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Kevin Zollman (Carnegie Mellon): “Is ‘scientific progress through bias’ a good idea?”

19 January 2022, 6:00 pm7:30 pm

This event will take place online via Zoom.

Everyone is welcome to join using a computer with access to the internet and Zoom. To take part just follow these instructions:

Please note that these events are routinely recorded, with the edited footage being made publicly available on our website and YouTube channel. We will only record the audio, the slides and the speaker and will not include the Q&A section. However, any question asked during the talk itself will feature in the final edit.

Abstract: Some philosophers have argued for a paradoxical conclusion: that science advances because of the irrationality of scientists. That is, by combining epistemically inferior behavior on the part of individual scientists with a social structure that harnesses this irrationality, science can make progress faster than it could with more rational individuals. Many different mechanisms have been suggested for this, but one of the most intriguing is bias. Could science advance because individual scientists are themselves biased? Through the use of a simple computational model, largely inspired by work of Weatherall, O’Connor, and Bruner, I show how this is indeed possible: biased scientists do better than an equivalent community which is unbiased. However, this model also illustrates that such communities are very fragile. Small changes in their social structure can move biased communities from being excellent to being abysmal.


Kevin J.S. Zollman is a professor of Philosophy and Social and Decision Sciences at Carnegie Mellon University


19 January 2022
6:00 pm – 7:30 pm
Event Category:




Online via Zoom