Climate Science, Character, and the "Hard-Won" Consensus


What makes a consensus among scientists credible and convincing? This paper introduces the notion of a "hard-won" consensus and uses examples from recent debates over climate change science to show that this heuristic standard for evaluating the quality of a consensus is widely shared. The extent to which a consensus is "hard won" can be understood to depend on the personal qualities of the participating experts; the article demonstrates the continuing utility of the norms of modern science introduced by Robert K. Merton by showing that individuals on both sides of the climate science debate rely intuitively on Mertonian ideas—interpreted in terms of character—to frame their arguments.