Robust knowledge can be identified based on a number of components. Robustknowledge must be formed from hypotheses which rely on diverse assumptions thatare supported with evidence produced by numerous methods. Consensus is definedas an existingbroad belief where dissenting views are excluded from the mainstream.
The emphasis of beliefdemonstrates how consensus is based on the knower’s faith that something istrue. Whereas, acceptance would involve no such feeling and instead is based onmemory and intuition. Nonetheless, the statement is somewhat flawed as itpresumes that all robust knowledge which exists, has followed a sequence ofdisagreement and consensus, which may not be the case. The principle of robust knowledge willbe discussed with reference to thenatural sciences and history, through discussion of the methodology, the roleof disagreement and consensus. Themethodology of the natural sciences contains a sequence of disagreement and consensusto develop robust knowledge.
Disagreement between sets of scientists isinherent in the natural sciences’ methodology through scrutinising processesincluding peer review. Peer review is a requirement before a study can bepublished and form shared knowledge. Original knowledge claims require furtherreasoning and therefore, the formation of consensus requires lengthier discussion.In such a case, the key to consensus is sharing both the experimental method andthe tools of discovery.
This is exemplified in biology through the recognition ofdisease by the immune system. Townsend, a scientist, discovered that killer Tcells would recognise and destroy cells that contained a small number of viralpeptides and a particular HLA protein (Davis). Initially, Zinkernagel could notproduce empirical data that replicated this result, so no consensus was formed.This debate suggests formation of consensus is framed through replicablemethodology and technology.
The robust knowledge theoretical framework showsthat replicated analytical information would cause one explanation to be statisticallymore reliable than another. This proves that the sequence of disagreement andconsensus is characteristic through the methodology of the natural sciences. However,it is made to be fallacious to assume that disagreement indicates a robustknowledge. It is often extra scientific considerations such as moral, religiousor political which cause more disagreement and do not allow for the scientificfield to be segregated from society. So, a lack of this form of disagreementwould further advance discovery in the natural sciences. On the other hand, thereis no disagreement before a theory has been shared, as it follows the reasoningof the collective who discovered it. So, a pragmatic theory of truth would see theknowledge claims as correct in that their utility justifies belief in them.
One could suggest that the scientific methodindicates rational scientists will ideally agree when given the same data.However, if no informed discussion has taken place, the benefits of consensuswould artificially shield theories from critical appraisal. It is therefore animportant consideration that the degree of disagreement of a knowledge claimdoes not necessarily indicate robust knowledge. Theformation of consensus in the natural sciences does not guarantee robustknowledge has been formed. There may be an appearance of consensus due tocollective acceptance, yet it is not certain that the study contains robustknowledge if it has not undergone critical evaluation. When a deductiveapproach is used and hypothesise are established based on a priori knowledge confirmation bias may be introduced, which isthe tendency to collect and interpret data in such a way which is more likelyto corroborate a preconceived expectation. Preconceived ideas due to personalperspective may engender false assumptions that limit the conclusions drawn,meaning the conclusions do not represent the evidence to the fullest extent.
Anexample in biology is in 1901, Hanig, suggested that taste sensations came fromcertain regions of the tongue (O’Connor). The data suggested minute differencesin tongue sensitivity, but was taken out of context and introduced intotextbooks as robust knowledge. One possible solution in acquiring robustknowledge is through triangulation, the use of different sets of data obtainedusing different methods. Yet the same biases often prevail regardless of theresearch method. Secondly, a broad assessment would allow for the increasedpossibility of disagreement. However, throughout history both women andminorities have been underrepresented within the natural sciences. This resultsin the reduction of the community’s analytical resources. The increaseddifference in scientific background of a knower allows further influences ofthe study to be uncovered.
A diversity of scientists would allow emphasis to bepassed on some concepts not considered by others, which is not necessarily duehigher rationality in their thinking. Therefore, diversity is crucial inproduction and assessment of robust knowledge. An example of this reasoning isin the methodology of random sampling in scientific trials. The rationalebehind random sampling, is that by increasing the number of factors such as ageor sex within a trial, the confidence in the conclusion is also increased. So,by increasing the diversity of researchers, a proportional increase in criticalevaluation is expected resulting in more robust knowledge produced. Therefore,an initial consensus does not guarantee that knowledge is robust.
Themethodology used in history requires interpretation of evidence, and containsfeatures of both disagreement and consensus in the production of robustknowledge. Historical methods aim to reconstruct the past based on factualresearch and discuss these reconstructions in terms of objective validity. Oftenconjectures about the past are necessary in filling the gaps with plausible narratives.Disagreement can occur due to the role of imagination or aims to discredit argumentsthat have been twisted to suit a personal prejudice. Interpretations madethrough reasoned cause and effect must depend on underlying assumptions, althoughassertions cannot be made which contradict reliable evidence.
It is possiblethat historians may select different documents, follow differing perspectivesand hence separate historical accounts of the same events can emerge. Thecomplexity of the French Revolution shows interpretations and historiographyincluding Jacobin, Marxist, feminist, liberal revisionism and neo-conservativerevisionism, all of which were advocated for by a large number of scholars(Najeeb). Thus, there is an aspect of historical determinism, similar tophilosophical determinism, which is the issue of a historians free will. Thefreedom of interpretation therefore casts doubt over the robustness of theknowledge. Similarities in interpretation show consensus, hence creating moreconfidence in the validity of the knowledge. Yet uncertainty over the robustnessof the knowledge will continue to remain.
The methodology in history containsdisagreement, and consensus generally requires much further discussion. The previous example exemplifies that disagreement within history occurs in avariety of forms influencing the knowledge produced. Authoritative dissent isimplied through information being disregarded in different publications. Thisliterature-based disagreement is one that disappears after a brief reference tothe missing information. Details that are omitted do not indicate that sharedknowledge does not exist, merely a shifted focus from an original study.
Thisis through the discussion of knowledge following a varied theoretical frameworksuch as the Marxist view of class or the Annales’ school of knowledge, whichintroduces a different perspective on the information. Additionally, the use ofspecialised language assigns authority and status to individuals with greaterlinguistic capability, due to a superior expression of ideas. Thisdiscriminates against historians with less vocabulary, or who are writing in asecond language. Therefore, well-known historians’ ideas will gain furtherdiscussion due to their reputable decision-making. Other historians with lessstatus may have more robust knowledge claims, yet may generate less discussionand may not be part of the consensus formed. Disagreement in history, throughauthoritative dissent and status has introduced the distinctive idea of aimingfor a high degree of consent rather than uniform consent for robust knowledge.
Historicalknowledge can be formed through only consensus with no disagreement and stillbe considered robust. This occurs when there is indisputable evidence throughsense perception, and the evidence is accessible to all current historians.Then the fact that this event took place is not a contested area. When there isno disagreement it follows that no consensus is needed to be formed.
An exampleof this is the MountVesuvius eruption that led to the destruction of Pompeii in AD 79. The ruinswere discovered in 1748 and are still viewed today. However, this knowledge isless historical and rather scientific, as it is focused on the date of theincident instead of the interpretation. This proves that when there is noaspect of disagreement, the knowledge claim may still be robust. The principle of robustness holds that when a consensus is built on anarray of evidence drawn from a variety of techniques it is more likely to beknowledge-based. It does seem that for robust knowledge to be formed,frequently consensus and disagreement are both in play. The aim within thenatural sciences is to form theory from empirical evidence. Disagreement has arole in furthering the search for robust knowledge.
Within the area of history,assumptions made by one historian, may not be held as factual by another whichcan cause differing interpretations of the same event. This can often produce alarge understanding of multiple perspectives and hence a more inclusiveconclusion. Plainly, the initial proposition is presumptuous, as it assumesthat all knowers are rational, which is proven false through countless examplesof societal dissent against knowledge which would be considered by definition,robust. Ultimately though, a consensus does not guarantee robust knowledge anddisagreement does not preclude robustness.