Chasing the Norm

Australian academic and blogger on politics, international relations, and culture

This person votes – on your behalf

“The Prime Minister has obviously not been following the crisis in climate science: the junk science, the corruption, the collusion and the endemic lack of peer review. The member for Page talks about consensus. Think about consensus on religion here for a second. The consensus of trained experts is that a Christian god, in consensus terms, particularly in Australia, exists. So why do you reject that consensus?”

Dr Dennis Jensen: (Via Andrew Bolt)

Trained expert?

Wait … what ? First the Prime Minister is a rather devout Christian, and while the member for page, Janelle Saffin may be an atheist, she voted in the NSW parliament to keep the Lords Prayer a part of the standing orders.

But more importantly, Who are these “trained experts” ? Priests? As in a profession for whom a professed “faith” in god is the very requirement to become a member? That’s like claiming you’ll get a fair view of if politicians are honest by asking only politicians. And how on gods green earth might these “trained experts” have devined “particularly in Australia” that a christian god in fact exists? Is there some local evidence that particularly sways those down under? or perhaps some opposed evidence accepted abroad but rejected here?

Attempts to “prove” god exists generally died out in the 18th & 19th centuries, when enlightened figures (almost exclusively believers themselves) showed that it couldn’t be done, and ought not to be attempted, for reason’s grubby hands would simply sully the beauty of faith (questions like “could God microwave a burrito so hot he couldn’t eat it rather demean us all). Many like John Paul II still argued that faith and reason are not entirely incompatible, and of this there may be merit (if God exists he created reason ex post facto) but thats a long way from claiming mans reason can prove god.

“The fact is there is no such thing as consensus science. If there is a consensus, it is not science and if it is science it is not consensus—period. I will quote the late, great Michael Crichton on some of the history of consensus science and the damage that it can do:
In past centuries, the greatest killer of women was fever following childbirth. One woman in six died of this fever.
In 1795, Alexander Gordon of Aberdeen suggested that the fevers were infectious processes, and he was able to cure them. The consensus said no.
In 1843, Oliver Wendell Holmes claimed puerperal fever was contagious, and presented compelling evidence. The consensus said no.”

Now this quote follows directly on from the one above. That’s important because Jensen is using it to show that science doesn’t hold all the answers and often important scientific claims face overwhelming objections. That’s very true. Only Jensen is citing cases from the rise of the scientific revolution, when the consensus was informed not by competing scientific data (at least as we would understand it), but was directly informed by over 1000 years of superstitiously informed witchery, derived from…. a consensus view of gods existence. And if science’s consensus should be inherently doubted as Jensen is implying, what approach will he take should his wife be taken by fever? Would he accept modern sciences consensus view or demand an alternate approach?

At least Jensen is doing one good public service, by spouting such nonsense despite having a PhD (in materials engineering on ceramics) he is proving you don’t need to be that bright to get a doctorate. That’s a useful service. That he was also an air traffic controller with this grasp of logic is much more worrying.
The Chaser’s CNNN ran a sketch in 2004 showing people of the street mis-interpreting and simply not-understanding the issues debated in modern politics, before bringing down a stamp “This person votes”. In light of Jensen’s comments, I think we need the resurrect the sketch with a new stamp “This person votes on your behalf”.

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  1. Dennis Jensen

     /  February 9, 2010

    Andrew, your post, although interesting, shows somewhat ill-informed thinking.

    First point, have a look at the mission statement of the IPCC, inter alia “…understanding the scientific basis of risk of human-induced climate change…”. In other words, human beings causing climate change is a given, much as acceptance of god is a given with priests. I have noticed with IPCC lead authors that I have spoken with a desire to explain contadictory evidence (to their theory) in terms of a paradigm that they accept, rather than questioning whether the evidence means the paradigm they accept is not correct. Looking for a lost coin under the streetlight springs to mind.

    On the issue of scientific method, you seem to be under the impression that scientific method only manifest itself in the 20th century. This is altogether incorrect, witness arguments between, for example, Newton and Hooke. I suggest that you also have a look at how long peer reviewed journals have been around. The first was in the mid 1600’s, and peer review was mainstream by the 18th century. Perhaps you are not quite as smart as you like to make out:)

  2. Joey Mac

     /  February 10, 2010

    Great post Andrew!!

    Pretty shitty riposte Dennis!

    Even though I am sure Andrew will rebut on at least one of your points, you have clearly misrepresented his point of scientific method. He did not say that ‘scientific method only manifest itself in the 20th Century’. Rather he stated that efforts to prove that god existed were:

    ‘informed not by competing scientific data (at least as we would understand it), but was directly informed by over 1000 years of superstitiously informed witchery, derived from a consensus view of gods existence.’

    Another point I would like to make regarding your arrogant remark (posted on Andrew Bolt’s blog) about challenging ‘both Koch and Jones to have me on to discuss the science’ and that ‘funnily enough, they lack the guts to interview me on it’.

    Tony Jones has had the ‘leading’ climate change sceptic Ian Plimer on Lateline at least twice, and sadly Tony caned his flawed science twice. So the only reason I can think that he has not decided to have you on is for the simple fact that your PhD in Materials Engineering does not make you eminently qualified to comment on climate change and the drivel that you spout (typified by your speech to parliament)would not make you a suitable addition to the program.

    Though taking all things into account, good to see a Federal MP getting down and dirty….but maybe Dennis before you give IQ assessments you should think about the baseless and misrepresenting claims you make!!

  3. Anthea

     /  February 10, 2010

    Hi Dennis,

    Based on your assertions I think it is in your best interest to limit your academic debates to the topic of ceramics etc.



  4. Hi Dennis. Thanks for your comments and welcome to the blog.

    With respect, I am not claiming to be smart. I am not claiming trained experts know that god exists, nor am I claiming to understand more about the planet, its changes and the causes than the tens of thousands of people who have dedicated their lives to studying it.

    With regards your comments, I agree the IPCC has been embarassed with several wrong pieces of data. Heads should roll, and a much much better job needs to be done. Thankfully the IPCC seems to be responding to their errors (such as their response on the statement on principles makes no such claim of anthropocentric climate change.

    I entirely agree that scientific consensus never provides absolute certainty. However this is not the safe harbour you desire, if only because those arguing there was global warming spent the last 30 years of the 20th century countering a consensus that denied it. Your view could be seen as a consensus view that has slowly slipped out of favour, with some displaying just as clear ideological underpinnings for it’s hold as that of the green left’s embrace of climate change. (Your colleague Nick Minchin’s position that Climate Change is the modern refuge for communists & thus ought to be similarly resisted springs to mind.)

    Taking the example of fever as you highlight, even with modern medicines, not every case will respond identically to what is the scientific consensus on treating fever in humans. Yet we can with good authority treat almost all cases where appropriate resources are available. It’s not 100%, but 99% is good enough. (I know you are busy but I have a discussion of the question of scientific certainty here) I assume you accept it in all these areas without having done your own assessments? Authority ought not to be blindly accepted, but errors are not necessarily significant given we are all flawed and fallible individuals.

    Finally, to clear up some confusion, I didn’t claim the scientific method was invented in the 20th century, rather that early 17th & 18th century science would not fit the rigor we apply and expect today. Thus those working scientists from that period had to contend with those informed by superstitions of others and even within themselves. Thus while your point that scientific consensus can and does change (as happens every 100 years in Physics (without Newton being seen as “wrong”) and as occurred to bring climate change to become the consensus) is correct, it’s rather misleading to compare the errors of such time periods to that seen in our own days. (Nor did I contra Joey’s comment claim that efforts to prove god were witchery. I apologise for the confusion over my writing – although if you are able to return, could you explain what you meant by the term “trained experts”. I’m not seeking to mock, I really am at a loss by that term. It’s not one used in most theological/philosophical literature as far as I’ve come across).

    Cheers & I appreciate your willingness to engage in public debate on blogs.