The value of epistemic disagreement in scientific practice. The case of Homo floresiensis

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Epistemic peer disagreement raises interesting questions, both in epistemology and in philosophy of science. When is it reasonable to defer to the opinion of others, and when should we hold fast to our original beliefs? What can we learn from the fact that an epistemic peer disagrees with us? A question that has received relatively little attention in these debates is the value of epistemic peer disagreement—can it help us to further epistemic goals, and, if so, how? We investigate this through a recent case in paleoanthropology: the debate on the taxonomic status of Homo floresiensis remains unresolved, with some authors arguing the fossils represent a novel hominin species, and others claiming that they are Homo sapiens with congenital growth disorders. Our examination of this case in the recent history of science provides insights into the value of peer disagreement, indicating that it is especially valuable if one does not straightaway defer to a peer’s conclusions, but nevertheless remains open to a peer’s evidence and arguments.
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Archival date: 2013-07-17
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