Philosophy’s Big Data and why that is good

The American Philosophical Association’s Executive Director Amy Ferrer guest posted today on the newapps blog.  I’m heartened that the APA is committed to collecting and reporting data on the profession in a rigorous and data-driven manner, unlike those blogs and rankings (actually I’m thinking of just one in particular) that are biased from the bottom up. It’s time to take the profession back from those who just use it for their own gain. Here’s a snippet of Ferrer’s post and a link to the whole thing:

Perhaps the most powerful tool we have to increase diversity in philosophy is data collection: there are many good ideas about how to make philosophy a more welcoming place for minorities and women, but we have no way of knowing whether our efforts are effective if we cannot measure their impact. And there are minorities about which we have little or no data: the prevalence of LGBT philosophers and disabled philosophers, for example, has rarely been tracked, so it’s very difficult to know how philosophy compares to other fields on inclusiveness in these areas.

I believed then, as I do now, in the business adage that “you make what you measure”—that is, by measuring, you can (even unconsciously) begin to see patterns in your measurements, and do more of the things that improve the metrics that matter to you. When it comes to measuring, philosophy, and the APA too, have been lacking. But the APA’s strategic planning task force, which reported to the board of officers last fall, included data collection as one of its priorities for the APA in the next few years, along with “providing membership services in an efficient manner, … development, and improving the public perception of philosophy.”

While we’re not where we need to be yet, we’ve already made significant progress. The APA’s new website has allowed us to integrate demographic data collection into member profiles…more.

I encourage all philosophers, bloggers, and tweeters to direct students and colleagues to the data that the APA is collecting.  Here’s a good start.  For really pertinent data on which graduate programs are placing students in tenure-track jobs, see this.

On the peril of cliché: Helen Foley, Peter Levine, Hannah Arendt

My high school English teacher, Helen Foley, who helped me become who I am (at least the salutary dimensions), warned me against writing in clichés.  These are the antitheses of thinking, she said, and she was so right.  In all the years since, when I’m writing and a cliché floats to mind as an effective shortcut to convey what I am thinking, Helen Foley’s words exhort me to actually think and figure out how to write it in my own words.  And now I add to that Hannah Arendt’s observation that Eichmann failed to think what he was doing and invoked cliché instead. Peter Levine expands on the peril here.

Why not to play nice

I largely agree with this but I would add that everything would be much more efficient if people would just say what they actually think so we can just plain figure out who they are and what they stand for. If you really don’t give a damn about diversity, just say so and stand by it.  If you think “real” philosophy is really mostly analytic M&E just say so and defend.  If you think it’s okay to flirt with or seduce people you have some power over, just say so.  AND if you think people who think like this are horrible human beings, then bring on the snark. If you think the power structure is wrong, say so. I’m all for honesty.  Propriety can get in the way of real change.