Yet, it seems that one can reasonably ask why one should join a society like the PSA these days. It used to be that many people joined in order to get the journal, Philosophy of Science. But now, most academics get access to the journal through their universities. Some old-fashioned types like me join societies whose goals they want to promote and whose communities they feel a part of; in addition to the PSA, I am member of HSS, ISHPSSB, ISEE, and the APA.
However, if one is not moved on that score, why join? Why join the PSA, or any academic society, for that matter?
One reason, which perhaps should be obvious but isn't always, is that if one likes the meetings, one should join the society. While it is true that membership isn't required to go to the PSA (one reason that the PSA doesn't require it is in order to facilitate the attendance of scientists at the meeting), being a member supports the infrastructure that allows the PSA to put on such large, elaborate meetings. Another reason is to be able to vote for officers (and run for office oneself) in order to guide the direction of the society and future meetings.
Nonetheless, the fact remains that some still choose not to join. So, what role do societies have today? Do they have a role to play beyond putting on meetings and guiding journal publications?
I am starting to see some very promising developments at the PSA that bode well for a broader role for societies like the PSA, developments that will perhaps provide additional reasons to join. These include:
A new caucus, developed jointly with HSS, having the goals of promoting research, educational and public activities in history and philosophy of science that constructively engage matters of social welfare. Tentatively named Joint Caucus of Socially Engaged Philosophers and Historians of Science, or JCSEPHS, this new caucus began with an overflowing roomful of interest and the sharing of good work that philosophers and historians are already doing. A website is in the works.
The fourth meeting of the PSA Women's Caucus, which is going strong, showing an increase in the number of attendees from two years ago. The PSA-WC awarded its second prize for the best book, article, or chapter published in English in the area of feminist philosophy of science within the five years prior the PSA meeting; the prize went to Kristen Intemann and Inmaculada de Melo-Martín for their article, "Social values and scientific evidence: the case of the HPV vaccines." The PSA-WC is also working on drawing more women into philosophy of science as well as outreach to groups such as FEMMSS in order to bring more feminist philosophy of science onto the program.
A meeting of the incoming President of the PSA with the heads of other related societies, such as HSS, BSPS, ISHPSSB, and the EPSA. (Here I am leaving a large number of societies out, since I am not fully sure who was at the meeting). The field philosophy of science, in short, has burgeoned into many successful societies. Does the PSA have a distinctive role to play, and if so, what is it? I think the answers are unclear at this point, but one thing does seem clear: changes are afoot.