Matt Ridley’s OpEd has been very nicely rebutted by Phil Plait over at Bad Astronomy, in a fantastic post called Another Wall Street Journal Global Warming Article Misses the Target. I won’t say much as Phil Plait rebuts it much more effectively than I could and you can read what he has to say in his post.
I will say, however, that this tendency to focus on the philosophy of science is quite frustrating. There’s nothing wrong with discussing the philosophy of science, but you don’t gain understanding about some science area by philosophising. You gain understanding by doing science. It’s indeed correct that science is about evidence, not consensus, but this – in my opinion – is a classic strawman argument. Noone is claiming that we should base our view of anthropogenic global warming (AGW) on the existence, or not, of a consensus. The existence of a consensus, however, tells us something about the level of agreement in the scientific community about AGW. It’s indeed true that the existence of a consensus does not mean that the science is completely settled or even correct. There are clearly examples where there was a consensus that turned out to be wrong. However, I suspect that this is getting less and less common as we gain more and more understanding of the world around us. Also, there are many more examples where a consensus turned out to be correct than examples here it turned out to be wrong.
So, although I agree that science is about evidence, not consensus, the existence of a consensus does not – in any way – indicate that there might be something wrong with a particular science area. It indicates a high level of agreement. If you think there is an issue with an area where such a consensus exists, you’ve got to provide evidence as to why all these scientists are wrong, not simply philosophise about how such a high level of consensus does not necessarily mean that these scientists are correct. Just because something could be true does not make it true or even make it likely.