Sunday, August 31, 2014

The answer is, "Yes. Some of them have been."

(Update: This already went up and people already saw it, so whatever, here it is again. But, if I had to do it again, I would've just said something like, "Presented without comment." I think quite a bit of it goes without saying. But maybe not. Some graduate students are apparently picking up the more strident vocabulary of the most-trafficked philosophy blogger and 39% of self-selected respondents so far think that blogs have had a very negative effect on the profession. Please note I don't speak for any of the blogs I link to or for my co-bloggers here.

Later update: Please see my comments below. It's easy to overestimate the reach or influence of any particular blog; I didn't mean to imply that any positive changes happening now are because of some blog posts. The changes that have been effected in the past years were initiated and started by people long before any blog existed and are carried out by some people who couldn't care less about the philosophy blogosphere. Those changes are perhaps more visible now because of blogs, but people have been working on these issues out of the blogging "spotlight" for a long time. I do think, however, that the discussions about and publicizing of that hard work started long before blogs existed has been good for the profession.)

Leiter recently posted a poll asking, "Have blogs been good for the philosophy profession?" He was prompted to post this poll after a graduate student wrote in:
I get the impression that blogs are on the whole having a deleterious effect on the balance of power in the profession. The opinionated know-nothings (and insincere posturers) that we now have to pay attention to that seem to have some influence on professional organizations, departmental policies, and professional events (e.g., the Gendered Conference Campaign) would never have had this much influence without the distorting effect of blogs/social media.
Leiter takes his graduate student correspondent to raise "a legitimate issue."*

If you're having a hard time unpacking all this, here's my stab at a translation manual:
Blogs...on the whole = Feminist Philosophers; anyone who has expressed some solidarity with FP at some point, e.g. this blog, DailyNous, NewAPPS, Digressions & Impressions, or are nice/supportive for people at the beginning of their careers, e.g. Philosophers' Cocoon; but, most importantly: any blog that moderates comments  (see also entries for "opinionated know-nothings" and "insincere posturers")
Having a deleterious effect on the balance of power in the profession = Tenured professors (of which an exceptionally large percentage are white and male and who still control hiring decisions and rankings) can't do whatever they want anymore (like publicly make sweeping judgments about entire sub-disciplines or genders or minorities) without sometimes getting called out by early-career folk (adjuncts, VAPs, graduate students, etc.); also: the dearth of women and minorities in philosophy is being taken seriously; also (likely not widespread): they can't date students anymore (or start projects with grad students of questionable pedagogical value)
Opinionated know-nothings = People with opinions I think are nonsense since I disagree with them or they make me uncomfortable (disagreement theory of meaning)
Insincere posturers = People who I think are insincere because they make moral claims related to the philosophy profession that I disagree with/make me uncomfortable (more specifically, Eric Schliesser, since Leiter once claimed that there's just no way Schliesser could believe all his posturing) 
We now have to pay attention to = I don't know how to close tabs in my browser 
That seem to have some influence on professional organizations, departmental policies, and professional events = Thanks, in part [late edit: only in part and probably a very small part(!); we shouldn't forget all the wonderful work done by people at journals, in departments, at the APA, at conferences, and elsewhere that are making change happen at the ground-level], to those opinionated know-nothings and insincere posturers, professional organizations are now fulfilling their most basic duties; department policies now take climate issues seriously; and professional events can't only just invite men to their conferences (see entry for "having a deleterious effect on the balance of power in the profession") 
Distorting effect of blogs/social media = Over the better part of the last decade, through outside work and some luck, blogs I disagree with (see entries for "opinionated know-nothings" and "insincere posturers") get more traffic than I think they deserve; moreover, this traffic doesn't indicate fairly widespread consensus among members of the profession about the importance of some issues, but instead represents a few loudmouths blowing things WAY out of proportion; if they didn't moderate comments, this distorting effect would be clear
Legitimate issue [for the profession] = An issue that affects Leiter and his blog directly 
I await the results of the poll and subsequent discussion for further comment.

-- Jaded, Ph.D.

*This graduate student has to be trolling Leiter, right? (Or they are both trolling all of us.)


Anonymous said...

Leiter's post is pretty hilarious. Either he's entirely lacking in self-awareness or he thinks people can't see his obvious motivations in posts like these.

Anonymous said...

I'm glad you put this back. The state of the profession is sadly such that these things do need to be said, even though they obviously shouldn't need to be said.

(I too suspect trolling, but even trolling of this sort is telling.)

Anonymous said...

The alliance that's slowly killing off Leiter is pretty bizarre: SPEP folks and analytic metaphysicians. It's easy enough to see what bring them together. A certain kind of academics politics never dies.

Anonymous said...

It's breathtaking how much self-delusion and self-importance can be contained in a single post (and no, I'm not talking about Leiter's).

Jaded, Ph.D. said...

2:09: Yeah; I could be justifiably accused of some hyperbole. I probably oversold some of the claims there.

More modestly: I think some of the discussions, including some at Leiter's, that have happened in the last few years, have been worth having and haven't had a deleterious effect on the profession.

Jaded, Ph.D. said...

I've edited the post to acknowledge that the changes happening in the profession aren't, of course, solely (or at all) because of blogging.

Both Leiter's interlocutor and I should acknowledge that any changes happening in "the balance of power in the profession" are mainly due to the hard work of people outside the blogosphere. (And those people, given that they are making change happen through service in addition to researching and teaching, probably could give two shits about reading and writing blogs.)

That is, I have the pleasure to be acquainted with some philosophers who have been working to improve the climate for women or to get more first-generation students into our classrooms for many years and in some cases, before blogs even existed.

It's that sort of work that's making real change happen.

I'm happy if, in some small way, us bloggers can help that along by offering encouragement and discussion forums. Unlike Leiter and his interlocutor, I think these discussions and encouragement are good for the profession, not bad.

Anonymous said...

Just wanted to say thanks for the post Jaded, PhD. I really appreciate it!

Anonymous said...

I don't take Leiter to be all that sympathetic to his correspondent, given that blogging almost certainly gives him more influence than he otherwise had.

In general, it seems an interesting topic. It seems to me that philosophy, compared to other fields, has way more blogs that focus on the profession as much or more than they do on content questions.

I don't take that as a bad thing. I've assumed it's to give voice to people or issues that lacked it. But why does philisophy seem to need that more than other fields?

Tangent: is Leiter just now copping to the idea that it's ridiculously easy to scam his polls? Even without purposely changing IPs, anyone with more than one device (ie, everyone) can vote multiple times, if they feel so inclined

Anonymous said...

Does anyone know what 1:53 is talking about? Leiter is being killed off? An alliance of SPEP and analytic metaphysicians?

Anonymous said...

Leiter has supported the FP blog on a huge list of issues and for a long time. This post really makes no sense.

kybernetes said...

I think it's obvious that *some* blogs have been on net good for the profession. Brian Weatherson's blog, which kicked off philosophy blogging, was very good. Some of the philosophical blogs, like Certain Doubts and PEA Soup, are solidly positive with no negatives I can see (although Schliesser did express some worries about PEA Soup a couple of years ago).

But I think it's also pretty obvious that some stuff on some blogs have been bad for the profession. And it's not entirely obvious what the net effect has been.
I personally voted for Somewhat Positive, and I'm pretty confident that's right, but I don't think people who disagree are obviously unreasonable.

Jaded, Ph.D. said...

4:54: I was trying to get at the meaning of the correspondent's reference to "blogs as a whole."

No doubt Leiter has been supportive of FP on some issues. See especially his calling out of the original poster's claim about the GCC.

Anonymous said...

There is not a shred of evidence that Leiter supports any of what his interlocutor says. He put it up on the blog for discussion. Of course it is possible that he put it up because a) he agrees with it or b) he disagrees, and wants public vindication of a) or b); or he interested in the issues and wants to provoke discussion Or perhaps he is just getting at you?

Anonymous said...

So let's get clear about what the basis of comparison is here. If we're imagining a previous world of philosophical society in which reputation and elitism didn't reign, then I suppose blogs have propelled certain people into positions of influence previously unoccupied by anyone else. But that's a load of shite, right? The question then of whether blogs have had a deleterious effect on the profession clearly seems to be "no," since I think the web has allowed more people and more people from diverse backgrounds the opportunity to have some influence that previously was less available. In contrast, if we're imagining an ideal philosophical society, then, the fact that only certain people have power is I guess bad. But that issue has NOTHING whatsoever to do with blogs per se.


Anonymous said...

8:34 PM - Are you really that obtuse? As 12:01 PM says, Leiter's motivations in posts like these are nothing if not obvious.

Anonymous said...

Evidence that Leiter supports what his interlocutor says may only be in shreds, but surely these count as shreds of evidence: (1) He posted it. (2) Pre-blog, Leiter had influence as the host and editor of the Gourmet rankings of all graduate programs. It is just not the case at all that his power is from his blog, quite the opposite: His blog was early on high-traffic because he's the ranking guy. (3) He was at UT-Austin and is now at U of Chicago. His past posts indicate that he's well aware of where he is and its prestige.

I figure he put it on his blog for click bait and to increase his blog traffic. He sells ad space on his blog. The more traffic he has, the more he cites in the course of advertising his ad space.

Anonymous said...

8:34 pm: I would imagine Brian Leiter gets scores of emails everyday. That he would post this one, demurring from one claim but not all of them, and then claiming that "the general issue raised is a legitimate issue," indicates an implicit legitimation of the other claims.

Anonymous said...

All the speculations here about whether Leiter does or doesn't agree with the sentiment expressed seems pretty irrelevant to Jaded's comments. Does anyone here, apart from 4:01 pm, agree with them?

Anonymous said...

So 5.50am on your view

1) Leiter must support Jeff Ketland because he posted on it? And when he posted this he was evidently asking people to agree with him? One can post things one either disagrees or agrees with.What do you think posting is agreeing?
2) I have no idea how that constitutes evidence for or against
3) Ditto!

@ 5.44 - 12.01 is simply asserting something and you are reasserting it. Evidence is supposed to be independent of the thing asserted. Or do you think people who take it that God exists is 'obvious' do so on evidence?

Anonymous said...

@9:52 - No, I don't think that 'god exists' is obvious. But I do think that Leiter is. And I think that those who genuinely can't see through him are obtuse, at best (as I said).

Anonymous said...

Philosophy blogs are now debating the value of philosophy blogs.

Isn't that a sign that we should all unplug for a little while and work on our scholarship?

ArrghJobMarket said...

Hey, does anyone know what is up with some of these jobs that have been posted that require all application materials in by the beginning of October (Stanford, Princeton)? My department doesn't get the recommendations done and all organized until the middle of Oct. Do you think the schools would have a problem with the recs arriving late?

If so, too bad for you Stanford and Princeton!

Anonymous said...

Yes, thank you Jaded for posting this. I was beginning to think that I was the only one who thinks that Leiter is losing his marbles.

When I got into the profession fifteen years ago as an undergraduate student, his was the only blog that we (my small, unranked department) knew about. In recent years, the philosophy blogosphere has exploded, and I'm thankful. New and diverse perspectives are now easily accessible to undergraduate and graduate students. I read an essay a few years ago entitled, "Our Naked Emperor: The Philosophical Gourmet Report" that highlighted Leiter's inexplicable domination in the discipline. I don't know whether it's available anymore since Zachary Ernst left Missouri, but it's apt and a good read.

Anonymous said...

I think Jaded is spot-on regarding the mentioning of Feminist Philosophers and friends. Leiter's traded jabs with FP and their commenters and contributers now for months (no need for reference, easy to find)...mostly (maybe entirely) surrounding the issue of Ludlow and NW.

Face it: Ludlow was Leiter's boy, and here is a group of people who do not know either of them and, whether right or wrong, claim that one cannot even question, cannot even wonder about how Ludlow was treated, without obviously being ignorant about the treatment of victims of harassment and without obviously being ignorant about one's own bias against victims (comments off.)

So, since BL cannot of course say these things himself (because again, to even question that a part of a part of a fragment of Ludlow's case was handled even possibly badly is to instantly align yourself against victims of harassment and prove yourself too stupid to question your own biases regarding the parts of the case you did not question) he made this post to try to (not so) passively-aggressively whine about FP.

Now, clearly I have shown that I personally question how Ludlow was treated. But, regardless of whether you think I, too, am too stupid to question my own bias against all harassment victims, I think I have offered a sane explanation of the mental state of Brian Leiter. And he will handle this, as usual, like a condescending douche...but what else is new?

Anonymous said...

If you read back, 12:01, 12:29, 4:01 and 5:44 (oh, and 8:39) all express either implicit or explicit agreement with the post. You can add me to the list too, for what it's worth. (So, thanks from me to, Jaded PhD. I also thought that it was a great post).

Anonymous said...

"I think Jaded is spot-on regarding the mentioning of Feminist Philosophers and friends. Leiter's traded jabs with FP and their commenters and contributers now for months (no need for reference, easy to find)."

Here's a really good example of this that's been puzzling me: Leiter frequently posts updates to his posts, right? Often mentioning things that weren't even mentioned on his blog, but were mentioned elsewhere. (For example, when he mentions stuff that Schilesser says on his blog).

But in the post on East Carolina's admin decision, Leiter originall posted this: "(A sidenote: the FP bloggers are, as a matter of policy, actively discouraged from linking to this blog, even when discussing content here, apparently because verboten views are sometimes expressed here. Although I sometimes disagree with content on the FP blog, I do make it a practice to link to FP when content there is being discussed. It's perhaps worth emphasizing, as readers increasingly write to me, that the FP blog represents some feminist philosophers, but it does not represent feminist philosophers tout court.)"

Two people in the comments, one anonymous and the other Anne Jacobson, explcitly deny that there was any such policy, and express concern about there being any such policy (even if it was an implicit practice). Is there an update to remove the clearly mistaken information? No. So anyone who comes to the main page only is now left with the false impression that FP has some explicit policy against linking to Leiter, when this is not true.

Anonymous said...

How many of the posters here are Jaded PhD? Or are there really this many philosophy graduate students who have no idea what's going on in the larger world?

Anonymous said...


I would strongly suggest that you ask your department, via your chair or placement director, to have faculty submit letters earlier. Now that the JFP is done with, many deadlines appear before mid-October. Your department is just behind the times in this respect.

Anonymous said...

@ 7:18

Troll much, BL?

Fritz J. McDonald said...

Brian Leiter does a tremendous amount of service for philosophy, both with the Gourmet Report and his blog, and his reward is a heap of online abuse.

zombie said...

Arrrggh, if I may, 9:24 is correct, and your department needs to get on the stick. There is no more print JFP. There is no more print JFP deadline, and hiring departments can set their application deadlines to suit their own needs/schedules. Consider the deadlines to be rolling for philjobs. Get your letters and dossiers together, peoples.

Anonymous said...

@ Fritz MacDonald. No. That's simply not what's happening here. Leiter is not being abused online. He is being held accountable for his abusive practices online. No one (including, Jaded PhD) denies that Leiter has done a tremendous amount of service for philosophy.

Fritz J. McDonald said...

The original post puts words in Leiter's mouth and criticizes him for said words. Anon. 5:50AM attributes a whole set of motivations to Leiter without basis. The original post and Anon. 8:39AM assume without grounds that Leiter agrees with something somebody else wrote that he quotes. Per Anon. 4:58, Leiter is "losing his marbles." Per Anon. 5:54, Leiter is a "condescending douche." Anon. 10:24 somehow knows Leiter is an anonymous poster.

Still, no abuse of Leiter here, right?

I'm fine with someone criticizing Leiter for his "abusive practices," whatever they are supposed to be, but I would like to see philosophers do so without personal attacks, attributions of motives without evidence, and putting words in a person's mouth.

Jaded, Ph.D. said...

(Written for speed; broken into two comments.)

Hi Fritz. Thanks for your comments. I certainly wasn't trying to attribute to Leiter the claims of his correspondent or the "interpretation" I gave of those claims.

Though he does explicitly say that his correspondent raises a legitimate issue. We can all agree to that.

However, the legitimate issue that Leiter thinks his correspondent raises is, of course, underdetermined by his original post.

So: (A) Is the issue that blogs have had a "deleterious effect on the balance of power of profession?" (B) Is the issue that certain voices previously thought to be on the margins of philosophy are paid more attention to now by professional organizations? (C) Is the issue that online discussion of hot-button issues often shed more heat than light on the internet (thus creating a distorting effect)?

If the first two options, I think that Leiter is wrong to think that his correspondent raises a legitimate issue (in part because the subtext of his correspondent's letter seems really close to my interpretation; but let's ignore that).

As to (A), tenured professors (mostly white, mostly male) still make the majority of hiring, publishing, and ranking decisions. That those decisions are sometimes subject to mild criticism by people traditionally on the margins of philosophy (adjuncts, contingent faculty, women, minorities, those not working in "core" areas) is not a bad thing. Moreover, such mild criticism has a slight, if any, effect on the balance of power. And if there has been a change, to think that blogs are having a deleterious effect on the balance of power, you'd have to take for granted that the balance of power prior to the change was a good thing . However, I claim that if there has been any effect on the balance of power in the profession because of blogs and the hard work of people in the past, it's been change for the better. I was snarky because I think that's obvious.

As to (B), that more (diverse) people have their voices heard because of blogs is not a legitimate issue, unless you think that it is bad that these people are having their voices heard, which I don't. I was snarky because I think that's obvious (though probably less so than the obviousness above).

As to (C), I don't see why this is a problem in particular for the philosophy blogosphere (as opposed to a problem in general). It might be a legitimate issue, but one that is not confined to the philosophy blogosphere in general. I was snarky because I don't think it merited a poll.


Jaded, Ph.D. said...

(Written for speed; comment [2/2])

As to the attacks on Leiter:

I've used a light hand in moderating this comment thread and some personal attacks have slipped through, the worse of which is calling Leiter "a condescending douche" (or suggesting that he is "losing his marbles" or "lacking in self-awareness"?).

How is this strong language any different from the language that Leiter himself employs when engaging with people he disagrees with? (Notice I haven't used that language myself.)

For example, after posting this, Leiter tweeted: "Dunning-Kruger effect is alive and well in the philosophy blogosphere, as always." Maybe this wasn't a subtweet directed at this post. In any case, Leiter is still attributing incompetence to whomever he is referring (a common tactic). He's borrowed a nickname for Schielesser from PhilosophyMetablog and said he's full of hot air and couldn't actually believe all his moral posturing (thus implying he has ulterior motives). He's said things like this: "Catching up on the philosophy blogosphere--turns out everyone is as idiotic and morally deranged as ever!" He attacked Jennings mercilessly for a week straight while attributing to her insincere motives.

This, of course, doesn't justify any personal smears on Leiter. But what it does show is that we could all do a better job of criticizing "without personal attacks, attributions of motives without evidence, and putting words in a person's mouth," Leiter included. (Assuming that we should adopt such a standard. As you might have gleaned, I'm a big fan of snark, so not too offended by Leiter's tactics.)

Jaded, Ph.D. said...

(Actually meant 3/3)

I generally think it's good when people step up to bat for those subject to "abuse" or criticism so I appreciate Fritz trying to keep people honest (like a lot of people did for Carolyn Dicey Jennings or the graduate student at Feminist Philosophers during the Ludlow discussion). And I generally think it's good to try to avoid the critical traps you mention.

But, Leiter calls people names, undermines their intelligence, puts words in their mouths (see his remarks on Sally Haslanger's remarks on the J-APA), and attributes ulterior motives to them--albeit not anonymously; though that makes said actions arguably worse when directed at junior members of the profession given his prominence--just as often as people do the same to him.

Of course, as I mention above, that doesn't justify anyone's doing the same to Leiter.

But that he does those things makes me not especially sympathetic to worries that someone who peppers their criticisms with "personal attacks, attributions of motives without evidence, and [who put] words in a person's mouth" is being subjected to similar criticism (especially as frequently as it is employed by him without criticism).

Though, of course, I do worry that by letting these types of criticisms go without comment, we just keep fostering a bad environment for discussion.

So, given that two wrongs don't make a right (a moral principle we can all agree on), I kindly ask our commenters to knock it off.

(I would like to reiterate that the only thing I attributed to Leiter was that he thought the poster raised a legitimate issue.)

know0 said...

Jaded says the only thing attributed to Leiter in the OP is the thought that whatever the issue his correspondent raised is ‘legitimate’, the rest of the tendentious attribution being presumably to Leiter's correspondent. But that’s pretty plainly not true. For instance, the ‘translation’ for ‘insincere posturers’ doesn’t really make sense unless the view being ‘translated’ is Leiter’s, not merely his correspondent’s.

Also, I thought it was pretty obvious what issue Leiter was calling ‘legitimate’: it was the question of whether blogs on the whole have had a deleterious effect on the profession. Whether this question *needed* a poll does not seem germane, since almost none of the polls he does *need* to be done! Since the results of the poll surprised me, I guess I think it was interesting – more interesting than the polls about which areas of philosophy are important, for instance.

Lastly, Leiter is a divisive figure, and he asks for that, and he obviously does not need Fritz to defend him. I think Fritz's concern was more about the character of this blog, which definitely is valuable, than it was about Brian Leiter's welfare.

Fritz J. McDonald said...

Thanks for your reply.

"...we could all do a better job of criticizing "without personal attacks, attributions of motives without evidence, and putting words in a person's mouth.""

I agree wholeheartedly. I think this is constructive.

I do not want to belabor the point, but when you write: "Legitimate issue [for the profession] = An issue that affects Leiter and his blog directly," that is putting words in Leiter's mouth, not merely in the mouth of the quoted graduate student. He certainly said the original poster raised a "legitimate issue," but what that legitimate issue might be is, as you put it, "underdetermined."

Anonymous said...

How can doing it anonymously make the actions worse? He takes responsibility for his words, and thus suffers whatever costs there are to the things he says--unlike everyone here except Fritz McDonald.

Jaded, Ph.D. said...

Thanks, know0 and Fritz. Some of the worries raised overlap with the reasons why I had removed the post after initially posting it. (But, I had gotten some words of encouragement, so put it back up.)

If blogs were revise and resubmit (which to a degree they are), I would clarify the "legitimate issue" section. (As for the "insincere posturers" section, I do think Leiter's correspondent was borrowing some vocabulary from Leiter, as I make clear.)

As know0 says, "I think Fritz's concern was more about the character of this blog, which definitely is valuable, than it was about Brian Leiter's welfare." Fair enough. I've asked people to knock it off. And I could do better to be sensitive to those points (in part, by ignoring similar character issues in other blogs and twitter feeds).

But you are both right. I think we could de-escalate, commenters, bloggers, and tweeters alike by stepping back from the name-calling, calling people stupid, armchair psychologizing, divining true motives, etc. (I do love snarking though.)

And I think when that happens, blogs are undoubtedly good for the profession. I am actually very interested in the discussion Leiter opened up today about blogs.

Anonymous said...

Blogs are good for the profession. I am not convinced, however, that the profession is doing anything good for blogging.

Anonymous said...

Dear Fritz McDonald

Thank you! I am anonymous 8/31 at 8.34 and apparently I am being 'obtuse'

Anonymous said...

You're not going to like this, 2:34 pm, but I stand by what I said. Leiter is a tenured full professor and the most influential figure in the discipline. Anyone who mistakes calling him out on his abusive online practices for "abusing" him (as Fritz McDonald appears to have done) is obtuse.

Speaking for myself (although I know I speak for many others), the public attack on Jennings last summer was the last straw.

Anonymous said...


See discussion above. Repeating the word 'obtuse' is not an argument

Anonymous said...

"The last straw"? What are you going to do now that "the last straw" has been drawn? Post anonymous comments insulting Leiter or people who defend him against abuse like McDonald?

Fritz J. McDonald said...

I'm acute.

Anonymous said...

'Obtuse' as in 'insensitive' and 'slow to understand'

Anonymous said...

just now saw this.... hilarious! thanks jaded, for the translation. made my day.