Ongoing dispute over the origins of COVID-19 raises a prickly question: Should consensus play a role in science?

The authority of scientific institutions

Scientific expertise is elitist, in the sense that the vast majority of us are not qualified to practice science any more than the vast majority of us are qualified to practice law or medicine or commercial aviation. As a result, most people are barred from active participation in scientific institutions —publishing in scientific journals, presenting at scientific conferences, and teaching university-level science courses. The barriers to entry into science are, and ought to be, high. This is not what makes science unique; it’s what makes it a form of expertise like any other.

One of the things that doesmake science unique, however, is the role that consensus plays in establishing these barriers. A scientific consensus helps to define a…


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