SOPhiA 2017

Salzburgiense Concilium Omnibus Philosophis Analyticis

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Programme - Talk

State of the Art Bias
(Philosophy of Science, English)

When we talk about the trustworthiness of scientific findings, we might think of biases detrimental either to the robustness or validity and thus the reliability of research. In this talk, I point out a novel concept of bias that implies no such thing: State of the Art Bias (SAB). Multiple examples for this phenomenon have appeared in the recent literature:
-- Brown (2008) describes the problem of a bias towards patentable research. Corporate sponsors will only be interested in research that leads to innovations that they can make money fromand not in alternative approaches like sports or diet that might prevent disease instead of curing it.
-- Sismondo (2008) calls attention to what he calls ''multiple trials with predictable outcomes''. He claims that there are many drug trials on products already on the market which are used as a sort of advertisement for these blockbusterdrugs by informing physicians about each new trial, while less lucrative products receive much less attention.
-- Kearns, Glantz and Schmidt (2015) analyze internal documents from the sugar industry, concluding that the industry tried to deflect possible damages to their sales resulting from scientific findings by funding research on how to reduce the damage from sugar consumption instead of reducing the intake itself.

All these examples share a common mechanism, that so far hasn't been well explored in philosophy of science: the sheer quantity of research on certain topics -- reaching from overemphasis to no research at all -- can profoundly influence the confirmation of hypotheses, the comprehensiveness of decision-relevant information and, thus, the perceived weight of alternative courses of action.

My presentation has two main goals:
1. To give a definition of SAB, and discuss differences and common features of the examples
2. To discuss how SAB diminishes the trustworthiness of scientific findings, both as a cognitive bias as well as a genuine epistemological problem.

Chair: Gregor Greslehner
Time: 16:50-17:20, 13 September 2017 (Wednesday)
Location: SR 1.006

David Hopf 
(Leibniz Universität Hannover, Germany)

David Hopf is a doctoral candidate at the University of Hannover, working on a dissertation on the interrelation between independence and objectivity. Together with his supervisor Prof. Dr. Torsten Wilholt, David is a member of InRes (, a collaborative research project funded by the Volkswagen Stiftung. In Hannover, David is also an associated member of the DFG research training group GRK 2073 ''Integrating Ethics and Epistemology of Scientific Research''. David has an M.A. in European Studies/Philosophy from the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology, where he specialized in both general philosophy of science as well as the interrelations of science, ethics, and values.

Testability and Meaning deco