, Volume 191, Issue 1, pp 55–78 | Cite as

Reliability of testimonial norms in scientific communities

  • Conor Mayo-Wilson


Several current debates in the epistemology of testimony are implicitly motivated by concerns about the reliability of rules for changing one’s beliefs in light of others’ claims. Call such rules testimonial norms (tns). To date, epistemologists have neither (i) characterized those features of communities that influence the reliability of tns, nor (ii) evaluated the reliability of tns as those features vary. These are the aims of this paper. I focus on scientific communities, where the transmission of highly specialized information is both ubiquitous and critically important. Employing a formal model of scientific inquiry, I argue that miscommunication and the “communicative structure” of science strongly influence the reliability of tns, where reliability is made precise in three ways.


Testimony Epistemology Reductionism Social structure of science Networks Homophily 



This project was inspired by Kevin Zollman’s work on the communicative structure of scientific communities and, in particular, by a presentation he gave at the 2012 Pitt-CMU graduate conference on testimony. I am thankful to Kevin thanks for both his comments on earlier drafts of this paper and for intellectual inspiration. I am also indebted to Gerhard Schurz for suggesting that I investigate the effects of miscommunication within my model. Thanks to Jan Sprenger, David Danks, Clark Glymour, Kevin Kelly, and Michael Strevens, who all provided detailed comments, constructive criticism, and helpful suggestions for improving earlier drafts of this paper. Finally, the paper also benefited from comments by an anonymous referee and participants at the “Collective Dimensions of Science” conference in Nancy, France. This work was partially supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant No. SES 1026586. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Munich Center for Mathematical PhilosophyLudwig-Maximilians-Universität München Fakultät für Philosophie, Wissenschaftstheorie und Religionswissenschaft Lehrstuhl für Logik und Sprachphilosophie Geschwister-Scholl-Platz 1MünchenGermany

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