Reasoning about dissent: Expert disagreement and shared backgrounds

AbstractSequential testimonies where more or less reliable sources argue about an issue are central to public debates. Often, the majority of sources may argue that a hypothesis is true while a minority dissenter may claim the opposite (e.g. scientists and lobbyists in the climate change debate). In this paper, we show that people are sensitive to source reliability as well as the structural relationship between the sources. Participants follow Bayesian predictions for revising belief in the hypothesis and the reliability of the competing sources given majority consent, minority dissent, and shared reliability between sources. Shared reliability and dissent is a key issue for public debate and belief revision. The paper provides novel insight into the workings of these aspects.


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