Bias in Science: Natural and Social

Synthese 199 (1-2):3345–3366 (2021)
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Abstract

Moral, social, political, and other “nonepistemic” values can lead to bias in science, from prioritizing certain topics over others to the rationalization of questionable research practices. Such values might seem particularly common or powerful in the social sciences, given their subject matter. However, I argue first that the well-documented phenomenon of motivated reasoning provides a useful framework for understanding when values guide scientific inquiry (in pernicious or productive ways). Second, this analysis reveals a parity thesis: values influence the social and natural sciences about equally, particularly because both are so prominently affected by desires for social credit and status, including recognition and career advancement. Ultimately, bias in natural and social science is both natural and social— that is, a part of human nature and considerably motivated by a concern for social status (and its maintenance). Whether the pervasive influence of values is inimical to the sciences is a separate question.

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Joshua May
University of Alabama, Birmingham

Citations of this work

Moral Rationalism on the Brain.Joshua May - 2023 - Mind and Language 38 (1):237-255.
Harnessing Moral Psychology to Reduce Meat Consumption.Joshua May & Victor Kumar - 2023 - Journal of the American Philosophical Association 9 (2):367-387.
Précis of Neuroethics.Joshua May - forthcoming - Philosophy and the Mind Sciences.
Addressing the Reproducibility Crisis: A Response to Hudson.Heather Douglas & Kevin C. Elliott - 2022 - Journal for General Philosophy of Science / Zeitschrift für Allgemeine Wissenschaftstheorie 53 (2):201-209.
Motivated reasoning and the ethics of belief.Jon Ellis - 2022 - Philosophy Compass 17 (6):e12828.

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References found in this work

Thinking, Fast and Slow.Daniel Kahneman - 2011 - New York: New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
The Enigma of Reason.Dan Sperber & Hugo Mercier (eds.) - 2017 - Cambridge, MA, USA: Harvard University Press.
Actions, Reasons, and Causes.Donald Davidson - 1963 - Journal of Philosophy 60 (23):685.
Science, truth, and democracy.Philip Kitcher - 2001 - New York: Oxford University Press.

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