Nathan Ballantyne wrote a paper titled Epistemic Trespassing for Mind: A Quarterly Review of Philosophy (Mind, Volume 128, Issue 510, April 2019, Pages 367–395).

« Epistemic trespassers judge matters outside their field of expertise. Trespassing is ubiquitous in this age of interdisciplinary research and recognizing this will require us to be more intellectually modest. »

« Epistemic trespassers are thinkers who have competence or expertise to make good judgments in one field, but move to another field where they lack competence—and pass judgment nevertheless. We should doubt that trespassers are reliable judges in fields where they are outsiders. »

« A few examples will guide our discussion. Linus Pauling, the brilliant chemist and energetic proponent of peace, won two Nobel Prizes—one for his work in chemistry, and another for his activism against atomic weapons. Later, Pauling asserted that mega-doses of vitamin C could effectively treat diseases such as cancer and cure ailments like the common cold. Pauling was roundly dismissed as a crackpot by the medical establishment after researchers ran studies and concluded that high-dose vitamin C therapies did not have the touted health effects. Pauling accused the establishment of fraud and careless science. This trespasser did not want to be moved aside by the real experts. »

« Neil deGrasse Tyson, an astrophysicist, supplies a similar example in his remarks on philosophy.  »

« Trespassing is a significant problem in an age of expertise and punditry, but it’s not new. In Plato’s Apology, Socrates tells us he tracked down citizens in Athens who had reputations for being skilled. He met politicians, poets, and craftsmen and tested their mettle. As Socrates says, he ‘found those who had the highest reputation were nearly the most deficient’ (22a). Socrates diagnosed the problem: because these men had been so successful in their particular crafts, each one ‘thought himself very wise in most important pursuits, and this error of theirs overshadowed the wisdom they had’ (22e). Puffed up by their achievements in one domain, the successful Athenians trespassed on matters about which they were ignorant. »

« First, trespassing is a widespread problem that crops up especially in the practice of interdisciplinary research, as opposed to what we might call ‘single-discipline’ research. Second, reflecting on trespassing should lead us to have greater intellectual modesty, in the sense that we will have good reason to be far less confident we have the right answers to many important questions. »


See also The Death of Expertise by Tom Nichols; Intellectuals and Society by Thomas Sowell.

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