How to Assess the Epistemic Wrongness of Sponsorship Bias? The Case of Manufactured Certainty

Frontiers In 6 (Article 599909):1-13 (2021)
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Although the impact of so-called “sponsorship bias” has been the subject of increased attention in the philosophy of science, what exactly constitutes its epistemic wrongness is still debated. In this paper, I will argue that neither evidential accounts nor social–epistemological accounts can fully account for the epistemic wrongness of sponsorship bias, but there are good reasons to prefer social–epistemological to evidential accounts. I will defend this claim by examining how both accounts deal with a paradigm case from medical epistemology, recently discussed in a paper by Bennett Holman. I will argue that evidential accounts cannot adequately capture cases of sponsorship bias that involve the manufacturing of certainty because of their neutrality with respect to the role of non-epistemic values in scientific practice. If my argument holds, it further highlights the importance of integrating social and ethical concerns into epistemological analysis, especially in applied contexts. One can only properly grasp sponsorship bias as an epistemological problem if one resists the methodological tendency to analyze social, ethical, and epistemological issues in isolation from each other.

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Jon Leefmann
Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg


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