Cailin O’Connor: Scientific Polarization

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.

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Cailin O´Connor

Associate Professor, University of California, Irvine

Cailin O’Connor is a philosopher of biology and behavioral sciences, philosopher of science, and evolutionary game theorist. She is an Associate Professor in the Department of Logic and Philosophy of Science, and a member of the Institute for Mathematical Behavioral Science at UC Irvine. She is currently administering the NSF grant Social Dynamics and Diversity in Epistemic Communities. Her book The Misinformation Age was published with Yale University Press. It has been covered in the New York Times, on Hidden Brain, and on The Open Mind. Her monograph The Origins of Unfairness will be published with OUP in summer 2019. Cailin is also a sometime science writer. When not busy doing philosophy, she is a poultry enthusiast and aerial acrobat. Her Erdos-Bacon number is 7.