Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Schwitzgebel: Statistics on Women in Philosophy

Eric Schwitzgebel and his collaborator Joshua Rust have used a unique set of data to analyze promotion rates of men and women in philosophy, concluding that women in recent cohorts are not advancing to tenure as quickly as men.

Take a close look at the figures for philosophers with birthyears between 1970 and '79!
1970-1979 (57 professors.):
81% male (2% full, 11% assoc., 74% asst., 13% non-TT)
19% female (0% full, 18% assoc., 45% asst., 36% non-TT)

This valuable study clearly involved a significant amount of legwork (so to speak). More comments on it at Feminist Philosophers.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Unreasonable reasoning

Via the Women's Bioethics Blog, a series of special essays in the New Scientist covers 7 reasons why Reason is not enough (unfortunately the full series requires a subscription).

This tired chestnut? Define Reason narrowly enough, and of course it alone cannot solve problems of politics or engineering! But consider the alternatives on their own--emotion, tradition, hearsay, trial-and-error--and we come out even worse.

Yes, some say were were never modern, but I'll stand for the Enlightenment.

Do please consider....

Anti-Reason Reason #1:
"Reason stands against values and morals"
And thank goodness for that! How many brutal traditions have been used to dehumanize women and others? Hurrah for the power of moral reason and a universal sense of humanity.

Anti-Reason Reason #2:
"No one actually uses reason: If we had to think logically about everything we did, we’d never do anything at all."
What is meant is that "no one uses formal logic alone in solving real-world problems with complex contexts." But this is something we've known for just a little while--well, decades, at least. Thank you Rudolf Carnap!

Anti-Reason Reason #3:
"I hear 'reason,' I see lies: Science is routinely co-opted by governments and corporations to subvert people’s ability to make their own decisions."
This is a reference to pseudo-science's kissing cousin, pseudo-reason--including chart junk and all of its allies. Not reason itself.

Anti-Reason Reason #4:
"Reason excludes creativity and intuition."
Another narrow view. See #2 above. Deference to experience (sometimes known as 'intuition') is, again, dictated by reason. How else could we judge our experience and the experience of others?

Anti-Reason Reason #5:
"Whose reason is it anyway?: Real people don’t live their lives according to cold rationality."
This essay is from a bioethicist, and, I will admit, this is the challenge I am most likely to trip on. Indeed, the author writes:
Feminist theorists, for example, argue that the Enlightenment's focus on the individual, on rights, on reason, ignores the complicated and subtle web of networks that we are part of: the interdependencies and the relationships. For them, it's not just about individual choice, but about the context in which we choose.
Still, I would say that we can use reason to understand gaps in reasonability. Women have no doubt been left out of knowledge networks, and this is the observation that the literature on standpoint and situated knowledge responds to. Still, I hold that the problem is not with the theory or tools of reason but with the fairness with how they are distributed.

Anti-Reason Reason #6:
"Reason destroys itself: Even in formal mathematics, reason breaks its own rules"
Roger Penrose's supposed proof is none other than Hume's Problem of Induction. How do we know that reason is successful? How do we know that 2 + 2 = 4? The only way we can judge is by Reason's own lights, and perhaps (a little Cartesian flair, now...) we've always been deceived. Yes, without a benevolent God to rescue us from paradox, we are left with nothing but doubt.
This is a fun game for philosophers to play, I suppose, but a dishonest one assuming they've read Hume themselves. A naturalist's reason is not at odds with experience, and it is experience that drives us forward and allows us to live our lives, not Reason alone.

Anti-Reason Reason #7:
"Reason is just another faith."
But we know that Mary Midgley would not give up reason in favor of faith, would she? And indeed she does not: this is an essay against scientism.

Here she wraps it up for us:
"...in fact it is not clear that thought could go on at all in such a rarefied vacuum. In order to make actual decisions we need serious standards of what is or is not satisfactory. Hume's mistake lay in defining reason far too narrowly, as mere logic. This splits it off entirely from the rest of our thinking."

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Conservation Biology and Intervention

Ecological restoration is usually thought of as preserving or recreating previous conditions that were changed as a result of human activity. An important part of this is being true to both time and space. Preserving Himalayan pines in a Rochester, NY arboretum is the vegetative equivalent of a zoo; it’s not restoration. But restoring tallgrass prairie in Illinois to its presettlement condition after most of our American prairies were converted to agriculture is considered restoration.

What is not usually considered either restoration or preservation is assembling species in new configurations. This week a policy article in Science proposes, though, that such new assemblages will be required in order to preserve the existence of certain species in the face of rapid climate change. The authors call the proposed policy action “assisted colonization.” The idea is that climate may be shifting too rapidly (due to human activity) for many species to migrate on their own. In addition, human development has fragmented habitats in ways that prevent migration.

What and how should we (environmental philosophers) think of this proposal? Is it still a means of preservation? Is it preservation in a robust sense, as opposed to the sort of last-ditch, pathetic rescue that zoos attempt for the last remaining exemplars of species? What considerations should be taken into account?

While there may be some essentialist objection to the intense intervention that assisted colonization would allow, I can only see it resting on contested understandings of the natural. Migration itself is natural. For example, in the west, pinyon pine is migrating northward, and in the east, white oak is slowly migrating northward following the last ice age, 15,000 years ago. On the other hand, this particular climate change and much habitat fragmentation is human-caused. And the consequences of the current mass extinction of species are dire.

Rather, appropriate objections revolve around gaps in our knowledge. When should we act, and how much risk can we take on, especially given humanity’s past mistakes? When weighing these questions, though, we should consider that many of those mistakes happened in pursuit of other goals—political and economic advantage.

Conservation biologists and environmentalists care about preserving species, and we care about natural associations. But if climate change predictions are correct, then we can’t have it both ways. One requirement, as we proceed, is to carefully collect and analyze information, including the success and failure of restoration projects. Habitat destruction remains the greatest single threat to biodiversity, over and above climate change, and will be the first priority for decades to come. But considering these questions is wise, while we still have the luxury of thinking about them.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

CFP: Society for Analytical Feminism-Central APA


Society for Analytical Feminism
Feminist Philosophy in the Analytic Tradition

SAF Session at the Central Division APA Meetings
Palmer House Hilton, Chicago, Illinois
February 18-21, 2009

The Society for Analytical Feminism invites submissions for a session at the 2008 Central Division APA meetings to be held in Chicago in February 18-21, 2009. Please note that this is a different date than you may be used to!

The Society seeks papers that examine feminist issues by methods broadly construed as analytic, or discuss the use of analytic philosophical methods as applied to feminist issues. Reading time should be about 20 minutes. Authors should submit either (1) a paper, or (2) an extended abstract, as detailed as possible (up to 1000 words) accompanied by a bibliography. Please delete all self-identifying references from your submission to ensure anonymity. You may submit papers as a word attachment to sharon.crasnow@rcc.edu (preferred) or see instruction at the SAF webpage: http://faculty.rcc.edu/crasnow/SAF.html

The deadline for submissions is August 15, 2008.

Graduate students or underfunded professionals whose papers are accepted will be eligible for the Society’s $250 Travel Stipend. Please indicate on a separate page (or in your covering letter) if you fall into one of these categories.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008


A departmental colleague comments on an article in the Times about research on how mirrors can manipulate the mind.
Researchers have determined that mirrors can subtly affect human behavior, often in surprisingly positive ways. Subjects tested in a room with a mirror have been found to work harder, to be more helpful and to be less inclined to cheat, compared with control groups performing the same exercises in nonmirrored settings. Reporting in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, C. Neil Macrae, Galen V. Bodenhausen and Alan B. Milne found that people in a room with a mirror were comparatively less likely to judge others based on social stereotypes about, for example, sex, race or religion.

He suggests that perhaps we could apply this insight to classroom design: would a few carefully placed mirrors curb some undesirable behaviors? I like the idea that it could create more fair and inclusive classrooms. At the very least, a mirror behind the back row of seats could help me keep track of who's using his laptop to view porn rather than take notes!

Thanks, Wade!

C-SWIP 08 Conference Program

Cate Hundleby has posted the conference schedule for October's C-SWIP meeting. The conference is in Windsor in October and promises engaging papers on the theme of "Reason, Activism, and Change."

Canadian SWIP meetings are always well-attended affairs with rich, diverse programs that draw on both analytic and continental approaches and that feature ethics alongside epistemology. This program sounds especially interesting because of the ideas that people will present about how philosophy can guide liberatory political practice.

Friday, July 18, 2008

CFP: An interdisciplinary conference on ecology and philosophy

Call for Papers

Recreate, Replace, Restore:
Exploring the Intersections between Meanings and Environments

A Conference at
Ohio Northern University

17-19 April 2009

Sponsored by the ONU Working Group on Religion, Ethics, and Nature

The natural world has been “humanized”—even areas thought to be wilderness bear the marks of human impact. Given the long reach of human influence, environmental thought in the humanities and the sciences have sought to understand how we can limit, change, or reverse the more disastrous effects that humans have had on the environment. Preservation is not the sole or primary strategy; restoration, sustainable design, and other creative responses to place have become part of the debate. Further, both the sciences and the humanities have increasingly realized the interconnection between human accounts of meaning and the more-than-human world. Thus, reflections on the proper approaches to natural and built environments increasingly include investigations into contested religious, philosophical, and ethical meanings of the
environments that surround us.

Possible themes include (though are not limited to):
• The philosophical, ethical, religious or spiritual dimensions of restoration in all its aspects
• Scientific assessments of restoration, the reintroduction of species, or the preservation of locales
• Built environments, nature, and the meaning of place
• Theological and philosophical reflections on human alterations of environments
• Architecture and green building as recreating places

More info here(pdf).

This is a call for papers (20 minutes reading time) and for poster presentations.
Deadline for proposals is Oct. 31, 2008.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Tierney and Women in Science

One thing that Tierney did not mention in his NYT article yesterday is a recent Harvard Business Review report, which says that although 40% of the scientists and engineers in the early stages of their careers are women, most of those women (52%) will quit a job due to gender-related issues.

The reasons? A major factor is "macho" work environments that isolate women. Indeed, 63% said they had been sexually harassed. Another factor is job requirements that are incompatible with maternity and family responsibilities. Most of the women who left jobs said that they would return if employers addressed the issues that made the jobs untenable for them. Pace Tierney, it's not the case that those who felt compelled to quit did so because they realized they were misplaced in a science/technology career.

What Math Can Do

And what it can't, namely, prove the existence of God.

A former student pointed me to this logical debunking of a supposed mathematical proof of the existence of God. MarkCC has a series on the misuse of logic and math in creationism/ID. Trevor, I think you're right--these could be quite fun to look at in our logic class.

What Mothers Look Like

What Sorts? posted a reminder about the Shape of a Mother site, where mothers of all types post stories and images about their bodies during and after pregnancy. The site was interesting and comforting right after I gave birth to my son.

There's endless information available about pregnancy--and it's often forced on pregnant women by well-meaning family, friends, and strangers--but no one talks about being postpartum. Even with all of the attention that philosophers pay to embodiment, the bodies of mothers is a lacuna.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Title IX, Higher Education, and Science

How can the New York Times ("all the news that's FIT to print") run an off-the-wall biased article arguing that Title IX should not be used to correct gender bias in education (except in athletics, where it's too late to take it back)?

John Tierney's tirade against the possible use of Title IX as a tool for correcting the most flagrant cases of bias against women in science education rests on these points:

1. Forcing men to share resources with women would "hurt scientific research and do more harm than good for women" (presumably because of backlash).

2. Women aren't discriminated against in the sciences anyway. If they pursue some fields in smaller numbers than men, it's because they just don't like science (or maybe they aren't any good at it, or maybe they'd rather be stay-at-home moms so they can pursue their biological calling or maybe they just like low-paying jobs like secretary and grade school teacher that much more).

3. The reason they're not interested in the prestigious fields of physics and engineering is that, at a young age, they are "better rounded."

4. Giving women legal and institutional support in their bid for political, educational, and employment equality "infantilizes women."

Oh, and Tierney quotes Christina Hoff Sommers.

I bet Female Science Prof has something to say about this! Yep, she does.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

APA Membership

I received a notice for renewing my APA membership in the mail. Yes, the U.S. mail. Every other organization I belong to sends an e-mail with a link for online renewal. And has been doing it that way for years. With the smaller organizations, I pay through PayPal. I mean, this is the era of people working at home, making wine bottle racks in the garage or sewing cloth diapers while the baby naps, and selling them online. Anyone can do it.

Anyone, but not philosophers. I renewed with the APA by return mail. I see now that it is possible to renew online. But not easy, and there's a bug. Do you remember your Member ID? And if you want to join for the first time, better go find a stamp.You do have some, don't you?

A proposed new game: timed trials at finding meaningful information on the APA website. It's like a scavenger hunt, but takes longer and ends in despair.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

New blog and cfp: Evolution, Environment, Responsible Knowledge

Yes, yes, as soon as sabbatical is over, I will cut down on blog-reading (and novel-reading, and newspaper-reading, alas...), but in the meantime, what an interesting blog and cfp, yes? Yes:

Evolution, the Environment, and Responsible Knowledge

As Sharon Crasnow once wrote in a mighty good book review, truth-seeking and political endeavor are not mutually exclusive alternatives:
The investigation of power relations, the role of the political, social, and cultural in the search for truth and understanding, is one of feminist philosophy's key features, one that it shares with a number of other philosophical traditions, including pragmatism. That it is worth investigating how the political can hinder or aid our understanding of the world and our place
in it is a presupposition of feminist philosophy.

Certainly the politically informed endeavor to ascertain and value the truth is also a hallmark of environmental inquiry. I continue to ponder these dual roles as I prepare for the fall semester's teaching of, simultaneously, a logic class, a seminar on environmental and holistic philosophies, and a class on feminist philosophy.

Go check out the new blog!