Robust knowledge can be identified based on a number of components. Robust
knowledge must be formed from hypotheses which rely on diverse assumptions that
are supported with evidence produced by numerous methods. Consensus is defined
as an existing
broad belief where dissenting views are excluded from the mainstream. The emphasis of belief
demonstrates how consensus is based on the knower’s faith that something is
true. Whereas, acceptance would involve no such feeling and instead is based on
memory and intuition. Nonetheless, the statement is somewhat flawed as it
presumes that all robust knowledge which exists, has followed a sequence of
disagreement and consensus, which may not be the case. The principle of robust knowledge will
be discussed with reference to the
natural sciences and history, through discussion of the methodology, the role
of disagreement and consensus.

 

The
methodology of the natural sciences contains a sequence of disagreement and consensus
to develop robust knowledge. Disagreement between sets of scientists is
inherent in the natural sciences’ methodology through scrutinising processes
including peer review. Peer review is a requirement before a study can be
published and form shared knowledge. Original knowledge claims require further
reasoning and therefore, the formation of consensus requires lengthier discussion.
In such a case, the key to consensus is sharing both the experimental method and
the tools of discovery. This is exemplified in biology through the recognition of
disease by the immune system. Townsend, a scientist, discovered that killer T
cells would recognise and destroy cells that contained a small number of viral
peptides and a particular HLA protein (Davis). Initially, Zinkernagel could not
produce empirical data that replicated this result, so no consensus was formed.
This debate suggests formation of consensus is framed through replicable
methodology and technology. The robust knowledge theoretical framework shows
that replicated analytical information would cause one explanation to be statistically
more reliable than another. This proves that the sequence of disagreement and
consensus is characteristic through the methodology of the natural sciences.  

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However,
it is made to be fallacious to assume that disagreement indicates a robust
knowledge. It is often extra scientific considerations such as moral, religious
or political which cause more disagreement and do not allow for the scientific
field to be segregated from society. So, a lack of this form of disagreement
would further advance discovery in the natural sciences. On the other hand, there
is no disagreement before a theory has been shared, as it follows the reasoning
of the collective who discovered it. So, a pragmatic theory of truth would see the
knowledge claims as correct in that their utility justifies belief in them. One could suggest that the scientific method
indicates rational scientists will ideally agree when given the same data.
However, if no informed discussion has taken place, the benefits of consensus
would artificially shield theories from critical appraisal. It is therefore an
important consideration that the degree of disagreement of a knowledge claim
does not necessarily indicate robust knowledge.

 

The
formation of consensus in the natural sciences does not guarantee robust
knowledge has been formed. There may be an appearance of consensus due to
collective acceptance, yet it is not certain that the study contains robust
knowledge if it has not undergone critical evaluation. When a deductive
approach is used and hypothesise are established based on a priori knowledge confirmation bias may be introduced, which is
the tendency to collect and interpret data in such a way which is more likely
to corroborate a preconceived expectation. Preconceived ideas due to personal
perspective may engender false assumptions that limit the conclusions drawn,
meaning the conclusions do not represent the evidence to the fullest extent. An
example in biology is in 1901, Hanig, suggested that taste sensations came from
certain regions of the tongue (O’Connor). The data suggested minute differences
in tongue sensitivity, but was taken out of context and introduced into
textbooks as robust knowledge. One possible solution in acquiring robust
knowledge is through triangulation, the use of different sets of data obtained
using different methods. Yet the same biases often prevail regardless of the
research method. Secondly, a broad assessment would allow for the increased
possibility of disagreement. However, throughout history both women and
minorities have been underrepresented within the natural sciences. This results
in the reduction of the community’s analytical resources. The increased
difference in scientific background of a knower allows further influences of
the study to be uncovered. A diversity of scientists would allow emphasis to be
passed on some concepts not considered by others, which is not necessarily due
higher rationality in their thinking. Therefore, diversity is crucial in
production and assessment of robust knowledge. An example of this reasoning is
in the methodology of random sampling in scientific trials. The rationale
behind random sampling, is that by increasing the number of factors such as age
or sex within a trial, the confidence in the conclusion is also increased. So,
by increasing the diversity of researchers, a proportional increase in critical
evaluation is expected resulting in more robust knowledge produced. Therefore,
an initial consensus does not guarantee that knowledge is robust.

 

The
methodology used in history requires interpretation of evidence, and contains
features of both disagreement and consensus in the production of robust
knowledge. Historical methods aim to reconstruct the past based on factual
research and discuss these reconstructions in terms of objective validity. Often
conjectures 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 arguments
that have been twisted to suit a personal prejudice. Interpretations made
through reasoned cause and effect must depend on underlying assumptions, although
assertions cannot be made which contradict reliable evidence. It is possible
that historians may select different documents, follow differing perspectives
and hence separate historical accounts of the same events can emerge. The
complexity of the French Revolution shows interpretations and historiography
including Jacobin, Marxist, feminist, liberal revisionism and neo-conservative
revisionism, all of which were advocated for by a large number of scholars
(Najeeb). Thus, there is an aspect of historical determinism, similar to
philosophical determinism, which is the issue of a historians free will. The
freedom of interpretation therefore casts doubt over the robustness of the
knowledge. Similarities in interpretation show consensus, hence creating more
confidence in the validity of the knowledge. Yet uncertainty over the robustness
of the knowledge will continue to remain. The methodology in history contains
disagreement, and consensus generally requires much further discussion.

 

The previous example exemplifies that disagreement within history occurs in a
variety of forms influencing the knowledge produced. Authoritative dissent is
implied through information being disregarded in different publications. This
literature-based disagreement is one that disappears after a brief reference to
the missing information. Details that are omitted do not indicate that shared
knowledge does not exist, merely a shifted focus from an original study. This
is through the discussion of knowledge following a varied theoretical framework
such as the Marxist view of class or the Annales’ school of knowledge, which
introduces a different perspective on the information. Additionally, the use of
specialised language assigns authority and status to individuals with greater
linguistic capability, due to a superior expression of ideas. This
discriminates against historians with less vocabulary, or who are writing in a
second language. Therefore, well-known historians’ ideas will gain further
discussion due to their reputable decision-making. Other historians with less
status may have more robust knowledge claims, yet may generate less discussion
and may not be part of the consensus formed. Disagreement in history, through
authoritative dissent and status has introduced the distinctive idea of aiming
for a high degree of consent rather than uniform consent for robust knowledge.

 

Historical
knowledge can be formed through only consensus with no disagreement and still
be considered robust. This occurs when there is indisputable evidence through
sense 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 is
no disagreement it follows that no consensus is needed to be formed. An example
of this is the Mount
Vesuvius eruption that led to the destruction of Pompeii in AD 79. The ruins
were discovered in 1748 and are still viewed today. However, this knowledge is
less historical and rather scientific, as it is focused on the date of the
incident instead of the interpretation. This proves that when there is no
aspect of disagreement, the knowledge claim may still be robust.

 

The principle of robustness holds that when a consensus is built on an
array of evidence drawn from a variety of techniques it is more likely to be
knowledge-based. It does seem that for robust knowledge to be formed,
frequently consensus and disagreement are both in play. The aim within the
natural sciences is to form theory from empirical evidence. Disagreement has a
role 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 which
can cause differing interpretations of the same event. This can often produce a
large understanding of multiple perspectives and hence a more inclusive
conclusion. Plainly, the initial proposition is presumptuous, as it assumes
that all knowers are rational, which is proven false through countless examples
of societal dissent against knowledge which would be considered by definition,
robust. Ultimately though, a consensus does not guarantee robust knowledge and
disagreement does not preclude robustness. 

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