BY RANDY J. GULIUZZA, P.E., M.D. * | FRIDAY, JULY 30, 2021
How can so many scientists be wrong?” This question is routinely wielded as real evidence for evolution. I’ve heard it in discussions with people ranging from grammar school students to college professors. Given that most scientists do embrace Darwin’s selectionist account to explain the diversity of life, and since many people couple this fact with a perception that scientists are unbiased geniuses, then the question does have a powerfully persuasive effect.
For some people the overwhelming scientific consensus favoring evolution settles the debate for them—despite their likely knowledge that the number of people holding a belief isn’t really evidence for its truthfulness. Perhaps a question employed in a way to make people feel foolish for questioning clearly “unquestionable” scientific authority is the best “evidence” for evolution going.
Readers of Acts & Facts know that the Institute for Creation Research has worked to educate people that the widespread view that science is performed and reported impartially—by scientists who nobly lay aside their religious or political attractions—is vastly in error. In addition, we’ve long taught that a powerful type of “group think” can capture the minds of most scientists on specific issues such as evolution.1
More importantly, ICR has been outspoken that ordinary people’s lives seem to face the highest risk of being devastated by public policies that are enacted per the authoritative voice of the scientific community.2 The truth is that untold lives were wrecked through public eugenics or abortion programs that were advanced by scientists acting more like an out-of-control and dangerous herd that arrogantly trampled over dissenting voices in their stampede.3
As we live through the COVID-19 pandemic, the conspicuously political ideology of many scientists that sometimes seems to foster incorrect, incoherent, or outright inept recommendations is easily seen by many people. The fact that entire populations couldn’t escape being controlled by their politically motivated policies was also personally experienced by all. So many public figures who were indifferent to the marginalization of creationists and deaf to ICR’s concerns about the overtly biased group think of the “scientific consensus” now understand for themselves that when many scientists say “follow the science,” what they mean is shut up and obey.
We think it’s foolish to not seize this moment to teach people that the scientific dogmatism they’re experiencing firsthand today has been the regular behavior of the scientific community for a long time. Many people seem upset after observing that within even the scientific community there’s overt suppression of dissenting speech and enforcement of thought to conform to certain creeds. What the public needs to know is that the scientific community refined their skills to oppress freedom of expression first on creationists—now it has been weaponized against other nonconforming views.
A refreshing, post-COVID-19 “new normal” would have everyone educated to the truth that even scientists have overtly religious or political agendas that can breed a tyrannical practice known as “consensus science.” Perhaps more people would consider believing that a whole body of evidence supporting the intelligent engineering of creatures and contrary to evolution has been suppressed.
What’s So Bad About “Consensus Science”?
The collective opinion of scientists (or a few prominent scientists) working in a specialized field is called a consensus—when there is general agreement on a subject. Yet, in practice a consensus can range from areas that are well-supported by experiments all the way down to topics where nothing has been established. What many may not realize is that rarely are appeals to subjective scientific consensus exploited as actual evidence for truth in areas where objective experimental evidence is strong.
Experimental evidence supporting new ideas can be highly persuasive to get a population of people to accept them. “Scientific validity” can be convincing. Also, the notion that science itself is a neutral endeavor that’s practiced wholly indifferent to outcome also reinforces people’s feelings that any findings are valid results. Politicians or scientists who invoke “the scientific consensus” are trying to hijack the highly desirable influence that scientific validity confers. But in truth it’s undeserved since this tactic is favored on subjects where the science is weak to nonexistent or on divisive social issues near to the heart of politically or religiously motivated scientists. Thus, this practice of substituting opinion for hard data is derisively called “science by consensus” or “consensus science.”
Consensus science is a type of logical fallacy known as “appeal to authority.” The scientific method was developed in part as one way to thwart this fallacy. Objectivity is one attractive feature of the scientific method. Tests can be duplicated. Thus, everyone can see the results for themselves. This means that a human isn’t necessary as an authoritative source of knowledge. This leads to another desirable feature of the scientific method: It brings with it a measure of equality. A milkmaid with good repeatable evidence could, in principle, be just as authoritative as a religious cleric.
Consensus science is an abuse of authority that returns to the dark days when “experts” pitted themselves against commoners who wouldn’t dare presume questioning them. Therefore, the question “How can so many scientists be wrong?” is an appeal to authority and is both illogical and an unscientific approach to determining truth.
During the COVID-19 outbreak, the general population could observe firsthand many scientists’ evasion of specific questions or flip-flops that seemed to coincide with political positioning. The outbreak provides a rare, high-profile opportunity to see that even scientists can be swayed by opinion or seek to influence governmental control of behavior toward their preferences. The power that comes with consensus science can readily be abused. Often, suppression of scientific minorities or retribution against one type of “denier” or another is fostered.
Consensus Science Damaged the COVID-19 Response
Medical personnel would like to know the mechanisms causing COVID-19 to be so infectious in humans. An important clue is to know how it developed—essentially, where it came from. Since the infections started in Wuhan, China, and there’s a high-level laboratory in that same city where scientists engineer viruses, then a highly plausible source of the virus is that it came from the laboratory.
Unfortunately, the possibility of COVID-19 originating in the virology lab in Wuhan was ruled off-limits in the same way the scientific consensus rules some research questions off-limits if they don’t invoke evolution to explain why creatures look so highly engineered. For those of us closely following the outbreak, what was remarkable was that the authority of consensus science was brought to bear in February 2020—just a few months after the outbreak in Wuhan.
An open letter by multiple researchers was published in a leading British medical journal, The Lancet. The epithets thrown at anyone thinking that the virology lab could be the source of COVID-19, along with overt political verbiage, left little doubt that this was another clear example of consensus science. The letter stated in part:
The rapid, open, and transparent sharing of data on this outbreak is now being threatened by rumours and misinformation around its origins. We stand together to strongly condemn conspiracy theories suggesting that COVID-19 does not have a natural origin. Scientists from multiple countries have published and analysed genomes of the causative agent, severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), and they overwhelmingly conclude that this coronavirus originated in wildlife.4
A prominent paper was also published in March 2020 in the world’s leading science journal, Nature, which also concluded that COVID-19 originated through natural evolutionary processes and rejected a human-associated origin. Both the Nature and The Lancet publications were heavily cited by other scientists and reporters. We discussed them amongst ourselves at ICR. Since the research was completed so quickly, this raised questions as to its methodology, quality, and whether the results would stand the test of time. We speculated that perhaps due to the seriousness of the medical threat, the work was completed so quickly because a whole army of resources were mustered in answering the origins question—but no one knew for sure.
Evidence consistent with a lab-based origin of the COVID-19 virus is now emerging. Even National Public Radio (NPR) recently reported, “The idea that the coronavirus could have leaked from a lab in Wuhan, China—instead of jumping from animals to humans—was dismissed as a conspiracy theory by many scientists a year ago. That has changed now.”5 What seems to elude NPR is that labeling minority views as “conspiracy theories” (or “misinformation,” “discredited speculation,” etc.) in the first place is scientifically inappropriate behavior that has a chilling effect on exploration of alternative explanations. Even if a lab-based origin of the virus isn’t confirmed, we must ask if the repression of research itself had a negative impact on public health policy. A hallmark characteristic of the application of consensus science is the mislabeling of minority views with epithets against either creationists or a COVID-19 researcher. This practice seriously misleads both scientists and the public.
“Consensus Science” Exploits Weaknesses in Institutional Science
Limitations faced by ICR scientists to fully evaluate The Lancet and Nature reports are inherent to the practice of consensus science. Other researchers have observed for decades that since the practice of science is increasingly specialized due to the explosion of scientific knowledge, then scientists must exercise a good deal of trust among themselves.6 Thus, scientists’ limited expertise prevents them from raising valid questions outside their specialty. Limited resources to reproduce experiments and naïve trust are both longstanding problems in the day-to-day operation of science. These are all problems that can readily be exploited by those appealing to consensus science.
University of Alabama Professor John Christy stated that even in the early days of climate change debates “the tendency to succumb to group-think and the herd-instinct (now formally called the ‘informational cascade’) is perhaps as tempting among scientists as any group….This leads, in my opinion, to an overstatement of confidence in the published findings and to a ready acceptance of the views of anointed authorities.”7
Resisting Tyranny by Promoting Freedom of Thought
Consensus science operates like a human tyrant, and that means it’s relentless. Back when President Barak Obama said that he would “restore science to its rightful place” in his first inaugural speech, I wrote about the abuses of consensus science.8 Using the prestige of science as a cover to justify embryonic stem cell research, his executive order would let scientists “do their jobs, free from manipulation or coercion, and listening to what they tell us, even when it’s inconvenient.”9 In context, “listening to what they tell us” means obeying what scientists dictate. What those who wield consensus science have always craved is unchallengeable dominance of an amoral scientific elite over the public and any dissenting scientific views.
For decades, creationists have lived with the abusive use of science to suppress freedom of speech, marginalize scientific minorities, destroy reputations and careers, and crush any thoughts that deviate from those authorized by the scientific consensus. Nowadays, the application of these tactics has been disdainfully labeled “cancel culture.” The behavior of scientists during the COVID-19 pandemic is revealing to the public today what a previous generation painfully learned after the eugenics disaster. People can clearly see that even scientists—no, especially scientists—will abuse the prestige of their profession to coerce total conformity of behavior and, more importantly, thought.
So, how should we respond to this authoritarian oppression? First, remember that though “scientific consensus” gets brandished as if it had the clout of experimentally derived evidence—it doesn’t. Next, consider supporting groups that maintain independent oversight and review. ICR receives no governmental, educational, or industrial funding—but we continually expose abusive practices like consensus science and the scientific weaknesses of Darwinian selectionism.
Finally, resist the temptation to respond in kind. Some have already printed that creationists should push right back to get evolutionists and others “canceled.” ICR opposes “canceling” anyone and champions free speech—the open and uncensored expression of thought. The Lord Jesus reprimanded His disciples for wanting to cancel people with different views (Luke 9:51-56) and taught us to not uproot the tares but let them grow together with the wheat (Matthew 13:24-30).
As creationists, we can defeat the tyranny of consensus science by forcefully advocating for the one thing it opposes the most—the freedom to hold and express nonconforming thoughts. Creationists want freedom to mark, expose, and combat not just the lies of evolution but also Darwinian selectionism that seeks to personify nature as the substitute creator and rob the Lord Jesus of His rightful credit as Creator God (Colossians 1:15-19).
- Bliss, R. 1983. Evolutionary Indoctrination and Decision-Making in Schools. Acts & Facts. 12 (6).
- Guliuzza, R. J. 2009. Darwinian Medicine: A Prescription for Failure. Acts & Facts. 38 (2): 32.
- Guliuzza, R. J. 2020. Survival of the Fittest and Evolution’s Death Culture. Acts & Facts. 49 (1): 17-20.
- Statement in support of the scientists, public health professionals, and medical professionals of China combatting COVID-19. The Lancet. Posted on thelancet.com February 18, 2020, accessed June 10, 2021.
- Why The U.S. Thinks A Lab In Wuhan Needs A Closer Look As A Possible Pandemic Source. NPR. Posted on npr.org May 27, 2021, accessed June 11, 2021.
- Allman, W. Cooking the Paleontological Books? U.S. News & World Report, May 8, 1989, 61.
- Christy, J. No consensus on IPCC’s level of ignorance. BBC News. Posted on news.bbc.co.uk November 13, 2007, accessed June 11, 2021.
- Guliuzza, R. J. 2009. Consensus Science: The Rise of a Scientific Elite. Acts & Facts. 38 (5): 4.
- Remarks of the President—As Prepared for Delivery-Signing of Stem Cell Executive Order and Scientific Integrity Presidential Memorandum. The White House, Office of the Press Secretary. Posted on obamawhitehouse.archives.gov March 9, 2009.
* Dr. Guliuzza is President of the Institute for Creation Research. He earned his M.D. from the University of Minnesota, his Master of Public Health from Harvard University, and served in the U.S. Air Force as 28th Bomb Wing Flight Surgeon and Chief of Aerospace Medicine. Dr. Guliuzza is also a registered Professional Engineer and holds a B.A. in theology from Moody Bible Institute.
Cite this article: Randy J. Guliuzza, P.E., M.D. 2021. The Tyranny of Consensus Thinking. Acts & Facts. 50 (8).