The fell hand of consensus is apparent in the dramatic differences between the first list of image characteristics David Rolfe was using for his challenge to Richard Dawkins and the new list developed in Valencia.
There is good and bad in it. Language that implied that the only explanation for the image required a cloth covering a body is nearly gone. Good. Irrelevant statements about rigor mortis being evident and other such statements have been stricken. That too is good.
But. But. But. There is a complete lack of any measurement specificity thus allowing for very liberal and incorrect interpretations. That is bad. Superficiality, for instance, is dumb-downed to nothing more than saying the body image does not penetrate below the surface fibers (or is it surface of the fibers). Then, too, what is a few millimeters between believers and skeptics when describing resolution? This will not do.
And what has happened to some of the now classical, oft acclaimed easy to understand characteristics? Is it not true anymore that the image can be removed with adhesive? Is it not true anymore that the body image does not fluoresce when viewed under ultraviolet radiation? One of the great dangers of lists by consensus is the implied understanding that an omission is consensual agreement that what was omitted is irrelevant or not true.
And is it now suddenly resolved by consensus that the image is not contained in an impurity layer. Is this fact or group-think?
Of course, the biggest danger of lists by consensus is the implied and fallacious appeal to authority (argumentum ad verecundiam). And what authority is that? The congress in Valencia? To claim consensus in science is daring and bold. It generally implies widespread acceptance on a grand scale. Evolution, global warming and the expanding universe, come to mind. But — and we must remember this — once upon a time, before Edwin Hubble, the consensus was that the universe was static. Consensus is group opinion. In this case it is the opinion of what can only be seen by others as a biased small group. The word consensus should be avoided at all cost.
Crisply written, factual observations, supported by strong evidence that in every way accord well with scientific methods is the only acceptable way to go. Consensus should have nothing to do with it. Facts are facts.
Can it be that all swans are white by consensus? Of course not.
Looking at the list, as it is written, I’m thinking that Luigi Garlaschelli and Colin Berry have both already won the prize, and have done so with completely different solutions. I’m glad that this list isn’t yet cast in stone.