On Miscreants

I don’t want to give too much attention to the news of the day in the philosophy blogosphere (I’m not going to link to that place so forgive the obscurity of this post) when, alas, i am the headline, accused of being a “miscreant”  — a word that sounds much more sinister than its definition, “a person who behaves badly or misbehaves the law.” I do admit to having acted badly in the past and occasionally running a stop sign. Mostly, I am haunted by a memory of standing by — when a kid in school was bullied — instead of standing up.  That memory motivates me to this day to stand up, especially when the matter is of little concern to me personally.

Such is the case with a certain institution related to my profession, philosophy, that has branded itself as a service to the profession but has done much more harm than good, not to me personally but to many people who do philosophy otherwise than the mainstream and also to many junior women in the field.  Over the past several months, the profession has largely come to see this.

Over the years, I have not stood by.  And I am proud of that.  (Evidence is on this very blog.) Thanks to a few years of training and practice in survey research methodology I have been a serious critic of a certain project that aims to evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of doctoral programs in my discipline.  My primary criticism has been that the methodology is flawed all the way down.  There is nothing at all redeeming about this project’s methodology.  It begins with biases and ends as a result completely biased.  Now, finally, this is widely recognized and the project has been thoroughly discredited.  Good.

But now I am being called by the author of this project, perhaps in desperation, as a miscreant and a vandal to boot.  Supposedly I (he says without any proof) am a vandal for editing this certain person’s wikipedia page.  Let’s make a few things clear here:

  • any wikipedia entry belongs to the entire world and not the subject of it
  • a wiki by definition is a website that can be edited by anyone — so editing does not equal “vandalizing” but rather it means contributing to wikipedia
  • a wikipedia entry should be balanced, including both positive and negative news, all of which should be properly sourced
  • it is against wikipedia policy for the subject of an entry to police the entry and delete anything negative
  • the history page of the entry will list all the changes that have been made, including attempts by editors to add material that gives balance, including, for example the other side of a news article that was otherwise used to give a glowing remark
  • attempts to “out” pseudonymous editors can immediately lead to someone being blocked from wikipedia

Enough attention to this matter, enough I hope to correct errors but not so much as to fuel further controversy. I think we’ve all got much better things to do.

UPDATE: I should also correct the claim that “the Wikipedia editors eventually put a stop to her mischief.”  It is actually the other way around.  After this person threatened to sue me, I contacted a high-level editor at Wikipedia and asked for help.  That editor got in touch with this person and told him that were he to try to do so that the Wikimedia Foundation would hire the best law firm in my area to defend me.  That is the last time he ever threatened to sue me. So, readers, please note that nothing he says should be believed.

More on how the PGR is toast

I would genuinely like to know how the Philosophical Gourmet Report evaluators were selected, how many were asked, what percentage they are of the entire philosophy faculty, how representative they are of the faculty overall, and how many have declined to participate this time given all the negative publicity. But I don’t expect much information.  And many others are seeing this too. Another reason to think that the PGR is toast.

Lots more info here.

Documenting the meltdown on Leiter and bad tactics in rankings

If you are a philosopher in the English speaking world, you no doubt know that the old self-appointed emperor has lost his clothes. As of this writing, more than 520 philosophers (including the original signatories at the top) have signed a statement that they will decline to support his Philosophical Gourmet Report so long as he’s running it.  Twenty-four members of his board have asked him to relinquish management. Since I’ve been one of the characters in this tale, I’ve been keeping up with all the talk in the philosophy blogosphere.  For those interested in what’s going on, Leigh M Johnson has been keeping track here.  Also Richard Heck is starting to collect accounts and analyses of what is wrong with the methodology of rankings in general and the Philosophical Gourmet Report in particular on his blog here.

A Search Engine for Philosophy

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.

The PGR’s un-women-friendly epistemology

Julie Van Camp just updated her Spring 2004 article, “Female-Friendly Departments: A Modest Proposal for Picking Graduate Programs in Philosophy” that pointed out the under-representation of women on the advisory board of Brian Leiter’s Philosophical Gourmet Report. This month Van Camp expanded the postscript with numbers showing that in the past ten years little has changed.

Postscript: November 20, 2004 [updated 2/3/2014]

The 2011 Report:
The list of the Top 51 doctoral programs is included in the 2011 Philosophical Gourmet Report. The 56 members of the  Report’s Advisory Board for 2011 included nine females (16.1%) and was based on the reports of 302 evaluators, including 46 women (15.2%).

The 2009 Report:
The 55 members of the  Report’s Advisory Board for 2009 included eight females (14.5%) and was based on the reports of 294 evaluators, including 37 women (12.6%).

The 2006-08 Report:
The 56 members of the Report’s Advisory Board for 2006-2008 included seven females (12.5%)  and was based on the reports of 269 evaluators, including 26 women (9.67%).

The 2004-06 Report:
The 59 members of the Report’s Advisory Board for 2004-2006 included eight females (13.6%) and was based on the reports of 266 evaluators, including 32 women (12.0%).

The 2002-04 Report:
The 43 members of the Report’s Advisory Board for 2002-2004 included five women (11.6%) and was based on reports from 177 evaluators, including 24 women (13.6%).

Van Camp also notes that the very “top” six programs in the PGR have  a lower percentage of women on the faculty than the national average for doctoral-granting programs. Go HERE to see her helpful chart showing percentages of tenured and tenure-track women faculty in doctoral-granting programs.

On that chart she includes when and how a school was ranked on the PGR since 2002.  Of the top ten on her list, six have no ranking——meaning they have not shown up (since 2002) as one of the PGR’s top 51 programs . That can happen in two ways: (1) the program was ranked at 52d or worse or (2) the program did not turn over its list of faculty, meaning, it chose not to participate at all.

The 2009 PGR was based on a list of faculty from 99 doctoral programs.  How many were on the 2011 list?  Leiter provides previous lists under methodology, but not the 2011 list, at least not as of this writing. I know anecdotally that many of the programs with more women on the faculty choose not to turn over their lists to Leiter.  I think this is because of his explicit bias against self-identified pluralist programs, most of which tend to have more women on the faculty. Regarding some problems with this bias,  see this post on see  on the New APPS blog.

Is there a systematic bias in the PGR methodology that leads it to value more male-dominated departments?  Well, yes.  An unrepresentative and hand-picked advisory board plus unrepresentative and hand-picked evaluators will lead to a slanted take on the value of the work going on in the profession. You don’t have to be a stand-point epistemologist to see this.


On Being a Woman in Philosophy

No doubt, in just a few months the blog “What is it like to be a woman philosophy” has done more to wake up the field about sexism in the profession than anything in the past few decades.  It’s just about impossible now to ignore or deny. (Just see this gawker story.)  So the questions that have been on my mind lately are these:  What is it about philosophy that makes it prone to this problem? What makes it different from comp lit or other humanities?  It seems, in general, that the humanities are more hospitable to women than engineering and the sciences.  (Though I don’t know what it’s like in the sciences these days.) Does philosophy, at least when it tries to be as “rigorous” as the sciences, become less welcoming to women?  Is there something about women that just unsettles men in the field? Do the old binaries about

reason / emotion

culture / nature

logos / pathos

etc. etc.

have a stranglehold on philosophy?

Are there differences from one sort of philosophy to another?

My own anecdotal take:  Among feminist philosophy circles, women are quite welcome. (Of course!)  Same goes in continental, pragmatist, and much political philosophy. In grad school in a class on early Wittgenstein, I didn’t feel so good about the professor’s aggressive and hostile attitude, but otherwise he was okay. My other seminars were exemplars of civility and welcoming. And my colleagues since have been great.  The truth is, I have had a fabulous time being a woman in philosophy. I have been hugely supported by male mentors and colleagues.  I have no complaints.

But, I can’t help but noticing (and I have been hesitating for many weeks to point this out here), many of the complaints about being a woman in philosophy emanate from “top” programs, “top” not meaning truly exceptional but “top” meaning highly ranked by the circularly produced Philosophy Gourmet  / Leiter reports.  I say circular because the rankings are based on the opinions of a group of philosophers chosen because they have been deemed to be “top” philosophers. The input produces the output.  There’s nothing objective or representative about the rankings, though they have transfixed the discipline, causing many who otherwise know their logic to stay silent about their concerns.  I have blogged on this more than I care to blog on anything. (To see these posts just type “Leiter” into the search field of this blog.)

The point here is that there seems to be an overlap between the style of philosophy favored by the Leiter reports and the style of philosophy that’s unwelcoming to women.  This is not a blanket statement about fields of philosophy or the people in them. There are some absolutely wonderful and welcoming people doing, say, philosophy of language (like Al Martinich, a friend and prof back at Texas). And no doubt there is some sexist pig out there who does Foucault  (though I can’t name one off the top of my head). But it’s hard to ignore so many posts by women in “top” programs complaining of sexism and sexual harassment.

So here’s another question: What is it like to be a department that is trying to increase its ranking — that is trying to be known for its rigor and precision? Who is it going to purge or make unwelcome? What is it going to aspire to?   Sexism long preceded the sad excursion into self-ranking, but the ranking game seems to have made more manifest certain stakes and tendencies.

Finally, note that the rankings game can be easily ended.  If you are at a Ph.D. granting program in philosophy (or an M.A. one, for that matter), simply ask your chair to not turn over the list of faculty to those who come knocking. Those who do not turn over their list are not included in the rankings.  It’s that simple.   We need not participate.  Thankfully, my program doesn’t.  And we are the better for it.