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Consensus versus Unanimity: Which Carries More Weight?

Dellsén, Finnur (2021) Consensus versus Unanimity: Which Carries More Weight? [Preprint]

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Abstract

Around 97% of climate scientists endorse anthropogenic global warming (AGW), the theory that human activities are partly responsible for recent increases in global average temperatures. Clearly, this widespread endorsement of AGW is a reason for non-experts to believe in AGW. But what is the epistemic significance of the fact that some climate scientists do not endorse AGW? This paper contrasts expert unanimity, in which virtually no expert disagrees with some theory, with expert consensus, in which some non-negligible proportion either rejects or is uncertain about the theory. It is argued that, from a layperson’s point of view, an expert consensus is often stronger evidence for a theory’s truth than unanimity. Several lessons are drawn from this conclusion, e.g. concerning what laypeople should infer from expert pronouncements, how journalists should report on scientific theories, and how working scientists should communicate with the public.


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Item Type: Preprint
Creators:
CreatorsEmailORCID
Dellsén, Finnurfud@hi.is0000-0003-4989-4204
Additional Information: Forthcoming in The British Journal for the Philosophy of Science.
Keywords: consensus; unanimity; dissent; expertise; science communication
Subjects: General Issues > Science and Society
General Issues > Social Epistemology of Science
Depositing User: Dr. Finnur Dellsén
Date Deposited: 24 Oct 2021 03:37
Last Modified: 24 Oct 2021 03:37
Item ID: 19724
Subjects: General Issues > Science and Society
General Issues > Social Epistemology of Science
Date: 2021
URI: http://philsci-archive.pitt.edu/id/eprint/19724

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