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Matt Haber (Chair of Philosophy Department, University of Utah, Salt Lake City, USA), Positively Misleading Errors
18 October 2019 | 14 h 30 min - 16 h 00 min
Matt Haber is a Professor and Department Chair at the University of Utah (USA). His area of specialty is Philosophy of Biology and Philosophy of Science. He is interested in the philosophical and conceptual issues in systematics, particularly those stemming from a commitment to phylogenetic thinking. His current projects include elucidating the nature of phylogenetic inference, tracking conceptual debates in biological classification and nomenclature, examining the use of models in phylogenetics, the ontology of biological objects, and accounting for how (and why) scientists shift from one set of theoretical and conceptual commitments to another. Other topics of interest are research ethics, including a project on the ethics of research involving crossing species boundaries (especially the human/non-human boundary).
One way that philosophers of science may contribute to the scientific enterprise is through interdisciplinary research on 'good science'. A philosopher of science might, for example, identify an interesting, useful, or salient methodological approach in a particular science, and proceed to look broadly across the sciences for other examples. That is, they might treat different scientific traditions and fields as their system of study, asking whether features of good scientific practice are found across disciplines. This can take on both a normative and descriptive approach, and help scientists import good methodology from other fields.
Here, I propose just such a case, identifying 'Positively Misleading Errors' as a significant methodological discovery that may be usefully applied across the sciences. Positively misleading errors (PMEs) are cases in which adding data to an analysis systematically and reliably strengthens support for an erroneous hypothesis over a correct one. This pattern distinguishes them from other errors of inference and pattern recognition. Though well known in some fields of biology (i.e., phylogenetic systematics), PMEs are likely widespread and deserve to be brought to the attention of the wider research and clinical communities. I offer a general account of PMEs by describing exemplar cases from biology and candidate cases from clinical medicine (treatment of septic lactic acidosis). This facilitates a better understanding of PMEs, and sharpens our ability to identify when they are present. Better understanding PMEs positions us to identify the conditions under which these fallacies may occur, and enhance our reasoning about complex systems.