By Roberta Millstein
Philosophers, and many thoughtful people more generally, pride themselves on having a healthy skepticism toward claims made by the media, by politicians, by scientists – by pretty much anyone. And rightly so. Many issues are complex and have not just two sides, but multiple sides. One ought not accept proffered claims without examining all of the evidence and without thinking about whether the evidence supports the claims being made. But are there times when a healthy skepticism becomes unhealthy?
In my field, philosophy of science, we often have meta-discussions about the extent to which we should accept scientific findings or question them. But even the most naturalistic philosopher of science thinks that we ought to be skeptical of scientific findings at least some of the time and under some circumstances.
In politics, some claim that we are starting to see a surge from U.S. Presidential candidate Bernie Sanders. But some are skeptical. Some think that Sanders doesn't actually have a chance of winning the Democratic nomination or the U.S. Presidency. Should we be skeptical, too – would that be a healthy skepticism?
I don't think it is. I don't think we should have the same skepticism toward towards claims about future political outcomes as we have towards scientific claims. The reason is simple: in evaluating scientific claims, we are evaluating existing evidence. As new evidence comes in, we might change our evaluation, but our beliefs, whether in favor or against a given claim, are not affecting the evidence or the truth of the claim itself.
But when evaluating claims about future political events, the situation is different. To see this, let's suppose that Jane Voter likes Sanders's platform, agrees with his values and proposals, but, being of skeptical bent, Jane decides that Sanders is too much of a long shot and doesn't really have a chance. This belief leads her not to support Sanders's campaign; it also leads her to suggest to her friends and and family that it would be a waste of time to do so.
The more Janes there are in the world, the more they can convince their friends and family, the more their beliefs become a foregone conclusion. That is, unlike like beliefs about scientific claims, beliefs about political outcomes actually change the outcomes. The skepticism becomes unhealthy.
We should act to bring about the outcomes that we find desirable, not sabotage those outcomes while brandishing the banner of skepticism.
By Roberta Millstein
I'd been trying to grapple with the weeks and weeks of horrifying stories about the treatment of Black Americans at the hands of police, with Sandra Bland and Samuel DuBose only the latest victims, when the story about Cecil the Lion hit social media. Some reacted angrily, frustrated that one lion was getting more attention than all the black women and men whose lives had been lost. Lori Gruen, however, responded differently:
Rather than pointing fingers at each other about inadequate or disproportionate grief at the deaths of some and not others, social justice activists might instead work to develop what political theorist Claire Jean Kim calls an “ethics of avowal.” In contrast to disavowal, the act of rejection or dissociation that often leads to perpetuating patterns of social injury, she suggests that we recognize the ways that our struggles are linked and to be “open in a meaningful and sustained way to the suffering and claims of other subordinated groups, even or perhaps especially in the course of political battle.” We should empathize with the pain and indignities of others who are disempowered and avow, rather than belittle, their search for justice.
This seemed so exactly right to me that I was surprised to see a number of commenters on the Feminist Philosophers blog voice strong disagreement. Stacey Goguen's early comment set the stage for much of the disagreement:
By Roberta Millstein
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?
By Roberta Millstein
Miriam Solomon has a post over at Science Visions, the blog of the PSA Women's Caucus, giving a summary of PSA demographics that she has been tracking since the Women’s Caucus began in 2006. The full text of the reports is linked to from the post.
An excerpt from Solomon's post:
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.
Nick Huggett and Christian Wüthrich are happy to announce the award of a major grant from the John Templeton Foundation to fund a three year investigation into the philosophical implications of theories of quantum gravity, "Space and Time after Quantum Gravity." The work, which will be divided between the University of Illinois at Chicago and the University of Geneva, continues their "Beyond Spacetime" project. The premise of the project is that scientific research programs in quantum gravity simultaneously demand philosophical, conceptual investigation for their progress, and raise profound questions about fundamental philosophical assumptions resting on a non-quantum understanding of space and time. How physics thus ‘meets philosophy at the Planck scale’ has been explored so far in the various publications and meetings coming out of the project.
The new grant, supplemented with funds from UIC and Geneva, will fund postdocs and predocs in the research groups at both institutions; regular speakers and visitors to the groups; essay competitions; a summer school at Chicago in 2016; a conference at Geneva in 2017; edited volumes; and a course of video lectures for non-specialists. Many of these activities will be made publicly available on video. For more information you can subscribe to the project blog at beyondspacetime.net or look out for calls for participation.
By Roberta Millstein
I'm sure we've all had the experience of committing to the final version of an article, only to think of that one more thing you should have said. Yeah, that just happened to me. Just the nature of the beast, I guess.
My recent instance has to do with an article concerning GMOs I wrote for The Common Reader, an article aimed at a general educated audience. In the article, one of the claims I defend is that a critique of GMOs is not anti-science, and I note in particular that a critique of GMOs is not the same as a critique of evolution or climate change. (Comments welcome on the article, by the way).
I was OK with my argument, although I knew that with more space I would have elaborated more than I did. But then I read this from Mark Lynas:
By Roberta Millstein
About a month ago, David Sloan Wilson posted a transcript of a wonderful phone conversation that he had with Richard Lewontin concerning the (in)famous paper that Lewontin co-authored in 1979 with Stephen Jay Gould, The Spandrels of San Marco and the Panglossian Paradigm: A Critique of the Adaptationist Programme, a paper that attracted a lot of attention from biologists but also from philosophers of biology (too many to cite here). The attention was, and continues to be, both positive and negative, i.e., the paper is a bit of a lightning rod.
I recommend the interview in full, as it has a lot of wonderful nuggets in it, but here are the things that stood out to me:
By Roberta Millstein
Science Visions is the new internet home for news from the Philosophy of Science Association Women’s Caucus, and its editors are already hard at work collecting their thoughts on philosophy, science, gender, academia, and university life to share with you.
Just as Donna Haraway’s Primate Visions sought to expand our view of women and primate research, Science Visions seeks to expand our view of women in philosophy of science. The goal is to gather the best of the web on issues of interest to its readers, from research and teaching issues in philosophy of science and the experience of minorities in the academy to conference announcements, news briefs, and career advice. Its editors will draw on their own perspectives and interests and those of their peers to lend philosophy of science a new set of voices. It will host their original content, as well as items of interest to our readers from elsewhere on the web, calls for fellowships and conferences, and other special features.
Check out Science Vision's first editorial, from editor Soazig Le Bihan, who argues that our moral obligation towards our students goes beyond providing them with good critical and analytical skills. (And while you're there, there's some other good stuff posted, so please browse around!)
UPDATE: And check out our a second editorial from Gillian Barker about a philosophy of science collaboration that seeks to change the world, called the Geo-Functions project.
[Full disclosure: I am a co-chair of the PSA Women's Caucus, together with Julia Bursten].
By Roberta Millstein
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):
By Roberta Millstein
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?
By Roberta Millstein
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.
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.
- Mitchell Aboulafia
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.
Following the sucess of What is it like to be a woman in philosophy? a new blog has arisen on the blogosphere: What is it like to be a person of color in philosophy? I look forward to hearing about people's experiences; although many will no doubt be painful to hear, this is a conversation that is long overdue. I hope that the new blog will be as good for the profession its predecessor has been. So far, with the first five posts, it delivers well.
By Roberta Millstein
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.
By Roberta Millstein
One was an appalling magazine cover, for which they were roundly and rightly criticized. The Editor-in-Chief issued a non-apology for the cover, saying that she is "truly sorry for any discomfort that this cover may have caused anyone" and promising "that we will strive to do much better in the future to be sensitive to all groups and not assume that context and intent will speak for themselves."
A second recent development is the shortening of book reviews to 600 words, with an increased focus on popular books and fewer reviews coming from scholars in the history and philosophy of science as compared to the past. This is an unfortunate loss of an important perspective from Science.
Now, a blog post from Michael Balter, who has been with the journal for over 21 years, talks about some of the behind-the-scenes troubles at Science and its publishing organization, the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). These include the recent dismissal of four women in the art and production departments, with essentially no notice in three cases and very little notice in the fourth case, and the absence of any serious response to the concerns expressed by the overwhelming majority of Science's news staff about the way these dismissals were handled.
I am not in a position to fully comment on these recent developments; I am only reporting what I have read and what I have been told. But as a member of the AAAS Section on History and Philosophy of Science (Section L) I am very concerned. Indeed, perhaps given the important role that Science plays, we should all be concerned about what what is involved with the "strategic transformation that AAAS is currently undergoing, to enhance its engagement with its members and to be in the forefront of the multimedia landscape of the future."
By Roberta Millstein
John Protevi, founder and emeritus member of New APPS, has posted an "October Statement." By signing, one states one's opposition to the ranking of philosophy programs, whether in the form of the current PGR or in some other revised form. The statement contains links to those who have offered reasons for taking such a position.
Protevi seems to have found a second statement to be necessary because he thinks that the September Statement implies that ranking systems confer a (net) benefit on the profession. I don't think that it implies any such thing, and in a comment over at the Feminist Philosophers blog, Daniel Elstein nicely sums up why:
I guess what we should try to remember is that it’s really hard to write a statement that pleases everyone. People who support (PGR-style) rankings and people who oppose (PGR-style) rankings can (and should) agree that it is worse if Leiter is PGR editor than if he isn’t. The phraseology in the September Statement that seems to irritate ranking opponents is clearly there to reassure the ranking supporters that signing on is compatible with supporting (PGR-style) rankings. Ranking opponents should recognise that it is a good thing if all those who oppose bullying (including ranking supporters) can sign a unified statement, and so interpret the relevant parts of the statement charitably. The problematic sentence could be read: “With a different leadership structure, the benefits [that some attribute to] the guide might be achieved without detriment to our colleague.” That’s true, right? And it’s all that the authors will have intended.
That being said, I do understand why some might share Protevi's interpretation and for that reason not feel comfortable signing the September statement. I would encourage those who feel similarly to sign the October Statement, while also pointing out that it is consistent to sign both statements (as I have done).
A number of philosophers have signed the statement located here: https://sites.google.com/site/septemberstatement/
[Note that the Google site is currently down for 'a perceived violation of the Terms of Service'. There is an alternative, temporary site here: https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/421308/statement.html]
It is up to each of us individually to decide what we will volunteer to do. The undersigned members of the philosophical community have decided to decline to volunteer our services to Leiter’s PGR. While we recognise that there are other ways to condemn Professor Leiter’s behaviour and to support our colleague, we think the best choice for us involves publicly declining to assist with the PGR. We cannot continue to volunteer services in support of the PGR in good conscience as long as Brian Leiter continues to behave in this way. We therefore decline to take the PGR survey, we decline to serve on the PGR advisory board, and we decline to send Professor Leiter information to help him compile the survey (e.g. updated faculty lists and corrections). We are only declining to volunteer our services to the PGR while it is under the control of Brian Leiter. With a different leadership structure, the benefits of the guide might be achieved without detriment to our colleague.
We feel that we need to consider very carefully what kind of example we are setting for graduate students, and for philosophers across the whole discipline, when something like this happens. Tolerating this kind of behaviour signals to them that they can expect the same in their own professional lives. We wish to set a clear example of how to respond appropriately but firmly.
Additional signatures are still being accepted.
In a summer overly stuffed with horrible and depressing news, it's comforting to find a good tidbit here and there. A few of these recent tidbits have been about particular wild animals: A baby orca was born in Puget Sound and given the designation L-120, bringing the population of the "L Pod" up to 79. For the first time in decades, the tracks of a panther were seen in the Green Swamp, north of Polk City, Florida. And the wolf known as OR-7, after famously trekking into northern California before roaming back to Oregon, has found a mate with whom he has produced several wolf puppies.
People cheer, and are cheered by, these small stories of animal survival and reproduction. Is this silly sentimentalism? I don't think so, although I am not fully certain what to make of it, either.
New APPS readers probably remember Helen De Cruz's excellent post on the polarized debate surrounding evolutionary science (which was picked up by NPR), as well as Roberta Millstein's follow-up post on the perhaps equally polarized debate concerning climate change. Both posts cite the work of Dan Kahan, who has a distinct take on these issues:
"I study risk perception and science communication. I’m going to tell you what I regard as the single most consequential insight you can learn from empirical research in these fields if your goal is to promote constructive public engagement with climate science in American society. It's this: What people “believe” about global warming doesn’t reflect what they know; it expresses who they are."
I just attended a talk by Michael Ranney, who opposes Kahan's position. In Ranney's view, communicating the mechanism of global climate change is enough to change the minds of people on both sides of the political spectrum. (Check out the videos!) Ranney shows, surprisingly, that just about no one understands the mechanism of climate change (Study 1). Further, he shows that revealing that mechanism changes participants' minds about climate change (Study 2).
Why might this be?
Here are some reasons I have found philosophy blogs to be beneficial; here I include New APPS (so my bias is obvious), but my comments here are not limited to New APPS, by any means.
First, while I had heard stories here and there of sexism and exclusion of other underrepresented minorities, they seemed like isolated incidents. One could brush them off as the occasional jerk, and think that we didn't need to worry about them as a profession. Because of philosophy blogs, it has now become abundantly clear that we do need to worry about the treatment and the exclusion of women, people of color, people with disabilities, people who are LGBT, etc. And we have started to see changes in the profession to address these longstanding problems.
Second, philosophy blogs have provided a way to share and discuss issues in the profession that aren't directly related to exclusion, but are important to discuss anyway. My recent post on methods for anonymizing papers is a small, if unexciting example of that.
Third, philosophy blogs have provided a way to disseminate news and information (e.g., statistics).
Last but not least, philosophy blogs aren't just about the profession; they are also about philosophy. They have provided a format for wider dispersal and discussion of philosophical issues. This couldn't have come at a better time; philosophy had been becoming increasingly siloed. I think it's still pretty siloed, but blogging has made connections between philosophers that wouldn't have occurred otherwise and let philosophers know about work that they wouldn't have known about otherwise.
Of course, we can all think of postings on philosophy blogs that we found objectionable/harmful or comments that we found objectionable/harmful. On balance, I still think they have done more good than harm.
I'm not sure that the APA has this right.
The APA guidelines for submitting papers state:
All papers are anonymously reviewed. Author's name, institution, or references pertaining to the identity of the author must be removed from the paper, abstract, notes, and bibliography. Papers containing such identifying references may be rejected.
There are at least two ways that one might remove one's identity:
(This is a companion piece to Top Ten Reasons philosophers of science should post their papers to PhilSci Archive)
8. It's a fast way to find out who is working in any topic in philosophy of science.
7. You can search on any keywords or parameters you like.
6. It's a chance to help an author with a draft before it is too late.
5. You can download complete conference proceedings.
4. It offers one stop shopping for open access journals (more coming soon).
3. It's easy to get to from anywhere.
2. It's free.
1. Not sold in stores. Available only through this exciting, time unlimited web offer.
Bonus reason: find out whether rocks think.
(Thanks to John Norton for most of this and Ken Waters for inspiration).
10. You can get an accepted but-not-yet-published paper read right away, without waiting for those sometimes lengthy publication times.
9. You can increase the visibility of your work because
a) PhilSci-Archive articles score highly in Google searches and
b) sites like PhilPapers scan PhilSci-Archive and will include links to your papers automatically.
8. You can get feedback on a work-in-progress from a wider audience than just the couple of people you can think to email.
7. Your work can be read, for free, by anyone, even those without institutional library access.
6. Work that was presented, but never published, can be made accessible.
5. Papers in those harder-to-obtain volumes will be more widely accessible.
4. If you are in an underrepresented area of philosophy of science or are an author in an underrepresented group in philosophy of science, you can help to increase the visibility of your area or your group. [Right now, the papers are disproportionately in philosophy of physics – you can help change that].
3. PhilSci-Archive is a non-profit organization – like PhilPapers, but unlike, say, Academia.edu or Research Gate. You can feel good about contributing to its flourishing.
2. After posting your articles, you can linger a bit and check out some of the good work that is there already, including conference papers and (in a new venture) open source journals. Or you can sign up for an email subscription, the Twitter feed, or the Facebook page.
1. It's cool, and all the cool kids are doing it. You can be cool, too.
...an open-access, English-language electronic journal dedicated to the philosophy of science. αnalytica is edited by a younger generation of Greek philosophers of science, with the aid and support of an international advisory board. It provides a platform for peer-reviewed original contributions in philosophy of science, and is hosted by the National and Kapodistrian University of Athens.
Dare we hope that more open access philosophy journals are on the way?
In an earlier post, I discussed Nicholas Wade provocative new book, A Troublesome Inheritance: Genes, Race and Human History, and mentioned that it had been getting a lot of reviews and attention because of its controversial claim that contemporary science supports the view that biological races really exist after all. But now, the definitive review has been written and posted to the Gentopia blog. Stephen Colbert couldn't have said it better himself. Check it out.
M. Anthony Mills has a very nice reply to Neil deGrasse Tyson's dismissal of philosophy. Among the points he makes, Mills notes:
Helmholtz, Mach, Planck, Duhem, Poincaré, Bohr, and Heisenberg are a few noteworthy modern scientists “distracted” enough to engage in philosophical question-asking. Einstein himself read philosophy voraciously beginning from an early age (he read Kant when he was 13) and engaged in lively disputes with many leading philosophers of the era. Mach’s empiricism, Poincaré’s conventionalism, and Duhem’s holism all influenced Einstein’s thinking. Such cross-pollination between philosophy and science did not stall the progress of physics, but instead led to one of the greatest scientific revolutions in history.
Lest we think that only noteworthy modern physicists engaged in philosophical question-asking with actual philosophers, let me point out some noteworthy modern biologists who have done likewise -- a list off the top of my head, so no doubt missing some (and thus, please feel free to add names in the comments). And to be clear, I am citing here only some of the most famous ones -- there are many less famous ones who have nonetheless had important and influential (in both directions) exchanges with philosophers.
In other words, biologists and philosophers have had productive exchanges about important biological concepts, theories, processes, and (although I haven't emphasized it here) methods.
Nicholas Wade's new book A Troublesome Inheritance: Genes, Race and Human History is barely off the presses and it has already been the subject of numerous reviews, largely because of its provocative argument for the reality of human races, based on recent studies that associate different statistical genetic clusters with particular continental groups. I have yet to read the book, but one author of such reviews in particular caught my eye: Agustin Fuentes (see here and here), in part because of his assertion that:
If you are making a scientific argument about genetic variation, you need to focus on populations -- and be clear about your definitions. Throughout the book, Wade uses the words "cluster," "population," "group," "race," "subrace" and "ethnicity" in a range of ways, with few concrete definitions, and occasionally interchangeably.
I focused on the connection between the concepts of race and population – and time – in a recent talk; for those who want the gory details, it's at minute 43 of this video. (I recommend the other talks as well!)