Nominations are OPEN for the PSA Women's Caucus new Highlighted PhilosopHer feature, recognizing the work of the Caucus's membership. Nominations need not be from Caucus members (although nominees do), so this is your chance to crow about some of your outstanding colleagues! Maybe you saw a great talk from a woman philosopher of science during this summer conference season?
The nomination form is here. Highlighted PhilosopHers will be featured on the Caucus's blog, Science Visions.
It is encouraging to see that the percentage of women in PSA is higher among more junior members, reflecting trends in other fields of philosophy and in academia generally. I am surprised, however, that there has been no statistically significant increase in the percentage of women in PSA over the last 8 years.
Student evaluations can be flattering; they can be unfair; they can be good reminders to get our act together. A few weeks ago, I received my student evaluations for the 'Twentieth Century Philosophy' class I taught this past spring semester. As I read them, I came upon one that brought me up short, because it stung:
I appreciated the professor's enthusiasm about the early portion of the class, but I was annoyed that it resulted in the syllabus being rewritten so that the already extremely minimal number of female and minority voices was further reduced.
High registration fees at conferences and workshops ignore the growing group of people who have a PhD but are not securely employed and have no institutional support. Often, there are only reduced rates for students. High conference fees creates a barrier of entry for adjuncts, lecturers and other non-tenure track faculty members to participate. We can make this situation a bit less unjust by pledging to create a reduced or waived fee category for contingent faculty in any conference we organize, lobby with academic organizations we are members of to create this category of fees, or - for more privileged members of the profession - forego honoraria or payment of travel expenses to make lower registration fees possible. Sign this petition to pledge on one or more of the actions we can take http://www.thepetitionsite.com/108/832/205/inclusive-fees-campaign/
This past Monday, on 20th April, Christia Mercer, the Gustave M. Berne Professor of Philosophy at Columbia University, delivered the Philosophy Department's annual Sprague and Taylor lecture at Brooklyn College. The title of her talk was 'How Women Changed The Course of Philosophy'. Here is the abstract:
The story we tell about the development of early modern philosophy was invented by German Neo-Kantians about 150 years ago. Created to justify its proponents’ version of philosophy, it is a story that ignores the complications of seventeenth-century philosophy and its sources. In this lecture, Professor Christia Mercer uncovers the real story behind early modern rationalism and shows that many of its most original components have roots in the philosophical contributions made by women. [link added]
At one point during the talk, in referring to the contributions made by Julian of Norwich, Professor Mercer began by saying, "Julian does not offer an argument here, but rather an analysis...". During the question and answer session, focusing on this remark, I offered some brief comments.
Following on Helen De Cruz's excellent Why we should cite unpublished papers and some recent reflections of my own while refereeing, I thought it might be helpful to compile a list of suggestions for when to cite (now that we know that our citations should include both published and unpublished work):
If someone has provided a way to understand a certain debate that had not been recognized before and you find it useful to present the debate in that way, you should cite them.
If someone has provided conceptual distinctions that you are using in your paper, you should cite them.
If someone has done the work to find and explain a case study and you want to refer to that case study too, you should cite them.
If X has developed further the ideas of Y, you should cite both X and Y.
I'm writing a paper where I'm citing an unpublished paper. It's by a relatively junior author, available on the internet, and it has been already cited, for example, I recently saw a citation to it in a published paper that's already in print for several years (that paper is very well known in the subject matter I'm writing about now - it is unsurprisingly by a far more senior author at a high-ranking institution).
I talked to the author of the unpublished draft a few months ago, and they said that the paper had been under review a couple of times, once in a top journal where it was under review for over a year until eventually the editor decided 'no'. They are now resubmitting this paper for the nth time.
Upon learning this paper is unpublished, my first reaction was to avoid citing it. And I was frustrated with my own initial reaction - was I trying to use my citations strategically (not implausible, see e.g., here) to cite the papers that are deemed "central" in this discussion? Was I not willing to cite because I have often tried to track down, in vain, unpublished papers that are cited in the works of others and I am trying to avoid this frustration in my potential audience?
It's been a little over a week since I posted my Why is this philosophy? reflections, and I find myself still puzzling over a common sort of reaction that I got to the post. The common reaction seemed to be that other areas of philosophy are subject to similar challenges, and/or that philosophers in other areas are subject to similar difficulties on the job market, etc. And so (the implication seemed to be), what was my point?
Let me first clarify that I certainly never meant to imply – and looking back over the post, do not see where I said – that philosophy of science or philosophers of science have it worse than anyone else. I do not take that to be the case. I know that there are certain areas of philosophy that are quite marginalized, causing practitioners in those areas to struggle at various points in their careers. So, why speak about philosophy of science? Well, philosophy of science is what I do, and so the particular criticisms of it are in my face more so than criticisms of other areas. I encourage others to speak out about challenges in their own areas, challenges that I am not in a position to speak to. But let's be clear that the challenges in area X, even if worse than the challenges in philosophy of science, don't make the challenges in philosophy of science go away or unworthy of discussion.
So, what are the particular criticisms that can make doing philosophy of science challenging?
In their series that could be titled "Academic sexism is a myth", Wendy Williams and Stephen Ceci have a newest installment: on the basis of fictive scenarios, faculty members in STEM disciplines had to make decisions about hiring particular male or female candidates. I'm not going to talk in detail about the methodology - which involved presenting faculty members fictitious scenarios about the on campus interviews of female and male candidates - but about the problem of inductive risk whenever we investigate biases against women and other underrepresented groups, such as African Americans, people with disabilities, etc.
Inductive risk is the chance that one is wrong accepting or rejecting a scientific hypothesis. For instance, a food additive that poses a serious health risk is wrongly concluded to be safe, or conversely, a food additive that has no health risk is wrongly concluded to be carcinogenic. Both false negatives and false positives can potentially pose inductive risks. Heather Douglas has argued that inductive risk is one way to let values play a role in science. Because scientists are in an epistemic position to assess the risks and benefits of their work, they should assess the non-epistemic consequences (in policy, public perception, health hazards etc) of publishing particular research findings. How does this concept apply to the research by Williams and Ceci?
When we investigate sexist biases against women in academia, there are two types of inductive risk: (1) There are no biases against women (indeed women are now being preferred as candidates for some positions in some fields). (2) There are in fact biases against women, but Williams and Ceci failed to detect it.
Most philosophers of science have been on the receiving end of this question at one time or another. A friend of mine recently called it a type of hate speech. I think my friend was joking. But maybe not. Philosophers of science struggle to get into grad programs, to obtain jobs, to earn promotion and tenure, to be perceived as "central" and important figures in the field, all because their work is not seen as philosophical. So, while it may not be hate speech, it is speech that does genuine harm.
This isn't a new issue and it's one that others have touched before. But a number of recent events have brought the issue to mind for me and emphasized the importance of continuing to discuss it. One in particular was a conversation with a colleague whose opinion I value and whose good faith I have utter confidence in. And yet this colleague had doubts about an essay being philosophical even as I could see that it fell squarely within the domain of philosophy of science. The colleague was willing to take my word for it, but the fact that such a well meaning person had doubts really brought home to me the fact that this is (at least in some case) simply a lack of awareness about philosophy of science. Thus this post. I can't hope to fully convince anyone in a blog post length entry, but I can at least point to some of the other events that have got me thinking about this topic again.
The second event was the excellent essay "Philosophical Enough" by Subrena Smith, a recent Featured Philosop-her. Smith rightly points out:
PhilJobs is collecting news about new hires in philosophy here: http://philjobs.org/appointments. Don't be shy -- if you have good news to share (and we all wish there were more good news to share, i.e., more jobs to go around) please share it! If sharing your good news is not enough of a motivation, then please share it because it allows us to better track what's going on in the profession.
This is a moderated thread. So there can be no question that Leiter at least had to deliberately press ‘publish’ on this comment. It is less clear, as his own comment further down indicates, that he had fully thought through the implications of doing so.
Brian Leiter said...
Yes, I suppose I should not have approved #2, but I've been approving almost everything. On the other hand, Johnson is a very public and rather noxious presence in philosophy cyberspace, so I'm not surprised there is interest.
I’m sure we’re all glad to know that Brian has some standards (he didn’t approve everything, after all). Still, what he did approve seems to merit some comment.
The speculation about the reasons for Leigh’s ability to secure a second job in professional philosophy is untoward, given that she is a) non-tenured, b) not in any way credibly accused or even suspected of professional misconduct, and c) the characterization of her current position is inaccurate. Publishing this comment and thereby generating a public sense that Leigh does not deserve her current employment is at very least an obvious instance of bullying on Brian’s part (and fits his by now well established pattern of directing this sort of attention toward junior, precariously employed members of the profession).
In what has to be one of the great whoppers of his entire blogging career, Brian goes on to justify leaving such a comment up by validating a more general interest in the question of why someone who is, in his view, a "a very public and rather noxious presence in philosophy cyberspace” should have a job.
To say that the implicit standard in 2) risks implicating Brian himself is rather obvious. More interestingly, it seems to be perhaps as candid an admission as we are likely to get from Brian that he sees nothing wrong with harassing people he doesn’t like if he can possibly pull it off. And so we find him abusing the pretext of discussing ‘issues in the profession’ to pursue his own petty little vendetta.
Older data in sociology suggest that the prestige of PhD granting department is one of the main factors in hiring decisions (the other is the selectivity of the undergraduate institution. The authors conclude (rather dryly) "job placement in sociology values academic origins over performance."
Some six years ago, shortly after I had been appointed to its faculty, the philosophy department at the CUNY Graduate Center began revising its long-standing curriculum; part of its expressed motivation for doing so was to bring its curriculum into line with those of "leading" and "top-ranked" programs. As part of this process, it invited feedback from its faculty members. As a former graduate of the Graduate Center's Ph.D program, I thought I was well-placed to offer some hopefully useful feedback on its curriculum, and so, I wrote to the faculty mailing list, doing just that. Some of the issues raised in my email are, I think, still relevant to academic philosophy. Not everybody agreed with its contents; some of my cohort didn't, but in any case, perhaps this might provoke some discussion.
As you know, I was the gentleman that made that remark in a private facebook thread with a close friend. If I recall correctly, people in that thread were asking about whether certain kinds of thought experiments were typically referred to as “Gettier Cases”. I said that they were, despite how inaccurate or uninformative it might be to do so, in part because of the alternative traditions you cite. I’m sorry you interpreted my remark as silencing my friends on facebook. Personally I believe that philosophers should abandon the notion of “Gettier cases” and that the practice of labeling thought experiments in this way should be discouraged. If you are interested, I have recently argued for this in two articles here (http://philpapers.org/rec/BLOGCA) and here (http://philpapers.org/rec/TURKAL).
A few months ago, I noticed an interesting and telling interaction between a group of academic philosophers. A Facebook friend posted a little note about how one of her students had written to her about having encountered a so-called "Gettier case" i.e., she had acquired a true belief for invalid reasons. In the email, the student described how he/she had been told the 'right time' by a broken clock. The brief discussion that broke out in response to my friend's note featured a comment from someone noting that the broken clock example is originally due to Bertrand Russell. A little later, a participant in the discussion offered the following comment:
Even though the clock case is due to Russell, it's worth noting that "Gettier" cases were present in Nyāya philosophy in India well before Russell, for instance in the work of Gaṅgeśa, circa 1325 CE. The example is of someone inferring that there is fire on a faraway mountain based on the presence of smoke (a standard case of inference in Indian philosophy), but the smoke is actually dust. As it turns out, though, there is a fire on the mountain. See the Tattva-cintā-maṇi or "Jewel of Reflection on the Truth of Epistemology." [links added]
Ten days ago a new site was launched, “A User’s Guide to Philosophy Without Rankings.” The response to the site has been extremely rewarding. Not only have there been thousands of visitors, people are using the Guide as I had hoped: they are visiting sites that are mentioned in the Guide to learn more about graduate programs, as well as the PGR. A comment on Reddit’s philosophy page regarding the Guide sums up an important reason for the site:
“Thank you so much. I'm going to be applying next year and this is exactly what I'm looking for after I heard all of the controversy about the PGR.”
I want to thank colleagues who have begun to send in resources to post on the site. And I want to make a request: please send more! Like the new philosophy wikis, the Guide is in part an aggregator of information. The more information, the more helpful it can be. Please do weigh in. You can email me about the Guide at firstname.lastname@example.org or leave a comment on the site.
As most readers probably know, the 2014 Philosophical Gourmet Report (PGR), a "Ranking of Graduate Programs in Philosophy in the English-Speaking World," was recently published; the rankings purport to be "primarily measures of faculty quality and reputation." Mitchell Aboulafia has done a series of postings analyzing the 2014 PGR. If Aboulafia's analyses are accurate, which they seem to me to be, they show why the rankings produced by the 2014 PGR ought not to be relied on.
Some might think that some of these problems are at least partially the result of the September Statement. However, the editors of the PGR made the decision to publish the report and seem to stand by it, so the reasons behind the problems (whatever they might be) seem beside the point.
...is online! It merges the different lists hitherto available with specific underrepresented groups within philosophy and for different areas into a single directory. From the description:
The UPDirectory publicizes information about philosophers who are members of traditionally underrepresented groups in philosophy. The purpose of the directory is to provide an easy-to-use resource for anyone who wants to learn more about the work of philosophers who belong to underrepresented groups within the discipline. [...]
For the purposes of the UPDirectory, traditionally underrepresented groups in philosophy include women philosophers, black philosophers, Asian philosophers, Latina/o and Hispanic Philosophers, Indigenous/Native philosophers, LGBTQ philosophers, and philosophers with a disability, among others. [...] Inclusion in the directory is primarily a matter of self-entry.
So, philosophers belonging to one or more of these underrepresented groups: go add yourselves! And everybody else: go check it out! Make sure you use this amazing resource next time you plan a conference, an edited volume etc.
We're talking about rankings this week. (Do we talk about anything else, any more?) While we're doing so, I'd like to encourage everyone to read and meditate on this extraordinary post by Kate Bowles, which takes off from the heartbreaking story of Professor Stefan Grimm, "a senior UK academic who has died after being put on performance management for the insufficiency of his research. He was 51."
The piece is a meditation on the professional culture and the emotional world, all too familiar, that almost inevitably surrounds not just a death like this but also any number of other real abuses which we have become all too capable of overlooking, if only by virtue of their excessive familiarity. It bears, heavily, on rankings, and the uses to which they are put. But it also calls us out for the way in which we participate in, and facilitate the whole process. As a tease, I'll simply leave folks with these two paragraphs.
Some days they will also drive each other for you. They will whisper about each other, and turn a blind eye to each other, and not quite find the time to act on their own secret critical thinking about any of it. They will also surreptitiously maintain each other through care and coping practices and shrugs in the corridor and exchanged glances and raised eyebrows in meetings and Friday drinks that become chronic, secretive drinking problems so that they can get some rest without writing emails in their heads at 3am.
In fact, if you get the scarcity, intermittency and celebratory settings for occasional reward just right, then the toxic alchemy of hope and shame will diminish their capacity for solidarity, and they will keep the whole thing going for you, in the name of commitment, professional standards, the value of scholarship, academic freedom, the public good of educational equity.
A graduate student in my department, Shawn Miller, has created a wiki for graduate programs having faculty who specialize in philosophy of biology: philbio.net It gives an at-a-glance overview of schools and faculty, with links to websites, CVs, and PhilPapers profiles for individual faculty. The wiki thus serves as an excellent springboard for those who are researching graduate programs in philosophy of biology, both Ph.D. and terminal M.A. As the wiki notes, "The primary intended audience is prospective or current graduate students with interests in philosophy of biology who want to get the lay of the land by seeing who works where, and on what."
Some important features of the site:
Anyone can edit the wiki, with or without an account. Faculty and students are encouraged to add listings and update listings.
The criterion for program inclusion is just that a philosophy (or a history and philosophy of science) Ph.D. program have at least one full-time faculty member who self-identifies as a philosopher of biology.
On the main page, faculty specializations can be listed and willingness to work with new students can be indicated. Programs can also create a separate page that lists further information about the program, such as lab groups (see UC Davis's entry for an example).
I would encourage others to update this site and help make it a useful resource, and to recommend the site to prospective graduate students with interests in philosophy of biology. I would further encourage those who work in other areas of philosophy to create similar sites to facilitate prospective graduate students in doing the sort of deep research that an important decision like applying to graduate school calls for.
By now, many readers will be aware of the events which have unfolded around Cheryl Abbate, a Ph.D. student and instructor in Philosophy at Marquette University. Those who are not up to speed should read this excellent post by Justin Weinberg at Daily Nous. Briefly, Ms. Abbate has been the subject of public, political attack by an associate professor of Political Science at Marquette, John McAdams, concerning matters that took place in her classroom, after class, and in a subsequent meeting of the class.
Leaving aside the highly problematic evidentiary basis for Prof. McAdams' claims (the report of a single student who had attempted to record Ms. Abbate covertly and without her permission, and had lied to her when confronted about what he was doing), and the extent to which McAdams' version of events seems to have misrepresented what took place in material ways, there can be no question that it is categorically inappropriate for a senior faculty member (or indeed any faculty member) to publicly attack a graduate student over what happens in his or her classroom, regardless of whether that student is in the faculty members's own department.*
The fact that Prof. McAdams' intervention has, rather predictably, led to Ms. Abbate becoming the subject of a number of gendered attacks only exacerbates the wrong here, which is certainly a matter of principle as well as of consequences. But it does make it even more urgent that Marquette should address the situation and do whatever is necessary to offer Ms. Abbate support.
In the same spirit, many of us throughout the philosophical community have sought to express our support for Ms. Abbate and our dismay at the conduct of Prof. McAdams. Justin Weinberg has suggested writing the provost and the dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at Marquette. John Protevi has taken that suggestion up in the form of an open letter, to which he invites others to add their signatures. Keeping in mind that a public wrong needs to be countered publicly, I am posting this, here, to further express my support—and I invite others here to add their names in the comments should they wish to do so.
A few years ago, I read the Philosophy Smoker on a regular basis. In the comments threads, several job seekers complained about older professors who didn't retire. If only they finally went away, more tenure lines would become available for junior people. In a provocative essay, professor emerita Laurie Frendrich argues along similar lines. She argues that professors have a moral duty to retire. The reasons why they don't, she argues, are largely self-serving: the large income of a senior faculty member, the pleasure of teaching: "Professors approaching 70...have an ethical obligation to step back and think seriously about quitting. If they do remain on the job, they should at least openly acknowledge they’re doing it mostly for themselves."
Unlike in the US, where the mandatory retirement age of professors at 70 was lifted in 1994, European professors are still obliged to retire when they reach a given age (usually between 65 and 67). It is certainly a good thing that tenured lines eventually open again and younger academics can step in. But does that mean that older professors in the US also have a moral obligation to step down when the time comes? For one thing, many tenured positions aren't being replaced by junior tenure lines but by contingent (VAP, adjunct etc) positions. Also, pension schemes were gutted during the 2008 and following years crisis, which made it financially precarious for older professors to retire.
I agree high retirement ages are problematic, but I disagree that individual older professors have a moral duty to retire. If the total effects of scrapping the pension age for professors are negative, that should be a reason to reintroduce mandatory pension age in academia in the US, but it does not put the burden of that decision on individual professors in their late 60s or older. Let's look at some of the main arguments Frendrich offers:
I've written before about the question of boundary policing in philosophy, occasioned at the time by a remarkable essay of Nathaniel Adam Tobias Coleman's. It's a question, and a habitual tendency within the discipline, that certainly continues to deserve our attention.
In the same spirit, I want to call readers' attention to an essay that Adriel Trott has published today on her blog. The piece is subtle and quite complex, beginning with four anecdotes and developing from there into a meditation on what it would mean to stop policing the borders of philosophy—but also engaging a series of related—and urgent—questions. How can philosophy remain attentive to the singularity of different sorts of experiences? How can philosophy embrace the insights of intersectionality? What, especially in light of these first two questions, might it mean to do philosophy while resisting the drive to universalize or ontologize? And how do we deal with the ever present danger of appropriation or colonization involved in our attempts to theorize or conceptualize what is at stake in lives at the border, even if we have given up attempting to police those borders?
The essay is carefully composed and deserves to be read on its own terms. But as a teaser, I will leave readers with this short section from Trott's conclusion, about which I will add a few remarks below the fold.
I am only just now coming to see that changing the way we think about philosophy in order to make it more inclusive means making those of us who are happy with the way the thinking in philosophy currently operates uncomfortable and not-quite-at-home with philosophy.
There are two important posts up today elsewhere in the philosophical blogopshere that deserve your attention—both of which raise the question of how those of us in the profession at large can support those members who, because of activism or simply their social position, are vulnerable to various official and non-official forms of retaliation.
Above the fold, I will simply point readers to the Open Letter of Support for "for people in our profession who are suffering various trials either as victims of harassment or as supporters of victims" published on DailyNous by John Greco, Don Howard, Michael Rea, Jonathan Kvanvig, and Mark Murphy: and to NewAPPS emeritus blogger Eric Schliesser's more concrete suggestion about how to address the retaliatory deployment of legal means against complainants. Both pieces deserve to be read and reflected upon.
In what follows, I'll say a bit more about my sense of the importance of both pieces, and the larger phenomenon of retaliation against those contesting the inequitable state of the profession.
I just got back from the Philosophy of Science Association meeting in Chicago, held in conjunction with the History of Science Society. My co-chair Holly Andersen and I knew we had better-than-ever attendance for the 5th PSA Women's Caucus Breakfast, but after counting the names on the sign-in sheet, I can report that we had 83 attendees! (mostly women, plus a few welcome supporters). We didn't get to all of the items on our packed agenda, but there was some serious energy in the room, and hopefully we can really get things done in the next two years. Thanks again to the Minnesota Center for the Philosophy of Science and individual donors for sponsoring.
I don't know if anyone else noticed (and maybe I shouldn't point it out), but Saturday was a good day for philosophy of biology. Helen Longino is finishing her term as PSA President, to be succeeded by Ken Waters; Helen also won the PSA Women's Caucus Prize for Feminist Philosophy for her recent book, Studying Human Behavior: How Scientists Investigate Aggression and Sexuality, while Elliott Sober won the Hempel Award. Congrats to all.
My own session, "Beyond the Lab Experiment," with Sharon Crasnow, Eric Desjardins, and Emily Parke (ably chaired by Chris Eliot) was one of the best I've ever participated in. At the end of it, I realized that all four papers sought to make positive contributions; none was a critique (not that I am against critique -- I think critique is important and have done it myself -- but sometimes it's nice to make forward progress without having to trash what came before). We had a half hour at the end for general discussion, and the audience used it appropriately, probing connections between the four talks that I was certainly too bleary-eyed to see. And speakers responded thoughtfully and openly to suggestions. It was a really positive experience and I got a lot out of it.
It was also announced that this was the largest PSA meeting ever. I think we still have work to do to increase the diversity of topics and attendees, but I know that work has been done in that area and that more is planned. The PSA is looking healthy.
There’s an important piece up at Inside Higher Ed today about a developing debate concerning whether universities should offer blanket indemnity to students who file internal harassment and assault complaints, as they regularly do for faculty and other employees. While the IHE piece is a news story, and so doesn’t take a position on the matter, it seems to me that the arguments in favor of extending automatic indemnification to student complainants are very strong.