Monday, December 17, 2007

Pyrotechnic PSA Elections

The ballot has arrived for officer elections to the Philosophy of Science Association. These kinds of things are usually so boring. Not this time!

I've written posts before about the limited scope of papers presented at PSA meetings and in their journal, Philosophy of Science. At the last meeting, more papers were rejected than were accepted. There were surprisingly few papers authored by women. The topics tend to be technical, obscure, and unrelated to science policy. One session that I attended was the presentation of a paper which I had already seen published in a journal a couple of years prior. Deadlines are moved without announcement. And so on.

In general, my impression has been that the Society does little to cultivate the careers of its members who are not established--that is, it is not particularly welcoming to most grad students, to professors at undergraduate institutions, or to those doing original and creative research. Luckily, other organizations who do have been gaining momentum--HOPOS, ISHPSSB, and 4S.

The language on the ballots certainly conveys the discontent I feel. And there is also protective, defensive language to counter it.

On one side, candidates write:
"I would be especially interested in exploring opportunities for both undergraduate and graduate training that highlighted the role for philosophy of science beyond the boundaries of philosophy, and in seeing the PSA more actively enhance the immediate postdoctoral future of its most junior members."
"As a professional organization part of PSA's mission is surely to nurture young scholars. Can this be addressed...?"
"I think it makes sense for PSA meetings to be representative of the most current, creative, and well-regarded research being practiced by its members...I would also encourage a greater voice for the PSA in public policy and public education."

And on the other:
"The main purpose of the PSA is to promote high-quality research in the philosophy of science, and the PSA has done so very successfully in the past."
"The PSA does not need major changes."

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Bringing Philosophy into the 21st Century

In the last decade, at least half of U.S. college graduates have been women. But less than a third of philosophy majors have been women. Women have not reached workplace equity at the beginning of the 21st century, but there are only a few places and ways in which they are not reaching educational parity. Philosophy—the discipline that takes as its subjects ethics, justice, consistency, and self-reflection—is one of those places.

What does this gender inequality indicate about our discipline? Some have taken it to indicate that the material itself is gender-biased, that the methods of argumentation reflect masculine psychology, or that philosophy is a bastion of cultural traditionalism that incubates sexist practices.

That assessment is too negative, in my opinion. As an optimist, a meliorist, and a pragmatist, I think that it indicates first and foremost that philosophers, unlike other analytic disciplines, have not made gender parity a priority.

Philosophers have been satisfied to think that thinking alone—the pursuit of philosophy itself—would be enough to attract and support anyone interested in taking it up. They have made love of wisdom a moral test. Those that are unable to overcome social obstacles to pursue philosophy are not supported.

As a commenter noted, one surprising result in the data on women in philosophy is that the pipeline is not leaking much through graduate school. We can't be exactly certain what is going on because no data is collected on graduate school admissions. At any rate there is a markedly larger disparity in employment than in the earning of graduate degrees.

The most productive place to direct our attention is apparently at undergraduates. It is there that the representation problem starts, and success at increasing the percentage of women at the professor rank is linked to improving parity at lower ranks.

There are other reasons to direct efforts at undergraduates as well. For one thing, such efforts could involve all of us philosophy professors, not just those at a few departments. For another, educational research on gender shows that one of the most effective ways of increasing the percentage of women in a male-dominated field is to improve recruitment and retention across the board. (For citations, see Unlocking the Clubhouse.)

That is, one way to improve the participation of women is to attract more students—both men and women (but proportionately more women). This would be good for the discipline. It would even be good for those people who don’t care in the least about gender issues. And it is something that professional organizations are suited to and funding sources amenable to.

A final thought is that one thing which works against recruitment efforts is the pervasive self-loathing of philosophers. Here’s an example, which was printed in the APA’s Proceedings. Philosophers are paranoid about what counts as philosophy and hostile toward new approaches (including feminist ones). An open mind about what philosophy is and how philosophers can contribute to non-academic problem-solving is important to improving the gender ratio.

Though I don’t understand the causes at work, women are more attracted to disciplines which solve social problems. Philosophy is already one such discipline. Public philosophy, applied ethics, environmental philosophy, and a host of other research areas break down philosophy’s disciplinary isolation, are relevant to the career prospects of graduates, and produce effects beyond the classroom.

(This is the last in my series of 6 or so posts. For someone else's thoughts on solutions to gender inequity in philosophy, see A Philosopher's Walk.)

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Why AREN’T There More Women in Philosophy?

In some preceding posts I collected statistics on women’s participation in philosophy by earning bachelor’s degrees (31%), Master’s degrees (28%), PhD’s (27%), and the percentage that teach in any university-level job (21%).

K. Norlock commented on why we should care that the participation of women in philosophy is lower than in any other humanities discipline, rivaling only computer science, engineering, and physics.

Now I finally have the opportunity to discuss CAUSES of women’s low participation.
Why is philosophy, alone among the humanities, so distant from achieving gender parity in its own ranks?

I must confess to feeling stumped and dispirited when I think about this question. After all, I have always found that my colleagues profess concern, in their courses and published papers, about justice, equality, objectivity, bias, ethics, and the value of reflection.

The gender disparity thus raises another question: why don’t more philosophers care? Since I believe my colleagues’ concern with justice is sincere, I think it must be because they are ignorant of the statistics or because they are ignorant of how to remedy the situation.

Here are some possible causes of philosophy’s persistent male dominance:
  • Philosophy is perceived as a masculine pursuit.
  • Philosophical style (“the adversary method”) is at odds with women’s conversational style.
  • Women lack interest in course content.
  • Women are ignorant of what philosophy is and what uses a degree can be put to.
  • There is inadequate advising and recruitment, or advising and recruitment targets men more than women.
  • There is a lack of female role models.
  • There is a hostile social environment (i.e., outright sexism).

It is likely that all of these play a role in perpetuating the disparity in philosophy. But none of them are impossible to address.

For instance, although many people perceive philosophy as having a masculine image, other fields have been successful in changing their masculine image. The life sciences granted women 25% of bachelor’s degrees in 1970 (a lower percentage than in philosophy right now) and reached gender parity in the mid-1990s. Mathematics, too, has increased the proportion of women.

The bright side of philosophy’s obscured image (what is metaphysics, anyway?) is that many people have no preconceived gendered image of what philosophers do, being completely ignorant that there even are professional philosophers.

The problem with causes is that they are tremendously difficult to identify. The good news about solutions, though, is that if tactics and programs confer success, it doesn’t really matter whether a cause is properly identified or not. And since philosophy is lagging behind the academy’s push to include women (lagging by at least 30 years), there is plenty of experience in other fields for us to draw on.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Can forwarding an email prove unemployable bias?

Yes, apparently, if you're the director of science curriculum for the state of Texas, and the email announces a talk given by philosopher of science Barbara Forrest. See today's New York Times editorial and Pharyngula's more refreshingly sarcastic summary, which also includes a link to The Statesman's original report.

Just when I'd stopped fantasizing about emigrating for a little while...

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Women: Why Collect Data?

My first post on this blog carries a confession: I think I may be a number-nerd. It's not my specialty, but it must at least be a hobby of mine, because I get jazzed just talking about things like the U.S. Census. (To sample, or not to sample? That's an exciting question!) In philosophy, I am one of those phoning kind people at the Bureau of Labor Statistics (just the name makes me happy), trying to pin down the payroll data on women in philosophy professorships. (A pdf of semi-recent results is posted on the APA's Committee on the Status of Women site, here.)

So it completely threw me when a participant in SWIP's email listserve asked, of efforts to determine our numbers, "What exactly will collecting these figures, these numbers, do? To whom do you need to prove [attrition, etc.]?" I forget that we don't all get warm fuzzies from pursuing numeric answers, I really do. And a response to the question 'Why' ought to be more than just that it makes me happy to do so. What answers might my fellow data collection fans have?

I was ready with a short answer of my own, at least: It's a matter of justice. If we are as underrepresented as it seems, then it is morally incumbent upon philosophers (and the public and private sources that support us) to provide material and monetary support to the underrepresented. But it's hard to show that moral injustices persist in the absence of data.

You know who's great at showing such data? Almost every STEM discipline. Their professional organizations actually conduct polls, collect demographic information, and present it to public and private funding sources with ease. Try a quick Google search on "women travel conference grant," and see what disciplines pop up. They're engineering, math, and health sciences. Indeed, women in such disciplines are underrepresented, as well, but when you can prove it, you can do something quite tangible about it! In the case of women in philosophy, knowledge is power.

Monday, December 03, 2007

58th Philosophers' Carnival

Richard Brown has compiled a scintillating carnival program for philosophy enthusiasts.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Women in Philosophy: Data on Professors

Here is the next installment of statistics concerning women in philosophy. Today I look at the labor statistics.

A few people have asked where the data in previous posts have come from. I've linked to the two sources--the National Research Council and the Dept. of Education. Let me say, data on the humanities are very scarce. An interesting 2002 document
called "Making the Humanities Count," part of an initiative to support collecting data on the humanities, is available from the National Research Council. It catalogs what professional data are available in various databases and argues passionately for the importance of collecting more. Extensive data are collected by the NSF for science, technology, and engineering fields, published biennially in the 1200-page Science and Engineering Indicators. Less--much less--is known about trends in the humanities.

There is no data available on the gender ratio of students entering philosophy programs. So we know the proportion of women that earn degrees but not what the attrition rate is during graduate school. We also know very little about what people do with their advanced degrees. How many get tenure-track jobs? How many teach part-time or in temporary positions? And for how long? After earning graduate degrees, what professions do philosophers go into other than university teaching?

The APA has some data charts available here, and not all of these charts are badly out of date. The APA attempted to collect some gender-related employment data in 2001 by sending surveys directly to departments but got only a 20% return rate, not enough to compile any data. David Schrader tells me the APA is preparing to do a survey of this year's hiring departments to find out the percentage of jobs advertised in the JFP that are filled by women. That will indeed be good to find out.

With the assistance of the Bureau of Labor Statistics, a couple of years ago Kathryn Norlock compiled a report on women in the profession using 2003 labor data. The report is available as a pdf from the CSW website. Her summary findings are that
although women currently make up nearly 27% of the available labor pool in philosophy, recent data suggests that women are closer to 21% of professionally employed philosophers. This compares well with data for 1992, in which between 13% and 18% of professional philosophers were women.

I did a rough, unscientific count by gender of the names appearing in the APA's membership directory in 2004. That directory does not include all philosophy teachers and does include some people who don't teach. My count also came up just shy of 21%, which adds some confirmation to Norlock's numbers. Likewise, Julie van Camp did an informal study of the so-called "top 50" graduate departments and found a rate of 19% women faculty.

In sum, the percentage of philosophers that are women at various stages:
Bachelor's degree -- about 31% and holding steady for at least 12 years
Master's degree -- about 28% and stable
Doctorates -- 26-27% and stable
University teaching -- 21% and slowly increasing

It would be informative to be able to have more detail about how women are employed and whether they are tenured at the same rate as men. Anecdotal evidence is that women are more likely to be underemployed and that they are less likely to be tenured than men. However, I know of no specific current data that can demonstrate this.

More analysis to come!

Friday, November 30, 2007

Bachelor's Degrees in Philosophy, By Sex

Today's topic in what is becoming a series of posts on the status of women in philosophy is:
Do women major in philosophy as undergraduates?

I'll supply the figures, but the why's, wherefore's, and solutions to the problem are left to the reader.

Here are figures for the percentage of bachelor's degrees in philosophy earned by women. The source is the Digest of Education Statistics compiled by the U.S. Dept. of Education.

1994: 32.0%
1995: 31.6%
1996: 31.4%
1997: 29.8%
1998: 30.9%
1999: 31.3%
2000: 31.5%
2001: 31.4%
2002: 33.0%
2003: 32.3%
2004: 29.2%
2005: 29.7%

During this 12-year time series, there does not seem to be much change. The average during this period is 31.2% of undergraduate philosophy degrees being earned by women.

Now, to give this figure some perspective, the percentage of women earning bachelor's degrees in all fields has been increasing. In 1985 it was 50.7%, in 1995 it was 54.7%, and in 2005 57.4% of bachelor's degrees were earned by women.

Certainly it is time to have a discussion in the profession about why women are not being recruited to philosophy at the undergraduate level.

Stay tuned for the next installments in this series:
  • a comparison with figures in other disciplines; and
  • an analysis of our very own shrinking pipeline

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Women Are Not Earning More Philosophy PhD's

In July 2006, Berit Brogaard commented on Julie van Camp’s summary figures for the percentage of PhD’s in philosophy which are earned by women. Those 2004 figures seemed to show that women’s participation in philosophy was increasing because it had broken the 30% mark for the first time:

2004: 33.3 %
2003: 27.1 %
2002: 25.3 %
2001: 25.2 %
2000: 28.4 %
1999: 24.8 %
1998: 29.4 %
1997: 26.0 %

In comments, Mike Almeida pointed out that a spike for one year does not make a trend.
This doesn't seem to show that the percentage of women receiving PhD's is increasing or I guess I don't see it. For instance, since 1998, there has been just one year with a larger percentage (since 1997, about half). Wouldn't you read that as no trend or a trend in the other direction? Looking at it a different way, the average for the first four years listed is about equal to the average for the last four.

More recent figures are now available from the NRC’s Study of Earned Doctorates (SED). Sadly, they do show that the 2004 figure was somewhat anomalous.

2006: 28.6%
2005: 25.1%

The SED figures indicate that women earn just about 27% of the doctorates awarded in philosophy, and that this figure has remained relatively static for over 15 years, going back to at least 1991.

Given that pipelines for women tend to tighten with career advancement, we can't expect the representation of women as professors to increase without also increasing the number that get undergraduate and graduate degrees. Right now, only about 20% of philosophy professors are women, far less than in any other area in the humanities.

So, what is to be done? In yesterday's post I gave reasons why professional organizations (that is, the APA) should take the lead.

Update: For whatever reason, the statistics that come from the Dept. of Education's Digest of Education Statistics are a little lower than those compiled by the NRC. For instance, they say the proportion of women earning doctorates in 2005 was 24.1% and that the average rate going back to 1994 is 26%. No source shows consistent change in this rate.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

How Philosophy Is Like Computer Science

A few days ago Noelle McAfee wrote a post at Gone Public about whether academic philosophy careers are especially harsh on mothers. Her post generated valuable extensive discussion about the compatibility of mothering and philosophy.

Noelle's comparison between philosophy and the sciences set my own thoughts off on a different track. In the past, there was low participation by women in both science careers and in philosophy (I'll post figures on this tomorrow). But in the last two decades, women have come closer to parity in the sciences, and especially in the life sciences, where they now earn more than 50% of undergraduate degrees. Science still has a pipeline problem: the percentage of undergraduate degrees which go to women is greater than the percentage of graduate degrees, which is greater than the percentage of postdocs, and so on, right up to tenured professor.

I think philosophy has the same pipeline problem. But who would know it, since the figures (especially employment figures) are simply not kept.

What has made a difference for women in the sciences is that there is general awareness of the problem of underrepresentation of women and minorities, and there are focused efforts to address the pipeline problem. Every single issue of Science, published by the professional organization AAAS, has a news item or editorial or personal profile relevant to the problem of disparate gender and race representation.

Computer science is the only science/tech/engineering discipline in which participation by women has actually been dropping. In 1985, 37% of bachelor’s degrees in computer sciences were awarded to women; ten years later, in 1995, this had fallen to 29% and has continued to fall over the last decade, to less than 17% in 2003.

Are there similarities between computer science's gender problems and philosophy's?

Last week a friend reported to me a conversation he had with an information sciences professor. That professor gave two reasons for the lack of women in their program:
1. It is a pipeline problem going back to middle school. The problem is that CS doesn't have an effective professional organization (he called them fuddyduds) who go into schools and generate broad interest in computing and its social effects. (He said that engineering, which has been raising its participation rates, does have that.)
2. Women just don't know about information sciences programs that might interest them more than computer programming. There are college degree programs that deal, for instance, with human-computer interaction and the social effects of computing. But high school guidance counselors don't know enough about these IT programs, and again, the professional organizations have dropped the ball.

Fuddyduds or not, the APA does the barest minimum to address the problems of women in philosophy. It does not collect data. There is the fabulous Committee on the Status of Women, but from what I can tell, the CSW receives little attention from philosophers who aren't women.

And philosophy, too, is misunderstood ("metaphysics" = spirituality?). There's no reason to think that high school guidance counselors particularly understand what a philosophy degree offers, either.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Are there jobs for philosophy students?

Thom Brooks points the way to a Guardian piece with supporting figures which indicate that, indeed, majoring in philosophy can be a sound career decision (Headline: "Philosophy graduates are suddenly all the rage with employers. What can they possibly have to offer?")

Like Thom, I recall being told that philosophy students are sought out for their detective-like analytic reasoning skills. As an undergraduate, I once heard that the LAPD was recruiting philosophy majors.

Since then, friends with philosophy degrees have gone on to all sorts of legal careers, have become medical doctors, have worked in international development, have started businesses of their own and have worked in corporate marketing research departments. They are editors, database specialists, and website designers. And some have the sorts of jobs which are so unusual they don't have familiar titles but prompt the response, "You get paid to spend your time doing that?" In each case, I think they would give some credit to their philosophical training.

I think the usual response ("What are you going to do with a degree in philosophy?" followed by "For what do you think I'm paying your college tuition?") comes out of ignorance about what philosophy is. I.e., it's definitely not what the bookshelf at the university's Barnes and Noble shop calls "Metaphysics."

Update: The researcher who gathered statistics for the Guardian article expands on them and comments on how to interpret them over at Philosophy, et cetera.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Is Science Based on Faith?

Paul Davies has a piece on the op ed page of today's NYT that seems to me to be rather confused. In the piece, Davies argues that science and religion are not at odds in the way that they are often thought to be since "science has its own faith-based belief system." And how is this? Well, according to Davies, "All science proceeds on the assumption that nature is ordered in a rational and intelligible way." This is an assumption that cannot itself be proven and, in fact, is exempt from the testability that is demanded of science more generally. It has to be accepted on faith in order for science to even get off the ground. Davies goes on to get more specific about how he thinks science requires taking the rationality of the universe on faith.
The most refined expression of the rational intelligibility of the cosmos is found in the laws of physics, the fundamental rules on which nature runs. The laws of gravitation and electromagnetism, the laws that regulate the world within the atom, the laws of motion — all are expressed as tidy mathematical relationships. But where do these laws come from? And why do they have the form that they do?
He concludes that there is not much difference between the belief in the existence of God and the belief in the existence of the laws of nature. In fact, he notes that the very idea of a law of nature is a theological notion (God's laws). Historically, he is correct about the source of the idea of natural law in theology, but he fails to recognize that the genesis of the idea need not determine the contemporary use of the term. There is another way of thinking about the assumptions of rationality and about "laws" of nature so that does not commit us to thinking of science as resting on faith. Bas van Fraassen in his Laws and Symmetry (1990) reviews the metaphorical use "law" and opts for an understanding of the notion that does not require a commitment to the existence of laws of nature. I offer the following in a similar vein. It is not that science requires the assumption that the universe is rational and governed by laws. What it requires is the belief that we will be able to construct useful theories if we make these sorts of assumptions. It is very much worth noting that this belief is not based on faith. If we take it as a given that there is order in the universe, then we can build theories about it. If those theories work, that is evidence that we are justified in our assumptions. If we were to make these assumptions and were unable construct successful theories, then we would not be justified in them and we would have to abandon them. But there is another point to make here as well. That we are able to build theories that are successful using these assumptions does not show that the universe is rational and governed by laws. It only shows that we are able to successfully navigate the universe with theories that describe it in that way. So my point is that this "faith" seems to be of a very different sort than theological faith and so ultimately Davies' claims that they are both based on faith is at least misleading, if not simply false.
Clearly, then, both religion and science are founded on faith — namely, on belief in the existence of something outside the universe, like an unexplained God or an unexplained set of physical laws,... . For that reason, both monotheistic religion and orthodox science fail to provide a complete account of physical existence.
Contrary to Davies' claim, the assumption that we can explain and understand key elements of the universe by modeling it as a rational universe with laws does not commit us to the existence of anything outside of the universe. He assumes that science requires a realism about laws and rationality which it does not. He does finish the article asking for science to explain the laws of the universe without appeal to something external to the universe, but isn't that the task of philosophy of science rather than science? And shouldn't that explanation be something like the one that I have offered?

Friday, November 16, 2007

Feminist Philosophy Graduate Program Wiki

Kathryn Norlock, feminist philosopher and organizer of feminist resources, has announced that the Feminist Philosophy Program Wiki page has moved from Wikipedia to Wikispaces:

It's a public site and anyone can post or edit information about MA and PhD programs which are feminist-friendly. The benefit of using a wiki page is that it preserves anonymity and gathers collected wisdom. The disadvantage is that it is difficult to check the information that's posted. I think the likelihood that the information is incomplete is more a disadvantage than the possibility of bias.

This is a great resource for applicants to graduate programs who are looking to do research in feminist philosophy. Since programs that support feminist research are likely welcoming to women, it should also be a useful tool for women in philosophy who don't plan to write feminist theory. Of course, there could also be woman-friendly programs who lack resources for feminist theory.

If I were considering applying to graduate school in feminist philosophy, I would also take a close look at the recent placement history. At what rate are women accepted into a program? How many complete their degrees? How long do they take? Do they write on feminist topics? And do they get jobs?

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Publishing Feminist Theory in Philosophy Journals

Kathryn Norlock at St. Mary’s College of Maryland has produced a study enumerating the articles which philosophy journals have published on the topic of feminism. This sort of empirical accounting for the status of women in philosophy is essential but too often neglected. So thanks, Kathryn, for collating and analyzing this information!

Dr. Norlock’s preface and summary results of feminism-publishing journals follow:
The following lists are entirely compiled from Philosophers’ Index, and therefore are not representative of all journals available, only those listing with the Index, and of course, the Index itself is not complete. However, they may be useful to those wondering what journals on the index report. These are intended as suggestive only, since the methodology only searched for articles specifically described as feminist in approach. New and student scholars were especially interested to know the recent rough history of Index-listing journals.

Methodology: JN (journal name) and femini* in DE (descriptor) were initially searched for repeated journals. On subsequent searches, individual journal names were searched for femini* in DE (descriptor). Cross-checking yielded clear leaders, though the results are, as said, limited by the self-reporting nature of the Index.

The first number is the total number of articles, the second is the number since (and including) 2000. Journals who only had listings since 2000 have just one number, the total number of feminism-described articles, followed by the earliest year's article in parentheses.


Top 12, Highest to lowest, feminist-described, since/including 2000:

Hypatia 513/152
Social Epistemology 23/15
Philosophy Today 25/12
Constellations 18/10
Philosophy of Science 10/9
Feminist Studies 69/8
Journal of Social Philosophy 54/8
Radical Philosophy, 36/8
Journal of Speculative Philosophy 13/8
Bioethics 12/8
Theory, Culture and Society 9/8
Nursing Philosophy 8 (2000)

These are only part of Dr. Norlock’s results. The remainder can be found by joining the Google Group called “Feminist Draft Exchange” at this URL:

I have some thoughts on these results.

First, it is incredibly helpful to young (i.e. untenured) scholars to know the recent history for feminism-friendly philosophy journals. There has been some recent discussion about whether there is bias against women among philosophy journals (and, especially, bias against publishing feminism). Ethics has published only 7 articles since 2000 (and none since 2002) using the keyword “feminism.” It's entirely possible that the journal has not received many submissions, but if my tenure were on the line and I was working in a finite time-frame, I don’t think I would take that chance.

Second, for more on the issue of publishing feminist theory, I recommend Sally Haslanger’s paper(pdf) that has been making the rounds and is soon to be published in Hypatia. Her recommendations for taking action to improve the climate for women in philosophy include this:
Established feminists should:
• Submit work to mainstream journals.
• Use the term ‘feminism’/’feminist’ in our writing.
• Cite feminist work; urge mainstream colleagues to read and reference feminist work in
their areas.

Third, it would be worth refining Norlock’s results, a difficult task given the limitations of the Philosopher’s Index. I’ve noticed one discrepancy. Having posted here before on the difficult climate for women in philosophy of science, I was surprised (stunned, actually!) to see that Philosophy of Science was ranked among the top 5 journals for publishing feminist theory. I took a look at the ten articles that Norlock counted (using the methods that she helpfully provided), and six of them are in the annual supplement to the journal which contains Proceedings of the PSA conference (until recently conference papers were published under a separate title). So only two of the ten articles appear to be peer-reviewed. One is Janet Kourany’s paper “A Philosophy of Science for the Twenty-first Century” (2003), which was published with a response by Ron Giere and a reply by the author. The other is a 1994 article by Cassandra Pinnick dismissing the legitimacy of feminist philosophy of science.

There has been earlier discussion of feminist publishing in philosophy over at Feminist Philosophers and at the Lemmings Blog.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Pregnancy and Exercise Reprise

With Paula Radcliffe's marathon win fresh in our minds, Gina Kolata has again written on the scary dangers of exercise during pregnancy.

The article begins with an anecdote about an athlete whom Kolata describes as "knowing no bounds." She ran 7-minute miles while pregnant--but without discomfort and without harming her fetus or her own abdominal muscles.

Next, Kolata reviews the research on exercise during pregnancy. Studies consistently show that when women exercise to the level that they find personally comfortable, there are not increased risks to their babies or themselves. She quotes a doctor who reviewed the literature:
We looked at training patterns during pregnancy and postpartum,” Dr. Pivarnik said. “And we asked, ‘Was the amount of training related at all to adverse events?’ The answer was no.

She writes that some of the most common advice given to pregnant women is to keep their
heart rate below 140 beats a minute. That pretty much guarantees you won’t be exerting yourself much. It was in 1985 guidelines set by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.

The article doesn't mention that this advice was retracted a few years later because it was unsupported by evidence.

Finally, Kolata ends with three anecdotes about women who were all satisfied with their decisions to stop or significantly cut back on their exercise during pregnancy.

There is something strange about this. The evidence cited suggests that there's no problem with vigorous exercise. But practically all the anecdotes (which are what one remembers) are of people who don't follow the evidence. I would like to hear first-person anecdotes that coincide with what the doctors and medical studies say!

Moreover, by citing anecdotes about extremely effective athletes--marathon winners, swimmers of the English Channel, Kolata gives the impression that the only women who would even try to exercise during pregnancy are professionals. I'm no athlete. I consider a 10-minute mile to be an excellent personal pace. But I have never enjoyed running as much as I did while pregnant. My training improved for the first 20 weeks, then I slowed my pace, and I eventually switched to moderate swimming during the last couple of months.

Although Kolata speculates about what might go wrong due to exercise in pregnancy, she doesn't mention even one reason why women would want to exercise. There are many:
1. Moderate and vigorous exercise can reduce morning sickness and nausea.
2. Exercise helps to maintain strength and flexibility. These are certainly required for the later stages of pregnancy and for motherhood.
3. Being engaged in physical activity helps one to focus on one's physical state--thereby increasing awareness of changes and possible problems.
4. Exercise reduces stress and has significant benefits for mental health. It stabilizes mood and increases self-confidence.
5. Exercise helps to regulate appetite and sleep, both of which can be negatively affected during pregnancy.
6. Exercise is a part of many people's routines and identity. There ought to be good cause for relinquishing a routine or a favorite activity, especially when going through other physical, social, and emotional changes.

Feminists should address more vocally the advice and treatment that doctors give to pregnant women and new mothers which limits their activities and choices without any counterbalancing benefit.

Rixa has recently written about feminism and the mainstream medical treatment of pregnancy and birth:
Birth issues are noticeably absent from almost any feminist platform. That's a shame, I think. The National Organization for Women has recently made some statements about birth issues, including a statement against VBAC bans, but otherwise feminism has been oddly silent on the birth side of "reproductive rights."

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

What would be the perfect reading?

John Capps is fond of asking friends and colleagues which philosophers have good writing style. This question, I've noticed, usually gets a blank stare in return. "The writing itself? Not the argument?" they ask, as if to say that what we write and how we write it don't influence each other.

Capps' question comes to mind as I prepare a syllabus for critical thinking. The students will be presented with a buffet of the usual dishes: identifying arguments, the structure of deduction and induction, proving invalidity, just a taste of formal logic, all of it seasoned with a smattering of fallacies to help the digestion. But in addition to the critical thinking textbook, I'd like the students to be presented with some real writing, real arguments, real philosophy.

For most of them, it may be the only philosophy they read and discuss the whole time that they are studying to become engineers or computer programmers or graphic designers. What should I pick?

Here are the criteria:
1. Self-contained. Journal articles take part in a conversation. Authors are necessarily responding to something that came before. But my students will have no context, and I'm not much concerned with content. It's likely that the perfect reading would come from a magazine like the Boston Review or be a book chapter. The ideas should be challenging, but their presentation should not be.

2. Reflective. While most philosophy is ultimately dispassionate, the perfect reading for this class would invite the reader to reflect on personal experience and actions. The content is still wide open, but I'm drawn to topics like civil society, liberal democracy, lifeboat ethics, racial identity, education, free inquiry. The concerns should be live and the examples should be real. E.g., I won't assign something about human cloning when no one is actively engaged in human cloning.

3. Clear arguments, nice style. It's for a critical thinking course. It's more important that the reading be a good example of argumentation than that it be an example of philosophy.

I'd like to spend time on three readings, and I have two picked out already:
Robert Putnam, "Bowling Alone: America's Declining Social Capital," Journal of Democracy, 1995.
(This is not philosophy, but it contains some good argumentation and it provokes thoughtful discussion.)
Richard Rorty, "Education as Socialization and Individuation," in Philosophy and Social Hope, 1989.

Monday, November 05, 2007

More on Maternity and Paternalism

A friend pointed out to me that the dismay that greeted mother Paula Radcliffe’s New York marathon win was not simply focused on the fact that she ran while pregnant. After all, Radcliffe is the world record holder in the women’s marathon. Not many women run while pregnant, but not many women are professional runners, period.

Although attention is focused on the fact that Radcliffe ran while pregnant, it is also her status as mother that is treated as stunning. At the race's finish, both Radcliffe and second place finisher Gete Wami were asked to comment on motherhood.

Beyond the assumption that pregnancy is a disability (one that women are not expected to recover from, apparently), it’s also assumed that motherhood is incompatible with having a professional life.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Pregnancy and Paternalism

The New York Times ran a profile article about Paula Radcliffe, the female winner of yesterday's New York City marathon. The profile is written by Gina Kolata, of the Science and Health section. Because in addition to being the holder of the world record in the women's marathon, Paula Radcliffe has also been pregnant. Imagine that! An athlete AND a Mom!

Just about a century ago, pregnant women (well, pregnant women of a certain class) were cautioned not to exert themselves during pregnancy. Doctors were concerned that work or strain of any sort would stress the fetus. Women were cautioned not to write, not even to think, because using her cognitive powers would divert the woman's reproductive energy away from the babe growing inside of her.

Although our culture no longer has precisely this worry (and most women, including professors, are expected to perform their jobs up until they give birth), there is a residual worry that a pregnant woman's body is not able to sustain physical effort.

The article reports that Radcliffe continued to run while she was pregnant, but only under the close and constant supervision of a doctor. Nonetheless
"People were looking at her as if she were crazy."

Most pregnant women are cautioned by their doctors not to exercise strenuously or, sometimes, moderately or even at all. My OB told me to stop running and to walk instead. I continued to run through most of my pregnancy, as did several other women that I know. One ran until the day before she delivered her baby, and she ran a 10K when he was a couple of months old.

Radcliffe's doctor "allowed" her to keep running but told her to keep her heart rate below a benchmark and had her get extra ultrasound exams. Interestingly, the article also notes
Heart-rate precautions do not have scientific backing.

There is no scientific evidence to speak of concerning pregnancy and exercise. There are no controlled studies and very few epidemiological studies. In the absence of evidence, many obstetricians give out the same advice they were handing to women in the 1800s. At the same time, medical advice concerning exercise for other patients, who often have a real health problem, has changed across the board. Back-ache? Exercise. Arthritis? Exercise. Diabetes? Exercise. Elderly? Exercise. Depression? Exercise.

Given the anecdotal evidence and the new medical context which supports the benefits of exercise (for those who enjoy it, especially), it's hard to see any explanation for the cautions routinely handed out to pregnant women other than paternalism.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

CFP: North American Society for Social Philosophy

The theme of this year's conference is "Gender, Inequality, and Social Justice." In addition to the obvious opportunites for feminist theory, the theme also invites work on environmental justice and some topics in feminist medical ethics.

The website of the North American Society for Social Philosophy will have more information (though it has not yet been updated).

The 25th Annual International
Social Philosophy Conference

Sponsored by the
North American Society for Social Philosophy

July 17-19, 2008
at the University of Portland (Oregon)

Special attention will be devoted to the theme "Gender, Inequality, and Social Justice" but proposals in all areas of social philosophy are welcome.

The Program Committee will be chaired by:
Professor Jordy Rocheleau of Austin Peay State University and
Professor Richard Buck of Mount Saint Mary’s University

A 300-500 word abstract should be sent to the program chairs. Individuals who wish to be considered for the award for best graduate student paper should submit their entire paper and abstract. Electronic Submissions welcomed and encouraged.

Jordy Rocheleau
Department of Philosophy
Austin Peay State University
Box 4486
Clarksville, TN 37044
tel. 931-221-7925

Richard Buck
Department of Philosophy
Mount Saint Mary’s University
16300 Old Emmitsburg Rd
Emmitsburg, MD 21727
tel. 301-447-5368

The deadline for submissions is March 15, 2008
or, for those living outside the United States and Canada, January 15, 2008.

Friday, October 26, 2007

The Global Environment Outlook-4

Khadimir alerted me to the UN's "The Global Environment Outlook-4," a 5-year report about the sorry state that the whole world is in. The BBC headline:
Continuing destruction of the natural world is affecting the health, wealth and well-being of people around the globe, according to a major UN report.

In the report, the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon writes
This assault on the global environment risks undermining the many advances human society has made in recent decades.

Bad news all around.

Since David Sobel’s book Beyond Ecophobia, there has been some debate about whether reporting of environmental news in such dire terms is serving to fuel political change. Or if, by creating an association between fear and the environment, apocalyptic reports will push people to tune out.

Sobel recommends that education introduce students to nature with an eye to play, empathy, and exploration. Only once people (children) have cultivated an attachment to natural landscapes should the environment as problem be introduced.

There is some reason to this. But political change to address environmental problems cannot wait for us to reform education and then for biophilic children to grow into environmentally-aware adults. Tell-it-like-it-is reports are necessary for motivating global political change NOW.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

What’s natural about natural childbirth?

Jender at Feminist Philosophers has a recent post about natural childbirth. She writes that the literature supporting natural childbirth is too often misleading.
Telling women that if they shop around hard enough for the right midwife, and work hard enough on their relaxation techniques and positions they’ll have a great uncomplicated time is SERIOUS misinformation.

She raises an issue similar to my post earlier this week, where I argued that a general preference for ‘natural’ ecosystems over ‘improved’ or ‘disturbed’ landscapes can be justified empirically but not with metaphysics.

‘Natural’ childbirth can mean many things to different people, from vaginal birth, to a birth without pain medications, to a birth that minimizes interventions, to a home or unassisted birth. Sometimes--perhaps too often, as Jender notes--there is a belief that if labor and birth are allowed to progress in their own time and their own way, then the labor will be less painful and delivery will be uncomplicated. And then, when the labor and delivery are slow or complications do develop, a mother whose goal is natural childbirth could feel disappointed, cheated, or even ashamed, as though she was unable to achieve what “should” be a natural biological function.

But this view entails attaching a prescriptive metaphysics to the concept of ‘natural.’ It is analogous to saying that wilderness should be valued more highly than agricultural fields because wilderness is ‘natural.’ But I like to eat bread and grapes and artichokes! Still, without buying into a flat-rate preference for natural landscapes over cultivated ones, I think we can still justify on empirical grounds why we should look to what is natural to identify the conditions in which humans and other creatures flourish.

Likewise, empirical evidence and some well-accepted criteria for healthful outcomes are what is needed to support natural childbirth and, most importantly, to support educating expectant mothers about the physiological process of birth. A good education would include what sort of pain can be expected and the average duration of active labor (which, for first-time mothers, is 20 hours, more than many practitioners allow before augmenting with pitocin).

When C-section rates rise, so do mortality rates for mothers. Mothers who have had C-sections are more likely to have additional complications, take longer to recover (on average, of course), and are less likely to breastfeed. In addition, they are more likely to have complications with subsequent pregnancies. Other interventions, such as pitocin induction, epidural pain-relief, and electronic fetal monitoring are implicated in poorer outcomes insofar as they contribute to the likelihood of unplanned caesarean birth.

The evidence supports taking steps that are likely to give women more control over birth, more autonomy during labor, and more choice than is usual in US maternity wards. But intending a natural childbirth is certainly no guarantee that labor will progress according to a plan! It would be heartless to deny the necessity and high value of medical interventions when needed, not just for emergencies like placental abruption, but also for pain relief when unexpected pain is harming a mother’s ability to give birth.

Rixa has written recently on what should be done about rising caesaraean rates. She quotes Michael Odent:
The primary objective should not be to reduce the rates of caesareans: it would be dangerous, if not preceded by a first step. This first step should be an attempt to promote a better understanding of birth physiology and particularly a better understanding of the basic needs of women in labour.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Scruffy Philosophers, with and without neckties

In Philosopher’s Carnival #55, Thom Brooks links to Crooked Timber’s post about the relative scruffiness of philosophers, particularly analytic philosophers.

I just completed an unscientific poll of the folks hanging out near my office, and all agree that, yes, a good number of analytic philosophers are scruffy. And most of the remaining are dapper or natty. (Maybe sartorial language is different in the UK, but here in the States, we pretty much only speak of guys as being "scruffy.")

The few who are neither scruffy nor donning neckties—are the women.

Yes, there are actually some women who are analytic philosophers! You’d think that our scruffy colleagues had not yet noticed. We’re the neat and tidy ones wearing skirts and two shiny earrings—because studies of student evaluations show that students respect us less if we don’t.

It's nice that the guys can joke about their scruffy image, but as long as we're still get tenured at lower rates --grasping at straws--we publish and try to dress well, too, just in case it helps.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

A preference for what is natural

So often in what I read and in conversations with students about environmental problems, there is an implicit assumption that what is “natural” is better than whatever has been “disturbed” or “improved” by humans.

Most of the time, I feel that my task is to demand that the speaker think more critically about
1. why we should prefer a natural to an unnatural state since, for example, a world without smallpox seems to be a better world overall;
2. whether we can really ever identify a “natural” state, after millennia of human disturbance in most tropical and temperate regions and with the propagated effects of climate change, pollution, and transported species reaching even into apparent wilderness regions.

But to be fair, the shorthand of preferring natural conditions to unnatural ones is very often legitimate. Whether our concern is for human well-being or stability in ecosystems, the natural state is one that has been tested and proved, and the unnatural one has not. The proper justification, then, for this preference for what is natural is empirical evidence, not metaphysics.

Critics of the popular desire for political action on global warming like to point out that there are plenty of people who stand to be better off should their climate grow a little warmer. It will be possible to grow more wheat in Canada, for instance, and the Northwest Passage will become a viable alternative to shipping goods overland or through the Panama Canal. While it’s true that human changes may improve the world for some human goals, the fear is that they will disturb delicate systems with uncertain, and probably unwelcome, results.

A recent report in Science (Araki, Cooper, and Blouin, “Genetic Effects of Captive Breeding Cause a Rapid, Cumulative Fitness Decline in the Wild”, Science 318: 100-103) adds another case to the roster of well-intended interventions with negative long-term implications. It seems that captive breeding and wild release of fish stock may lead to lower reproductive fitness in only a few generations.

The report concludes
The evolutionary mechanism causing the fitness decline remains unknown. We suspect that unintentional domestication selection and relaxation of natural selection, due to artificially modified and well-protected rearing environments for hatchery fish, are probably occurring…To supplement declining wild populations, therefore, repeat use of captive-reared organisms for reproduction of captive-reared progenies should be carefully reconsidered.

This indicates that the study species--steelhead trout--are being domesticated. The alternative to stocking wild populations is to do more (much more) to prevent decline in the first place. This means reducing how many are taken and/or preventing habitat destruction. Neither is easy or popular.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

CFP: Feminist Metaphysics Volume

Call for Abstracts/Papers

Feminist Metaphysics

This volume is to be published by Springer Publishing as part of a series on Feminist Philosophy. The series will include five volumes on: Feminism and Aesthetics; Feminist Philosophy of Religion; Feminist Epistemology and Philosophy of Science; Feminist History of Philosophy; and Feminist Ethics and Social and Political Philosophy.

Series Editor: Elizabeth Potter
Volume Editor: Charlotte Witt

As the first collection of papers devoted to the topic of feminist metaphysics, this volume is a landmark in the development of feminist philosophy. Although feminist metaphysics remains a contested field within feminist philosophy, its history stretches back at least to Beauvoir’s The Second Sex. Feminist interest in metaphysics includes broad questions concerning the ways in which ontologies and metaphysical frameworks are implicated in the oppression of women or their exclusion from intellectual history, and specific questions concerning the adequacy of theories of personal identity, of the self, and of the body. Most of the papers in the volume will be previously unpublished, original work approximately 8500 words in length.

Possible topics include (but are not limited to!): the relationship between metaphysics and feminist theory; essentialism and anti-essentialism about sex and gender; theories of the body and embodiment; theories of subjectivity, agency, personal identity and the self. I welcome contributions from diverse feminist perspectives including those of analytic and continental feminists, feminists of color, and feminists from diverse cultural and national origins. The choice of papers to include will reflect the editor’s desire to include a range of topics and perspectives in this landmark collection.

Those interested in submitting an essay for this volume should send a 200 word abstract by January 15, 2008. Acceptance decisions will be based on the preliminary draft of your essay, which will be due by May 15, 2008. Authors whose submissions are accepted on the basis of the preliminary draft will have until October 2008 to complete their essays (8500 words). Inquiries, abstracts and submissions should be sent electronically to Charlotte Witt (

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Fixing Environmental Problems with Spirit

I’ve been reading an article in Harper’s, reprinted from Orion, by Curtis White. It's titled “The Idols of Environmentalism.”

The title resonates with two cultural warnings against idols. First, there is the Biblical command against worshiping false idols. White calls for a “return” to a relationship with nature that is spiritual rather the scientific.
In accepting science as our primary weapon against environmental destruction, we have also had to accept science’s contempt for religion and the spiritual…Environmentalism should stop depending on its alliance with science for its sense of itself. It should look to create a common language of care.

The title is also an intentional reference to Francis Bacon, who wrote in the 1600’s in support of organizing modern science to improve human life. Bacon was concerned to recognize that some kinds of bias would systematically undermine or twist inquiry, and one of these biases was the “idol of the tribe.” These are beliefs that are shared and taken for granted, such that evidence which contradicts them is ignored or explained away.

White believes that the current “idols of the tribe” that mislead environmentalists are the belief that our environmental problems are uniquely caused by outsized corporate power and the belief that science will be what solves them. These two false beliefs, he argues, support each other.
Our dependence on the scientific language of ‘environment,’ ‘ecology,’ ‘diversity,’ ‘habitat,’ and ‘ecosystem’ is a way of acknowledging the superiority of the kind of rationality that serves corporate capitalism.

White is here rejecting two principles of mainstream environmentalism:
1. That science, even “value-free science,” is a force (and one of the strongest forces) for protecting and improving the environment;
2. That even if corporate greed is a cause of environmental problems, capitalism and the current economic system can be used to slow and even reverse environmental damage through trade agreements, green products, LEED certification, conservation easements, etc.

It would be natural to ask White what he thinks we should do, if we are to give up scientific and economic tools for environmental reform. What is left?

He eloquently counters this move,
I am tempted to quote Voltaire’s response to the complaint that he had nothing to put in the place of the Christianity he criticized. “What!” he said. “A ferocious beast has sucked the blood of my family; I tell you to get rid of that beast, and you ask me, what shall we put in its place!”

White nonetheless does suggest something to take the place of science and capitalism, and that is “spirit.” I can only think that he is suggesting that we (all of us) abandon our jobs, our homes in the city, our social networks, and move to a place where we can be reverent of nature. But where would that be? And given the size of the population, what should we do with all the others, those who would not be able to survive without the efficiencies of urban environments?

Lurking behind the recommendation that we abandon our modern society in toto is a disrespect for the value of humanity, for the value of individual human lives. This is not a different way of being an environmentalist, it is a way of giving up doing or being anything. It is an open invitation to relativism—White recedes into a corner with his Spirit while everyone else holds on to their own gods and idols.

White is also sorely out of touch with who scientists are—with who they are as people. He contrasts science (the “rational”) with “care.” But I know of no one who is more caring of living things than the scientists who study them, even including the pill bugs! Who inspires more care of nature, churches or science? The answer is not obviously with the churches.

One of the “good children of the Enlightenment” and not easily disillusioned, I still look first to ignorance (and second to greed) to explain our shortcomings.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

What's popular in philosophy?

The campus bookstore at my university has invited the philosophy department to assemble a shelf of book recommendations. Presumably these should be books that might actually sell, and not, for example, Quine’s Word and Object or Carnap’s Aufbau, no matter how influential they might have been.

This has prompted me to consult Amazon for popular titles in “Philosophy.”

What counts as “philosophy,” or as “metaphysics” for that matter, depends on who you ask.

The Amazon listing of bestselling philosophy books includes titles such as “The 48 Laws of Power” (#231) and “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Teens” (#26,114).

One wonders about the prevalence of numbers in the titles of popular books--perhaps Wittgenstein could be a popular author if instead of the Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus it were titled “7 Propositions on Language and Reality.” Especially since language seems to be a hot popular philosophy topic, with Steven Pinker showing up in every list.

So, if we confine our picks to Philosophy that Philosophers Would Recognize, the bestselling list looks something like this:
Steven Pinker, The Stuff of Thought: Language as a Window into Human Nature (#70)
Charles Taylor, A Secular Age (#303)
Thomas Cathcart and David Klein, Plato and a Platypus Walk into a Bar: Understanding Philosophy through Jokes (a humorous but respectable survey of philosophy assembled by non-philosophers) (#384)

After that, the next most popular titles are clearly bought as college course texts:
Anthony Weston, A Rulebook for Arguments
Thomas Kuhn, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions
Plato, The Republic
Michel Foucault, Discipline and Punish
(that last one is a surprise, eh?)

One of the most popular collections of current philosophical research articles is
The Daily Show and Philosophy (#2976), which probably explains why my students write essays about that utilitarian, Jon Stewart Mills.

In philosophy of science, the most popular books are
Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion (#103) and
Daniel Dennett, Breaking the Spell (#3539)
which makes me wonder when it was that philosophy of science became engulfed by questions about religion.

Meanwhile, some of the books that I had hoped to pick for the bookstore shelf like Philip Kitcher, Science, Truth, and Democracy are ranked lower (higher?) than 200,000.

Sunday, September 30, 2007

More on supporting breastfeeding

More than just about anything else, feminism supports increasing the choices that are available to women (just as other liberatory movements increase freedoms and the availability of choice).

I would not, therefore, advocate exclusive breastfeeding as always the best choice for every mother and infant. But in today's context, breastfeeding is not always available as a choice for mothers, often because they must work and their employers do not provide them with time and private space to express milk.

Mothers are also denied information about the health benefits of breastfeeding and advice on how to succeed in getting started.

A Mothering article cites health benefits
to infants that include lowering the risk of respiratory tract infections by 72% and lowering the risk of ear infections by 50%.
Breastfeeding reduces a mother's risk of ovarian cancer by 21% and breast cancer by 28%.
In spite of this, only 16% of American mothers breastfeed exclusively for 6 months, which is the current pediatric recommendation.

Cesarean sections make breastfeeding harder on mothers, and the rate of C-sections has climbed from 5% in 1970 to about 30% today.

Finally, selling formula is big business, both in the U.S. and abroad. Peggy O'Mara reports that political coercion and false advertising is used to discourage mothers from breastfeeding.

Friday, September 28, 2007

CFP: 2nd Conference Society for Analytical Feminism


Call for Papers
2nd Conference
Society for Analytical Feminism
April 4-6, 2008
University of Kentucky, Lexington, KY
Sponsored by
the University of Kentucky, Office of the Dean, College of Arts and Sciences
and the Vice President for Research

The Society of Analytical Feminism is sponsoring a conference in Lexington, KY, April 4-6, 2008. The Society invites the submission of papers that address feminist issues in any area of philosophy, including philosophy of language, philosophy of science, metaphysics, race theory, normative ethics, metaethics, Kantian ethics, social and political philosophy, philosophy of law, Ancient philosophy, rational choice theory, and epistemology. The general theme of the conference is an examination of the relationship between analytical feminism and these areas of philosophy, including contributions that analytic feminist philosophy has made to these areas and ways in which it may have changed approaches to problems in these areas.

Invited speakers are:

Louise Antony (U. Mass, Amherst)
Ann Cudd (U. Kansas)
Robin Dillon (Lehigh U.)
Julia Driver (Dartmouth College)
Ann Garry (Cal State, L.A.)
Sally Haslanger (MIT)
Miriam Solomon (Temple U.)
Mariam Thalos (U. Utah)
Charlotte Witt (U. New Hampshire)
Alison Wylie (U. Washington)

Papers should be about 20 minutes reading time (about 10-12 pages), prepared for blind review, and submitted by email to the conference organizers Anita Superson ( Sharon Crasnow ( by NOVEMBER 1, 2007. For further information, please contact Anita or Sharon.

PSA CFP and PSA Women's Caucus

The Philosophy of Science Association meets every two years and is next meeting in Pittsburgh, November 6 - 9 2008. The CFP for contributed papers is below, and the deadline is February 1, 2008.

PSA has long been a highly respected philosophical organization. Philosophy of science has a larger number of practitioners than, say, philosophy of art or philosophy of technology. And in some circles it is considered more prestigious (some might say elitist) than research areas such as practical ethics or pragmatism.

Philosophy of science (the subject area) and PSA (the organization) have also, in recent years, been criticized as not being sufficiently progressive, practical, inclusive, or original. Several recent books have contributed to this perception: John McCumber's Time in the Ditch, George Reisch's How the Cold War Transformed Philosophy of Science: To the Icy Slopes of Logic, and Nicholas Maxwell's several books.

PSA meetings remain essential for young philosophers of science, and the programs are stimulating. But the 2006 meeting rejected more submitted papers than it accepted, which created some resentment among members. That conference program featured female-authored papers as a lower percentage of the total than the background rate of women in philosophy (which is about 20%, although women's PSA membership may actually be lower than 20%). Authors of journal articles in Philosophy of Science, too, are less than 20% female.

In response to what has been perceived as a climate for women that is, if not actually chilly, then somewhat cool, a Women's Caucus was formed in 2006. Their goal is to foster mentoring for young women philosophers of science and also to influence the organization to broaden the scope of the discipline to welcome feminist and other new approaches. Check out the extensive website which includes fun pictures and helpful links!

Here's the CFP for PSA 2008:

Call for Papers: Philosophy of Science Association

Twenty-First Biennial Meeting: November 6-9, 2008
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Members of the Philosophy of Science Association (PSA) are invited to submit papers to be presented at the PSA 2008 meeting in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania on November 6-9. Contributed papers may be on any topic in the philosophy of science. The PSA 2008 Program Committee will strive for quality, variety, innovation, and diversity on the program. We encourage papers in both traditional and novel areas of philosophy of science.

The deadline for paper submissions is February 1, 2008. Some papers will be accepted for both presentation at the PSA 2008 meeting and publication in a supplementary issue of Philosophy of Science; other papers will be accepted just for presentation. Both types of accepted paper will be electronically published prior to the meeting. In each case, the Program Committee expects to make its decision by May, 2008. Final versions of all papers accepted for publication must be submitted by January 15, 2009.

The maximum manuscript length is 5,000 words, including footnotes and references. If the text includes tables or figures, an appropriate number of words should be subtracted from the limit. Submissions must include a 100-word abstract and a word count. Format and citation style should match those of the journal Philosophy of Science (see for details). Submissions should be prepared for blind review, with no identifying information in the body of the paper or abstract. (See for guidelines about blinding papers.)

Authors of accepted papers are expected to present abbreviated versions of their papers, with a time limit of twenty minutes.

Papers must be electronically submitted at

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Breastfeeding rights update

In an appeal, Sophie Currier has won an accommodation of extra time for expressing breast milk during her Medical Board exam.

The appellate judge wrote that under the previous ruling, she would have to
use her break time to incompletely express breast milk and ignore her bodily functions, or abdicate her decision to express breast milk, resulting in significant pain.

He also wrote that ignoring her status as a lactating mother placed her at a "significant disadvantage in comparison to her peers."

The decision goes beyond the immediate context to publicize the medical and social imperative to support breastfeeding and to support women who choose to both be mothers and work outside the home.

Further thoughts are in this earlier post.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

CFP: "Recoupling Genre and Gender"

A CFP for a special issue of the journal Angelaki is below.

The theme raises questions that include whether and how philosophy (or certain areas or styles in philosophy) are masculine, and if so, whether it is their masculine qualities that contribute to those areas of inquiry being pursued by more males than females.

For example, Jender has noted that software which presumes to guess an author's gender generally pegs analytic philosophy as male, no matter the actual gender of the author. The style expectations in analytic philosophy mimic typical male speech/writing patterns.

This raises some of the same issues as the silly literature on whether boys are naturally good at math, or whether the fact that they receive more instruction and more instructor attention has something to do with it. We analytic philosophers apparently learn which writing style is appropriate. Are women in general taught that a particular writing style is the one with which they are expected to express themselves?

Here's the cfp:

Recoupling Genre and ‘Gender’

Edited by Moira Gatens

Theme Issue for Angelaki: journal of theoretical humanities

Proposed publication date: December 2008

Questions about genre always raise questions of tradition, authority and exclusion. What justifies the judgement that one text is ‘philosophical’, another ‘literary’, and yet another ‘historical’? And
how might these broad ‘genre’ distinctions play out in the realm of gender? Is literary production ‘feminised’ in relation to a ‘masculinised’ philosophy? And what can be said about the gendering of
genres within disciplines?

For example:

· Writing the history of ‘Great Men’ and ‘Great Events’ is the preserve of men whereas social histories, that require an ‘eye for detail’ and the ‘everyday’, are suited to the special talents of women.
· Metaphysics and Epistemology are at the ‘science’ end of philosophy, whereas moral and social philosophy is at the ‘humanities’ end and so more suited to women.
· Epic poetry, high tragedy, and wide-ranging, ‘big picture’, creations are the literary preserve of men; women’s genre is the novel and the short story, both of which suit women’s talents in representing the
everyday and domesticity.

Perhaps these platitudes do little more than rearticulate the claim that Man is able to grasp the 'universal' whereas woman’s preserve is the ‘particular’? Recent scholarship, across the disciplines, has questioned both how these disciplines (history, philosophy, and literature) relate to each other and the way in which ‘gender’ has been coupled with particular genres of writing.

This special issue of Angelaki aims to bring together an interdisciplinary group of scholars in order to reconsider ways in which the genre and gender question has been configured in recent theory. It seeks innovative reformulations of the genre-gender relation that emphasise the ways in which this relation is intimately tied to specific social norms and particular institutions in a variety of cultural, historical and political contexts. To this end, the papers will explore the specificity of the discursive relationship between various ‘coupled’ authors as well as the way in which the reception of their writings may have changed over time. (The ‘coupled’ authors might include: Wollstonecraft and Godwin, George Eliot and G.H. Lewes, Virgina Woolf and Vita Sackville West, Mary Shelley and P.B. Shelley, Heidegger and Arendt, Delueze and Guattari). The overriding aim is to move towards a 'recoupling' of genre and gender that acknowledges the full force of the range of institutions and social and historical conventions at work in genre allocation.

The upper limit for submissions is 10,000 words but shorter pieces are welcome. Please follow MLA style and submit papers electronically (in Word format) to

Deadline for submission: 15 April 2008.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Carnival of Feminists #45

Thanks to Jender and the Feminist Philosophers for sponsoring Carnival of Feminists no. 45!

And also, for posting an update on the breastfeeding rights case.

Sophie Currier has had her day in court, and she lost. Boston Globe article here, and Sophie Currier's "Accomodate Nursing" blog is here.

As Jender notes, the comments on the case all around are mixed and sometimes dismaying, including those at the MomsRising site I've linked to.
What are the issues raised?

1. Ignorance.
How many people know what pumping milk is like except by having pumped? For one thing, there is a lot of variability in how long it takes mothers to set up the pump, relax enough to have the milk flow, pump the milk, restore one's dress and composure, store the milk, and clean the apparatus. Twenty to thirty minutes is not unrealistic. How often also depends on the mother and on the age of the baby, but once every three to four hours is about right.

2. Fairness.
Is it fair that one test-taker should receive more breaks or a longer time to take the test than another? First, I do not see why it is relevant that Dr. Currier has an accomodation for another reason that is unrelated to this reason.
Second, if the test is set up so that a score below a certain level is failing while a higher score passes, then she is competing against the test, not against other test-takers. The question is whether she is competent to practice medicine, not whether she is more or less competent than the person sitting to her right.

3. Privacy
One proposal was that she be allowed to pump but not in private. That is ridiculous. At the same time that breastfeeding privacy was being questioned in this case, there have been several recent cases in which a mother was thrown off of a plane (Delta Airlines) for breastfeeding and a mother was asked to cover up at Appleby's. It now sounds as though Dr. Currier will be offered a private room.

4. Mothers and work
A frequent comment is that mothers should not expect that they can both breastfeed a child and be employed outside the home. To Dr. Currier, the courts have essentially sent this message, saying that she should plan to take the test when she's done breastfeeding. What can I say to this? Where can I even start?
But the reality of course is that some jobs are not easily compatible with breastfeeding or mothering. Dr. Currier says she did try to take this into account. It is the reason she had children while in medical school rather than wait until her residency.
So what this court decision comes down to is that it pressures women with young children to stay home with them.

5. Support breastfeeding
Since foregoing employment is simply not an option for many women, either because they need earnings to support their family or because they are heavily invested in a profession (academia, medicine, law) which prevents women from taking time off, this court decision effectively discourages women from breastfeeding. The current medical recommendation is to nurse babies for a minimum of one year. WHO recommends nursing for two years. The public sphere in the US needs to catch up with these recommendations.

Doubting Research on Genes and Gender

Thanks to Khadimir for asking my thoughts on John Ioannidis' finding that a majority of scientific claims about sex-based genetic differences between men and women are poorly supported. Here's the news report in Science.

The paper, published in JAMA, reviewed published claims about the genetic basis for sex differences in ailments such as hypertension, schizophrenia and heart attacks. Ioannidis found that the claims were, for the most part, overstated or the support for them was undocumented.

The Wall Street Journal quotes Dr. Ioannidis:
"People are messing around with the data to find anything that seems significant, to show they have found something that is new and unusual."

In defense of the peer-reviewed research:
1. Sometimes it does take "messing around with data" to uncover leads for future research.
2. Sometimes the data that would support a claim is not all contained within the published report, but this doesn't mean that the claim is false.
3. The process of peer review and responding to editor's suggestions sometimes stretches claims.
4. That few of the results have been replicated is not surprising. Researchers do not get credit for replicating someone else's findings. The proof comes in using the results as the basis for more research.

What Ioannidis is right to point out:
1. The pressure to publish can lead to stretched claims even when there is no outright fraud, and it can lead to trivial results reported as though they are on a stonger footing than they actually are.
2. In medical research, perhaps replication is more important than in some other areas of science.
3. Philip Kitcher has argued that in areas of science where the results most immediately impact human well-being (such as in medicine), scientists should pay more attention to how "well-ordered" their projects are. Are they pursuing a project only for the sake of getting the next grant? Or does it contribute to what we want and need to know? I take it that part of Ioannidis' concern is that researchers comb their results to find anything that passes the test of statistical significance, regardless of whether or not it tells us something worth knowing. This, then, could explain why so few results are replicated and so few false results are retracted. In this light, what Ioannidis raises is a concern not of truth and falsity but of efficiency.

Finally, I don't think it is particularly suspicious that it is sex-linked claims that were studied--even though sex-linked claims have been the target of feminist critique, e.g. by Anne Fausto-Sterling. The same sort of dynamic is true of other genetic research (and I believe Ioannidis has done similar surveys in epidemiology). However, it is worth thinking about the amount of money that is poured into this sort of research. For some of the diseases studied, such as hypertension, we have quite a lot of understanding about treatment and prevention but still don't treat and prevent for other reasons, such as the shameful lack of access to health insurance in the U.S.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

The Future of Naturalism conference

No weekend plans? It's not too late to decide to attend the conference on "The Future of Naturalism" at The Center for Inquiry in Amherst, NY tomorrow through Saturday! The conference is co-sponsored with the University at Buffalo's Philosophy Department, and it features an all-star cast of epistemologists and associated philosophers.

Some planned highlights:
Laura Purdy on naturalism, religion, and sexual ethics
Ron Giere on naturalism and secularism
Hilary Kornblith on naturalism and knowledge
Lynn Hankinson Nelson on social epistemology as naturalized epistemology
Akeel Bilgrami on naturalism and philosophy of mind
Charlene Haddock Seigfried on pragmatism and naturalism
and many more...

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Were we ever postmodern?

It seems that now whenever I see references to postmodern philosophy they are in the past tense:
"The postmodernist agenda was..."
"An attraction of postmodernist philosophy was that it..."
"There is much worth retaining from postmodernism..."
Postmodernism is alive, well, and current according to the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (though note that the cited texts were mostly written in the 1980s). But the present tense and the past tense are at battle on the Wikipedia sites for Postmodernism and Postmodern Philosophy. Is postmodernism alive or deceased? The copy on wiki sites is subject to change, but right now the tense confusion has produced this:
"[Davidson] argued that truth was not about getting it right...but was part of a social practice, and language was what served our purposes in a particular time."
(This use of the past tense seems to make it impossible to say anything about truth in general and to talk only about the intent of past truth-claims. But maybe, for a postmodernist, that's the point.)

When I was an undergraduate I identified with postmodernism. It was the movement of the times, so how could I not? I read Feminism/Postmodernism, edited by Linda Nicholson, and was especially motivated by her introductory essay and by Sandra Harding's article on "Feminism, Science, and the Anti-Enlightenment Critiques." I heard the feminist worry that perhaps postmodernism, by dismissing grand narratives, would also be dismissive of feminism. But I thought that sounded like a mere technical problem.

I read Foucault, and I read Nancy Fraser on Foucault. I thought postmodernism was about identifying power, calling it out, and then getting on with the business of using theory to smooth the way for progressive political change. I thought that the critical, disillusioning technique of postmodernism would be a useful one.

What I did not realize was that postmodernism's critique of reason was powerful but blunt. Its success was such that it was not able to carve away at a problem, exposing the power relations, exposing the ideologies, and revealing the questions of justice and knowledge that would yield to moral argument and empirical inquiry. It cuts and cuts and cuts until nothing is left.

The problem is that research into social relations, power dynamics, and ideological influence can never turn up negative results. If the problem with the modernism that postmodernism opposed was that history and intellectual development in the West was a monotonous story of the revealing of Reason through the ages, then the problem with postmodernism was the converse. Postmodernism is also monotone. Ideology and power relations always have an influence.

Philosophy is still working out how to distinguish the influence of reason from the influence of power, or better, how these interact. I think many areas of philosophy are at work on this. Social epistemology, feminist epistemology and philosophy of science, pragmatism, social and political theory, philosophy of technology, applied ethics.