Error (Machado-Marques-Patton-2021)

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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.


Acceptance Record

Here is the complete acceptance record of Error (Machado-Marques-Patton-2021):
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 theory has been suggested:
ModificationCommunityDate SuggestedSummaryVerdictVerdict RationaleDate Assessed
Sciento-2021-0003Scientonomy1 August 2021Accept 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.AcceptedIt 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.c48 October 2021

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. From our modern perspective, we might judge the geocentric Aristotelean-Ptolemaic cosmology's claim that the earth is stationary at the center of the universe as an error 2. The sense of error we are interested in here is not this absolute sense of error as judged from a future perspective. Instead, our definition takes the perspective of the historical agent and the method employed by the agent at that time. Our definition is grounded in the law of theory acceptance. When a theory is erroneously accepted, the assessing agent believes it has satisfied the requirements of their employed method when, in fact, it has not. Error may be due to an honest mistake by the epistemic agent that created the theory, or to scientific misconduct--actions which the theory-creator agent is aware violate the epistemic and moral norms of scientific inquiry accepted at the time.


  1. ^  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..