Should We Aim for Consensus?

Episteme 7 (3):198-214 (2010)
There can be good reasons to doubt the authority of a group of scientists. But those reasons do not include lack of unanimity among them. Indeed, holding science to a unanimity or near-unanimity standard has a pernicious effect on scientific deliberation, and on the transparency that is so crucial to the authority of science in a democracy. What authorizes a conclusion is the quality of the deliberation that produced it, which is enhanced by the presence of a non-dismissible minority. Scientists can speak as one in more ways than one. We recommend a different sort of consensus that is partly substantive and partly procedural. It is a version of what Margaret Gilbert calls “joint acceptance” – we call it “deliberative acceptance.” It capitalizes on there being a persistent minority, and thereby encourages accurate reporting of the state of agreement and disagreement among deliberators.
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DOI 10.3366/epi.2010.0203
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