Rethinking the history of peptic ulcer disease and its relevance for network epistemology

Bartosz Michał Radomski, Dunja Šešelja (Corresponding author), Kim Naumann

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The history of the research on peptic ulcer disease (PUD) is characterized by a premature abandonment of the bacterial hypothesis, which subsequently had its comeback, leading to the discovery of Helicobacter pylori—the major cause of the disease. In this paper we examine the received view on this case, according to which the primary reason for the abandonment of the bacterial hypothesis in the mid-twentieth century was a large-scale study by a prominent gastroenterologist Palmer, which suggested no bacteria could be found in the human stomach. To this end, we employ the method of digital textual analysis and study the literature on the etiology of PUD published in the decade prior to Palmer’s article. Our findings suggest that the bacterial hypothesis had already been abandoned before the publication of Palmer’s paper, which challenges the widely held view that his study played a crucial role in the development of this episode. In view of this result, we argue that the PUD case does not illustrate harmful effects of a high degree of information flow, as it has frequently been claimed in the literature on network epistemology. Moreover, we argue that alternative examples of harmful effects of a high degree of information flow may be hard to find in the history of science.

Original languageEnglish
Article number113
Number of pages23
JournalHistory and Philosophy of the Life Sciences
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 4 Nov 2021

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We are grateful to two anonymous reviewers for valuable comments, which helped to improve this paper. We also wish to thank the RTG “Situated Cognition”, the work group led by Tobias Schlicht at Ruhr University Bochum, Philosophy & Ethics Group at TU Eindhoven, and Christian Straßer for valuable comments on an earlier draft of this paper. The research for this paper was partially funded by the Munich Center for Mathematical Philosophy (MCMP) at LMU Munich and the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG, German Research Foundation), Research Grant HA 3000/9-1; Project number 426833574 (DFG Research Network on Simulations of Scientific Inquiry) and GRK-2185/1, META 2.3 (DFG Research Training Group “Situated Cognition”).


  • Digital textual analysis
  • Eddy Palmer
  • Network epistemology
  • Peptic ulcer disease
  • Peptic Ulcer/etiology
  • Helicobacter pylori
  • Humans
  • Helicobacter Infections
  • Knowledge


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