This is a guest post by Kevin O'Sullivan
In his book Cosmos, published in 1981, Carl Sagan highlights the controversial issue surrounding the hypothesis proposed by Immanuel Velikovsky that the Planet Venus was spun off from Jupiter. Sagan gives his own reasons why this idea is implausible, but was troubled more by the cosy world of scientific consensus, and attempts made by some elements in the scientific community at the time to silence Velikovsky. It has a chilling resonance of the intolerance we see today emanating from the "consensus" view on climate change, and attempts by some proponents of AGW to block any opinion contrary to their own. The concerns expressed by Carl Sagan are as relevant today as they were back in 1981.
Cosmos: Chapter four. Heaven and Hell.
Many hypotheses proposed by scientists as well as by non-scientists turn out to be wrong. But science is a self-correcting enterprise. To be accepted, all new ideas must survive rigorous standards of evidence. The worse aspect of the Velikovsky affair is not that his hypotheses were wrong or in contradiction to firmly established facts, but that some who call themselves scientists attempted to suppress Velikovsky’s work. Science is generated by and devoted to free inquiry: the idea that any hypothesis, no matter how strange, deserves to be considered on its merits. The suppression of uncomfortable ideas may be common in religion and politics, but is not the path to knowledge; it has no place in the evidence of science. We do not know in advance who will discover fundamental new insights.
The IPCC and our “unbiased” science correspondents at the BBC would do well to adhere to this simple advice.