And how is the layman to judge? This is with reguards to several debates I’ve seen in GD from time to time, many of them revolving around Global Warming/ anthropogenic warming or Evolution, but not exclusive to it.
Basically my question is, what exactly does it mean if there is a general consensus in the ‘scientific community’ about a specific issue? Many times people (mostly NOT scientists) use this as a club to signify that anyone disagreeing with the vast scientific community is an idiot…or deluded. Yet theories DO change…and sometimes radically. Thats the beauty of science…its constantly refining and challenging itself, coming up with new and better (or worse in some cases) theories that are then challenged.
What sparked this question was a show on the Science Channel a few nights ago talking about parallel universes and String Theory vs Super Gravity. It seems that in the 80’s and 90’s String Theory became THE widely accepted theory in the physics community, supplanting both earlier theories AND contending theories (like Super Gravity). I don’t pretend to have but a tenuous grasp of EITHER theory, but what struck me was some comments by one of the few scientists (who’s name unfortunately escapes me atm) who stuck to Super Gravity who was relating stories of how he was unable to attract either funding or graduate students to his cause, the antipathy and even hostility he received from ‘the scientific community’, etc. Because the Super Gravity theory wasn’t widely accepted it languished, with few proponents and a lack of funding…while String Theory, being widely accepted got all the funding (and publicity) it needed.
And if I understand correctly (a dubious proposition I admit), it was all over (to me) a very minor difference…namely (according to the show) String Theory supposed there were 10 dimensions while Super Gravity supposed/proposed 11. I’m sure there were others, but this seemed to be the key difference (gods know why).
As it turned out, after over a decade of sitting in the backwater, Super Gravity turns out to have been right (I suppose…at least the 11 dimension thing seems to have turned out to be key after all), and has been incorporated into M-Theory (again, all this according to the show).
How are laymen, not versed in all the in’s and out’s of the more esoteric and convoluted theories to judge? After all, it seems the pet theory, the one widely accepted, will get large amounts of funding, and all the personnel requirements it needs…while other theories, perhaps not as widely accepted, won’t. This may be a good thing or a bad thing…but how is one to judge if one isn’t directly and intimately involved?
Should we simply await developments or should we blindly trust the judgement of the scientists involved? How much of a club is it when a layman uses scientific consensus about a theory as a silver bullet to beat down disagreements in a debate?