Tuesday, June 28, 2022

Pop Epistemology

Stuart Ritchie of the "Science Fictions" substack and author of a book by the same name, Science Fictions, How Fraud, Bias, Negligence, and Hype Undermine the Search for Truth, which concerns it self with the replication crisis, bad science reporting, perverse incentives for scientists publishing, etc, has decided his next book is going to be about how to choose among authorities when there is contention in the popular culture. Attorneys who have seen dueling experts in the courtroom will likely appreciate the difficulty - though my experience is maybe they won't, as they are as likely as anyone else to choose a side beforehand and then follow whatever expert tells them what they want to hear. He chose the phrase "Pop epistemology," but doesn't like it.  He thinks it won't bring in the people who need to see it.

Ritchie thought there was a great deal of bad science during Covid, much of it motivated by wanting a particular answer or rushing to publish. He thinks using the credibility he has previously established to do something about that would be useful.  Looking forward to it.


Grim said...

"...maybe they won't, as they are as likely as anyone else to choose a side beforehand and then follow whatever expert tells them what they want to hear."

The problem is that if you aren't an expert, you lack the very things you would need to judge between experts. The most obvious substitute is honor, of which respect is a subset. So the reference to 'one's side' isn't so much tribal as accidental: it's likely the institutions and voices you've learned to respect are the ones your fellows speak of with respect.

Thus, "This guy's from Harvard but that guy's from the University of Tennessee" will point to different conclusions depending on whether you come from the part of society that has always held the Ivy League in honor and state schools in disrepute, or vice versa. Yet ultimately respect for either side isn't any more than a heuristic serving as a poor replacement for the actual understanding you'd need to know which argument was really better.

What you have to learn are alternative heuristics, which is something you often talk about: e.g., which side is playing fair with the argument, as well as they can. Then, if you disagree with them, you at least get the sense that there's a colorable argument for that side even if you'd prefer not to believe it. This can show you that your side is behaving in a bad way, too, e.g. relying on high class or wealth or social prestige to try to silence the opposition.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

Yes, "which side is playing fair" is huge for me.

It is not the only possible measuring stick, and I am not entirely sure why that one is so dear to me. I would like to point to some exalted reason, but it may be tied to something more petty, and just happens to be pretty good anyway.

Tom Bridgeland said...

Regarding science in the COVID era, I learned not to bother reading science out of China. That's painting with too broad a brush, but how am I to determine which Chinese scientists are reporting what their government wants them to say, or what they really found?

The breakthrough moment for me was when French studies started showing that steroids helped at least some patients. We had not been using them because the 'best' science done in China said that steroids didn't help. But that chloroquine did, a lot.