All truth, it is said, passes through three stages: First, it is ridiculed. Second, it is passionately and sometimes even violently opposed. Third, it is accepted as self-evident.
Something similar happens, unfortunately, with certain falsehoods.
The reputations of Nicolas Copernicus, Galileo Galilei, and Johannes Kepler don’t rest upon their acceptance of the astronomical consensus of their times. Albert Einstein, accepting the consensus of a static and unchanging cosmos, mistakenly shied away from the expanding universe predicted by his own equations. His reputation rests on his achievements in other regards, where, more characteristically, he didn’t fear to go against commonly held opinion. Unintimidated by consensus, Edwin Hubble and Alexander Friedmann and Father Georges Lemaître gave us the Big Bang and the subsequently expanding universe.
Alfred Russel Wallace and Charles Darwin didn’t originate the theory of evolution by deferring to consensus.
Ignaz Semmelweis argued for the importance of disinfection during surgeries, but his argument did not sit well with his medical colleagues. His life ended in an asylum for the insane, where he died after being beaten by the guards. A few years later, Louis Pasteur confirmed the germ theory of disease and Joseph Lister pioneered improved medical hygiene.
Alfred Wegener’s proposal of “continental drift” directly clashed with the geological consensus of his day, and it didn’t help matters that he was an outsider whose doctorate was actually in astronomy. The American Association of Petroleum Geologists organized an entire symposium specifically devoted to rebutting Wegener’s hypothesis, and George Gaylord Simpson, arguably the most important paleontologist of the twentieth century, went out of his way to oppose it. Nearly a century after Wegener’s premature death during a 1930 expedition in Greenland, continental drift is universally accepted among serious geologists.
So slavish conformity to scientific or other consensus has little if anything to commend it.
On the other hand, unless there are strong reasons to oppose consensus, it’s generally safest in intellectual and other regards to be guided by it. Masks are almost certainly useful against COVID-19. Petroleum jelly probably doesn’t cure blindness. It’s very unlikely that the Great Pyramid of Giza was built by aliens. A program of repeated enemas most likely won’t cure cancer. Vaccinations don’t cause autism. Earth almost certainly isn’t flat. You probably shouldn’t take arsenic as a remedy for leukemia or malaria. The white race very likely wasn’t created by a black scientist named Yakub in a laboratory on the Isle of Patmos 6600 years ago. Dr. Pepper isn’t a brain tonic. Dr. Kilmer’s Swamp Root almost certainly won’t cure “internal slime fever,” which almost certainly doesn’t exist. Hitler isn’t living in Brazil. And Bubba Ho-Tep may not be entirely based on fact.
The fact that an idea or theory is overwhelming rejected by a consensus of scientists doesn’t prove it true.
This isn’t rocket science. Heck, it’s not even homeopathy or iridology. Let alone herpetology.
Posted from Seaside, Oregon