About Rationally Speaking

Rationally Speaking is a blog maintained by Prof. Massimo Pigliucci, a philosopher at the City University of New York. The blog reflects the Enlightenment figure Marquis de Condorcet's idea of what a public intellectual (yes, we know, that's such a bad word) ought to be: someone who devotes himself to "the tracking down of prejudices in the hiding places where priests, the schools, the government, and all long-established institutions had gathered and protected them." You're welcome. Please notice that the contents of this blog can be reprinted under the standard Creative Commons license.

Monday, August 09, 2010

Podcast Teaser: Deferring to Experts

By Julia Galef
Several recent conversations here at Rationally Speaking seem to share a common thread: When, and how much, should we take someone's expertise into account in considering his claim?
Massimo argued at TAM that non-experts in a field aren't qualified to reject an expert consensus, such as that on anthropogenic climate change. I have countered that although that's often a good rule, we nevertheless need to evaluate whether a field is legitimate before accepting its experts' consensus — and that in doing so, we can't rely on the opinions of the people in the field to tell us whether it's legitimate.
And most recently, Massimo has taken Jerry Coyne to task for making a philosophical argument without having the necessary expertise. Many commenters, meanwhile, have objected that Massimo is being too strict in his criteria for how much training a person must have before being qualified to speak on a subject. [Massimo says that he actually made an argument against Coyne’s argument, and only in passing pointed out that it is no surprise that Coyne’s philosophy is bad, since he is not trained in the field.]
So we're going to tie these threads together for Episode #16, and ask some related questions, such as: If there is a lot of disagreement among experts on a topic (for example, in philosophy), should we take any individual expert's opinion less seriously? How much consensus is required before a non-expert should say, "OK, looks like this question really is settled"?
We also want to talk about whether there's a difference between these two kinds of expert opinions:
(1) "I believe X, based on lots and lots of empirical evidence which you don't have access to because you're not an expert."
(2) "I believe X, based on a logical argument which I will lay out for you now..."
It may be that it makes a lot of sense to defer to the expert in cases like (1), but not in cases like (2). After all, if the person has laid out all of his reasons for believing X, and you're not missing any relevant empirical evidence, can't you just evaluate his logic without having to take his expertise into account? Or do you need to tell yourself, "Well, I don't agree with his logic, but I'm not an expert so he's more likely to be right"?
We've already received a lot of valuable comments on those two recent posts, which we'll take into account in our discussion, but this is your opportunity to ask any additional questions or comment on the related topics we've raised. Looking forward to hearing your thoughts!


  1. I think it's worth thinking of the expertise problem as an inherently political one. Though it matters whether or not I want to defer to experts on one point or another at any given point in time, it doesn't really become a troublesome issue until I want someone else to defer to expertise - or they I.

    With that in mind, here is my question: if a majority consensus is worth most from groups whose members are experts, should democratic mechanisms require expertise in order to participate; said another way, can we at least say that democracies would function better if they required expertise in order to vote? If the answer is no, how do we distinguish between propositions which require expertise and one's that do not?

  2. I agree with Julia in this matter. Further comments:
    1. Outside criticisms are not necessarily from non-experts, but possibly from "more or less experts" from outside the concerned intellectual community. Example: criticisms by Steven McIntyre on dendro reconstructions of past climate. The critic was not a dendrochronologist, but he was expert in statistics and his criticisms were mostly on statistics, and in the course of the discussion he became quite knowledgeable of the subject matter.

    2. Experts are experts in a certain field, and may have "authority" in that field, but not outside that field. Examples: Chemistry Nobel Prize Ilya Prigogyne has philosophized on a number of issues outside his field (the arrow of time, systems theory, and more); another, more extreme one: Jesuit paleontologist Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, well respected for his research on Peking Man and other specialized issues, started in old age to build a "Christian theory of evolution" where natural selection and evolution passed from the biological to the intellectual (not much trouble there) and then to spiritual (ultimately having the Universe converging to an "Omega Point" identifiable with the second coming of Christ); Teilhard authority as a paleontologist lends no authority to his religious theory of evolution.

    3. Besides, science is not about authority but about logic and facts. If an amateur makes a discovery (say, a new comet) this is not diminished by the fact that the amateur astronomer is a high-school student of age 14. The amateur can also discover a flaw in a seemingly well established theorem or theory, or propose a completely new one (such as the many theorems proved by amateur Indian child prodigy Srinivasa Ramanujan, 1887-1920).

    4. Science is very dynamic nowadays. New theories frequently come from relative outsiders, to the chagrin of established scientists: cf rejection of Darwinian evolution by major 19th century French biologist Louis Agassiz, or rejection of relativity and quantum mecanics by a large number of physicists in early 20th century (Max Planck later complained that older physicists were never "convinced" of the new theories: they simply died out and the field was colonised by younger minds). In rapidly changing fields, newcomers may come from distant fields, or lack the necessary credentials to enter the close-knit community dominating the field (and its journals and institutions). David Hull (Science as Process) provides excellent evidence for a specific field, Systematic Zoology.

    5. Of course, the case of Galileo comes to mind, an amateur fighting against established (Catholic) physolophy of nature, as well as the case of the Longitude prizewinner John Harrisson, a mere artisanal clock maker, fiercely opposed by established astronomers of the time. But those were early times. Now science is well entrenched in peer review, academic institutions, PhD degrees, grant seeking, and other credentialist barriers to entry (see Bowles & Gintis classic thesis and empirical proof that formal education in the US gets its bearers better jobs not exactly because it grants superior knowledge but because it provides a reliable credential of potential for work: discipline, concentration, good behaviour and the like, signs that vary according to level of education and the requirements of various jobs). Ensuring free entry avoids monopoly of a field by already obvsolete ideas, just as free entry in each industry ensures old technologies are quickly replaced by new ones when the latter gets available.
    Enough for now.

  3. James' question is somewhat outside the point. Of course democracy puts decision in the hands of a majority, probably most non-experts in the various issues of legislation. But democracy is not about ensuring scientifically valid decisions or epistemic solidity, but about ensuring political consensus and stability, even if voters get their choices wrong (they frequently do).
    The issue of authority, I surmise, is most interesting when related to science. This covers several related issues:

    1. Outsiders' critique of scientific consensus (this is the main case)
    2. Laypeople confidence in experts in matters concerning them (such as the expertise of surgeons or airline pilots) but on which they know very little

    If democracy were about selecting the most expert people (a republic run by savants, as in Plato's aristocratic dream), it could be added to the list. What wise electorates do is electing reasonable people, who can be trusted to ask the experts about difficult issues, instead of consulting cranks (such as has been the case, for instance, with Hitler's and Ronald/Nancy Reagan's fondness for astrologers, or GW Bush odd choice of advisors on stem cells, WMD or post-Saddam Irak policy). Electorates making bad choices would pay the cost, and hopefully choose better when next election comes.

  4. "Massimo argued at TAM that non-experts in a field aren't qualified to reject an expert consensus, such as that on anthropogenic climate change. I have countered that although that's often a good rule, we nevertheless need to evaluate whether a field is legitimate before accepting its experts' consensus — and that in doing so, we can't rely on the opinions of the people in the field to tell us whether it's legitimate."

    Cutting to a more specific example, should only Homeopaths be allowed to talk about the supposed efficacy of homeopathy? I would argue that the answer is no. The reason, as Julia more generally argues, is that Homeopathy has not demonstrated itself to be a "valid" inquiry -- it lacks an internal logical consistency as to how homeopathy would theoretically work (this applies both to the general principles and the specific methodological flaws of how homeopaths attenpt to "prove" their beliefs). This minimal threshold does not require an "expert" in that supposed field to check. Massimo's argument really seems to take place at the point where that threshold has already been reached. Once a field has been established as a valid enterprise, it would be expected that in any field with a lot of background knowledge only a few people would gain the necessary expertise to test individual arguments for soundness. When that happens, we have a relevant consensus of experts, and they should indeed be given more credence than those outside the fold on that topic.

    "(1) 'I believe X, based on lots and lots of empirical evidence which you don't have access to because you're not an expert.'
    (2) 'I believe X, based on a logical argument which I will lay out for you now...' "

    I belong to the camp that hates using the term "believe" in scientific contexts because of the baggage associated with the colloquial use of the term. I tend to use phrases such as "trust in the weight of the evidence" or "give provisional assent to the conclusion" but that is a bit of a digression.

    I also think that dividing issues out to those two broad categories is a bit simplistic. Take climate science: I can make a logical argument for anthropogenic global warming that is quite accessible to the lay audience. The steps fit together in a strong causal chain and it makes sense to even most scientifically illiterate people that one part would imply the next. This part is similar to (2). Demonstrating that each premise is true, however, is a laborious exercise in digging through the data and showing in a much more technical context that most would not understand. At a certain point, you simply have to point to an extensive body of research and group of subject-matter experts and say that they have spent the time to separate the signal from the noise and can say with confidence that the premise is true. This part is similar to (1).

    "After all, if the person has laid out all of his reasons for believing X, and you're not missing any relevant empirical evidence, can't you just evaluate his logic without having to take his expertise into account?"

    And that is why I point out that many technical issues have aspects of both. The logic may be simple to lay out, but that is not in itself necessarily enough information, evidence, or experience to make a judgement call about the conclusion.

  5. There's a difference between disagreeing with an expert and a consensus among experts - Massimo trying to silence Jerry because he (Jerry) disagreed with a single expert seems highly fallacious. Even if Massimo's position is supported by many other philosophy experts, Jerry's position may also have support from experts if this happens to be a topic of active debate and there is no established consensus.

    If there is a consensus, I think, to ask why the consensus is held. There have been many accepted standards in fields which were supported by convention, precaution, authority or poorly-evidenced theories. There are many examples of these, from the earth-centric universe, the pre-Hubble galaxy-as-universe, ulcers (pre-heliobacter) and plenty of contentious examples happening today which haven't yet been resolved. It's only when the consensus opinion is formed as a rational evaluation of the evidence that it becomes a useful indicator.

    Finally it's worth asking whether the outsider's theory/argument is supported by evidence and more importantly, can account for existing observations as well or better than the currently accepted theory. It means that fringe elements aren't immediately shut down merely because they're outsiders but rather we deal seriously with serious arguments.

  6. I think Massimo's maxim about outsiders not challenging an expert consensus is dominated by his faith in climate change, but I also suspect that his faith in climate science is itself a kind of 'blind spot' in Massimo's usually sharp eye for epistemic problems. He usually approaches the issue as a debate between climate scientists and climate change "deniers", the latter being an odd collection of cranks and outsiders (to science), mostly motivateded by ideological commitments such as political/economic libertarianism, and thus putting the issue on the same footing as the debate between evolution and creationism. Climate change deniers do exist, and their position is often assimilable to that of creationists or flat-earthers. But they were never a problem for climate science. The trouble comes from more dangerous angles, such as criticisms of underlying physics, details in model building or scenario construction, further details in statistical analyses of uncertainties, criticisms of paleoclimatological methods and claims, and so on. Many of these are kidnapped by denialists to further their cause, but that is marginal noise that should not detract from the centreal issues. The 90% of climategate emails concerning criticisms of paleoreconstructions of climate do not deal with denialists, but with legitimate technical criticisms perceived as powerful and potentially dangerous attacks on established tenets of "consensus climate science". Not quite different from discussions between pheneticists and cladists in the 1950s and 1960s within Systematic Zoology, with the difference that the latter never tried to depict the opposite camp as cranks unsuitable for scientific debate: each group had "their" journals and academic institutions, and the discussion ran for decades (with an eventual "victory" of sorts for cladists, though the whole field has yet to come to terms with the ultimate consequence of evolutionary biology: that there are no such thing as definite 'species' to be 'classified' in fixed boxes). See D. Hull, Science as Process (1988) for the gripping details of this story, almost as gripping as Montford's The Hockey Stick Illusion (2010).

  7. The two cases Julia described were:

    (1) "I believe X, based on lots and lots of empirical evidence which you don't have access to because you're not an expert."
    (2) "I believe X, based on a logical argument which I will lay out for you now..."

    and she argued that:

    It may be that it makes a lot of sense to defer to the expert in cases like (1), but not in cases like (2).

    In case (2), suppose X is a mathematical claim such as Godel's Theorem. Few non-experts would be able to follow the proof. It seems to me that in situations like this it's reasonable to defer to experts.

  8. Expertise is not a binary attribute. One may be more or less expert in a field or subfield, and may be more or less expert in scientific methodologies in general. The world is not simply made of "experts" and "non experts".

    Besides, as the example from homepathy raised before shows, if "expertise" is defined too narrowly, as equivalent to be a member of the "consensus community", then dissent is automatically thrown out to the "non expert" territory outside.
    Finally, there are things called inter-field and inter-theoretical fertilization, whereby one theory or field enriches another by contributing ideas, objections, debates, facts and sundry other ingredients for scientific debate; dismissing such contributions as coming from "non experts" would be wrong.

    As seen in these examples, the really interesting situations arise between educated people from different strands of intellectual endeavour, and not between absolute "experts" and absolute "non experts", the latter functionally equivalent to the illiterate, or the mentally retarded, unable to grasp anything at all about a particular field of science.

  9. What would be interesting to note here is that different fields are accessible by the layperson to different degrees. As the I Drew This blogger once famously argued, you do not need to be good presidential material yourself to judge that certain presidential policies are working poorly; forming your own opinion on quantum physics takes much more effort.

    A second thing is that it is much harder to pretend that a consensus exists in some areas than in others. Economics come to mind, but that does not stop fundamentalist free market advocates from treating everybody who suggests a rational case-by-case evaluation of the merits of privatizing specific services with contempt and arrogance. Massimo's bashing of Coyne et al. would also be easier to swallow if it were less obvious that quite a few other philosophers disagree with him, or if finding out who is "right" would be as easy as pointing at the fossil record or the temperature curve of the last 150 years.

  10. Homeopathy is also an interesting case where the "experts" have declared that empiricism and evidence-based investigation are inappropriate tools for investigating their claims (much like religionists say). Do we accept this claim when it is a consensus opinion within the homeopathy field?

    This dovetails neatly in with the discussion about how science can probe the tests of religion. Theists say 'no', but should we accept this claim? If so, why and what other claims get this same exemption?

  11. "Massimo argued at TAM that non-experts in a field aren't qualified to reject an expert consensus, such as that on anthropogenic climate change. I have countered that although that's often a good rule, we nevertheless need to evaluate whether a field is legitimate before accepting its experts' consensus — and that in doing so, we can't rely on the opinions of the people in the field to tell us whether it's legitimate."

    One might think most fields intersect with other fields. For example, homeopaths might all agree but their field touch upon, say, physics. And physicists tend to go "ummm, you've got some problems with your claims." Physicists are non-homeopathic "medicine" experts but they can point out many problems. So if one field of experts gets too far from reality, areas where their work overlaps with other disciplines would set off warning bells. As a lay person, we can might be able to trust science is generally a great chain of fields that overlap and if any link in that chain is grossly in error, it will be smoked out soon or later.

  12. If there is no evidence and could never be any evidence, then how could someone come to know about that unevidenced something?

    How is the supernatural different than magic?

    Is Massimo's position the following: "so long the "magic" is unfalsifiable and the "magic" is logically consistent, then it's 'philosophically consistent' with science?"

    What philosophy consistent with science allows someone to believe that some "magic" is part of reality (true), while discarding the majority of such claims as fanciful?

    If Jerry had said that the religious scientist is "methodologically inconsistent" would Massimo agree? What if he just said the religious scientist is being inconsistent without any modifiers?

    Are Scientology "Thetans" philosophically consistent with science per Massimo's definition? How about engrams? Reincarnation? Zeus? Wormhole visitors? Demon possession? Channeling the dead? The belief that people "create their own reality" via their thoughts?

  13. Nick makes an excellent point. In some fields such as physics and mathematics, following the logic of the arguments that experts make takes years of specialized training that most people just don't have. In those cases, most people would have to defer to the experts on the logic.

    There is another particularly interesting and controversial intermediate case between the two types of expertise. Bart Ehrman claims that an historical Jesus existed. He clearly does have access to evidence that I do not. I don't know any ancient Greek and do not have access to the manuscripts of the canonical gospels which Ehrman bases his case on. But Ehrman does state in plain English what those manuscripts say that is relevant to the question of the existence of an historical Jesus, and he does lay out in plain English the logic that takes him from the contents of those manuscripts to the conclusion that an historical Jesus existed. I feel perfectly qualified to look at that reasoning and reject it. I can see for myself that the reasoning Ehrman uses to get to his conclusion is not valid in either a deductive, inductive, or abductive sense. I don't think that I need to defer to his expertise, or to the consensus of his community of scholars, on that point.

    This does seem very closely related to the question of who is an expert? How do we identify experts? Are homeopaths experts on homeopathy? Are theologians experts on anything? Are philosophers? Is Michael Behe? Many people claim to be experts, and not all of them are. And If we are going to defer to experts in practice, we first have to figure out who they are.

  14. It's like that passage about Bacon in Nonsense on Stilts, where Massimo describes Aristotelian deduction being possibly a house of cards that can come tumbling down. This to me is expert opinion. To Julia's Expert Opinion Type (1), even before we worry about all the empirical evidence the expert has amassed we have to ask ourselves this.

    If one believes in the same base assumptions as the expert and feels the expert has been acquiring knowledge in the field longer and better, then by all means defer. But if one is extremely uncomfortable with the expert's definitions and building blocks, then it seems silly to defer to the expert.

    Reading about 140 posts down into the previous thread, I imagined school play tryouts where I I could either play the 'Crackpot' or the 'Scientific Deist'. Of course I'd go for the crackpot, because then I could be an expert in any field I liked, just like Irwin Corey, the World's Leading Authority.

  15. "I have countered that although that's often a good rule, we nevertheless need to evaluate whether a field is legitimate before accepting its experts' consensus — and that in doing so, we can't rely on the opinions of the people in the field to tell us whether it's legitimate."

    Let's apply that to philosophy. What makes philosophy legitimate? What makes philosophy so different from homeopathy? If we can safely dismiss homeopathy, why can't we dismiss philosophy?

  16. opticalradiation, seriously? Philosophy is not in the same ballpark at all! Homeopathy makes empirically testable (and false) claims, so it's like a science, and needs to be judged accordingly. Philosophy has little to do with empirical claims, and it concerns itself with the logical structure of human thought, like logic itself, or math. Methinks there is a huge difference, no?

  17. Because expert consensus is such an important multi-faceted topic, I'd like to suggest that you take it beyond a single podcast -- dig deeper and expand on the criteria that Massimo discusses near the end of his excellent book, "Nonsense on Stilts."

    For example, if there is a consensus, how is a lay person to know? How can we identify the strength of a consensus or recognize when there is a significant amount of expert dissent? How do we evaluate the claim that a consensus exists?

    Though there aren’t easy answers to these questions, it would be great to hear your perspectives.

  18. I've heard homeopaths say that homeopathy works on the metaphysical realm or has something to do with quantum mechanics or the supernatural and, so, can't be tested by science. Does that make their claims "philosophically consistent" with science? What about the placebo effect?

    How is that than a belief in a god who answers prayers but doesn't want to be detected and who sometimes answers "no"?

    Are both claims equally philosophically consistent with science? Are they equally logical or illogical? Can science say anything about either?

  19. No, that makes homeopathic claims both silly and irrelevant (since people don't get sick in a metaphysical realm). What's any of this got to do with the placebo effect, which is both measurable and scientifically testable?

  20. Massimo: Ah. But homeopathy claims are highly flexible (just like religion). Bring up empirical evidence to someone who believes in alternative medicine, the discussion very quickly gets into the realm of spirit and consciousness. You are talking like Jerry Coyne.

    But that is besides the point. What I meat to say was: why would a non-philosopher feel that there is something to philosophy? Why would a lay person, or even a scientist, come to the conclusion that some basic training in philosophy is worthy of taking? The value must be demonstrable in some way. Isn't that so? I agree with you that philosophy concerns itself with the logical structure of human thoughts. But you can argue that homeopathy (or holistic medicine) is concern with the global well-being of a person. "Being concern with" is not the same as "having an expertise in". How do I know that philosophers actually know about human thoughts, like logic itself, or math? How can that be demonstrated?

    I am sorry if this seems to be out of topic. But what I am trying to say is that philosophers can't be considered experts in human thoughts, logic, or math simply because they claim that they are. These qualifications need to be validated independently (ie. can be checked by someone who is not a career philosopher). Do you think so?

  21. Massimo:

    What's a metaphysical god to do with the one of the bible, with rain dances, intercessory prayer or souls, all of which would be measurable and scientifically testable if they actually worked/existed? Exact. Same. Issue.

  22. @Hector M.:

    I'm aiming a little deeper than the surface features of any particular conception of democracy. The point is that any scheme of assigning authority is a political system. I don't think we can escape the realities of political institution by making special claims to "scientifically valid decisions or epistemic solidity." How to structure institutions that ensure valid decisions (scientific or otherwise) and epistemic integrity is exactly what politics (dare we say political philosophy) is in the business of figuring out. One could say it is the appropriate area of expertise for this kind of inquiry.

  23. opticalradiation, while I agree that the issue of expertise is not a simple one (I devoted an entire chapter to it in Nonsense on Stilts), I have to disagree. Take quantum mechanics: I'm afraid the only way to tell whether quantum physicists are bullshiting or not is to put in the work and understand quantum mechanics. The difference with homeopathy is that it isn't that difficult to tell that it's bullshit. More complicated intermediate cases may be found, I'm sure.

    Alex. It's. Not. The. Same. Issue. At. All.

  24. articulett spake: I've heard homeopaths say that homeopathy works on the metaphysical realm or has something to do with quantum mechanics or the supernatural and, so, can't be tested by science. Does that make their claims "philosophically consistent" with science?

    Massimo replied: No, that makes homeopathic claims both silly and irrelevant (since people don't get sick in a metaphysical realm). What's any of this got to do with the placebo effect, which is both measurable and scientifically testable?

    I see. So when homeopaths say that their beliefs are supernatural and thus outside the purvue of science they are "silly and irrelevant" and their claims are subject to scientific investigation (and subsequent falsification), but when Christians make the same request for the same reason, they are met with enthusiastic support. Fortunately I'm not the only one that finds this mighty puzzling and yes, Alex jumps in right away:

    What's a metaphysical god to do with the one of the bible, with rain dances, intercessory prayer or souls, all of which would be measurable and scientifically testable if they actually worked/existed? Exact. Same. Issue.

    Massimo replied: The difference with homeopathy is that it isn't that difficult to tell that it's bullshit. More complicated intermediate cases may be found, I'm sure.

    So because a belief in intercessory prayer, transubstantiation, resurrection, rain dances, and faith healings are "difficult" because they're said to come from a unknown spirit who created the universe and so they're exempt from science. But if these were to come from an unknown spirit living in a water bottle or flowing through our chi meridians then it wouldn't be exempt and would instead be "bullshit".

    I'm afraid I don't understand the basic principles you're using to make these seemingly contradictory decisions. Is it my lack of philosophic training which has dulled my senses?

    Even assuming there was some reason for treating them differently, why do you greet the wilder claims involving omnipotent, omniscient, divine spiritual creators of the universe intervening to cure cancer as respectable and totally compatible with science but a non-omniscient, non-omnipotent, non-divine, spirit as bullshit?

  25. Tyro, I really must have set my word processor to Italian instead of English: where on earth did you get the idea that I provide Christian statements of faith with enthusiastic support? How did you miss that this blog is written by secular humanists who embrace a totally secular view of existence?

  26. Oh I know you don't agree with the religious claims and I bet you think they're irrational, and unsupported but you nevertheless appear to be defending them from criticism by arguing that they are categorically immune from scientific scrutiny, merely because they claim to use a supreme (supernatural) being rather than an energy spirit, water memory or other far more mundane explanation.

    It appears as if religious claims get your defence from any attacks from science or scientists while these woo woo claims get abuse. That, to me, appears as support. Again, maybe there is a quibble with words but I hope you can see past that to the issue I and others are trying to raise.

  27. Massimo: But theories in quantum or other branches of physics are constantly evaluated by mathematicians. So at least partially a non-expert has some reasons to believe that physicists use abstract algebra or differential geometry correctly. But when a philosopher proposes something, it is almost never checked independently by anyone else.

    Furthermore, maybe individual theory in quantum physics cannot easily be verified by someone who is not a quantum physicist; but the general theory of quantum physics must be correct (to the extent that any science can be correct) because it works. Semiconductors are quantum devices. They wouldn't be invented unless quantum physics is true. The correctness of quantum physics has a real consequence in almost everything we do today. But philosophy essentially has no consequence. It is actively ignored by almost all scientists, for example. If philosophy has deep insights to offer to any branch of science, it would seem that some advances in science must have been made possible primarily due to advances in philosophy. And yet that is far from reality. Why is that? Shouldn't we conclude that philosophy has not developed tools to advance knowledge, just as we conclude that holistic medicine has not advanced medicine?

    I am trying to understand if the validity of philosophy can be established by empirical methods. If not, why? Maybe you can say that the validity of philosophy is established by logic. Mathematicians are certainly experts in logic. They are in general not too impressed by philosophy either. If that is not the case, how many papers submitted to philosophy journals are from mathematicians?

  28. @James (August 09, 2010 10:00 PM):
    Your equation of democratic or political authority with scientific "authority" might work if the word (authority) meant the same in both cases. In politics, it means "power" (or more precisely, "recognized or legitimate power") to do things even against the will of others. In the second case it means "credibility", not implying per se any "power".
    Furthermore, science does not work on "authority" or "credibility", though totlly ignorant people may not have any other means of dealing with scientific claims that "faith" in one scientific (or non scientific) school or another. For educated and scientifically informed people, who are not experts in a particular fields, the credibility of claims about that fields is not established by blind faith or the majority vote of "experts in the field" (such as practicing homeopaths for instance). The credibility of scientific claims for educated people comes from careful examination of the logic and evidence behind such claims, from examination of minority views if any, from coherence of such claims with the claims of other scientific disciplines, and so on. A "totally secular view of existence", as Massimo put it, involves also a "totally rational view" of scientific evidence.

    I know that certain (so-called post-modern) views of science consider the epistemic basis of science (or any other "discourse" for that matter) as an instance of "power" and nothing else ("objective reality plays no role", to paraphrase Bloor's view on science). I do not partake in such views, and regard them as totally alien to science. Rationally speaking, the validity of science can only be legitimately granted on the basis of logic and facts, even by non experts, or by experts refuting non experts. Disqualifying someone on grounds of lacking expertise is a no-no.

  29. Massimo, I believe Tyro is accusing you of making accommodations to a NOMA-ish view of religion, which you do not make to other silly beliefs. Homeopathy was a poor example; a better one might be ghosts.

    You can say about ghosts the same thing as about gods: their existence is compatible with any possible empirical evidence, hence the claim itself is infinitely malleable and therefore vacuous. Similarly to Last Thursdayism, I (as a ghost-believer) can merely state that any attempt to measure ghosts makes them run away.

    So it follows that if a scientist can be religious and philosophically consistent, then they can also believe in ghosts and be philosophically consistent.

    (I agree with you in thinking the previous sentence is true, by the way; I'm just spelling out the implications.)

    The bone of contention in this whole shitstorm is what you mean by "philosophically consistent." I rather suspect you & Coyne might have been using the term in different ways, hence talking at cross purposes.

    You are emphasizing the strict logical compatibility of science with a stripped-down belief in god - methodological naturalism implies no statements about the supernatural, period.

    Meanwhile, the Coynites are yelling that scientific and religious epistemologies are really really strange bedfellows - hence their definition of "philosophical consistency" is much less formal than yours.

    In my opinion, the reason Coyne et al. get so passionate about this is that religious believers often use science's methodological naturalism as the last refuge of the epistemic scoundrel. That is, they make empirical truth claim after empirical truth claim, then hide behind the label "supernatural" when someone applies science. So you are seen as giving shelter to the enemy.

  30. Hi Julia,

    I am, perhaps, stating the obvious, but I find it interesting that your two kinds of opinions line up quite neatly with the a priori/a posteriori distinction, which I never before would have thought of as being related to expertise -- but now, I see, clearly is.

    I'm also intrigued by the possibility you lay out that someone might say, even to a proposition of type 2, "Well, I don't agree with his logic, but I'm not an expert [i.e. I don't have enough experience in these matters] so he's more likely to be right." It seems to me that to say such a thing, one would have to deny the existence of a priori knowledge.

  31. Massimo, would you agree that theism, which requires a non-physical God to pass information to physical humans, is both a violation of what we know through science about the thermodynamic conservation of energy and also a logical problem to theistic supporters of Goulds NOMA idea? The idea that a theist "knows" something revealed by God means God has altered at least on physical humans mind (in other words God has introduced enough directed energy into the physical world to cause that humans neurons to fire in such a way as to pass the revelation).
    Is a God who does this having an effect on the physical world that, while not necessarily measurable now (this God may have only done this once, in deep history), at least violating the principle of non overlapping domains of influence?

  32. For me, I think the appeal to expertise is contingent on the relevance of being an expert in a particular field to the claims being made. If we take astrology, I admit I'm not an expert in it. Yet I have no problems in arguing the flaws of the discipline. Why? Because being an expert is incidental to the kinds of claims that are being made. Meanwhile when it comes to science like climate change or evolution, I have to defer to the expertise because the facts and theory within are crucial to the ability to understand the legitimacy of the discipline.

    Beyond that, we are largely part of a sibling society where a lot of knowledge is culturally transmitted by those who really don't know better. And in those circumstances I feel compelled to speak out because certain kinds of knowledge need defending. Most creationist claims for example don't need someone who has a masters in evolutionary theory, just someone who has enough knowledge to counter it. The fact that it is passed around from person to person is reason enough to spend time trying to understand where the expertise lies and at least try to argue in that direction - because as sceptics I think this is the best we can do!

  33. I have little to say about Julia's question as to expertise and the right to speak. It varies. Some philosophical isues are clearly open to practically anyone to speak with relevance and (at least sometimes) intelligence. Lot's of them have to do with the logic of fairly straightforward English (or German, Italian, etc.) expressions. There is also a region of indeterminacy surrounding a lot of our concepts, even some technical philosophical concepts.

    For instance, logical incompatibility seems to be quite straightforward, referring to logical consistency. But philosophical compatibility -- which is the matter at issue between Massimo and Jerry Coyne -- has a penumbra of uncertainty around it. What exactly does it mean? Massimo suggests that Jerry should back off, unless he's willing to do the work required to understand. But is it lack of philosophical understanding that is at issue in this case, or simply lack of clarity about what philosophers themselves might mean by the idea of philosophical compatibility/consistency?

    I think religious claims and scientific claims are philosophically incompatible; they do not sort well together. The reason is simply that, while science can provide evidence and confirmation, religion can't provide an epistemology at all. This makes science and religion incompatible bedfellows in a philosophical sense. Culturally, apparently, they can exist in the same mind, whether scientific or not, since we are able to compartmentalise. But speaking about their compatibility in a philosophical context is very different. Massimo seems to claim that they are compatible, but so far has given very little reason to think that they are. And it's not a question of expertise at all here, well, at least not any very profound level of expertise, and I would like to know why anyone might think it is.

  34. @Hector:

    I'm not a Foucault devotee, nor am I arguing, or even attempting to argue that scientific consensus is merely about Political Power(TM). Conversely, one shouldn't make the mistake (also a problem with some post-modernists) of judging any political institution as *merely* a mechanism of power. Likewise, one shouldn't make the mistake of talking about expertise as if political power is not involved at all. Each characterization is incomplete in its own way.

    What I am saying is that an expectation of deference to expertise is only contentious in so far as it poses a real or perceived political, or - if you prefer - social, threat.

    One only has to consider who is being asked to defer to uncover the nature of the problem; it is always the amateur, not the expert. This sort of deference by definition is a blind one, where amateur participants exist in a state of ignorance, armed only with a trust in the institution which authenticates expertise they're expected to defer to. This relationship is not an epistemic one, or a relationship of peers, nor does this relationship diminish or colour in any way the relationships between experts within a particular field. When one is talking about deference, none of that matters, because experts are not asked to defer to each other. It is a question of those on the outside deferring to those on the inside. When this expectation is underwritten only by trust in the institution that verifies expertise, the problem of deference to expertise is a political one.

    I should note that you seem to be under the impression that I'm suggesting that science should be democratized (I apologize if I'm reading too much into your responses). That isn't the case. I lean more in the direction of a test requirement for voting, and definitely for representatives. Not that that is going to happen any time soon, but it's where my head is at.

    Also, what is probably the source of much distortion is that experts in differing fields are often motivated by the fact that they are validated by the same institutions. Say, a PHD in biology and a PHD in history of science. It's easier for them to defer to each other than for a non-PHD, because if one of them does not defer to the other, they risk undermining their own authority. For these individuals, deference is all about managing the borders of their domain of authority. For individuals who are not PHDs, deference to PHDs is all about trusting the institution that confers expertise in the first place. Let's call these the questions of domain and legitimacy, respectively. You think domain is where all the action is, and legitimacy is beyond question; I think that questions of domain amount to minor tiffs, while legitimacy is a source of grave problems. Ultimately, arguments concerning domain or legitimacy are both political (though not merely so), and what's worse, is that positions held with regard to domain can easily transfer to legitimacy, and vice-versa.

    As an example of the inherently political nature of deference, consider that this entire rant could be viewed as an effort by political philosophy to set itself up as the appropriate domain of expertise for determining the nature of institutions that legitimize and restrict the domain of expertise (including itself). I think this sort of problem is what lies at the heart of our struggle with deference.

  35. There was an interesting case involving philosophical expertise a few months ago. Andrew Pessin, chair of philosophy at Connecticut College, wrote a HuffPo piece about religion that referred to the paradox of the preface. There was a big outcry at Coyne's blog and elsewhere about Pessin's cluelessnes, and how there's no real paradox of the preface. This was very odd. There's a big literature about this paradox, and Pessin teaches philosophy and logic, etc etc. Doesn't his expertise put him in a better position to say whether or not there's a paradox? (Yes--obviously it does.) I think MP is right to be worried that many people don't appreciate that philosophy is a genuine discipline and there's a difference between people with and without training in it. It's not that non-philosophers shouldn't venture into philosophical territory but they should do so with modesty. I discussed the issue here--


  36. A third kind of expert opinion:

    (3) "I believe X, based on this data plus a statistical argument which I will not spell out because you are not an expert in statistics..."

    This may perhaps complicate Scott's observations,
    since it is a kind of a priori technical expertise.

    Also, FWIW, I deny that philosophers have expertise or authority over anything but the proper usage of their own jargon. Only in this sense can Massimo claim authority over Jerry.

  37. That's likely because you've never taken a course in philosophy (or logic, which is a branch of it). But I'm just guessing.

  38. I think we SOMETIMES cherry pick. At least I do. If a given person is an expert in a field, I think that this person might tend to diminish the input of a non expert. If a given person is a non expert in a field, then that person might rely more on logic ( assuming one knew enough about logic and logical fallacies ) rather than data, because too much data is unknown by that person.

    As a physician, especially one who has some expertise in type 2 diabetes, I feel better qualified to sift through the data and form an opinion on the current literature by myself. Whether it's right or wrong, I more comfortably rely less on other, non experts, and much more prefer the opinions of similar experts in my field as I sift through the above data.

    The less I know, the more I seek outside opinion, expert opinion, and until I gather enough data, I often form my own opinion based more on a logical arguement, as best I can, or I may inadvertantly fall prey to a fallacy.

  39. Jean Kazez: In the same vein, there is a big literature in philosophy on the nature of consciousness and the mind. They are completely ignored by practicing neural scientists and cognitive scientists. As Massimo explained before, very silly arguments involving zombies and abnormal color vision are discussed seriously by philosophers. I think a scientist, when making a comment about the mind, is completely justified NOT to "engage the philosophy literature" because the said literature hasn't pass the threshold of being taken seriously. When it comes to the mind, I think scientists are the experts. Philosophers think otherwise. The problem is how do we decide? My very humble opinion (ie. I'd like to be shown wrong) is that philosophers are not experts in the mind and consciousness in the same sense that they are not experts in cancer: they haven't made a significant contribution yet (despite a thousand years of history).

    I don't know enough about philosophy to make a judgement about Andrew Pessin's piece on HuffPo. It is certainly possible that Jerry Coyne was ignorant in this case, but my point is that just because there is a literature does not mean that it deserves to be engaged. There is a big literature on UFO and conspiracy too.

  40. On the issue of expertise, consider the issue of consciousness. Philosophers claim expertise in this area. So do neuroscientists and cognitive scientist. The later essentially bypass the philosophy literature in the pursue of their research. Now suppose Jerry Coyne makes a broad comment on the mind, philosophers can (and no doubt will) call him philosophically naive for not engaging the literature. The problem, as I see it, is this: it is not clear to me why philosophy is even relevant. You might say: "Outrageous! Everybody knows that the nature of the mind is a philosophical question. After all, Plato talked about it. You therefore can't call yourself serious about the mind without at least doing some homework in philosophy". However, this is highly cultural dependent. If you live a few years in an Asian country (as I have), you quickly discover that people don't consider consciousness part of philosophy. In their cultures, it is very often a part of religion (Buddhism). Some branches of buddhism do claim special insights in this subject and have developed a body of scholarly literature. If I am not mistaken, this discussion in buddhism is very often not dogmatic and is quite rigor in logic. When I explain my work in neuroscience to an Asian friend, I was asked to answer questions discussed in Buddhist scriptures and was given a few big books to study. Should I invest a few years learning sanskrit in order to engage the literature? I don't think so.

    This I think is a problem about expertise, especially concerning philosophy. If we can ignore the buddhist literature about the mind, why is that? Before you compare buddhism to alternative medicine, make sure you do your homework first. This is not about meditation and brainwaves. The buddhist literature* makes no empirical claim so it is not testable. Massimo probably will say you just have to dig into it and engage in its internal logic. But it is full of jargons in sanskrit and does require a big deal of serious scholarship. I don't see philosophers learning sanskrit before they write a paper about consciousness.

    My point is that, at least in the area of consciousness, philosophy is considered relevant simply because 1. Philosophers claim that they are experts, and 2. people expect philosophers to know something. This wouldn't do. Philosophy of Mind must first make a genuine contribution, whose value is demonstrable to non-philosophers, before it deserves to be engaged. Otherwise it is indistinguishable from other highly dubious speculations. Before you call me naive and arrogant and ask me to take a few classes in philosophy, you do the same to buddhism and yet you are quite comfortable with it.

    * As far as I understand it. I am not a buddhist and know very little about it.

  41. @James who says: "One only has to consider who is being asked to defer to uncover the nature of the problem; it is always the amateur, not the expert". Of course it's so. It is the patient who defers to the surgeon in the operating room, not the converse. However, ignoring again the case of "amateurs" being total ignoramuses, the "amateur" in one field may be an absolute "expert" in another (possibly akin) field. And besides, sometimes the "expert" has to defer to the "amateur" when the latter presents convincing proof (cf Galileo, or young patent clerk Einstein, lacking a university degree of any sort, against most established physicists).
    I think the whole debate here is ill defined, as I have repeatedly tried to suggest. Ignorant people are supposed to defer, not only to scientists but (especially in the past) to religious authorities or to their social "betters"; but this has nothing to do with epistemic validity of any kind of knowledge. Whether the ignoramus defers or not is actually irrelevant. Problems arise when "outsiders" (relative to a close-knit epistemic clique entrenched in some group-think orthodoxy) come out with "inconvenient truths" (or claims) posed in acceptably good technical language and accompanied with acceptably good logical or factual evidence. In such cases, the insiders are ethically obliged to engage in the discussion, consider the objections or claims, and finally reject or accept or reformulate them, as the case might be. Any other conduct is either irrelevant or anti-scientific.

  42. On ex ante and ex post jugdments about the expertise of outsiders.

    On receiving objections from outside the relevant specialised scientific community, a scientist can simply dismiss those claims on grounds that they are posed by amateurs, not by recognized specialists in the field (for instance, Dr Michael Mann of Penn State U has in the past dismissed some criticisms of his work on the basis that the critics were a mere mining engineer and an economist, not deigning to analyze their arguments. This I call ex ante dismissal of non experts.
    On the other hand, after examining a certain claim or objection a scientist can say (besides refuting the claim) that it shows lack of basic background knowledge in the field, or ignorance of relevant and well know literature. This ex post judgment about non experts' lack of expertise is valid in some respects (e.g. it may disqualify a paper to be published), but is not in itself a refutation of the claim made by the alleged non expert. Imagine Henri Poincaré dismissing Einstein's 1905 papers just because they were written by no known scientists, or because they failed to cite some important papers. Another example, less known: in 1960 Italian economist Piero Sraffa published his only (short) book, Production of Commodities by Means of Commodities, with the presumptuous subtitle "Prelude to a Critique of Economique Theory[. The book did not cite any other work (except some passing mention of one or two works written in the 1700s and 1800s), and was completely alien to the language and approach of established economics. Sraffa, an Italian émigré who escaped Fascism in the late 1920s and settled down in Cambridge, was working as a librarian in Cambridge, not holding any Professorship or Lecturership or anything of the sort. His only other works were two obscure papers in Italian published in the 1920s, and his edition of David Ricardo's work (in his capacity as librarian). His book, however, caused a long reverberating revolution in economic thinking, but has all the a priori marks of being the work of a crank. Should it have been dismissed out of hand?

  43. It appears to me that the claim that "non-experts in a field aren't qualified to reject an expert consensus" is false. Let's employ an example involving a logician and a climatologist. Let's assume that the climatologist endorses anthropogenic global warming theory - that *his* AGW theory is but one big argument containing sub-arguments, all of which are sound, according to him.

    Enter the logician. Let's assume that the logician is a laymen when it comes to climatology. He may be a non-expert in this field, however as a logician he certainly is capable of identifying formal and informal fallacies. Let's further assume that he discovers a fallacy within the climatologist's argument, one that discredits his AGW theory severely. Should the logician, a non-expert in climatology, not reject this fallacious climatological theory?

  44. opticalradiation, My first specialization was in philosophy of mind and I have taught and published in it, so I'm afraid that example doesn't grab me in the least. Someone who dismisses stuff about zombies and inverted spectra (MP does? I hope not!) is just not understanding the point. Philosophy of mind is technical and difficult--you have to get into it quite deeply to understand what's going on. There's no need to choose between philosophers and cognitive scientists as "the experts" on the mind--they're both experts. There's no contradiction there--for the most part they ask different questions.

  45. Let's further assume that he discovers a fallacy within the climatologist's argument, one that discredits his AGW theory severely. Should the logician, a non-expert in climatology, not reject this fallacious climatological theory?

    Why not use an uncontrovercial example that we can all relate to, like how a logician rejects the Holocaust.

  46. Jean: Yes, I realize that. (And yes, Massimo has been consistently dismissive about the those arguments). No offense. Maybe that's not the best example. But just bear with me for a moment. What you just wrote can easily come out of the mouth of a new age guru (replace philosophy with chi or chakra). As new age guru will insist that the flow of chi is technical and difficult and you have to get into it deeply to understand what's going on. What's the difference? It has to be something that can be *shown* to people. I am philosophically naive but I am trying to find a reason to take it seriously. Thus the question.

  47. Optical, Yes, new age gurus can say the same thing, but physicists can also say the same thing. If I think the concept of curved space sounds silly, physicists can legitimately say to me that I ought to defer to their expertise or go take a course. Are philosophers genuine experts like physicists or frauds like new age gurus? Naturally, I do think they're genuine experts. If they're not seen that way by the public, that's perhaps because not enough people take philosophy courses, or because there isn't enough accessible philosophy around...or whatever. It's a large scale problem with lots of factors and no simple solution.

  48. Jean: If space time does not fold the way as prescribed by physicists, many things won't work. GPS will fail. Spacecrafts won't reach its destinations. The hubble telescope won't show lensing...etc. You don't need to defer a judgement to an expert. You can simply check experimental data. Philosophy is not seen that way by the pubic because it hasn't "worked" (ie. has not demonstrated that it is different from new age, IMHO).

  49. I think the difference is that the New Age gurus provide an opinion which is based on their assertions rather than a careful evaluation of the evidence. If you can step past the experts and see the evidence and the field is engaging in productive, evidence-based discourse then I place confidence in the outcome. If the only argument is the authority of a guru, there's no methodology beyond charisma, there's no gathering and weighing of evidence then I place no value in the outcome.

    In this way, I'm not trusting the experts but I'm trusting the methodology and the process. Science is run by individuals who are fallable but the larger process has proved successful and trustworthy; faith-based practice has none of these and isn't worth of any trust or confidence (or "faith" :) )

  50. Optical, OK, but what if I don't understand any of that? Should I call the physicists dumb or just accept that they know better than me? The latter, surely. I think philosophers do know better on some things--basically, on the contours of philosophical problems. They can explain what a problem is, why it's a genuine problem, what the options are, why they make at least initial sense, what the "hopeless non-starters" are, etc. They can guide people around a topic, whereas untrained people often just don't even grasp the initial question. So the expertise is different from science expertise--it's not a matter of knowing the answers.

  51. Jean: thanx for the discussion. I don't want to waste your time further on this but I appreciate the comments.

  52. @Hector:

    So, your argument is that deferral to expertise and the resultant ethical quandaries, are not political problems because there is a natural rule where by amateurs aught to defer except when their case meets a measure of merit they are unqualified to determine - perhaps even incapable of determining.

    This isn't an epistemologically solvable situation. As the above paradox demonstrates. I think I can rest my case: expertise is an institutional problem, not an epistemic one.

  53. i support the call of opticalradiation for a defense of philosophical expertise, if not in this episode then in another. it is not at all clear to me what philosophers consider the major results of their field or how it directly / indirectly impacts other fields. i have heard some good scientist (steven weinberg, richard feynman, lawrence krauss comes to mind) severely disparage philosophy of science. are they correct? and how do philosophers see their purpose in academia?

    now for topic of the post.

    i think one must evaluate consensus and expertise at many levels and the case for a lay-person's rejection or acceptance of a consensus or trust in expertise must rely on accumulation of evidence at these levels:

    -evaluate oneself. write down first impression, ideas, feelings one has for/against the consensus.

    - one must learn the basic,universally agreed upon claims of any field and the logic of the methods(if possible the methods themselves) used to establish such claims. cross-reference such
    claims with other well established field.

    -one must evaluate the track record of a field or experts , what has been right or wrong in the
    past and how was this discovered. what are the past controversies and how were they resolved and look at a list of unresolved problems.

    -evaluate the biases of individuals in the field if possible, i.e. political, ethical, financial,

    etc for diversity. the more diverse the better.

    -for the consensus itself structure a tiered level of knowledge for oneself from the basic on up. that is start with the logic of the consensus and fill in methods and results that at a ever higher level of complexity.

    if a layperson cannot at least accomplish these evaluations then i cannot see how they can be

    anything but agnostic on a consensus.

    i think you need both (1) and (2) for a competent evaluation of expert opinion and reliance on one just leaves too large a room for the other reason to screw up an assessment.
    e.g. if a may be controversial for the moment one may think biblical scholarship has lots of
    facts about the resurrection but the methodologies used are fatally flawed to answer the question or that sociobiology has a nice logical framework but lack the detailed empirical results to back up human adaptive traits.

  54. Jean, I can't understand you. You mention the paradox of the preface, and the business about zombies, to suggest that those who disagree are somehow without any credibility at all, that, just because some experts take a particular point of view, all experts must agree that what is being discussed is real. Well, I don't think there is a paradox of the preface, despite all that is written about it, and Dennett doesn't have much truck with zombies. Is he just wrong, because others take zombies seriously, or at least the intelligibility of talking about zombies? That's simply not the way expertise works in philosophy, and that's why MP is wrong in staking out the ground, and shooing Jerry Coyne away.

  55. What is the motivation for such a topic to be continually discussed? The realm of science is in itself the ultimate free market. Through publication one can put forth any idea (regardless of expertise or not) based soley on merit. All experts can critique and discredit or accept and/or build upon. New theorys are subject to peers and experts yet non-experts have access to either learn, use, reject, accept or whatever. Cross boundary examination of new theory is the norm with criticisms coming from within and outside of the field. It evolved by itself as a free system without the need for authority or regulation. To be used by any other field as needed.
    When I see scientists pleading for the need for some criteria for rejection of authority to debate I have to question the motivation behind that need. It certainly does not come from the pure altruistic betterment of science.
    Is there just too much wasted time debating nonsense? So that suddenly now there is a need to define who the experts are and who is allowed to form opinions on subjects.
    What would it look like (defining experts) You must a 4 year degree? You must have a doctorite? You must have 6 years of schooling on the subject and 6 years working in the field? Do you need a co-signer to publish your first paper, then your allowed to chime in at will?
    I dont think it is coincidence that this subject is put to the test so often as of late and we are also living in a period where certain scientific research is tied into politics so heavily. I dont think that it is a altruistic concern for the progress of science in a whole that brings one to point to someones credentials before their ideas rather than the latter.
    bringing authority or power into science would not only be a grave mistake, it would have the exact opposite of its intended effect. It would even bring about a true secondary scientific free market just as over regulated economy brings about a black market.
    No doubt the subject of GCC is elephant in the room. If you think there is distrust from the so called non-experts towards the scientific community. Imagine where it would be once the free market of science is removed with some form of regulated structure replacing it.
    Perhaps you think I am taking it too far. maybe you think thats not what we are really discussing here. We are just discussing if the concensus is if non-experts should just appeal to experts as a norm during debate (or refaining from it altogether). Well then i ask, what if the concensus is "YES" they should. Then what?

  56. Jim: I don't think scientific institutions are or have ever been much like a "free market." It's never been open to just *anyone*--see Steven Shapin's _A Social History of Truth: Civility and Science in Seventeenth-Century England_, about the social structures and processes around the Royal Society, about who counted as a scientist and what counted as a verified claim.


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