Inconvenient Truth and Inductive Risk in Covid-19 Science




Values in Science, Noble Lie, Epistemic Risk, Trust, Public Health Ethics


To clarify the proper role of values in science, focusing on controversial expert responses to Covid-19, this article examines the status of (in)convenient hypotheses. Polarizing cases like health experts downplaying mask efficacy to save resources for healthcare workers, or scientists dismissing “accidental lab leak” hypotheses in view of potential xenophobia, plausibly involve modifying evidential standards for (in)convenient claims. Societies could accept that scientists handle (in)convenient claims just like nonscientists, and give experts less political power. Or societies could hold scientists to a higher bar, by expecting them not to modify evidential standards to avoid costs only incidentally tied to error.


Adler, Jonathan E. 2002. Belief’s Own Ethics. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Anderson, Elizabeth. 2004. “Use of Value Judgments in Science: A General Argument, with Lessons from a Case Study of Feminist Research on Divorce.” Hypatia 19, no. 1: 1–24.

Biddle, Justin B. 2016. “Inductive Risk, Epistemic Risk, and Overdiagnosis of Disease.” Perspectives on Science 24, no. 2: 192–205.

Boulicault, Marion and S. Andrew Schroeder. 2021. “Public Trust in Science: Exploring the Idiosyncrasy-Free Ideal.” In Social Trust, edited by Kevin Vallier and Michael Weber, 102–21. New York: Routledge.

Bright, Liam Kofi, Haixin Dang, and Remco Heesen. 2018. “A Role for Judgment Aggregation in Coauthoring Scientific Papers.” Erkenntnis 83, no. 2: 231–52.

Broadbent, Alex. 2013. “Is Being Overweight Good for You?” philosepi: Philosophy of Epidemiology, Medicine, and Public Health, 3 June.

Brown, Matthew J. 2020. Science and Moral Imagination: A New Ideal for Values in Science. Pittsburgh, PA: University of Pittsburgh Press.

Bueter, Anke. 2022. “Bias as an Epistemic Notion.” Studies in History and Philosophy of Science 91: 307–15.

Calisher, Charles, Dennis Carroll, Rita Colwell, Ronald B. Corley, Peter Daszak, Christian Drosten, Luis Enjuanes, et al. 2020. “Statement in Support of the Scientists, Public Health Professionals, and Medical Professionals of China Combatting COVID-19.” The Lancet 395, no. 10226: e42–e43.

CBS News. 2020a. “Full Transcript of ‘Face the Nation’ on March 8, 2020.”

———. 2020b. “Transcript: Surgeon General Jerome Adams on ‘Face the Nation,’ July 12, 2020.”

———. 2021. “Transcript: Dr. Anthony Fauci on ‘Face the Nation,’ November 28, 2021.”

ChoGlueck, Christopher. 2022. “Still No Pill for Men? Double Standards & Demarcating Values in Biomedical Research.” Studies in History and Philosophy of Science 91: 66–76.

De Ridder, Jeroen. 2022. “How to Trust a Scientist.” Studies in the History and Philosophy of Science 93: 11–20.

Dethier, Corey. 2022. “Science, Assertion, and the Common Ground.” Synthese 200, article no. 30.

Douglas, Heather. 2000. “Inductive Risk and Values in Science.” Philosophy of Science 67, no. 4: 559–79.

———. 2009. Science, Policy, and the Value-Free Ideal. Pittsburgh, PA: University of Pittsburgh Press.

———. 2017. “Foreword.” In Exploring Inductive Risk: Case Studies of Values in Science, edited by Kevin C. Elliott and Ted Richards, ix–xi. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Elgin, Catherine Z. 2017. True Enough. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Elliott, Kevin C. and Ted Richards, eds. 2017. Exploring Inductive Risk: Case Studies of Values in Science. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Flegal, Katherine M., Brian K. Kit, Heather Orpana, and Barry I. Graubard. 2013. “Association of All-Cause Mortality with Overweight and Obesity Using Standard Body Mass Index Categories: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis.” JAMA 309, no. 1: 71–82.

Franco, Paul L. 2017. “Assertion, Nonepistemic Values, and Scientific Practice.” Philosophy of Science 84, no. 1: 160–80.

Gauchat, Gordon. 2012. “Politicization of Science in the Public Sphere: A Study of Public Trust in the United States, 1974 to 2010.” American Sociological Review 77, no. 2: 167–87.

Goldman, Alvin I. 1999. Knowledge in a Social World. Oxford: Clarendon.

Havstad, Joyce C. 2022. “Sensational Science, Archaic Hominin Genetics, and Amplified Inductive Risk.” Canadian Journal of Philosophy 52, no. 3: 295–320.

Hempel, Carl G. 1965. “Science and Human Values.” In Aspects of Scientific Explanation, 81–96. New York: Free Press.

Holman, Bennett and Kevin C. Elliott. 2018. “The Promise and Perils of Industry-Funded Science.” Philosophy Compass 13: e12544.

Holman, Bennett and Torsten Wilholt. 2022. “The New Demarcation Problem.” Studies in History and Philosophy of Science 91: 211–20.

Intemann, Kristen. 2015. “Distinguishing between Legitimate and Illegitimate Values in Climate Modeling.” European Journal for Philosophy of Science 5: 217–32.

———. 2022. “Understanding the Problem of ‘Hype’: Exaggeration, Values, and Trust in Science.” Canadian Journal of Philosophy 52, no. 3: 279–94.

John, Stephen. 2015. “Inductive Risk and the Contexts of Communication.” Synthese 192: 79–96.

———. 2019. “Science, Truth, and Dictatorship: Wishful Thinking or Wishful Speaking?” Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part A 78: 64–72.

———. 2021. “Science, Politics and Regulation: The Trust-Based Approach to the Demarcation Problem.” Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part A 90: 1–9.

Knapton, Sarah. 2022. “Scientists Believed Covid Leaked from Wuhan Lab—but Feared Debate Could Hurt ‘International Harmony’.” The Telegraph, 11 January.

Koskinen, Inkeri and Kristina Rolin. 2022. “Distinguishing between Legitimate and Illegitimate Roles for Values in Transdisciplinary Research.” Studies in History and Philosophy of Science 91: 191–98.

Lacey, Hugh. 1999. Is Science Value-Free? Values and Scientific Understanding. London: Routledge.

———. 2015. “‘Holding’ and ‘Endorsing’ Claims in the Course of Scientific Activities.” Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part A 53: 89–95.

Leonhardt, David. 2021. “Covid’s Partisan Errors.” The New York Times, 18 March.

Longino, Helen E. 1990. Science as Social Knowledge: Values and Objectivity in Scientific Inquiry. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

———. 1995. “Gender, Politics, and the Theoretical Virtues.” Synthese 104: 383–97.

O’Donnell, Jayne. 2020. “Top Disease Official: Risk of Coronavirus in USA is ‘Minuscule’; Skip Masks and Wash Hands.” USA Today, 17 February.

Portmore, Douglas W. 2007. “Consequentializing Moral Theories.” Pacific Philosophical Quarterly 88: 39–73.

Redding, Richard E. 2013. “Politicized Science.” Society 50: 439–46.

Ross, Katherine. 2020. “Why Weren’t We Wearing Masks from the Beginning? Dr. Fauci Explains.” The Street, 12 June.

Rudner, Richard. 1953. “The Scientist Qua Scientist Makes Value Judgments.” Philosophy of Science 20, no. 1: 1–6.

Schorr, Isaac. 2021. “Fauci Admits Post-vaccination Masking Was about ‘Signals’ Weeks after Insisting Otherwise.” The National Review, 18 May.

“Shades of Grey.” 2013. Nature 497: 410.

Steel, Daniel. 2010. “Epistemic Values and the Argument from Inductive Risk.” Philosophy of Science 77, no. 1: 14–34.

Thorp, H. Holden. 2020. “Science Has Always Been Political.” Science 369, no. 6501: 227.

Van Fraassen, Bas C. 1980. The Scientific Image. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Wagner, Wendy E. 2022. “No One Solution to the ‘New Demarcation Problem’? A View from the Trenches.” Studies in History and Philosophy of Science 92: 177–85.

Wilholt, Torsten. 2009. “Bias and Values in Scientific Research.” Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part A 40: 92–101.

———. 2013. “Epistemic Trust in Science.” British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 62, no. 2: 233–53.

Winsberg, Eric, Naomi Oreskes, and Elisabeth Lloyd. 2020. “Severe Weather Event Attribution: Why Values Won’t Go Away.” Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part A 84: 142–49.

Yan, Holly. 2020. “Top Health Officials Have Changed Their Minds about Face Mask Guidance—but for Good Reason.” CNN, 20 July.




How to Cite

Lichtenstein, E. I. (2022). Inconvenient Truth and Inductive Risk in Covid-19 Science. Philosophy of Medicine, 3(1).



Philosophical Perspectives on Covid-19