Workshop: Social norms and epistemic communities

Workshop description

This workshop is intended to bring together researchers working in evolutionary theory, game theory, economics, and philosophy who have common interests in social norms, social epistemology, and the interaction between these fields.

All are welcome, but please register for catering purposes. Register by emailing the organiser, Toby Handfield.

date and Venue

Friday 12 May, 2017

Monash University, Caulfield Campus, Building S, Room S901

draft schedule

Julián García (Computer Science, Monash)
Norms of reputation in competitive and cooperative settings

Abstract: A variety of mechanisms have been proposed to explain how humans overcome social dilemmas and achieve high levels of cooperation. One important mechanism is the tracking of reputations observed by third parties (also known as indirect reciprocity). A central question that arises regarding indirect reciprocity mechanisms is how exactly reputation must be tracked, in order to promote a cooperative outcome? Relatedly, can a small amount of “irresponsible” gossip destabilize cooperation, or it possible to make a cooperative regime relatively robust to false reports? In this paper I review existing work that uses simple evolutionary models to exhaustively study possible “norms”  to track reputation. I then report some work in progress where we have attempted to extend existing approaches to larger, more realistic modelling spaces.

Kevin Zollman (Philosophy, Carnegie Mellon University)
Epistemic social dilemmas

Abstract: Social dilemmas like the Prisoner's Dilemma and Tragedy of the Commons are well known problems for the social organization of economic life. In these complex social situations, individuals who pursue their own self interest will make the group as a whole worse off. While well studied in situations of instrumental rationality, they have been less studied in the context of epistemology.  In this talk I will explore some epistemic social dilemmas and discuss how various solutions might work in the epistemic setting.

Erte Xiao (Economics, Monash)
When the social norms approach fails: Evidence from two experimental studies 

Abstract: I discuss evidence from two separate experimental studies showing that social norms interventions may backfire. These findings suggest that social norms interventions, while often of great value, should be used with caution.

In the first study, we examine how providing information that an enforced rule is consistent with a shared norm affects the outcome of punishment. We find that if the cost of conformity is high then punishment becomes significantly less effective when it is combined with a prescriptive norm (i.e. the enforced rule is what the majority would do). No detrimental effect is observed, however, when punishment is combined with an injunctive norm (i.e. the enforced rule is what people think one should do). Our interpretation is that people react negatively when they perceive the reason for punishment to be only that they did something different from others. 

In the second study, we apply the social norms approach to nudge people to participate in a 10k-step challenge program aimed as motivating people to walk more. Participants were told that many of their peers had signed up for the program.  We investigate the subsequent impact of the nudging intervention on participants’ performance. Our hypothesis is that the nudge may lead one to believe that the reason they signed up for the program is the peer information rather than their own intrinsic desire to participate, and consequently they might perform worse than those in the baseline group who did not receive the nudge. This crowding out effect is most likely to occur among those whose intrinsic desire to participate is less salient, which in our case are people with low BMI.  The data are consistent with our hypothesis.

12.50–2.10 Lunch 

Neil Levy (Oxford Centre for Neuroethics & Philosophy, Macquarie)
Due Deference to Denialism: Explaining Ordinary People’s Rejection of Established Scientific Findings. 

Abstract: There is a robust scientific consensus concerning climate change and evolution. But many people reject these expert views, in favour of beliefs that are strongly at variance with the evidence. It is tempting to try to explain these beliefs by reference to ignorance or irrationality, but those who reject the expert view seem sometimes to be no worse informed or any less rational than the majority of those who accept it. It is also tempting to try to explain these beliefs by reference to epistemic overconfidence. However, this kind of overconfidence is apparently ubiquitous, so by itself it cannot explain the difference between those who accept and those who reject expert views. Instead, I will suggest that the difference is in important part explained by differential patterns of epistemic deference, and these patterns, in turn, are explained by the cues that we use to filter testimony. We rely on cues of benevolence and competence to distinguish reliable from unreliable testifiers, but when debates become deeply politicized, asserting a claim may itself constitute signalling lack of reliability.

Robert Simpson (Philosophy, Monash)
Epistemic Injustice, recent work

Abstract: I’ll offer an overview of work that has addressed the topic of epistemic injustice in the decade since Fricker’s book of that name. I’ll explain (i) Fricker’s distinction between testimonial and hermeneutical injustice; (ii) Coady’s argument for a distributive conception of epistemic injustice, which runs against Fricker’s non-distributive conception; and (iii) Medina’s argument for institutional remedies to epistemic injustice, as opposed to Fricker’s individualistic remedies. I’ll also summarise some proposed political applications of these critical concepts. I’ll then finish with a challenge. There is an 'ethic of credulity' running through the literature on epistemic injustice. When combined with a commitment to the equal moral status of all persons, this leads to the conclusion that people in societies like ours should generally be more trusting of what they’re told by others. But this conflicts with the independently plausible view that people in societies like ours should generally be less trusting of what they’re told by others.

Toby Handfield (Philosophy, Monash)
Future directions for empirical social epistemology