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 email@example.com 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.
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.
My friend Vassiliki Betty Smocovitis, a historian of science at the University of Florida, has drawn my attention to a number of concerning events at the eminent journal Science.
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."
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).
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.
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).
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.
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:
One might leave in the references to oneself, but refer to oneself in the third person, e.g., "As Millstein (2009) argues, populations are individuals."
One might delete all references to oneself, e.g., "As I have argued elsewhere (reference deleted), populations are individuals."
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.
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.
Michael Ghieselin - nature of species, sexual selection, and more
Stephen Jay Gould - importance of constraints, contingency, species selection, adaptationism, and more
Eva Jablonka - epigenetic inheritance and more
Richard Lewontin - fitness, natural selection (especially levels of selection), adaptationism, and more
Ernst Mayr - concepts of species, nature of speciation, and more
Joan Roughgarden - natural selection, social selection (different from MW's), and more
Mary Jane West-Eberhard - development, social selection (different from JR's), and more
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!)
Awhile back, there was an campaign to show all the different ways that philosophers can look, called "This is what a philosopher looks like." I thought this was a good project, with the goal of making a small dent in implicit bias, but it looks like it hasn't gotten any love in awhile; the last entry was in August, 2013. So, if you haven't sent in your photo and brief description yet, you might want to head on over there and submit your stuff!
Helen De Cruz has some excellent suggestions for how to talk to creationists given that neither debate nor denouncement are likely to be productive. She describes the way in which a religious person who is not a creationist can speak to another religious person who is a creationist, e.g., by pointing out that Biblical literalism is a recently emerged approach, one that may be impossible to apply consistently, and for that reason among others it may not be thoroughly used by anyone.
This article by Dan Kahan suggests that disbelief in human-caused climate change is like belief in creationism in this respect: What people "believe" about each doesn't reflect what they know, but rather expresses who they are. This supports the thesis that providing evidence for creationism isn't likely to change minds and that providing evidence for climate change isn't likely to change minds, either.
But what is the climate change equivalent, where we speak to people from their own perspective as Helen proposes that we do for religious people who are creationists?
A friend of mine is doing her DPhil in Oxford. She's American, and out of term she goes back to her home in middle America. She recently went to see the newly refurbished museum in her home town. When she was looking at the displays on human evolution, a museum guard, who had been observing her, suddenly said "So, what side are you on: the Bible or evolution?" Whereupon my friend replied "What do you mean what side am I on? This is not a football game, you know".
I am deeply troubled by the incipient creationism, which treats biblical literalism as a serious intellectual contender to scientific inquiry. I want my children to grow up with normal biology textbooks, not with Of Pandas and People. If creationists win their lobbying efforts to make creationism mainstream in schools and the public sphere, that is a loss for everyone (including the creationists). Debates don't seem to do any instrumental good. If we are not going to fight creationism through debates, how can we - as public intellectuals - ensure that creationism doesn't encroach even further upon our schools and public life?
Last week, Jerry Coyne gave a talk at my university, UC Davis. Coyne is one of the "new atheists," people who believe that "religion should not simply be tolerated but should be countered, criticized, and exposed by rational argument wherever its influence arises" (Simon Hooper). In his talk, he argued that science and religion were incompatible, focusing on evolution and religion in particular. When pressed afterward, however, he seemed to grant that not all forms of supernatural-believing religions are incompatible with science; deism, for example, is not incompatible with science. However, he then wanted to know why those of us who were pressing him – people who think that the theory of evolution is well-supported and are not ourselves religious – were giving religion a "pass." We would not, he suggested, give a similar pass to beliefs in UFOs or fairies or tarot cards. And that is probably true. So is there a difference?
Now, admittedly, part of my reasons are pragmatic. I happen to think that religious believers who accept the theory of evolution are our best allies in the fight to keep good science education in public schools. That's because they show people that they don't have to give up their deeply held beliefs in order to accept views about common descent and evolutionary processes like natural selection and random drift. They don't force a choice, a choice that religion would most likely win most of the time.
Many philosophers of science are understandably excited about Neil deGrasse Tyson's reinvorgoration of the TV show Cosmos. After all, most of us are pretty excited about science and anything that improves the public's scientific literacy. Thus, it is extremely disappointing to hear him articulate the comments that he does at about 1:02:46 of this video.* He says that a "philosopher is a would-be scientist without a laboratory" and that we have been "rendered essentially obsolete." He later suggests that there is much positive work that a philosophers can do (in ethics, for example), but doesn't seem to think that there can be any good philosophy of science. (Richard Dawkins, who is also shown in the video, seems to take a slightly more positive view of the field).
This morning, I saw two things that shook the cobwebs: 1) Eric Winsberg's intriguing post about dark matter, and, more to the point at hand, the fact that he was at an event that involved astronmers and philosophers, and 2) with the web announcement for a “Genomics and Philosophy of Race” Conference that I am a part of, involving both biologists and philosophers (not to mention historians and sociologists). These two events are only two of the many, many productive collaborations between scientists and philosophers of science. We need to do a better job telling people about them, and about telling the general public what philosophers of science do.
* H/T to Lucas Matthews, graduate stuent at the University of Utah, for the pointer to the video and NdGT's attitude toward philosophy of science
Philosophy of biology is pluralistic, or so my friends tell me. Or maybe it would be more accurate to say that many philosophers of biology believe that biology is pluralistic. One friend recently used the phrase "irreducibly pluralistic." But I am not so sure.
There seem to be at least two sources of this pluralism. One is John Beatty's excellent essay, "The Evolutionary Contingency Thesis." Beatty points out that all generalizations in biology are the outcomes of evolution, and as such, are subject to exceptions (either in the present or the future), and could be otherwise (due to the chance order of mutations and the possibility of solving the same selective challenge in different ways). And if there are no universal generalizations necessitated by nature in biology (i.e., no laws), then we should expect pluralism. Beatty highlights pluralism of theories in particular, such as between neutralist and selectionist theories in evolution, or alternative theories about the origin of sex.
Another source of pluralistic thinking in philosophy of biology surely results from decades of debate over species concepts. Many philosophers of biology think that different areas of biology reasonably use different species concepts, e.g., one might rely on a morphological definition of species while another might rely on an interbreeding one. As Marc Ereshefsky so elegantly argues in "Eliminative Pluralism," this is due to the multiplicity of evolutionary processes that divide up the natural world in multiple ways.
Today, March 8, is International Women's Day. To celebrate this day, the APA’s Committee on the Status of Women offers a challenge: you can help to raise $10,000 to support the work of the committee. More information here:
As conversations in the discipline concerning the climate for women in philosophy and the role of feminist philosopy in fostering good climate continue, it is worthwhile to pause and honor the good work in feminist philosophy that is being done in various areas in philosophy, such as philosophy of science.
Nominations are now open for the 2014 Philosophy of Science Association Women's Caucus Prize. The Prize is awarded biennially for the best book, article, or chapter published in English in the area of feminist philosophy of science within the five years prior to each PSA meeting. The winner will receive an award of $500, which will be presented to the winner at the November 2014 PSA meeting in Chicago, Illinois.
The deadline for nominations is May 1, 2014. To be considered, works must have been published between May 1, 2009 and May 1, 2014. Articles posted electronically on journal websites in final (accepted) form prior to May 1, 2014 are eligible for consideration. Self-nominations are allowed but are limited to one per person. One may nominate more than one paper by someone else.
The Philosophy Department at the University of California, San Diego, is calling for applications for the 2014 Summer Program for Women in Philosophy, which will be held at UCSD from July 28 to August 8, 2014. The two-week program will feature two intensive courses and a variety of workshops, all geared towards providing an engaging philosophical learning experience and preparation for applying to graduate school in philosophy. Participants will be provided with housing and meals, will have transportation costs covered, will have all course and workshop materials provided, and will receive a $600 stipend.
In an earlier post, I suggested that the journal Food and Chemical Toxicology (FCT) should not have retracted a paper that purported to show toxic effects in rats fed GM corn. Now just over 100 scientists have signed a petition protesting the retraction, stating that the retraction violated the norms of the Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE), of which FCT is a member. The scientists note concerns about the impartiality of the process (e.g., the the appointment of ex-Monsanto employee Richard Goodman to the newly created post of associate editor for biotechnology at FCT) and assert, "The retraction is erasing from the public record results that are potentially of very great importance for public health. It is censorship of scientific research, knowledge, and understanding, an abuse of science striking at the very heart of science and democracy, and science for the public good."
The scientists are boycotting the journal's publisher, Elsevier; they will "decline to purchase Elsevier products, to publish, review, or do editorial work for Elsevier."
I thought I would make my inaugural post on NewAPPS a follow-up to Roberta's post about the retraction of the article in Food and Chemical Toxicology. I don't want to continue the debate about whether the retraction was justified; that debate can continue in the original thread. Here, I want to discuss one of the reasons why we should be paying vigilant attention to events such as these, and why their importance transcends the narrow confines of the particular scientific hypotheses being considered in the articles in question. What I worry most about is the extent to which pressures can be applied by commercial interests such as to shift the balance of “inductive risks” from producers to consumers by establishing conventional methodological standards in commercialized scientific research.
Inductive risk occurs whenever we have to accept or reject a hypothesis in the absence of certainty-conferring evidence. Suppose, for example, we have some inconclusive evidence for a hypothesis, H. Should we accept or reject H? Whether or not we should depends on our balance of inductive risks—on the importance we attach, in the ethical sense, of being right or wrong about H. In simple terms, if the risk of accepting H and being wrong outweighs the risk of rejecting H and being wrong, then we should reject H. But these risk are a function not only of the degree of belief we have in H, but also of negative utility we attach to each of those possibilities. In the appraisal of hypotheses about the safety of drugs, foods, and other consumables, these are sometimes called “consumer risk” (the risk of saying the item is safe and being wrong) and “producer risk” (the risk of saying the item is not safe and being wrong.)
The editor of the journal Food and Chemical Toxicology (FCT), Dr A. Wallace Hayes, has decided to retract the study by the team of Prof Gilles-Eric Séralini, which found that rats fed a Monsanto genetically modified (GM) maize NK603 and tiny amounts of the Roundup herbicide it is grown with suffered severe toxic effects, including kidney and liver damage and increased rates of tumours and mortality.
they have clear evidence that the findings are unreliable, either as a result of misconduct (e.g. data fabri- cation) or honest error (e.g. miscalculation or experimental error)
the findings have previously been published elsewhere without proper crossreferencing, permission or justification (i.e. cases of redundant publication)
it constitutes plagiarism
it reports unethical research
But none of these applied to the paper by Séralini et al. The journal found "no evidence of fraud or intentional misrepresentation of the data" but that there " is a legitimate cause for concern regarding both the number of animals in each study group and the particular strain selected."