Epistemic Trespassing into Uncharted Territory : Advances in Human Biology

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Letter to Editor

Epistemic Trespassing into Uncharted Territory

Saghiri, Mohammad Ali1,2,; Vakhnovetsky, Julia1,3

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Advances in Human Biology 13(2):p 227, Apr–Jun 2023. | DOI: 10.4103/aihb.aihb_199_22
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As COVID-19 cases spike globally, a parallel surge of attention is paid to expertise, particularly who holds it and who intrudes into others’ intellectual lanes.[1,2] The pandemic can be placed in the context of what philosopher Nathan Ballantyne coined ‘epistemic trespassing.’[3] As Ballantyne writes, it is when ‘Experts drift over a highly visible boundary line and into a domain where they lack either the relevant evidence or the skills to interpret the evidence well. However, they keep talking nonetheless.’[3] Richard Epstein, a U. S. legal scholar, overstepped his knowledge bounds into national epidemiology by arguing in Mid-March of 2020 that only 500 Americans would die from the coronavirus. As of July 2022, the United States has estimated that over one million Americans have lost their lives to COVID-19.[4] His take came at a time when the COVID-19 pandemic was beginning to be politicised as the world braced for a virus that was still largely unknown. The case of Scott Atlas was also a disastrous fallacy as well as an exploitation of time, research, and misinformation management. Radiologist Scott Atlas similarly trespassed into epidemiology by questioning the mask mandate with his unorthodox beliefs of spreading COVID-19 as a way to achieve herd immunity.[5] These examples show a common theme of experts in certain fields crossing over to give claims about topics in fields they had no knowledge or experience.[6] It was easy to recognise Epstein and Atlas as epistemic trespassers, but subtle, discreet trespassing events could be ubiquitous, and sometimes, more catastrophic because they remain undetected.[3] This is particularly true in the scientific community and may affect the progress of medical and dental research. It is time for regulatory agencies to ensure that epistemic trespassing is not neglected by the scientific community for the sake of cost, time, and resources.

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Conflicts of interest

There are no conflicts of interest.


MAS is a recipient of the DenburTech, New Jersey Health Foundation, and TechAdvance Awards. This publication is dedicated to the memory of Dr. H. Afsar Lajevardi,[7] a legendary pediatrician (1953–2015) who passed. We will never forget Dr. H Afsar Lajevardi’s kindness and support. The views expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views or policies of the affiliated organizations. The authors hereby announce that they have active cooperation in this scientific study and preparation of the present manuscript. The authors confirm that they have no financial involvement with any commercial company or organization with direct financial interest regarding the materials used in this study.


1. Vukov JM, Rempala K, Klug M, Hornewer M. From epistemic trespassing to transdisciplinary cooperation:The role of expertise in the identification of usual care. Am J Bioeth 2020;20:52–4.
2. Parthasarathy S. How to be an epistemic trespasser. Hist Stud Nat Sci 2022;52:140–2.
3. Ballantyne N. Epistemic trespassing. Mind 2019;128:367–95.
4. CDC; 2022. Available from: https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/covid19/mortality-overview.htm. [Last accessed on 20 Sep 2022].
5. DiPaolo J. What's wrong with epistemic trespassing?. Philos Stud 2022;179:223–43.
6. Ballantyne N. Knowing Our Limits. New York, NY, USA: Oxford University Press; 2019.
7. Saghiri MA, Saghiri AM. In Memoriam: Dr. Hajar Afsar Lajevardi MD, MSc, MS (1955-2015). Iranian Journal of Pediatrics 2017;27:1.
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