Thursday, April 29, 2010

Save Middlesex Philosophy

Via Feminist Philosophers and Leiter, the petition is here. Sign it.

And as Leiter says,

NOTE THAT THE petition does not provide a place for institutional affiliations. Do include your city and country, however, to make clear that the news of this disgraceful behavior is being noted internationally. And if you are a U.S. academic, choose "Prof." as title, again to make clear that it is an international academic community that disapproves of this latest example of mindless behavior by out-of-control academic bureaucrats.


--Mr. Zero

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

The Best Idea Anyone Has Ever Had About How to Get People to Referee Better

There's been some discussion lately about how to get people to be better at refereeing. Referees are a vital part of the profession, and they're an all-volunteer corps, and they are, by and large, not awesome. It takes tons of time to get your paper refereed, there are often no helpful comments, and there is a strong temptation to free-ride.

An idea that gets bounced around maybe once a year is charging authors a submission fee and then use the funds raised to compensate the referees. This will give the referees an incentive to do their jobs and have the side-effect of reducing frivolous submissions. This guy, whose wikipedia entry suggests that he is a pretty accomplished person and probably not a dumb-dumb, suggests a sliding scale based on desired turn-around time. He says, "a submitter's willingness to pay a higher fee, some economists might say, serves as a signal of the submitter's confidence in the quality of the paper."

Now, I'm no economist, but I would have thought that a willingness to pay a higher fee under such a system would serve most straightforwardly as a signal of how much of a hurry the submitter was in. I would have thought that there would also be a significant relationship between a willingness to pay a higher fee and the submitter's access to disposable income. I'm sure that confidence in the quality of the paper is on the list somewhere, but it's not right at the top or anything. (Not that author confidence of quality is a super-reliable indicator of actual quality, anyways.)

This is the fundamental problem with all such proposals: they disadvantage graduate students and junior faculty, who don't make as much money as senior people, and for whom the marginal utility of an extra publication is greatest. That is, such proposals are unfair.

So here's the idea. Charge people a fee. But the fee isn't for submission; it's for publication. You wouldn't want just anyone who submits to pay this fee. And the fee isn't monetary, so it's not taking food out of the mouths of Professor Newbie's kids. The fee is the job of refereeing itself. The journal accepts your paper and part of the permission-to-publish contract includes an agreement that the author serve as a referee for that journal. There is wiggle room concerning how many times would be fair. But I assume it would be at least two, and maybe more. The jobs could be spread out over a year or two. And the journal would have some leverage over its referees, since it could withhold the paper until (some subset of) the author's refereeing duties had been discharged.

Does this proposal have some problems? Absolutely. But I submit that if it's not better than the current system, nothing is.

--Mr. Zero

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Leiter Jobs Thread

Now that the hiring season is winding down, I compared this year's jobs thread with last year's. This year, so far, we have 94 listings. Last year's thread contained about 122 by this time. Some listings list more than one job, and I did not go through and count each one. And because of the Rusty Jones Affair, there are likely some hirings that did not get posted this year. But this seems pretty bad. On the other hand, 2008's thread had a total of 110, 107 by this time. But '07's had 154 and just over 140 by this time.

--Mr. Zero

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Many to One

Tyler Cowen posted an interesting thought on his blog Marginal Revolution:
The Back-up Plan

The journals of the American Economic Association have started an experiment that acknowledges the reality that papers move from one publication to another -- and the system could save authors considerable time, and publications money. In the experiment, authors of papers that are rejected from the flagship journal -- American Economic Review -- can now opt to have referee reports sent directly to one of four other journals published by the association.

So far it looks like a near-Pareto improvement. Here is more detail; by the way, editors from sociology and anthropology say that plan wouldn't work in their disciplines, though neuroscience has a reviewing consortium.

On the one hand, I like the idea that I'd only have to wait on one reviewer to hear back from several journals. On the other, I'm not sure that I want one reviewer to have that much influence over whether my paper gets accepted at multiple journals. It also seems like this system would affect the way the review reads the paper - this a a Journal A paper, this is a Journal B paper - and I don't have a good sense of whether I'd want that or not.

Which is all just to say, any thoughts about how to fix our busted system seem worth entertaining.

-- Second Suitor

Monday, April 19, 2010

Lies, Damn Lies

Here are some of my statistics for the '09-'10 Job Market season:

Jobs applied for: 37

First-round interviews: 2

Campus visits: 0

Job offers: 0

Beers/cocktails: 1,427 (approx. It's hard to remember.)

The thing is, I feel like my teaching, writing, conferencing, and publishing are going really well. Except for the fact that I'm having an extremely hard time finding a tenure-track job, I feel really good about my career.

--Mr. Zero

Friday, April 16, 2010

Spring Fever

Man, oh man. The school I teach at has been overrun with a devastating epidemic of spring fever. The weather is gorgeous and the frisbees, hackey sacks, and revealing clothes are in full force. Since spring break ended, I'm down to about 40% attendance per class. I'm getting my ass kicked by good weather, and I don't know what to do about it.

I suspect that spring break itself is a major contributor. Like most schools, we are on a semester schedule, which means that spring break is a week-long interruption in an ongoing academic unit. I have found that for many students, it is extremely difficult or impossible to regain their prior focus on their studies. Many students physically do not return from spring break; many others return physically but not mentally.

I was once involved with a school that operated on a quarter system. At this school, spring break was located between quarters, so you would finish one set of projects and final exams, take a week off, and then start a new set of courses. It seemed to me to that students could focus on their classes after spring break much more easily. And this seems to me to be a very good reason to adopt the quarter system.

Another idea I had was to abolish spring break altogether. That way, you'd end the semester a week earlier, and thereby extend the summer by a week. Why not do that?

Of course, switching to quarters would fuck up a lot of other stuff, and spring-break abolitionism is completely unlikely to catch on.

--Mr. Zero

Friday, April 9, 2010

Cleaning the Inbox: Teaching demonstrations

And, now, back to our regularly scheduled talk about jobs. I'm not sure how this go around proceeds, I've been willfully ignoring the 2nd round of jobs, probably to my detriment, but maybe a few of you will find this timely. Even if you don't, let's help the man out.
My name is Shane Ralston and I first shared a link (on Social Science Research Network) to an early draft of my paper "An Outline for a Brief Teaching Demonstration" on the Philosophy Smoker several months ago.

The paper lays out a plan for organizing a short demonstration of one's teaching abilities as part of an interview process at a teaching school. I used the brief teaching demonstration in my own interviews for several years and it eventually helped secure me a TT position. The paper has been published in the journal Teaching Philosophy this month.

I [want to] solicit constructive and critical comments on the article's content. I can no longer post the paper for free download, but most readers should be able to get a copy, whether through the university library or through an on-line subscription service.
I haven't read the paper because, you know, I've been getting involved in spats about philosophy online, writing talks, revising chapters, you know, the usual. But, those of you who have read it, or will, let's get constructive.

- Jaded Dissertator

Monday, April 5, 2010

The (Real) Crisis of Philosophy

I've been somewhat reluctant to jump in on the kerfuffle since it borders on schlogging and I have better things to do, but comments praising Jason Stanley's "The Crisis of Philosophy" keep popping up, which, far from solving philosophy's perception problem across the humanities, simply reinforces it.

To catch you up to speed. As Stanley identifies it, the so-called crisis of philosophy has to do with how the discipline is perceived by the rest of the humanities, or more precisely, humanists:
Its questions – which concern the nature and scope of concepts like knowledge, representation, free will, rational agency, goodness, justice, laws, evidence and truth – seem antiquated and baroque. Its central debates seem disconnected from the issues of identity that plague and inspire the contemporary world. Its pedantic methodology seems designed to alienate rather than absorb. Whereas humanists have transformed into actors, using their teaching and research as political tools, philosophers have withdrawn ever more to positions as removed spectators, and not of life, but of some abstracted and disconnected realm of Grand Concepts.
Stanley's response to this problem is, more or less: "So what?" More charitably, in the comments on his article, Stanley remarks that he was out to give a two-pronged response to the crisis:
First[...]to show that philosophy as practiced today is continuous with philosophy as practiced in the past. Secondly, and more importantly[...]to show that philosophy as practiced today and in the past has both had historical importance[...]and contemporary relevance[...]
This is a remarkable non-response to the problem as he has framed it. First, the first point.

Stanley begins with the grand philosophical tradition of the modern period (read: Descartes through Kant), skips over the 19th century, picks up again with Logical Positivism, and then culminates with those philosophers who, presumably, it wouldn't be "odd" to call the geniuses of our field. His decision to ignore the whole 19th century is telling (as is the sin of omission he commits in not including Nancy Cartwright and Peter Galison as philosophers who have received MacArthur grants; it might be innocent, but for polemical purposes I'm going to say it's because they don't work on abstract topics like part/whole relations or modal realism, but on the history and philosophy of science [and maybe even a teensy, tiny bit of sociology [GASP! UNCLEAN!]). As historians of philosophy have focused more and more and more on this era it has become obvious that the 19th century (and not just Frege!) was at least as important as the early modern period (ending with Kant), if not more so, for shaping what we now consider to be both analytic and continental philosophy and our own self-understanding of its subject matter, methodology, and relationship to other disciplines.

This is all just to say that if we are going to use history to try to address the very real perception problem philosophy has, it best not be the type of whig history Stanley engages in. His first point seems to be nothing more than a history designed to let him declare David Lewis and Saul Kripke (read: analytic metaphysicians) to be the real philosophers these days and those other people who get cited a whole lot in the humanities to be the outliers (read: fake philosophers). But, the neglected history shows that, in very important ways, those who get called philosophers these days and those who aren't called philosophers may share the very same roots (or at least very similar ones), and the types of distinctions we take for granted these days within philosophy and between philosophy and other disciplines are often traceable back to very real philosophical disagreements. We shouldn't simply cite the sociological fact that we, as philosophers, identify with Kripke as part of the tradition more so than we do Nietzsche, or Zizek, insofar as Kripke asks the types of questions Descartes asks, since this simply serves to retrench the perception problem philosophy faces: a group who only allows certain people working on certain topics, those deemed sufficiently eternal, abstract, and important (read: currently hot) by philosophers and philosophers alone, to be admitted in the club. Instead, we should try to understand more clearly our own history and how it has shaped our discipline and others, while refraining from the temptation to shape that history to justify what we currently think of as proper philosophy.

Now, Stanley's second response is to show the historical importance and contemporary relevance that philosophy has. In part, this point relies on the fact that philosophers have helped shape our conceptions of modernity (granted) and the usual platitudes about philosophers being good at instilling critical thinking skills in students. I think everyone in the humanities who engages with philosophers knows that we think that about ourselves, but simply stating it again does nothing to address their worries that the type of skills we are teaching students are hopelessly out of touch. So, for example, Stanley states about the value of philosophy:
Instead of teaching the middle-class American person about the actual poverty and oppression in her society, the philosopher forces her to reflect on abstract problem cases in which that person’s intuitions lead her to condemn the behavior of someone who is in fact behaving in all relevant respects similar to her. These are different methods of confronting complacency, but they are no less effective.
But, what is at issue here is why we should, as philosophers, "reflect on abstract problem cases" and not apply our awesome powers of critical thinking to real cases. Why trolley car problems and not "the actual poverty and oppression in society"? Philosophy, as I think Stanley has identified, faces a very real question that should be addressed about how our skills as philosophers are being applied, how they ought to be applied, to what problems they ought to be applied, and how effective they are at "confronting complacency".

Admitting this has nothing to do with giving into post-modern attacks on the conception of eternal truth or accepting the virulent anti-philosophy that supposedly pervades the humanities that are concerned with anthropological issues alone. Bringing up these issues simply shift the burden of proof, throw others off our scent, and provide us with an easy target to attack. But, we have been told over and over again that even considering that there might be a perception problem for philosophy, if there is anything we can do about it, if there is something particularly odd about the identity politics that dominate the field, if we might widen the scope of philosophy to include more problems, if we are perceived oddly because of our aggressive behavior in talks outside the philosophical sphere, or if we have a problem with communicating the importance of our projects to grant/fellowship boards, is somehow giving up the game.

It isn't. And if we want to try to rectify some of the perceived insults and slights that we experience, perhaps we should look at the philosopher in the mirror. After all, as one commenter remarks:
Comments like Stanley's remind me that we philosophers need to take responsibility for how we are perceived elsewhere in the academy. It's not enough to complain about marginalization and insult and injury, when we bring it on ourselves and do it to each other.
--Jaded Dissertator

Bride of Wacky Student Time

Last week was a pretty hellish grading week for me. I had around 150 intro exams to grade, as well as a batch of upper division papers. In my capacity as judge, jury, and executioner, I had a couple of interesting interactions with some wacky students.

One was an intro student who is in Army ROTC. He emailed me at 1:00 AM in the morning the day of the exam (I am sure he thought of it as the night before) to ask if he could take the exam a week late. Why? Because he was waiting on some kind of promotion, and he couldn't concentrate until he got the news. My reaction was twofold:

A) No.

B) Are you fucking kidding me? This is cannot be how the Army wants its officers-in-training to behave. Grow up.

Of course, my response contained only reaction (A); I omitted reaction (B) in the final draft. In an ironic denouement, the student actually did better on this exam than he did on the one prior.

The other was a student who submitted a paper in which he objected to the hedonistic theory of value promoted by a philosopher whose last name is 'Kant' and whose first name is 'Frankena'. Boy, oh boy. It's downhill from there.

--Mr. Zero

Friday, April 2, 2010

In Spite of Years of Silence

Sorry about the light posting lately. It's been a busy week.



--Mr. Zero