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.