, Volume 11, Issue 5, p 293,
Open Access This content is freely available online to anyone, anywhere at any time.
Date: 28 Apr 2009

Consensus Science and the Peer Review

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I recently reviewed a lecture on science, politics, and consensus that Michael Crichton—a physician, producer, and writer—gave at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, CA, USA on January 17, 2003. I was struck by the timeliness of its content. I am quite certain that most of us have been—in one way or another—exposed to the concept (and consequences) of “consensus science.” In fact, scientific reviewers of journal articles or grant applications—typically in biomedical research—may use the term (e.g., “....it is the consensus in the field...”) often as a justification for shutting down ideas not associated with their beliefs.

I have always had a negative gut reaction to the concept of “consensus science.” But Michael Crichton explains it best when he said:

I regard consensus science as an extremely pernicious development that ought to be stopped cold in its tracks. Historically, the claim of consensus has been the first refuge of scoundrels; it is a way to avoid debate by c