Can Real Social Epistemic Networks Deliver the Wisdom of Crowds?

In Tania Lombrozo, Joshua Knobe & Shaun Nichols (eds.), Oxford Studies in Experimental Philosophy, Volume 1. Oxford: Oxford University Press (forthcoming)
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Abstract

In this paper, we explain and showcase the promising methodology of testimonial network analysis and visualization for experimental epistemology, arguing that it can be used to gain insights and answer philosophical questions in social epistemology. Our use case is the epistemic community that discusses vaccine safety primarily in English on Twitter. In two studies, we show, using both statistical analysis and exploratory data visualization, that there is almost no neutral or ambivalent discussion of vaccine safety on Twitter. Roughly half the accounts engaging with this topic are pro-vaccine, while the other half are con-vaccine. We also show that these two camps rarely engage with one another, and that the con-vaccine camp has greater epistemic reach and receptivity than the pro-vaccine camp. In light of these findings, we question whether testimonial networks as they are currently constituted on popular fora such as Twitter are living up to their promise of delivering the wisdom of crowds. We conclude by pointing to directions for further research in digital social epistemology.

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