Epistemic trespassing, or epistemic squatting? | Noahpinion

by evelynciara1 min read25th Aug 20211 comment

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EpistemologyExpertiseEpistemic deference
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Noah Smith wrote a piece about "epistemic trespassers," folks who have takes on matters outside their areas of expertise, and "epistemic squatters," those who falsely claim expertise in an area. I think the concepts and arguments discussed in this piece would be interesting to EAs.

I've cross-posted the introduction below (for copyright reasons, I did not paste in the full text):


Who gets to define the boundaries of expertise?

The other day I saw someone use the phrase “epistemic trespassers” in a Twitter rant. I traced it back to this tweet, which links to an essay (paper?) by the Fordham University philosopher Nathan Ballantyne:

Tweet by @deliprao: We finally have a word for people who are experts in AI, immunology, and Afghanistan all at once.

https://philpapers.org/archive/BALET-2.pdf

Ballantyne’s essay is basically a 24-page argument that people should stay in their intellectual lane. He starts out with some well-known examples of people who are respected experts in one field becoming quacks in another field — Linus Pauling hawking vitamin C, and so on. Ballantyne then cites other people who have complained about the same phenomenon (Plato!). Following anecdote and argument-from-authority, he then goes on to make a number of conjectures about the harms from epistemic trespassing. Finally, having argued to his own satisfaction that epistemic trespassing is a problem, he throws out some proposals for solutions — basically, more interdisciplinary collaboration and intellectual modesty.

Now, I’m all for interdisciplinary collaboration and intellectual modesty, as a general rule. But although Ballantyne raises interesting points and creates food for thought, he fails to make a conclusive case that what he calls “epistemic trespassing” is, on balance, bad for society. And his arguments raise uncomfortable questions that he doesn’t really wrestle with — most importantly, the question of who gets to decide who’s a trespasser.

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Yeah I thought this piece was spot on, thanks for crossposting.

Only thing I'd add is that I wish there was a clearer public forecasting track record. If there were then for certain areas (eg covid and geopolitics) we would be able to be judged on who gave good forecasts. 

(Though forecasting is hard and revealing and the people at the top of those hierarchies wouldn't want to have to do it, I guess, but it would serve up and comers well)