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We seem to throw around "consensus" more and more as time goes on with skeptics. However it also seems that a claim of "consensus" is the one claim that does not require a reference. Should a claim of consensus require a reference to meta research which shows that there actually is a majority opinion of the appropriate scientific community?

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A claim of consensus is a claim like any other. There should be evidence that the claim is true and a reference to that evidence included in the answer using the claim.

If anything, I swing the other way than your opinion that claims of consensus require more evidence... but I may be misunderstanding exactly what you are aiming for.

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Absolutely, why not. However, we should be careful as to what references we allow. Usually (exceptions prove the rule) there is no “paper” proclaiming a consensus on a certain point.

I think we should accept as consensus any fact that has been repeated in a University-level text book, or if it’s visibly taken for granted in scientific publications. Otherwise a consensus may be very hard to prove in many cases.

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  • 2
    I think "printed in a college textbook" is a pretty low bar to set. Jun 7 '11 at 20:04
  • @Russell That’s why I explicitly didn’t say that. Jun 7 '11 at 20:16
  • @Konrad - I'm just not understanding your post then. It sounds like "I think we should accept as consensus any fact that has been repeated in a University-level text book" is implying that. Jun 7 '11 at 20:56
  • @Russell There’s a fundamental difference between a University-level textbook and a college textbook.” The latter is written and published by institutes which don’t necessarily have any scientific credentials while the former is authored by eminent scientists and reflects the (more or less) current state of research. Jun 8 '11 at 7:03
  • @Konrad -- Thanks for the clarification. When I attended University we were required to use quite a few textbooks written by the professors who taught the class, and while some were eminent scientists, I don't trust them not to bias such texts towards they're own conclusions. Jun 8 '11 at 17:09
  • @Russell True, there is always bias. But (at least in all text books that I used) all claims are referenced. The references aren’t necessarily directly next to the claims – often they are at the end of a chapter. Jun 8 '11 at 17:39
  • @Konrad -- Very good point. Given that though, I would accept a standard citation to the book as a reference. However just claiming "my textbook said so" shouldn't cut it. A reference doesn't have to be a "web link" to be a reference. Jun 8 '11 at 18:06
  • @Russell Yes, but unfortunately the single reference wouldn’t (usually; unless it’s a review) show a consensus. Neither does the textbook necessarily, but from experience claims in U-level textbooks aren’t controversial (any more) and hence do represent a consensus. Jun 8 '11 at 18:51
  • A textbook should teach the state of the art; and if the state of the art is that there's disagreement or speculation instead of consensus then the textbook should say so, explain the evidence, and the limits of the evidence (I'm thinking here of ancient history for example: historians aren't sure of various details of the history of early Rome, for example).
    – ChrisW
    Jun 9 '11 at 14:37
  • @ChrisW My point exactly. Jun 9 '11 at 15:32
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I think this question is fundamentally flawed since consensus, by definition (even when existant in the field), ignores anomaly and breakthrough directions.

Many arguing against consensus should return to their R&D and establish the data for or against the perceived consensus. Mainstream thinking can change suddenly with a single new ray of truth.

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