I came across this very interesting article by John Kay, about Consensus and the undesirable outcomes that, in practice, tend to result from seeking Consensus. I do urge you to read it. He summarises his thesis in these words:
"Just as universities need to tell people to stop quibbling and work towards a common objective, companies need to realise that clustering around a corporate conventional wisdom that has not been subject to analysis and debate is also not a recipe for success."
Earlier today, on Radio 4, I heard someone (sorry, I didn't catch who he was) speaking critically about Wikipedia, and, if I remember correctly, criticising it essentially for tending to move towards Consensus, rather than towards Truth. Like him, I favour Truth, backed up by Evidence, rather than Consensus, backed up by Assertion.
The Climate Change Science Scandal that has featured prominently in the news recently, rested in essence on one set of scientists, led by Professor Phil Jones, director of the climatic research unit at the University of East Anglia, seeking to manipulate access to data and interpretation of data in order to bring more scientists to a consensus favouring his views, in the hope/expectation that consensus would be accepted as truth, even though the data had been doctored.
When I use the word 'doctored' in this context, I do so advisedly. - For many years, law courts and judgments were over-influenced by so-called 'expert' opinions expressed by 'expert' witnesses, in particular by 'expert' medical opinions. Such was the deference the judicial system accorded to these expert medics, that in practice the opinions they expressed were mostly accepted as evidence, rather than opinion. This institutional prejudice was compounded by what was called 'The Bolam Test', which was adopted by some other countries - former British colonies, I believe - as well as Britain.
A doctor, dentist, nurse, etc is deemed to owe "a duty of care" to the patients they treat. But when a doctor, say, was negligent in the way he treated his patient, according to the Bolam Test, it did not necessarily amount to negligence if support could be found for it among other members of his profession - even if there was not a lot of support. This ruling meant in practice that a doctor accused of medical negligence needed only to find an expert who would testify to having done the same thing or would testify that he would have made the same diagnosis as the accused doctor.
Obviously this ruling was widely abused and there was no shortage of venal health professionals willing to testify in such a way as to favour a fellow member of their profession. - I remember when I was on the Steering Committee of the RSI Campaign that we had a young lawyer come to speak to us one evening and he told us that lawyers could always find a doctor to give any opinion their doctor client wanted to be given, provided they paid him enough.
This, of course, is disgraceful and unjust enough, but the Bolam Test spread its baleful tentacles into the clinical sphere, and has had the effect of increasing the incidence of medical negligence. Medical and dental practitioners regarded themselves as pretty safe from being found guilty of negligence because all they had to do when a patient made any charge or complaint of negligence against them was to ensure that colleagues in the profession would back them up in the course of action/inaction they had taken. This was easily achieved because there tends to be a feeling within their profession that "there but for the grace of God, go I", and a tendency to support erring colleagues in the profession, in the expectation that if you got into the same situation, your colleagues would similarly support you.
Thus it was that when I suffered sustained negligent and appallingly cruel treatment at the Charles Clifford Dental Hospital years ago, it proved almost impossible for me to get the treatment I desperately needed, despite seeing several dentists well able to have provided the treatment. See Fighting the System, my first Mensa article.
One of the negligent dentists, Stephen Hatt, Head of Restorative Dentistry, sneeringly invited me to write a letter of complaint about him. - "Much good it will do you!" he jeered, in complete confidence that nothing whatever would be done about his cruel treatment, which had caused me such long, agonising pain. And he was right. Nothing at all was done about the letter I arduously compiled and sent.
I talked about the matter to a young dentist from a different town long after this and asked him why it was that whenever I tried to get help from another dentist at that dreadful hospital, they scrupulously examined the notes about my treatment, instead of examining my teeth! He explained that the system was that they would all say that they would have made the same diagnosis as the negligent senior dental staff who had harmed me, and so that treatment would have been considered correct and they would not have been deemed to be at fault. - This is an example of the law of unintended consequences, and leads to the extraordinary probability that if ALL would have treated the patient badly, then NONE is considered negligent!
Officially the Bolam Test is no longer part of the legal process, but in practice its spirit lives on, and most health professionals do not worry much about getting into trouble about their poor treatment of a patient, because there remains the implicit assumption that doctors and dentists are altruistic, omniscient beings who do not make errors, or if they do, it is not their fault. You have only to remember the terrible harm done by the arrogant, ill-informed Professor Sir Roy Meadow in the case of Sally Clark, and to realise that even now, despite all the tragic consequences of his flawed testimony, colleagues in his profession continue to defend him!
I remember reading years ago - I think it was in The Politics of Schizophrenia by David Hill - that the only time doctors/psychiatrists all agree on a psychiatric diagnosis is when they are all wrong...(o:
You will have gathered that I do not favour consensus as being a reliable guide to the truth of any belief. I look back on those two very famous errors of hundreds of years ago that held sway because of being the consensus view, namely that
1) the Earth is flat, and that
2) the Sun goes round the Earth.
I rest my case.