European Journal for Philosophy of Science

, Volume 8, Issue 3, pp 855–875 | Cite as

Scientific polarization

  • Cailin O’ConnorEmail author
  • James Owen Weatherall
Paper in General Philosophy of Science


Contemporary societies are often “polarized”, in the sense that sub-groups within these societies hold stably opposing beliefs, even when there is a fact of the matter. Extant models of polarization do not capture the idea that some beliefs are true and others false. Here we present a model, based on the network epistemology framework of Bala and Goyal (Learning from neighbors, Rev. Econ. Stud. 65(3), 784–811 1998), in which polarization emerges even though agents gather evidence about their beliefs, and true belief yields a pay-off advantage. As we discuss, these results are especially relevant to polarization in scientific communities, for these reasons. The key mechanism that generates polarization involves treating evidence generated by other agents as uncertain when their beliefs are relatively different from one’s own.


Polarization Network Network epistemology Social epistemology Agent based modeling Theory change 



Thanks to Justin P. Bruner, Calvin Cochran, and the School of Philosophy at Australian National University where most of the research for the paper was carried out. This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under grant no. STS-1535139.


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Copyright information

© Springer Nature B.V. 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Logic and Philosophy of ScienceUniversity of CaliforniaIrvineUSA

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