Epistemic Disclosure

Providing clear metadata on the epistemic validity of content

The Context

For most of the words we read online, we have a limited amount of context about the writer and how much effort they've put into the piece we're reading.

We might have a name and a tiny 32px profile image. We don't know how long it took them to write these words, how many hundreds of tabs they read through, or whether they spent years earning a graduate degree on the topic. We rarely have a rich backstory with a comprehensive educational and professional history at hand.

If we disagree with their points, we're more likely to be ungenerous Epistemic Peers who assume the worst: they've barfed this garbage up in a single, frenzied caffeine rush and haven't so much as opened Google Scholar to check for prior art.

That might all be true. Which is fine. As long as they disclose the situation upfront. The only true source of disappointment – in both reading and life – is unmet expectations.

The Pattern

At the beginning of a piece of writing, the author writes a sentence or two about the epistemic status of the work. Epistemology is the study of knowledge – how we know things, the methods we use to gain knowledge, and how we validate knowledge as "true.” So an epistemic status usually covers how the author came to know what they know. This includes how much effort they put into researching it, how they validated the information, and how sure they are about their conclusions.

Scott Alexander of was one of the earliest well-known bloggers to do this. Many of his posts include statuses that range from "total conjecture” to "pretty good, but I make no claim this is original.” Here are a few more choice examples:

is another blogger who adds rich metadata to each post. They have a numerical "certainty" rating on each post:

The rationalist and Effective Altruist communities have been particularly enthusiastic about the pattern. In true Rationalist style, one person writes up a comprehensive proposal to on the r/LessWrong subreddit.

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