Dissertation, University of Bergen (2020)

Kåre Letrud
Inland Norway University of Applied Sciences
This thesis explores the phenomenon of scientific myths distributed in academic discourses. Drawing on a set of myth-examples, I explicate a definition of the term ‘scientific myth’, arguing that it ought primarily to be characterised by the tension between a lack of epistemic warrant on the one hand, and an extensive proliferation in formal academic channels of publications on the other. I then delineate scientific myths from the closely associated pseudosciences: The sciences, although distributing some unreliable statements, do not bestow upon such statements the same authority and importance as the pseudosciences do. From these demarcative deliberations, I proceed to address the question of myth diffusion, of how misconceptions grow to scientific myths. Discussing myth-propagation, I argue that a fundamental explanation for myth-spreading is deficient epistemic practices. Omissions of citations, although a both common and pertinent explanation, only account for some aspects of myth spreading. In the context of research debates, the issue of myth diffusion also includes efforts at debunking scientific myths in academic publications. Our findings indicate that there is an ‘Affirmative Citation Bias’, that counteracts debunking attempts by effectively disarming the critique: Instead of being distributed, the critique is buried in an avalanche of myth-affirming publications. Finally, I discuss whether scientific myths ought to be somewhat vindicated. They could conceivably have an anti-dogmatic function in academic debates, by representing alternatives to the established consensus, in accordance with Millsian and Feyerabendian ideals for truth seeking discourse. I conclude in the negative: Scientific myths have dogmatic aspects themselves.
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