Error (Machado-Marques-Patton-2021)

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This is a definition of Error that states "An epistemic agent is said to commit an error if the agent accepts a theory that should not have been accepted given that agent’s employed method."

Error (Machado-Marques-Patton-2021).png

This definition of Error was formulated by Paul Patton and Sarah Machado-Marques in 2021.1 It is currently accepted by Scientonomy community as the best available definition of the term.

Scientonomic History

Acceptance Record

Here is the complete acceptance record of this definition:
CommunityAccepted FromAcceptance IndicatorsStill AcceptedAccepted UntilRejection Indicators
Scientonomy8 October 2021The theory became accepted as a result of the acceptance of the respective suggested modification.Yes

Suggestions To Accept

Here are all the modifications where the acceptance of this definition has been suggested:

Modification Community Date Suggested Summary Date Assessed Verdict Verdict Rationale
Sciento-2021-0003 Scientonomy 1 August 2021 Accept the definition of error, stating that an epistemic agent is said to commit an error if the agent accepts a theory that should not have been accepted given that agent’s employed method. 8 October 2021 Accepted It was agreed that the definition "succeeds in capturing the gist of the notion by explicitly stating that an error is always relative to an epistemic agent and to that agent's employed method".c1 c2 The importance of the concept of error for the Tree of Knowledge project was also noted. Specifically, it was argued that "we must be able to differentiate between those theories which were accepted in accordance with an agent’s employed method and those which were not" so that we can better understand the reasoning underlying individual transitions.c3 Finally, it was suggested that a further distinction between “instances of honest error and misconduct” might be worth pursuing.c4

Question Answered

Error (Machado-Marques-Patton-2021) is an attempt to answer the following question: What is error? How should it be defined?

See Error for more details.


There are several different senses in which one might take the concept of scientific error. One is the absolute sense where some epsitmeic stances of actions of epistemic agents are are evaluated as erroneous from the present-day perspective. For instance, from our present perspective, we might judge the claim that the earth is stationary at the center of the universe as an error.2 However, as Machado-Marques and Patton argue, the sense of error that scientonomy should be interested in is not this absolute sense of error, but instead the local sense. Their definition takes the perspective of historical epistemic agents and qualifies an instance of theory acceptance as erroneous if the acceptance shouldn't have taken place given the agent's employed method.1 In this local sense, when a theory is erroneously accepted, the agent believes that it has satisfied the requirements of their employed method when, in fact, it has not. Such errors may be due to honest mistakes by the epistemic agent, or due to misconduct.1


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Questions About This Definition

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  1. a b c  Machado-Marques, Sarah and Patton, Paul. (2021) Scientific Error and Error Handling. Scientonomy 4, 21-39. Retrieved from
  2. ^  Allchin, Douglas. (2001) The Epistemology of error. unpublished manuscript. Retrieved from'of.pdf..