(This post is the result of a facebook debate started by Eric Schliesser)
Given that what we are doing in philosophy might be footnotes to Plato all the way down, citation practices might not seem worth further discussion (that would be footnotes on footnotes in footnotes on Plato). But Kieran Healy’s data recently revealed the degree to which citation numbers cluster around certain big names. Citation practices seem to depend significantly on informal norms and expectations within the academic community. It is worth bringing these up for debate: more awareness of who is quoted, and why, could not only improve scholarship, but also help to make the hierarchies between the (perceived) centre and the (perceived) periphery of the academic community flatter.
Can you imagine being happy in a non-academic career? This question is often posed by academics to prospective graduate students, who are encouraged to pursue an academic career only if their answer is ‘no’. This advice came under Nate Kreuter’s scrutiny in a recent Inside Higher Ed column:
Let me start this column by looking at what I think is a horrible but common piece of advice. […] I have often heard of faculty members advising prospective and current graduate students to pursue or continue their graduate studies only if "you can’t imagine yourself doing anything else." The implication, of course, is that you should only pursue an advanced or terminal degree if being a professor is the only way you can see yourself being happy […] [T]his is shockingly bad advice.
While Kreuter worries that this advice fails to acknowledge the possibility of combining academic degrees with non-academic careers, my own concerns are more fundamental and focused specifically on the discipline of philosophy. I’m worried that, by dishing out this advice, we are unintentionally discriminating against precisely those groups of people we are trying hardest to attract and retain.
There is a serious gender problem in philosophy in the Netherlands. In the 11 departments of philosophy the numbers of permanent staff members are roughly the following: assistant professors: 110, of which 25 are women; associate professors: 45, of which 5 are women; full professors: 65, of which 7 are women (I have not included part-time professors; this data is based on the websites of the departments). You may think that this just indicates that women have to work harder to get advanced positions at Dutch universities (i.e. that the problem is only theirs). But there is sufficient evidence now that a gender bias is built into the system. This implies that men are part of the problem and that they will have to take their responsibility. The solution is not easy though. It requires a package of measures. What can we do?
It is always good to raise awareness, but what really helps is to move beyond awareness-raising with a few very simple institutional measures that can be implemented right away. Why not make it a rule that 30% of all invited speakers at conferences are women, or that 30% of the papers in special issues are by female philosophers? The Board of the Dutch Research School of Philosophy (OZSW) will discuss such measures for activities organized by the OZSW later this year. There may of course be exceptions to this rule, but these exceptions need to be justified. Similarly, we should stick to the rule, formally adopted by many universities, that selection committees should include at least two women.
techniques are things people say to get someone to drop out of a discussion,
either by leaving or becoming and remaining silent. There are a variety of forms that this can take. This post has an illuminating
taxonomy with a plethora of useful examples, all of which can be changed
mutatis mutandis to philosophy contexts. Inspired by the post I offer some
saying that because you're a woman [or black/trans*/queer/whatever].
exactly what I'd expect from a feminist." [Focal stress usually on the identity term.] You're just part of
the feminist take-over of this department.
make their teaching and research openly – even massively – accessible? Last
year, we discussed the ramifications of free access rather intensely in the
Amherst College faculty. The content of our discussions can provide food for
thought for faculty members at places facing similar decisions.
decisions: 1) we approved a web-available College repository for College
faculty members' article publications; and 2) we approved making Amherst
College Press an open-access press; but 3) we refused to accept MOOC proposals
from the Big Three: Udacity, Coursera, and edX.
Brian Leiter comments
in typical acerbic style on an excerpt in the Guardian from Daniel Dennett’s latest book, Intuition Pumps and Other Tools for
Thinking, titled “Daniel Dennett’s Seven Tools for Thinking:” “A curious list; not clear Dennett has always
honored all of them!”
What Leiter doesn’t notice, though, is that Dennett violates one of his
principles in explaining another! Dennett's last tool is “beware of deepities.” He
explains a deepity as
“a proposition that seems both
important and true – and profound – but that achieves this effect by being
ambiguous. On one reading, it is manifestly false, but it would be
earth-shaking if it were true; on the other reading, it is true but trivial.
The unwary listener picks up the glimmer of truth from the second reading, and
the devastating importance from the first reading, and thinks, Wow! That’s a
Dennett then offers two
examples. The first is the claim that “love is just a word.” The second, he
says, is not “quite so easily analyzed:” “Richard Dawkins recently alerted me
to a fine deepity by Rowan Williams, the then archbishop of Canterbury, who
described his faith as ‘a silent waiting on the truth, pure sitting and
breathing in the presence of the question mark’.” Dennett concludes “I leave
the analysis of this as an exercise for you.”
Scaliger’s helpful post
about making APA presentations visually accessible and appealing reminds me
there are also things philosophers can do to make their presentations more
accessible to deaf and hard of hearing audience members. Odds are good that at
least a few audience members will have hearing loss -- according to the U.S. National Institute
on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders, fifteen percent of adults
between the ages of 20 and 69 have hearing loss, and this percentage increases
with age. Most of these people rely on residual
hearing (amplified or unamplified) and visual cues. This post is focused on
making talks more accessible to that population – I’m planning another post on
accessibility for those working with sign language interpreters and CART
A few days ago Eric linked
to a report
by Lori Gruen (Ethics and Animals blog here; Wesleyan University
website here) on the renewal
of cruel maternal deprivation research on primates. The comments on Eric's post
were such that we asked Lori to write a guest post for us. She graciously
agreed; the post follows: [UPDATED 1:40 pm 16 Oct. See below for contact info for Madison's Provost.]
steps in scientific progress are sometimes followed closely by outbursts of foolishness.
New discoveries have a way of exciting the imagination of the well-meaning and
misguided, who see theoretical potentialities in new knowledge that may prove
impossible to attain.” – Dr.
Sherwin Nuland, Yale School of Medicine
Does the system we have in place to curtail scientific
“outbursts of foolishness” and protect research subjects from “misguided”
scientific curiosity work?
There was no oversight system in place back in the
days when Harry Harlow’s experiments psychologically tormenting baby monkeys
were making news. Surely that sort of
horrible work in which infant primates are taken from their mothers to make
them crazy wouldn’t be approved of today. On my recent visit to the University
of Wisconsin I was shocked to learn otherwise.
The oversight committee chairs told me they have never rejected a
proposal. Not one.
And one of the protocols they did not reject is a renewal
of maternal deprivation research. Disturbingly, ithas been approved by not
one, but two oversight committees. A
psychiatry professor who has a distinguished record of research on anxiety
disorders plans to separate more monkey babies from their mothers, leave them
with wire “surrogates” covered in cloth (a practice developed by Harlow) to
emulate “adverse early rearing conditions,” then pair them with another
maternally deprived infant after 3-6 weeks of being alone. The infants will then be exposed to fearful
conditions. The monkeys in this group
and another group of young monkeys who will be reared with their mothers, will
then be killed and their brains examined. (The experimental protocol is here.)