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13 June 2012


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Very interesting.

In medicine, the push for using only evidence based diagnostic tests and treatments keeps getting stronger and stronger.
But the "consensus" opinions are necessary for practical reasons.

If there is no good science to guide a particular medical decision, all you have is anecdotal evidence.

A consensus from the experts who have studied and reviewed the problem in detail can be very helpful until better evidence is available.

And by the way, I have wanted to tell you for some time how much I enjoy your blog. We are a homeschooling medical scientific family :-)



Consensus is not necessarily an indication of *truth,* but it is *very often* an indication of *usefulness.*

Useful consensus-es (consensi?) are often the basis of an answer to the question, "What do we DO about this problem?" Which is why they are valuable in medicine.

But let's remember that clinical work in medicine is "applied" science -- it is not really akin to science per se, and is more akin to engineering. Which, like medicine, is a field in which consensus is often useful. The best practitioners of both, I hope, know the difference between "true" and "useful."

Joseph M

No one would argue that consensus is not often useful, or is not often the best thing we can get. BUT - consensus is not *science*. There is a scientific consensus that water boils at 212F under normal conditions at sea level - but the consensus flows from repeatable, well-controlled experiment.

So, the warning is: if scientists lead their argument with claims of consensus, rather than with compelling evidence or argument (that would lead to a consensus), then we should be wary.

BTW: Nice blog. Thanks for the link.


so I presume you've read and enjoyed Oliver Sack's memoir "Uncle Tungsten." It was our book club selection last month--before that, being an English major, I'd never heard of Pholigiston


Sara: Indeed!

Joseph M

Always wanted to see the headline:

"Phlogiston Blamed in Antique Shop Fire"

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