The motivating insight of this project, which is generously supported by a grant from the Templeton Foundation via the University of Connecticut, is that, to the extent that we rely on (social) media to enhance our knowledge of important events, people, institutions, and issues beyond our local communities, we are vulnerable to difficult-to-detect epistemic injustices committed by the media even when we make efforts to be intellectually humble. This insight prompts the proposal’s central questions:

1)    Which communication topologies best foster intellectual humility in public discourse, and which most hinder it?

2)    Where between these extremes do various prominent contemporary ICT communication topologies lie?

3)    How can contemporary ICT communication topologies be modified – by users, regulators, and/or ICT firms – to improve IH in public discourse?

In this project, we investigate social media networks (Twitter, Facebook, Reddit, 4chan, etc.) in which discussions, debates, and diatribes about controversial topics (vaccine safety, anthropogenic climate change, violence by and against Muslims, genetically modified organisms, etc.) take place.

Here, for instance, is a map of the retweet network that engages with the topic of vaccine safety. Nodes indicated in red have at least four independent sources of information about the topic. All other nodes are indicated in yellow. The cluster on the left, which is primarily anti-vaccine, is larger and more interconnected, but it contains fewer nodes with multiple independent sources. By contrast, the cluster on the right, which is primarily pro-vaccine, is smaller and less well-connected, but it contains more nodes with multiple independent sources:

vax network.png

Work-in-Progress:

The first paper associated with this project is titled "Virtues for Agents in Directed Social Networks." A draft is available here.

Publications:

Presentations by lab members and affiliates:

  • Alfano, M. Social epistemology in the 21st century. Australasian Association of Philosophy Conference on Social Epistemology. University of Melbourne, (June 2018)
  • Alfano, M. Patterns of trust and distrust in a post-truth society. Conspiracy theories, delusions, and other ‘troublesome’ beliefs workshop, Macquarie University (August 2017)
  • Alfano, M. Warranted (dis)trust in science: A case study on the Flint water crisis. University of Melbourne (August 2017)
  • Tintarev, N. Fake news, filter bubbles, and echo chambers. Royal Society, London. (July 2017)
  • Alfano, M. Moral methodology and epistemology. Australasian Association of Philosophy Conference. Adelaide (July 2017)
  • Alfano, M. From norms to facts and back again. Ethical and legal implications of findings in moral psychology workshop. Center for Interdisciplinary Research. Bielefeld, Germany. (May 2017)
  • Alfano, M. Virtues for agents in directed social networks.
    • APA Pacific Division Conference. Seattle. (April 2017)
    • Character and Responsibility Conference. University of Erlangen-Nuremberg. (April 2017)

Additional funding:

 

Our approach is based on a series of visualizations of intellectual humility and its opposites in the semantic analysis mentioned above:

Semantic dimensions of intellectual humility in English and German

Semantic dimensions of intellectual humility in English and German

Semantic dimensions of the opposites of intellectual humility in English and German

Semantic dimensions of the opposites of intellectual humility in English and German

Semantic dimensions of intellectual humility and its opposites in English and German (NB: intellectual humility seems to be an auto-antonym in English)

Semantic dimensions of intellectual humility and its opposites in English and German (NB: intellectual humility seems to be an auto-antonym in English)