluralism   

Contributors: 

Randall Paul

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