Thursday, January 31, 2008

Teach Global Warming

Today is the day of Focus the Nation's national Teach-in on the subject of global warming.

I just learned about the event this week--and my classes aren't meeting today--so I'm sorry to say that I'm not participating this year.

Focus the Nation has assembled teaching resources for higher-ed related to global warming in about 30 disciplines, including anthropology, math, and physics. These teaching resources, which have been
submitted by participating educators, include lecture notes, research results, TV and radio interviews, graphics, and suggestions for classroom activities. But there are no materials related to philosophy! Although there is a category labeled "Ethics," it is cross-linked with "Religion" and the content concerns religious views on climate change. I would think that a number of different philosophy courses could find a place to discuss global warming--practical ethics, environmental philosophy, philosophy of science, and social theory.

This is a shame, and I would not put the blame on Focus the Nation for overlooking our field. Rather, I think it reflects the regrettable disengagement of philosophers from public affairs. I intend to participate in next year's event on Feb. 5, 2009!

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Gender, Race, and Philosophy Blog

A warm welcome goes to the new Gender, Race and Philosophy blog, which accompanies the online journal Symposia on Gender, Race, and Philosophy.

Bob Gooding-Williams has started with a post about Barack Obama's deliberative and participatory vision of democracy. I look forward to more feminist and antiracist philosophy and critique!

The Symposia's current discussion is on an article by Noelle McAfee which was published in The Journal of Speculative Philosophy. There are responses by critical theorist Amy Allen and pragmatist Scott Pratt.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Art, Science, and Civil Liberties

Last week I had the chance to catch a screening of the film Strange Culture about artist and SUNY Buffalo professor Steve Kurtz.

The movie tells (part of) the story of Kurtz' treatment as a suspected bioterrorist:
The surreal nightmare of internationally-acclaimed artist and professor Steve Kurtz began when his wife Hope died in her sleep of heart failure. Police who responded to Kurtz’s 911 call deemed Kurtz’s art suspicious and called the FBI. Within hours the artist was detained as a suspected "bioterrorist" as dozens of federal agents in Hazmat suits sifted through his work and impounded his computers, manuscripts, books, his cat, and even his wife’s body.
In contrast with this gripping teaser, there was no evidence against Kurtz--the bacteria he had been culturing were harmless and his wife died of natural causes. The Department of Justice is pursuing the case nonetheless (more info here).

Kurtz' artwork makes use of scientific images and scientific practices in order to invite his audience to reflect on the potential harmful effects of biotechnologies such as genetically modified foods. It blends art, science, teaching, and political commentary. The case truly threatens academic freedom.

Jim Johnson has more commentary on the political valence of the artwork of Kurtz and the Critical Art Ensemble. Jim quotes Dewey:
“The function of art has always been to break through the crust of conventionalized and routine consciousness."

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Society for Analytical Feminism 2nd Conference Program

The Society for Analytical Feminism 2nd Conference program is now available at A Philosopher's Walk and at the Society for Analytical Feminism webpage. The dates for the conference are April 4-6, 2008 and it will be in Lexington, KY.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Professional Philosophers: What Makes Them Tick?

This is a good time to post some links and air some thoughts:

No doubt it is partly voyeuristic, but I'm fascinated by the Philosophy Job Market blog. They give some rules for one of my long-time favorite pen-and-paper games: Women in Philosophy Hangman.

Feministphilosophers comment on the philosophy job market: Why do we spend so much money making up complete applications with teaching materials and writing samples, when most of the supplementary applications are not even read? In some fields (e.g. English), an initial application includes only a letter and CV. There may be some disadvantages, but the advantages are the time and expense saved by job applicants, the convenience for hiring departments to not have boxes and boxes of applications to store, and the savings in environmental costs. Moreover, why not electronic applications? The sciences have been doing that for years already.

Last week Rob Helpychalk gave a talk on "A Retrospective Look at Postmodernism," a fun read.

There is a constant stream of reflective and thoughtful posts about teaching philosophy on the blog In Socrates' Wake. I would love to hear if their team has any thoughts on my concerns about attracting women to major in philosophy. A search of the blog says they haven't paid any specific attention to women as teachers or as students, so I'd like to hear if they have any ideas about why women make up only 30% of philosophy students or if there are any unique issues for women as philosophy teachers.

And here's a blog post with more comments than you have time to read--all about the ways in which women are excluded in math and computer science courses. Is philosophy different?

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Fantasy Philosophy Recruitment Scenario

The gender inequity in philosophy is undergoing another wave of recognition. In other places (like the SWIP list), there have been discussions about how to make philosophy less of a 19th century male bastion. We could work on the hiring of women, their chances at completing grad school, their grad school application rates, and their participation in undergraduate majors.

The more of these we can do, the better, and I think that multiple simultaneous projects have a better chance for success. Contributions to professional service, of course, cut into one's research time, so it would be nice if any efforts could be well-funded and appropriately recognized.

I think that in the past there have been efforts to attract women to graduate school and to help them stay there (for example in my graduate school while I was there). These efforts tend to get more attention than the strategy of focusing on undergraduates, and I think it's partly because there are a small number of graduate schools, so it seems like a more manageable agenda.

But I'm particularly a fan of the strategy of recruiting more undergraduate majors. This strategy combines two of my commitments: to increasing gender equity in education and to promoting philosophy.

Leaving reality for the realm of fantasy, I've concocted a (fantastic!) plan, with the goal of making the project of recruiting to the major seem more manageable:

There are almost 750 universities in the US that offer a bachelor's degree in philosophy. Since there are about 6500 degrees awarded every year, that comes to an average of 9 students per institution. (Many with zero and some with huge numbers--this is fantasy, remember?)

If you teach at one of those institutions, then ask yourself: Could I attract just one additional woman to major in philosophy?

If most universities attracted just one more woman to the philosophy major, the number of degrees earned in philosophy would increase by over 10% and the percentage of philosophy majors who are women would increase from 30% to 37%.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Bachelor's Degrees in Philosophy

In the month since I first analyzed the figures for gender disparity in philosophy, I've become more convinced that although this inequity should be addressed in graduate schools and the professoriate, the most effective time in the career pipeline to attract women is during the undergraduate years.

The sciences have been very effective at increasing the number of women who earn bachelor's degrees, but their efforts have been widespread, sustained, and well-funded. Two things working against a campaign to address gender inequality in undergraduate philosophy departments are:

1. philosophy is a small major; and
2. philosophy is easily overlooked among humanity and social science disciplines in which women make up a majority of students.

My data, again, come from the National Center for Education Statistics, and the most recent data are for 2005 graduates.

Philosophy is a somewhat smaller major than Anthropology, Chemistry, Drama, Physical Education, or Spanish.
About as many people earn undergraduate philosophy degrees as earn degrees in International Relations, Music, or Radio/TV.
Philosophy is a more popular course of study for undergraduates than is Physics or Geography.
More than 8 times as many students earn a BA in English as one in Philosophy.

Here are how some other fields compare to philosophy in terms of their gender distribution.
Below is the percentage of degree-earners who are women:

Biology & Biomedical Sciences 62%
Chemistry 51%
Economics 32%
English 68%
Foreign Language & Literature 71%
History 41%
Mathematics & Statistics 45%
Philosophy 30%
Political Science 47%
Psychology 78%

Friday, January 11, 2008

Human cloning and human rights

It may just be one of my blind spots, but I have never understood certain objections to human cloning. I do support objections having to do with the risk of experimentation on humans due to the possibility of shortened life-spans, of increased cancer risk, and the like. But I don’t understand the worry that cloned humans would somehow be less human than other people. Why would clones be less human than people whose genesis was the result of a hot date?

There are examples to back up the idea that cloned humans would be indistinguishable from ordinary folks. So-called “identical” twins share the same DNA but no one thinks that twins are less human than singletons. A clone would be even less like its source of genetic material than twins are like each other because a clone would grow up in a different environment.

Likewise, over 100,000 children have been born in the US as the result of in vitro fertilization, so it can’t be the manipulation of eggs alone that results in the ethical objection to cloning.

And it’s not the case that a clone would not have a mother, since babies still develop in wombs and gestation still takes about 9 months.

Last November, the UN issued a report that called for a global ban on human cloning. The authors’ opposition to human cloning is that clones might be denied full human rights. Brendan Tobin, one of the authors, has said that if cloning is not banned, then
“…the world community must accept responsibility and ensure that any cloned individual receives full human rights protection.”

It seems to me that there are no relevant features of a clone that would be grounds for denying human rights! But at the same time, human rights are sometimes denied to women, to children, to widows, to members of particular race, ethnic, or caste groups, and to the disabled, without any grounds.

Monday, January 07, 2008

More gender exclusion

Since looking at the figures for women's unequal participation in philosophy and realizing that they haven't improved in two decades, I've been noticing places where women's participation is even less than the 20% that is typical for the field. And I've been wondering why this doesn't strike many of my colleagues as odd and even indefensible in the 21st century.

Today I got a flyer in my mailbox for the journal PHILO, which is the journal of The Society for Humanist Philosophers and is published by the Center for Inquiry in Amherst (Buffalo-area), NY. Although I was unaware of the journal, I am immediately favorably disposed to a journal that "examines philosophical issues from an explicitly naturalist perspective," since naturalism is a central commitment of this blog's contributors.

But I was shocked to glance over the editorial board and to see that out of 39 philosophers, only 3 are women! Surely more than 7.5% of naturalists are women! This ratio of men to women continues when I look at the contributors to the journal. It is typical that an issue will publish work by about 8 authors, all of them men.

What is the explanation? Is this just how social networks work? Are women in philosophy concentrated in some disciplines--and not in naturalist epistemology? Are women less represented on editorial boards in general?

I'm surprised, too, because the people that I know on this particular editorial board are open-hearted and fair-minded pragmatists, supportive of their women colleagues. One of them, Peter Hare, just passed away in the last week, and I will remember him with fondness. Memorials have been written here and here.

Friday, January 04, 2008

Conference Confab

O! How merry I was to miss the Eastern APA this year!

Noelle McAfee says it was not so bad this time around. That's easy to say when you aren't on one side or the other of a job interview.

David Hildebrand's haiku
reminds me what I missed.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Promoting Thought

Late in 2007 MIT announced that materials for practically all of their courses are available online at MITOpenCourseware, including philosophy courses designed and taught by Sally Haslanger, Rae Langton, Stephen Yablo, Joshua Cohen and others.

The LATimes recently wrote about philosophy course downloads available through iTunes U, and featured Hubert Dreyfus as an academic celebrity.

I like to grouse about the misuse of metaphysics, but philosophers giving open lectures are an antidote!

Thanks to Laurie Shrage for the pointer.