GIGO or the new rankings of philosophy journals

It was a philosopher, Charles Babbage, who first coined the term “garbage in, garbage out,” a term invaluable in understanding that computers only work as well as what is plugged into them. And now the term is coming back full circle to philosophy, at least if one wants to make sense of the latest misbegotten ranking in philosophy: the recent ranking of philosophy journals put out by the European Science Foundation.

I found these guidelines for how the index was compiled.  It doesn’t look like a straightforward A to C grading scale. To get on the list at all, a journal has to meet the “normal international academic standards” like being peer-reviewed, etc.  C is for local regional journals. A and B are for international journals. A is reserved for “high ranking” international journals and B is for “standard” internaltional journals. That difference is worth worrying over.  Hypatia, the leading journal of feminist philosophy in the English-speaking world,  gets a B.  How the hell can that be? Also, the rankings are based upon the judgments of a small select group of “experts” and I’m sure the philosopher experts aren’t expert in continental or feminist philosophy.
John McCumber is terribly wary of this ranking, as am I. See his recent post to this effect. I have additional concerns. I think that any ranking based on the input of a select group of philosophers will only tell what that select group thinks. So it is entirelly bogus to think that this one group’s rankings say anthing beyond what that group thinks. Or, as statisticians put it, the results are not generalizable. In other words, it’s just X in, X out. As to whether X is garbage or gourmet findings, the index itself is silent.

As to who were the “inputs” for the study, note the following and think about how much they may, or may not, represent philosophy today, especiallly the burgeoning work going on in continental, pragmatist, and feminist philosophy. I thank John McCumber for compiling this list

François Recanati (Chair), Institut Jean Nicod, CNRS/EHESS, Paris (FR) (Barrry Smith,below, is also associated with the institute Nicold)

Après des études de philosophie à Paris (agrégation 1974), Récanati a poursuivi son apprentissage philosophique à Oxford, et il a étudié la linguistique à l’EHESS. Lui-même chargé de conférences à l’EHESS, il y a enseigné la pragmatique linguistique et la philosophie du langage de 1975 à 1990. En 1990 il a participé à la création du DEA de Sciences cognitives (EHESS/Paris VI/Ecole Polytechnique), dans le cadre duquel il enseigne toujours aujourd’hui.

Manuel Garcia-Carpintero, Universitat de Barcelona (SP)

Doctor in Philosophy by the Universitat de Barcelona (1988), and professor in the Departament de Lògica, Història i Filosofia de la Ciència of this university since 1984.

I am currently working on a book on reference, defending a certain form of a neo-Fregean picture from the criticism of new theorist of reference. That picture takes modes of presentation prototypically to be components of semantic presuppositions in the ordinary speech acts, like assertions, on which singular reference is involved. The book will make use of and elaborate on views which I have presented in already published papers, including views on the nature of the logical properties, on the semantics/pragmatics divide, and on the nature of phenomenal consciousness. It will also argue for the historical appropriateness of describing the view as Fregean.

Diego Marconi, Universitá degli Studi di Torino (IT)

Diego Marconi was born in Torino in 1947. He graduated under Luigi Pareyson in 1969, writing a thesis on Wittgenstein. At that time, he shared the existential-hermeneutic orientation of Pareyson’s philosophy. Later, he did graduate work at the University of Pittsburgh with Nicholas Rescher, Wilfrid Sellars, Richmond H.Thomason and others. He wrote his Ph.D. thesis (1979) on Hegel. The thesis was an attempt at tracing the origin of so called “dialectical contradictions” in Hegel’s use of language. Afterwards, Marconi has been working within analytic philosophy, which he conceives not as a doctrinal body but as a philosophical style. He wrote or edited four books on Wittgenstein (1971, 1987, 1988, 1997), edited a reader on the formalization of Hegelian dialectics (1979), and published many articles in logic and philosophy of language.

Kevin Mulligan, Université de Genève (CH)

“Born eighty years ago, Continental philosophy is on its last legs. Its extraordinary career has been helped along by an almost total absence of interest on the part of analytical or other exact philosophers in what the Australian philosopher David Stove calls “the nosology of philosophy,” the explanation of the manifold forms taken by bad philosophy….The Gallic gallimaufry and galimatias alluded to in ¶1 are symptoms of sickness from the point of view of philosophy as a theoretical enterprise.”

Barry Smith, Birkbeck College, University of London (UK)

Barry Smith’s central interests are in language and mind. His particular focus is on knowledge of language and its relation to other aspects of the mind. He has been developing a position which can do justice to both the interpretationist (Davidsonian) view of the normative nature of belief, desire and meaning and the theoretical (Chomskyan) account of our knowledge of grammar even while it accommodates first-personal knowledge of meaning and mind.

In Gender Studies, though I am unfamiliar with their work:

Gender Studies

Gregory Woods (Chair), Nottingham Trent University (UK)
Ülle Must, Archimedes Foundation, Tartu (EE)

Harriet Bjerrum Nielsen, Universitetet i Oslo (NO)
Jens Rydström, Stockholms Universitet (SE)

The Bad Boy of Philosophy

Last Friday, at age 75, Richard Rorty died. Yesterday both the New York Times and the Washington Post ran nice obituaries, highlighting his youth in a socialist family and his adulthood as a renegade philosopher who’d splashily divorced analytic philosophy in order to embrace American pragmatism. The break-up began in the 60s. “He was a restless intellectual for much of his career,” the Washington Post‘s Adam Bernstein wrote. “While editing the 1967 book ‘The Linguistic Turn,’ he expressed doubts about the idea that analytic philosophy had made great progress by recasting traditional questons about the relation between thought and reality as questions about how language manages to represent the world.”

By the late 70s, with the publication of his book, Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature, the divorce was complete. As the Post’s obit aptly notes, “The book sought to dispense with what he considered the grandiose and fruitless attempts to seek out the foundations of knowledge and ethics—presented over the years as timeless truths. Instead he wanted to focus on what was often called a nonfoundationalist philosophy that combined teachings of Dewey, Martin Heidegger and Ludwig Wittgenstein.”

As someone who’d helped renew interest in the works of the American pragmatist tradition, he could have been a hero for contemporary pragmatist philosophers toiling away in colleges and universities throughout the states. But this was never the case. For nearly a decade now I’ve been a member of the Society for the Advancement of American Philosophy, and more often than not, when his name is mentioned there, it is to discredit his views on pragmatism. It’s true that he nearly invited the epithets slung at him: relativist, provacateur, flat-footed, cynical, irresponsible, nihilistic, denier of scientific truths. He did overstate things, often it seemed just to get a rise out of people. At the same time, though, he was a central figure, especially in the 90s, in developments in political thought. Just read Habermas’s book Between Facts and Norms, and Rawls’s book, Political Liberalism, to see how he was a major interlocutor in thinking through democratic self-government.

When I was finishing up my dissertation, I had a side job as an occasional guest host for a public affairs program for the public TV station in Austin, Texas. I scheduled an interview with Richard Rorty. At the appointed hour he walked into the darkened studio, put out his hand, and said, “Hi, I’m Dick Rorty”— as if I’d respond, “Hi, Dick, I’m Noelle McAfee.” I did nothing of the kind, much too in awe of this world-renowned philosopher who had already profoundly affected my own thinking to call him by his first name. I loved his essay, “Solidarity or Objectivity,” which showed why solidarity was a much better ideal than the impossible ideal of having a view from nowhere. But I was still concerned about the political implication of his work, that there may be no basis for talking across cultural divides. If there’s no foundation for our own thinking apart from the way we are raised and the tastes we cultivate, how could we ever appeal to people from different orientations? If our own beliefs are the result of our own upbringing, and little more, how do we come to reflexively criticize and improve our own culture? In the interview, I asked him these questions, and he didn’t seem to have an answer. That might be okay for “gotcha” journalism, but I sincerely wanted to know how to answer those questions. Today they seem more pressing than ever.

Citizen Journalism

Dan Gillmor is doing good work with his new Center for Citizen Media. This is one of the directions that civically-minded media has gone in the past few years. New technologies seem to put the citizen in the driver’s seat. But what does this mean for the profession of journalism? What is the meaning of a profession in a digital age, when nearly anyone can find out anything and distribute this information globally? Are professions defunct? Or is there something more to a profession than a monopoly on some select sort of knowledge? I still think we need the editor’s judgment. Still I think Dan Gillmor’s work is terribly imporatant. Check it out.

Political Crimes

I love this excerpt from Rajeev Barghava’s essay on truth commissions. He explains the difference between a political cirme an an everyday crime. A political crime aims to undermine someone’s sense of or title as a member of a political community, as someone worth hearing and heading.  Such seems to be at work in instances of racism, sexisim, et cetera.  The root problem is, as I think Barghava suggests, not bigotry per se but the attempt to silence all who challenge the prevailing power structure.

  • A person who is robbed on a highway or systematically exploited on agricultural land or in a factory is a victim, but not a political victim. Political victims are those who are threatened, coerced, or killed because of their attempt to define and shape the character of their own society, and to determine the course of what it might become in the future. When political victims suffer violence, they are not merely harmed physically, however. The act of violence transmits an unambiguous, unequivocal message, that their views on the common good—on matters of public significance—do not count, that their side of the argument has no worth and will not be heard, that they will not be recognized as participants in any debate, and, finally, that to negotiate, or even reach a compromise with them, is worthless. In effect, it signals their disappearance from the public domain. (Bhargava 2000, 47)

Democracy and Higher Ed

Just back from a very intense three-day meeting on higher ed and democracy.  We — theorists and convenors of deliberative democracy — were brainstorming a network that would focus the academy’s attention on deliberative democracy.  To turn a phrase of the Kettering Foundation, “What kind of higher education does a public need in order for democracy to flourish?”  By democracy most everyone meant more than the apparatus of voting; we meant the kinds of participation in which members of a political community could have a hand in shaping their common world.  It is so easy to get absorbed in the usual way in which politics is conceived — as a matter of what governments do, not what publics do — that it’s easy to think of democracy as something “over there,” not right here in the ways in which we are always already involved in making our common world.

Deliberation & Social Justice

I’m in Portsmouth, NH, for a few days, meeting with a group convened by the University of New Hampshire. Among us are professors, theorists, and practitioners of deliberative democracy. Most everyone here is also deeply concerned about diversity, inclusiveness, and social justice. I sense a bit of tension between concern for democracy and concern for social justice, the very same tension I’ve seen at philosophy meetings where paper-givers have worried over the “opportunity conditions” for deliberative democracy. In short, the issue is whethere deliberative forums are truly democratic if full, democratic participation isn’t assured. Jürgen Habermas used to write about the “ideal speech situation,” a situation in which everyone was free to participate, free from any kind of coercion, and likely to be taken as seriously as anyone else. Such a situation is ideal, not necessarily realizable, because in the real world some of us are more advantaged than others. In a world that lacks full social justice, some people may have fewer opportunities to participate and to articulate their views as persuasively as others. Some people won’t be taken seriously simply because of gender, race, and social status. The outcome of such deliberations will likely not reflect the views of those marginalized from the discussion. Social justice seems to be a precondition for deliberative democracy.

But at the same time, I’d argue that deliberation shouldn’t wait for perfect social justice. Somehow even the least-advantaged people in a room can be the most powerful speakers. Such was the case in the first nationwide deliberative poll I observed, in Great Britain, where a woman with learning disabilities called the Tory leader on the carpet for his attempt to get rid of the “right to silence” (which is like our fifth amendment), saying that this would be dangerous for people like herself who might accidentally incriminate themselves. The Tory leader tried to placate her but the hundreds of other participants in the room kept yelling out, “answer her question.” Even with her halting words, she had used a deliberative democratic setting to call for social justice. So deliberative democracy shouldn’t wait for its own ideal conditions. The ideal of deliberation itself brings with it a way to help realize it.

Paris Hilton Starts Jail Time and other news…

Well, I know it must be important that Paris starts jail time, but I’m more caught up in less topical news: like, what’s happening to the reputation of democracy since the United States’ war in Iraq.

My cabbie yesterday morning, a philosopher named Chris from Ghana who drives a cab for a living, noted that not too long ago Africans looked up to American democracy, but now they don’t. He said this in exasperation after hearing a news report about “democratization” in Africa.

Democratization generally involves importing ballot boxes. But democracy happens prior to any ballot boxes. It happens in public spaces where people of different temperaments come together to talk.  Ballot boxes, as my friend Randa Slim notes, can exacerbate conflict in divided communities.  What such communities need are public spaces for building relationships.  Relationships don’t happen in private polling booths.