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Historians and philosophers customarily speak of scientific errors, yet the notion itself still has no accepted scientonomic definition. Building on the earlier unpublished essay by Mirkin and Karamehmetoglu, Patton and Machado-Marques suggest a definition of Error that fills in this gap. The definition, I believe, 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. As such, this notion of error opposes the absolute notion of error where past science is evaluated from some transhistorical (or, in practice, some present-day) perspective.
I agree that we should 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. One of the main goals of observational scientonomy is to develop a Tree of Knowledge providing comprehensive documentation of individual mosaics and their changes through time. In order to do this effectively, 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. This distinction will better help us understand why changes in accepted theories occurred over time, by allowing for additional resolution of our communal knowledge. In this way, we can not only identify replacement of a theory, but better understand why an accepted first-order proposition might come to be retracted, replaced by a second order one, or an incompatible one -- as suggested by the First Law. Without the additional resolution afforded to us by the proposed definition of error, we remain blind to the reasoning underlying these shifts in theory acceptance, in contexts of epistemic error.
It is clear that errors arise in science. They can put even prestigious journals like Nature in the position of needing to publish retractions, as the authors demonstrate with the ‘Pulsar Planet’ case, and can elude the broader scientific community for years, as seen with the ‘Piltdown Man’ case. Nonetheless, scientonomy currently lacks an accepted definition for ‘error’. The need to create one is made all the more clear and pressing when one attempts to address Mirkin and Karamehmetoglu’s open question from 2018, as Machado-Marques and Patton do in their paper.
In creating a definition of ‘error’, the authors take a relative approach, one that befits the dynamic and iterative nature of scientific progress. They go on to successfully demonstrate its utility as they formulate an answer to the aforementioned open question that does not contravene the theory rejection theorem and, as a result, the first law of scientific change.
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