28 Oct 2015

11:00 – 11:30 Coffee + Welcome
11:30 – 12:30 I. de Melo–Martín, K. Intemann
12:30 – 14:30 Lunch
14:30 – 15:30 J. Biddle
15:30 – 16:00 Coffee Break
16:00 – 17:00 L. King
17:00 – 18:00 E. Nash
20:00 Joint Dinner

29 Oct 2015

10:00 – 10:30 Coffee
10:30 – 11:30 S. John
11:30 – 12:30 I. J. Kidd
12:30 – 14:30 Lunch
14:30 – 15:30 A. Moore
15:30 – 16:00 Coffee Break
16:00 – 17:00 T. Wilholt
17:00 – 18:00 Round Table Discussion


Justin Biddle (Georgia Institute of Technology, USA)
– Climate Skepticism and the Manufacture of Doubt: Can Dissent in Science be Epistemically Detrimental? 

The aim of this talk is to address the neglected but important problem of differentiating between epistemically beneficial and epistemically detrimental dissent. While dissent in science can clearly be beneficial, there might be some instances of dissent that not only fail to contribute to scientific progress, but actually impede it. Potential examples of this include the tobacco industry’s funding of studies that questioned the link between smoking and lung cancer, and the attempt by the petroleum industry and other groups to cast doubt upon the conclusion that human consumption of fossil fuels contributes to global climate change. The problem of distinguishing between good and bad dissent is important because of the growing tendency of some stakeholders to attempt to delay political action by ‘manufacturing doubt’ (Oreskes & Conway 2010). This talk focuses on climate science – a field that, in our view, is rife with instances of detrimental dissent. On the basis of our discussion of climate science, we articulate a set of sufficient conditions for epistemically problematic dissent in general, which we call “the inductive risk account of epistemically detrimental dissent.”


  • Oreskes, N., & Conway, E. (2010). Merchants of doubt. New York: Bloomsbury Press.


Inmaculada de Melo-Martín (Weill Cornell Medical College NYC, USA), Kristen Intemann (Montana State University, USA)
– Can We Identify Normatively Appropriate Dissent? –

The obligation of scientific communities to create opportunities for dissenters and take dissenting views seriously presents scientists and science studies scholars with a tension. On the one hand, dissent plays crucial roles in knowledge production. Limiting opportunities for dissenting views risks suppressing important objections to theories, models, and background assumptions, thereby hindering or distorting the production of scientific knowledge. On the other hand, creating opportunities for and taking seriously some dissent – particularly when such dissent involves evidence relevant to public policies – can cause more harm than good. For instance, private industry and think tanks have funded research whose primary aim has been to manufacture dissent by generating studies that call into question widely received views about climate change. This has led to confusion, wasted scarce resources, and contributed to the derailment of important public policy decisions. Are there ways to ensure the epistemic benefits of dissent while preventing possible epistemic and social damages? We here discuss three main attempts that have been proposed to identify normatively appropriate dissent: those that appeal to uptake of criticism (Kitcher and Longino), shared standards (Longino, Solomon), and that attend to risks (Biddle and Leuschner). We critically evaluate these different approaches and conclude that they are not successful. We then offer a different way of understanding the problem posed by dissent, one that focus on the role of non-epistemic values in scientific judgment and in policy making and argue that this way of framing the problem is more likely to advance debates involving policy-relevant science.


Stephen John (University of Cambridge, UK)
Non-expert Knowledge, Folk Philosophy of Science and Climate Change Scepticism –

In this paper, I explore the relationship between climate scepticism and the possibility of non-expert knowledge about scientific matters. I argue that climate scepticism often works in a way which undermines non-expert knowledge. However, I also suggest that it is unclear whether this “epistemic loss” is a result of climate scepticism or whether it points to a more general instability in the relationship between scientists and publics.
More specifically, I argue as follows. It seems plausible to hold that the public can come to know certain sorts of factual scientific claims – such as claims about the causes and extent of anthropogenic climate change – through deference to the testimony of expert scientists. It seems plausible to hold, however, that for non-expert deference to expert testimony to be rational – and, hence, for the beliefs which non-experts form on the basis of such deference to count as “knowledge” – non-experts must have good grounds to trust expert testifiers. A popular view in social epistemology holds that rational trust must be based on assessment that testifiers are both competent and sincere. One way of understanding some of the strategies adopted by “climate sceptics” is as trying to show that mainstream climate scientists are not “competent”. There are many ways of undermining an opponent’s competence. I focus specifically on attacks which work by arguing that mainstream climate scientists do not abide by the norms which, their attackers claim, constitute good scientific practice. For example, climate sceptics such as James Delingpole argued that the emails leaked from the University of East Anglia’s “Climate Research Unit” were evidence that climate scientists were flaunting basic rules of scientific inference. What makes such attacks distinctive and interesting, I argue, is that they often appeal to what I call a “folk philosophy of science” – that is to say, a set of implicit assumptions about how scientists should study and reason – and these folk philosophies of science are false.
We might be tempted to say that such attacks are problematic because they undercut public trust in science, and, hence, place citizens in an epistemically worse situation. However, I suggest that, even apart from these effects, they highlight an odd phenomenon: in many cases where non-experts trust scientists, their trust is based on a set of assumptions about how scientists do and should reason, where those assumptions are, in fact, false. As such, we face both a practical and a theoretical problem. The theoretical problem – highlighted by the case of climate scepticism – is whether we should say that the public can know scientific claims when they defer to experts, even if their implicit assumptions about why those experts are trustworthy – their “folk philosophy of science” – is false. The practical problem is how we might try to cultivate a better public understanding of how science actually works, and, hence, cultivate a more robust form of public knowledge, when any attempts at re-education may simply reinforce climate sceptics’ rhetorical position.


Ian James Kidd (Durham University, UK)
– Climate Science, Manufactured Dissent, and Epistemic Vice –

A striking feature of critical discourse about climate science is an epistemically charged vocabulary of arrogance, dogmatism, and overconfidence. These terms refer to the stable negative qualities of agents that virtue epistemologists call ‘epistemic vices’. In this talk, I offer an account of the critical practice of epistemic vice—charging in the context of climate science, and then ask how it might inform our understanding of manufactured dissent. My suggestion is that manufactured doubt tends to be ‘epistemically corrupting’, in the technical sense of being conducive to the cultivation and exercise of epistemic vices. This lets us appreciate how manufactured dissent can corrupt the epistemic functioning not only of individual agents, but also of whole communities. Worse still, such corruption tends to be self—sustaining insofar as certain vices, such as arrogance and dogmatism, not only compromise our epistemic capacities, but also conceal that fact from those persons and communities affected. The large—scale epistemic corruption of whole communities in developed world societies adds a new and unwelcome dimension to our understanding of the wickedness of manufactured dissent.


Loren King (Wilfrid Laurier University, CA)
Co-Authors: Brandon Morgan-Olsen (Loyola University Chicago, USA), James Wong (Wilfrid Laurier University, CA)
– Good Science and Fruitful Dissent? Finding Reasonable Disagreement in Climate Change Debates –

There are constructive debates in climate science over competing modeling approaches, and how best to evaluate various kinds of evidence in assessing the performance of different models. There are also controversial debates over values and priorities, questions about risks when choosing among complex policy responses with serious projected costs and uncertain consequences. However acrimonious, these debates are essential: dissent here can unsettle complacencies, challenging scientific and policy elites to take seriously reasonable disagreements over values and priorities.
Yet some prominent dissent over climate change seems designed to distract and confuse, grounded in questionable motivations. Much of this dissent is dressed in the language of reasonable scientific disagreement, and it takes considerable time and resources to sift through these sceptical salvos, energy that could be better devoted to further research and constructive debates. We want fruitful debate around reasonable disagreements, but how to sort the (reasonable) wheat from the (merely partisan) chaffe?
In their recent paper, “Climate Skepticism and the Manufacture of Doubt,” Justin Biddle and Anna Leuschner provide an attractive answer, giving us a plausible criterion for identifying epistemically problematic dissent, based on an analysis of inductive risks. We find much to affirm in their examination of good and bad dissent. Yet there may be spaces for constructive epistemic engagement in the cacophonous spaces between these poles. More troubling, there may be incentives to cast some reasonable disagreements as mere partisan machinations. We consider the category of ‘attenuated dissent’, where disagreement may partly arise from partisan commitments, but also from the unsettled character of evidence and argument, and from differing priorities and weighing of risks and uncertainty, rather than from dishonest research violating conventional scientific norms.
Highlighting these interstitial disputes invites the question: even if we agree on good and bad dissent, how can we navigate the space between these poles, recognizing when motives are sincere but complex, driven by both reasonable disagreements over interpretation, values, and priorities; but also perhaps by some ultimately unreasonable commitments that cannot be fully justified in light of either scientific methods or public justification, to those in very different circumstances, with very different values and aims?
Posing the question this way draws our attention toward the complex epistemic demands facing scientists, legislators, journalists and lay citizens. We argue, in the spirit of Pierre Duhem, for institutional virtues that “cultivate good judgement.” In science as in public life, we want incentives for good-faith efforts at advancing scientific understanding of anthropogenic climate change, yet also for taking seriously a diversity of values, interests, and perspectives; we want to honor both good science and reasonable diversity. We seek institutions that foster, inform, and encourage citizens to recognize epistemic authority when scientific elites tell us which kinds of dissent are legitimate, which suspect in their field, enabling them to challenge those who claim epistemic authority without plausible justification.


Alfred Moore (University of Cambridge, UK)
– The Vices and Virtues of Epistemic Disobedience –

In this paper I address the effects of science “denial”. But I do not describe it as ?denial?. Rather, I describe it as ?epistemic disobedience?, which I define as organised minorities refusing to accept expert claims to authority. I then argue that there are two groups of ways in which such activities can be beneficial to democratic societies. One is epistemic, and it has to do with the collective benefits of having some one-eyed critics who focus obsessively on the arguments of their opponents, resist consensus even when it would be reasonable to accept it, and who may bring valuable information to light in the course of pursuing unpromising lines of inquiry. The second is political, and it has to do with demanding communicative accountability, influencing the behaviour of power holders, and revealing second-order reasons for trusting (or distrusting) authorities. Throughout the paper I will illustrate the argument with a difficult case: that of climate change denialism and conspiratorial suspicion of climate science. I will conclude with a discussion of the difficulties and dangers that arise from the social dynamics of maintaining minority opinion.


Erin Nash (Durham University, UK)
– What Resources Can’t Buy: Moral Limits within the ‘Gardenplace’ of Ideas –

My paper’s starting point is the conclusion that dissent within and about science can be both epistemically beneficial and detrimental (Biddle and Leuschner 2015). Taking society’s epistemic goals to be the maximisation of beneficial dissent and the minimisation of harmful dissent in order to facilitate progress in the development and distribution of knowledge, I propose and defend a solution that provides a promising route to achieving these ends. I construct this solution by suggesting a re-organisation of the relationship between science and society by building on, clarifying, and offering a re-conceptualisation of Mill’s ideas in On Liberty.
I first provide a critique of the assumption that underpins the popular ‘marketplace of ideas’ metaphor: that through the competition of ideas in a free market, truth will always triumph, and therefore that it is counterproductive for anyone to interfere in the market’s operation by censoring some ideas or promoting others. I argue that an ideal market in ideas can only work to separate truth from error if all actors within it are truth-seekers, and that this is clearly not the case in our society where doubt is manufactured (Oreskes and Conway 2010) and truth is sidelined in pursuit of selfinterested ends (Kitcher 1993). I conclude that the ‘marketplace of ideas’ is therefore a poor metaphor that obscures more than it reveals.
I then suggest an alternative metaphor by borrowing and expanding on Sparrow and Goodin’s (2001) image of the “garden of ideas”. I argue that the garden of ideas is best conceptualised as ‘community garden’ (as opposed to a private or public garden) consisting in a series of sub-gardens or plots (i.e. realms within society – e.g. research institutions/academia, mass media, the blogosphere, government, non-government organisations and the citizenry), each with a different function/s, set of ‘gardeners’ who are best qualified and responsible for attending to that plot, and series of norms, practices and regulations that ensure the effective and efficient promotion the unique objectives of each plot and the overall goals of the garden. I show how each of these subgardens interact with and have the potential to affect other sub-gardens, both positively and negatively, and highlight their interdependence in the successful production and distribution of knowledge. I also survey the trade-offs among values that will need to be made.
I outline the key ‘sub-gardens’ and provide an overview of the sort of regulations/principles/norms that might feature in each. I then justify these measures by appealing to Mill’s harm principle. Specifically, I will show how the regulation of some types of speech – which some consider a threat to the liberty of thought and conscience – is actually pivotal in securing and expanding that very value, particularly the freedom of thought and conscience of scientists and citizens.
Through drawing attention to how the epistemic and ethical are entwined (Coady and Corry 2013; Biddle and Leuschner 2015) my account provides a clear and evocative way of thinking about how we must respond to manufactured doubt and epistemically detrimental dissent in our society.


  • Biddle, J and Leuschner, A. 2015. Climate skepticism and the manufacture of doubt: can dissent in science be epistemically detrimental? European Journal for Philosophy of Science, 1–18. Online first:
  • Coady, D. and Corry, R. 2013. The Climate Change Debate: an epistemic and ethical enquiry. Palgrave Pivot.
  • Kitcher, P. 1993. The advancement of science. Science without legend, objectivity without illusions. New York: Oxford University Press.
  • Mill, J.S. 1859. On Liberty. J. W. Parker and Son.
  • Oreskes, N. and Conway, E. 2010. Merchants of Doubt. New York: Bloomsbury Press.
  • Sparrow, R. and Goodin, R.E. 2001. The competition of ideas: Market or garden? Critical Review of International Social and Political Philosophy, 4(2), 45–58


Torsten Wilholt (Leibniz University Hannover, Germany)
– The Constructive Functions of Dissent in Science and Their Limitations

Science thrives on controversy. In particular, mutual criticism is the most effective (and arguably the only) mechanism that science as a social enterprise has at its disposition to discover blind spots and mitigate the effects of group think and tunnel vision. In this talk, I will study examples from the history of science that illustrate different ways in which controversy can contribute to scientific progress. I will claim that the main positive function of controversy is its contribution to what I call “Socratic progress”: Dissent and controversy often make scientists aware of their lack of knowledge or understanding with respect to particular issues. I will also discuss the limitations of this constructive function of dissent and relate them to the phenomenon of “detrimental dissent”. I will use the results of this discussion to address recent proposals on how to identify the characteristics of detrimental dissent.