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In order to deconstruct the given knowledge issue, we have to recognize and discern the subjectivity of several words. First of all, what does it mean by “robust knowledge”? Robust is usually defined as powerful, useful or solid. In the following essay, I will adopt the definition of robust in terms of practicality, thus robust knowledge refers to a form or knowledge that is applicable and useful in our daily life. For example, while quantum physics was discovered in late 1800s, it was merely theoretical decades ago. Only in recent decades have its power in areas such as quantum computing been elicited, and hence I will consider knowledge in quantum science as not robust in earlier days, but becoming robust nowadays. Next, “consensus” implies the unity of knowledge and agreement. It refers to a general acceptance of the majority of people from all cultural backgrounds, ethnicities. Although an issue of consensus may not be universal truth, it should be believed to be credible and salient by the norm in the period of time of concern. In comparison, “disagreement” refers to a situation when at least two groups of people have a distinct and different stance on a topic. It occurs when the knowledge is lack of consistency and correspondence, as well as approval. When discussing about the statement “Robust knowledge requires both consensus and disagreement”, two knowledge questions that arise are: “To what extent can robust knowledge emerge from only consensus, or only disagreement?” and “In what ways does consensus and disagreement contribute to the production of knowledge?” I argue that both consensus and disagreement is necessary in the production of robust knowledge. However, consensus and disagreement contribute to the pursuit of robust knowledge in different stages of knowledge production, which will depend on the area of knowledge in discussion. I will explain using two areas of knowledge, Natural Science and Human Science. 

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In Natural science, disagreement is needed at the hypothetical stages of the production of accurate knowledge, thus robust knowledge, since false information hinders the usefulness of knowledge application. Disagreement notably arise in the first step of the scientific method, when observations does not match with prior theories. It is the fuel to search of real knowledge and universal truths. An example is the falsification of cell membrane theory in Biology. The Davson-Danielli model was a model of cell’s plasma membrane, proposed in 1935, it was accepted by most cell biologists for around 30 years. According to this model, cell membranes contains two layers of protein adjacent to the phospholipid bilayer and falsely predicted that proteins are fixed in a peripheral layer and cannot move freely. However, Singer and Nicolson’s observation from the electron micrographs of membrane in high magnification in 1950s disagreed with Davson-Danielli model, eventually proving it wrong. The new theory of cell membrane structure is now more robust in application in real life. It matched with results in the study of X-ray diffraction and electron microscopy and enabled medical development. Since sensory perception is an unavoidable way of knowing during experiments and observations in Natural Science, biases and mistakes often arise due to the lack of high technology. Therefore, disagreement provides alternative information and perspectives and additional chances to revise current knowledge. Undergoing yet surviving disagreement helps consolidate the accuracy of a given piece of knowledge, leading to an increase of its robustness. ( paradigm shift )

On the other hand, consensus plays an even more key role in Natural Science, as it is required in both the beginning and end process of robust knowledge production. Many theories in sciences are constructed by existing theories or knowledge, in other words, consensus. Despite the consensus sometimes being wrong, scientists refine existing knowledge instead of refute them, whereas without prior consensus, there is no foundation to build the scientific method upon. In will discuss my claim using Physics. In the theory of special relativity proposed by Einstein, the ideas seem to overthrow what the general audience in that era believed about Newtonian space and time on the surface, yet the theory was actually developed from many existing concepts discovered by Isaac Newton. For example, the formulae for momentum in special relativity was deduced through modifications of Newton’s second law, while Einstein’s famous statement “the speed of light within a vacuum is the same no matter the speed at which an observer travels” completes rather than contradict Newton’s assumption that “the laws of physics are the same for all non-accelerating observers”. As we can see, new theories are invented based on previous consensus and only refines some minor foibles in the existing knowledge, because prior knowledge and experience are essential tools in analyzing a case especially in the prediction and experiment steps of the scientific method. More importantly, consensus is needed in the concluding stage of knowledge production in Natural science such that it is prepared for application, whereas if no consensus can be reached, power within the knowledge cannot be withdrawn for use. In 1900s, the falsified Rutherford’s model put atomic model into hot debate once again. Bohr’s model built on the pure assumption and imagination that electrons can only orbit the nucleus at fixed orbitals was widely accepted. Despite being wrong in the very first place, the Physics society’s consensus on using his model was a crucial step for them to further research and application. In fact, even after the more accurate electron cloud model was discovered, Bohr’s model is still frequently used in areas including predicting molecular bonding and performing electromagnetic resonance now. In short, consensus in the conclusion of a hypothesis, though it may still invite doubts and refinement later, is essential for pushing Science knowledge forward to other sectors and common citizens for it to become useful and robust in real life.

Unlike Natural science, in Human Science, disagreement is needed at the stage of application via sharing and discussion, while consensus plays more of a role in the foundational process of theory and model making of robust knowledge. In Economics for example, disagreement on theories and models can inspire innovative ideas of application, help evaluate and compare different policies for choosing the best to adopt, and simulate problems of policies to assist smoother application. Before 1930s, economists generally only adopted views constructed on the basis of macroeconomics, the neo-classical view. Neo-classical economists argue that the market is able to self-correct and therefore government intervention must be minimized. Confirmation of neo-classical theory is only based on assumptions and imagination, which does not take into account the reliability of the theory. To economists surprise, the occurrence of Great Depression in 1929 prompted dissent on the neo-classical view. After that, macroeconomists started developing the Keynesian approach to manage the economy. Keynesians suggest that government intervention in order to achieve macroeconomic objectives is necessary, because market failures such as negative externalities of goods, lack of public goods and overuse of common resources exists and must be corrected. In current politics, disagreement between Neo-classical and Keynesian view on economic policies are common. Given that Human Science emphasizes on the ways of knowing of imagination and language, none can deem their opinions to be absolutely correct and perfectly applicable. In such situations, debates can help policy-makers compare the effectiveness of potential decisions as well as predict shortcomings of different policies and look for solutions in advance. Dissents increased the robustness of knowledge in macroeconomics and disagreements can largely increase the practicality of knowledge through the sharing and discussion stage of knowledge application in the form of policies. 

As mentioned, consensus plays a significant role of laying foundation in the theoretical stage of knowledge formation in Human Science. The difficulty and complexity of studying human behavior gives simplification imperative to understanding of economics, consensus of assumptions is needed in order for discussions to proceed. Take the law of demand for example. The law states that consumer’s quantity demanded of a good or service increases as the price of the good or service decreases. Although counter-examples exists, namely normal goods like luxury items which customers may desire more of expensive products than cheap ones, and debates over the shape of the demand curve, economists came to an agreement of using a negative sloped linear curve to represent demand. It is because theories can only be produced with it emerges with consensus, and arguments are only comparable when built on a general convention. Therefore, consensus acts as a foundation for robust knowledge to evolve. 

To conclude, in order to understand the importance of consensus and disagreements to the pursuit of robust knowledge in the sciences, we have to understand how science works. Method constitute scientific theories require abundance experiments and hypotheses. They undoubtedly have its value, but facts and our empirical observations are likely to interpret in a way dependent on a knowledge that we choose to believe in. Thus, disagreements are critical to the production of robust knowledge. Consistent questions on the existing scientific claims forces us to falsify the existing theories, allowing the pursuit of robust knowledge. On the other hand, consensus helps to provide the foundation of knowledge. People can therefore refine and develop the established knowledge, increasing the robustness of knowledge.