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Scientific Polarization

Cailin O’Connor, Logic & Philosophy of Science, University of California, Irvine Related


Sometimes scientific communities polarize over matters of fact, even when they share epistemic goals, and have access to the same evidence. In this talk, I discuss why scientists might polarize in this way. Drawing on the motivating case of chronic Lyme disease, I present results from epistemic network models where actors share evidence, seek truth, and nonetheless polarize. This happens when scientists become skeptical of evidence shared by community members whose beliefs diverge too far from their own. This tendency towards mistrust hurts the knowledge-producing capacity of the group in many cases, and can lead to the emergence of epistemic "factions" that share multiple, polarized beliefs. But, as I discuss, it is nonetheless often a reasonable epistemic strategy.