Consensus seeking versus truth seeking

W. F. Lawless, M. Bergman, N. Feltovich

Research output: Contribution to journalReview ArticleResearchpeer-review

21 Citations (Scopus)


Postmodernists have long argued that giving an egalitarian voice to all citizens by seeking consensus decisions with cooperation improves social welfare more effectively than the competition traditionally used with common sense and scientific evidence as part of truth seeking in a democracy. In a recent evaluation of its policy on consensus, the Department of Energy Environmental Management (DOE-EM) encouraged its Citizen Site Specific Advisory Boards "to work toward consensus" in order to be "fair," thereby improving American democracy, according to the lead evaluator. But no empirical evidence has been collected from the field by the Evaluation Team to validate the DOE's policy. In contrast, the literature and field data contradict the Team: consensus seeking retards cleanup; the coercion necessary to seek consensus reduces trust; and consensus-seeking favors risk perception rather than scientifically determined risk. In contrast, the competition of ideas driven by truth seeking significantly accelerates the cleanup and improves trust. While we recommend that the DOE revise its policy, we also note that in its enactment, the DOE allows the individual Boards to set their own decision policy.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)59-70
Number of pages12
JournalPractice Periodical of Hazardous, Toxic and Radioactive Waste Management
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2005


  • Decision making
  • Environmental issues
  • Public participation
  • Waste management

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