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.