Oxford's Derek Parfit, one of the world's leading moral philosophers, has accepted a part-time appointment at Rutgers University at New Brunswick. On each visit, he will be at Rutgers for 7 weeks, starting in fall 2005, continuing in spring 2007, and then every other year after that. The initial period of the commitment is for 8 years, during which time he will teach 5 graduate seminars. It is not yet clear whether this will impact Parfit's quarter-time arrangements with Harvard and NYU. This is the latest in a series of appointment Rutgers has made to strength its coverage in value theory; others include the full-time appointments of Larry Temkin from Rice and Jeff McMahan from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, as well as the part-time appointment of James Griffin, who is White's Professor of Moral Philosophy Emeritus from Oxford.
John Gardner, the Professor of Jurisprudence at Oxford, is in Austin the next few days, which means there will be only light posting. Today, he'll be talking to my "Jurisprudence" class about his essay "Legal Positivism: 5 1/2 Myths"; tomorrow, he'll be presenting at the Constitutional and Legal Theory Colloqium his paper "Backwards and Forwards with Tort Law"; and Friday, he'll give the Leon Green '15 Lecture in Jurisprudence on "Some Types of Causal Relations."
I will, of course, try to steal a few minutes to post some comments on the obsession of the moment for aspiring law students, namely, the soon-to-be-released U.S. News rankings!
"Worse Than Watergate, the title of a new book by John Dean, Richard Nixon's White House counsel, is a depressingly accurate measure of the chicanery of the Bush/Cheney cabal. According to Dean, who began his political life at the age of 29 as the Republican counsel on the House Judiciary Committee before being recruited by Nixon, "This administration is truly scary and, given the times we live in, frighteningly dangerous." And when it comes to lies and cover-up, the Bush crowd makes the Nixon administration look like amateurs. As Dean writes, they 'have created the most secretive presidency of my lifetime … far worse than during Watergate.'"
Question: At least until recently, the Bush administration has successfully used the public's fear of terrorism to advance its agenda. You go so far as to agree with Gen. Tommy Franks' dark prediction that another major terror attack on U.S. citizens will drive the country to suspend the Constitution. Why do you fear that?
Dean's Answer: As I state in the book, I agree for reasons that probably differ from those of Gen. Franks. The short summary of what is really a thread that runs through the book is that when you have a presidency that has no regard for human life, that develops and implements all (not just national security) policy in secrecy, and is driven by political motives and a radical philosophy, it is impossible not to conclude that they will overreact -- and at the expense of our constitutional safeguards. Bush and Cheney enjoy using power to make and wield swords, not ploughs. They prefer to rule by fear. We've had three years to take the measure of these men. I've done so and reported what I found in a book I never planned to write, but because others were not talking about these issues, I believed they needed to be placed on the table.
Bush and Cheney have exploited terrorism ever since 9/11. Now they are exploiting it to get reelected. Should there be an even more serious threat, they have found that when Americans are frightened they can be governed like sheep, which suits Bush and Cheney perfectly. Rather than taking the terror out of terrorism by educating and informing Americans, they have sought to make terrorism as frightening as possible -- using terrorism to launch a war of aggression that is breeding a new generation of terrorists and getting the Congress to pass the most repressive new laws imaginable and calling it an act of patriotism.
If you want to see what happens to prospective law students when they think they've found the new U.S. News rankings, check this discussion site out. I think it's credible these are the real rankings, by the way, but that's not the point. What is scary is that, given the rather absurd ranking methodology--in which more than half the criteria are self-reported by the schools and unverifiable by US News; more than one-third of the criteria favor small schools over large ones; and less than half the criteria have anything to do with academics!--students actually seem to hang on changes in overall rank as though they mean anything! Wow!
UPDATE: A graduate of Pepperdine's law school writes with some fair points:
"In your post about the US News ranking insanity, you wrote that 'students actually seem to hang on changes in overall rank as though they mean anything!' I agree with you that the US News rankings are a fraud. I also agree with your conclusion, in that whether Harvard or Yale is ranked #1 means very little for those students.
"But, changes in overall rank are important for people like me who went to schools like Pepperdine. Unfortunately, many employers still weed out applicants by only granting interviews to those from 'top 20 law schools.' Granted, Pepperdine isn't near the top 20 (or 40, 60, and 80 for that matter), but getting out of the 'second 100' to the top 60 can only raise the reputation of Pepperdine among law firms, which leads to more interviews and more jobs.
"I've been hiding my bitterness pretty well so far, but I'm a 2003 graduate still looking for employment. Granted, I'm looking for work in a tough legal market, southern California, but I graduated cum laude, did Law Review, and externed for a 9th Circuit judge. Perhaps I'm mistaken, but I feel that if I made one change to my resume - switching Pepperdine with a school ranked around the top 60, say University of San Diego, or if that's too bold, Santa Clara - I might
actually get a job. Or just an interview. Or at least a goddamn rejection letter."
I would note that I think students overestimate how much effect US News has on law firms; law firms form their view of the merits of schools and their graduates based on long experience, typically, not fluctuations in rankings. Still, over time, it is a reasonable supposition that if a regional school were consistently ranked around 50 rather than around 100, that might begin to have some impact on decisions by recruiters.
By the way, if it turns out to be true that Berkeley is ranked 13th this year--behind, e.g., Duke and Northwestern--that would just prove that the US News rankings are untrustworthy, rather than showing anything pertinent about Boalt. But we'll see....
Harold Noonan (metaphysics, philosophical logic, philosophy of mind and language), a longtime member of the faculty at the University of Birmingham, has accepted appointment as Professor at Nottingham starting this fall. Birmingham, sadly, has suffered a number of losses in recent years, including the untimely death of Gregory McCulloch, and the losses of Rob Hopkins (to Sheffield), Alex Miller (to a research post at Cardiff, then on to Macquarie), and Jose Zalabardo (to Univ Coll London).
Christopher Peacocke (metaphysics, epistemology, philosophy of language and mind) at New York University has accepted an offer uptown, from Columbia University. That will certainly give a reputational boost to Columbia, though it is likely to be a wash for NYU given their other recent appointments (i.e., I would expect NYU, Princeton, and Rutgers to still remain at the top of next year's survey). But, with decision time at hand, I'll post a few thoughts on the "hierarchy," as it were, in a bit, in light of the various moves.
offers this memorable observation: "It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends upon his not understanding it." (I came across this via Mickey Z, who was talking about Karl Kraus's favorite journalist-he-never-met.)
Mark Steen, a graduate student in philosophy at Syracuse University, has kindly written with the following:
"There is a searchable database at this government site of '237 specific misleading statements about the threat posed by Iraq made by President Bush, Vice President Cheney, Secretary Rumsfeld, Secretary Powell and NSA Rice in 125 separate public appearances.'
"Perhaps more interesting is the pdf available at the page where Representative Henry Waxman analyses and categorizes the misleading statements."
Mr. Steen also kindly thanks me for "the refreshing acrimonious tone" of this blog, adding, "just hope it is never directed at me!"
Paul McDaniel, currently at Boston College (and formerly at NYU), has accepted a Chair at the University of Florida Levin College of Law. In addition, Diane Ring, currently an assistant professor of law at Harvard, has accepted a tenured offer from Florida. This solidifies Florida's position as one of the top three graduate tax programs in the country, after NYU and Georgetown. (Some experts, my colleagues in the field tell me, would put Florida ahead of Georgetown.)
Bill Brewer (philosophy of mind and action, metaphysics, epistemology), currently at Oxford University, has accepted a professorial chair at the University of Warwick. That marks another loss for Oxford, as discussed earlier.
I have just received the following e-mail sent by Professor Chris Maloney, Head of Department at the University of Arizona:
"I regret to inform you that Regents Professor of Philosophy and Law (Emeritus) Joel Feinberg died today, March 29, in Tucson following a long illness.
"Professor Feinberg retired from the University of Arizona Philosophy Department in 1994 after 17 years on the faculty. Prior to his appointment at Arizona, Professor Feinberg taught at Brown University, Princeton University, UCLA and Rockefeller University. He held the B.A., M.A. and Ph.D. from the University of Michigan. [Leiter addendum: he wrote his dissertation on the philosophy of Ralph Barton Perry under the supervision of Charles Stevenson!]
"Professor Feinberg was internationally distinguished for his research in moral, social and legal philosophy. His major four volume work, The Moral Limits of Criminal Law, was published between 1984 and 1988. Professor Feinberg held many major fellowships during his career and lectured by invitation at universities around the world. He was an esteemed and highly successful teacher, and many of his students are now prominent scholars and professors at universities across the country.
Professor Feinberg is survived by his wife, Betty, daughter, Melissa, and son, Ben. The family is planning a memorial to be held later this week on a date to be determined."
Jules Coleman (Yale), one of Professor Feinberg's many students, is preparing a longer memorial notice, which I'll link to when it is available.
U.S. News will release this year's ranking of law schools to the schools themselves on Thursday, followed by public release on Friday. There's been no change in methodology, so, except for arbitrary fluctuations or particularly aggressive fibbing (or, shall we say, "creative" data reporting) by the schools, there really shouldn't be any changes in the overall rankings--though I'm sure there will be a few.
I'm most interested to see what the feedback effect was, if any, between last year's survey of more than 150 leading legal scholars (including Richard Posner, Saul Levmore, Mark Tushnet, Daniel Farber, John Coffee, Roberta Romano, and many others) and the "academic reputation" surveys that are part of the U.S. News rankings. Evidence of some feedback would be, e.g., noticeable increases (more than .1) in the academic reputation score for schools like San Diego and George Mason, and noticeable decreases (.1 or more) for schools like Duke. We'll see...
Meanwhile, various students have sent friendly e-mails inquiring about when my law school ranking site will next be updated. This one is representative:
"During the Taliban rule of Afghanistan the world got a good look at what happens when religious zealots gain control of a government. Television images of women being beaten forced to wear burkas and banned from schools and the workplace helped build strong public support for the President's decision to invade Afghanistan in the wake of 9/11.
"But even as President George W. Bush denounced the brutal Islamic fundamentalist regime in Kabul, he was quietly laying the foundations for his own fundamentalist regime at home. For the first time far right Christian fundamentalists had one of their own in the White House and the opportunity to begin rolling back decades of health and family planning programs they saw as un-Christian, if not downright sinful.
"Since 2001 dozens of far-right Christian fundamentalists have been quietly installed in key positions within the Department of Health and Human Services, the Federal Drug Administration and on commissions and advisory committees where they have made serious progress. Three years later this administration has established one of the most rigid sexual health agendas in the Western world."
Timothy O'Connor (philosophy of mind and action, metaphysics, philosophy of religion) has declined the offer from the University of Colorado at Boulder, and will be remaining at Indiana University at Bloomington.
Last week, the U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments about whether it is constitutional to require those who want to pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States to also affirm that the nation exists "under God." My colleague Douglas Laycock, primary author a number of years ago of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (designed to enhance religious liberty protection beyond what the Supreme Court provides), submitted a brief on behalf of clergy arguing that the inclusion of "under God" in the pledge is unconstitutional. At a recent debate, he observed:
"In the Pledge of Allegiance, we ask every child in the public schools in America every morning for a personal profession of faith. You don't have to take out your coin and read and meditate on "In God We Trust." You don't have to pay any attention when the politician is talking, and lots of us don't.
"But this asks for a personal affirmation: I pledge allegiance to one nation under God. Now if God does not exist, or if I believe that God does not exist, then that isn't one nation under God. We can't have a nation under God unless there is a God. It doesn't say one nation under our god, or some gods, or one of the gods. It pretty clearly implies there is only one God, and if there is only one God, then the God of the Pledge is the one true God, and other alleged gods around the world are false gods.
I see that Episteme is now up-and-running; quite some time ago, it now seems, I happily accepted an invitation to be one of the many Consulting Editors for this new venture. One indication of the timeliness of this journal is the Intelligent Design debate in the United States, where, it appears, there are large numbers of otherwise well-educated people who believe utter falsehoods about evolutionary biology--indeed, where there is a well-funded political movement devoted to spreading these falsehoods. This is certainly one of the most striking of recent cases where social mechanisms which should be inculcating true beliefs have completely failed.
Details here: "An effective program to prevent misstatements of fact in the context of stating opinions is also a critical component of credibility, even if it is not specifically identified as such. Exhibit A: The raging controversy over Van Dyke's deceptive—even mendacious—'book note', which has probably resulted in serious harm to the credibility of not just the Harvard Law Review, but of student contributions to law reviews across the country."
Having started the raging on this controversy, let me observe that I think the lesson to draw is that, where partisan political or religious positions are at stake, what appears in law reviews--and not just by students--should be approached with caution and skepticism. I also have the impression that most law reviews engage in more rigorous cite-checking than, it appears, does the current editorial board of the Harvard Law Review . But the sins of HLR--which are real in this case--shouldn't be visited on student-edited law reviews generally.
Generous reader Rob Sica wrote months ago as follows:
"As a great admirer of your acute work on Nietzsche, I'm particularly well-disposed towards being disabused by you of my long-standing conviction that the humanitarian warrant for the war in Iraq trumps the countervailing considerations of its critics. As far as I can tell, David Rieff's July 27, 2003 New York Times Magazine article "Were Sanctions Right?" assembles the fundamental data on the basis of which liberals should, in perfectly good conscience, have supported, and continue to support, the war:
* The UN sanctions regime, refracted by Saddam, simultaneously took an increasingly unacceptable humanitarian toll upon the Iraqi people and enabled Saddam to augment the efficiency and severity of his control within Iraq.
* Tightening the UN sanctions regime would have aggravated both of these trends.
* Loosening the UN sanctions regime would have further enabled Saddam to augment the efficiency and severity of his control within Iraq.
Perhaps you might consider this matter worthy of address in your piquant blog."
Mr. Sica and I have corresponded a bit about this during the intervening months. As luck would have it, Chomsky addresses this argument here. Briefly, Chomsky rejects the third premise, above, and also notes:
"It was predicted by just about every serious specialist that the invasion of Iraq would increase the threat of terror as well as proliferation of WMD. The first prediction has been amply verified, with terrible consequences and probably more to come, and Iraq itself has admittedly become a 'terrorist haven' for the first time. The second prediction is also considered to have been confirmed by many regional specialists and strategic analysts, and is unfortunately all too plausible. There is more. Uncontroversially, the invasion struck a serious blow at the system of international law and institutions that offers at least some hope of saving the world from destruction. And though victors do not tabulate the consequences of their crimes, there is little doubt that the numbers of Iraqis killed is in the tens of thousands. And there is a good deal more."
I would add only a few observations to Chomsky's:
first, there is nothing humanitarian about war, since it involves the killing and maiming of human beings--in this case, as Chomsky notes, tens of thousands of human beings (perhaps more, we really don't know);
second, the circumstances where this kind of guaranteed carnage would be justified by some greater gain for humanity will be rare and, for obvious reasons, ought to be presumptively deemed rare;
third, in calculating humanitarian consequences as a justification for inhumanitarian actions like war, we need to weigh the predictable but collateral consequences, like the damage to the international law system and the legitimization of lunatic doctrines like that of preventive war; and
Andy Clark (philosophy of mind/cognitive science), currently at Indiana University at Bloomington, has accepted the Chair in Logic and Metaphysics at the University of Edinburgh, previously held by Huw Price (who is now back at the University of Sydney) and, before that, by Timothy Williamson (who is now Wykeham Professor of Logic at Oxford). Clark's spouse/partner Josefa Toribio (philosophy of mind and language), an Associate Professor at Indiana/Bloomington, has also accepted an appointment at Edinburgh. Clark and Toribio have moved a lot in the last decade: from the University of Sussex to Washington University, St. Louis, back to Sussex, then to Indiana, now to Edinburgh. That's certainly a major set of appointments for Edinburgh, and a notable loss for Indiana.
Michael Glanzberg (philosophical logic, philosophy of language), currently at the University of Toronto, has accepted the tenured offer from the University of California at Davis.
Christopher ("Kit") Wellman (political, legal and moral philosophy), currently at Georgia State University, has accepted a tenured offer from Washington University, St. Louis. Wash U is having a busy year, having also added John Heil to the senior ranks and Gillian Russell to the tenure-track ranks. The Department has one other tenured offer outstanding to a moral philosopher as well. With other recent additions of Bermudez from Stirling and Des Chene from Emory, I would expect Wash U to return squarely to the top 50 American PhD programs in next year's survey, and possibly the top 40. (Interesting sidenote: Kit Wellman's father, the political and legal philosopher Carl Wellman, was a longtime member of the philosophy faculty at Wash U as well.)
There's been light posting as I'm just coming off two very busy days, though busy in the ways that make scholarly life so very satisfying. On Thursday, I spoke to the Philosophy Department at Texas A&M University about "The Hermeneutics of Suspicion: The Case of Freud," and I'm grateful to the graduate students and faculty--especially (and with apologies for omissions) to Colin Allen, Max Cresswell, Ted George, John McDermott, Roger Sansom, and Robin Smith--for making it so intellectually rewarding; what a congenial intellectual community they appear to have in College Station! My paper--excerpted from a longer piece that discusses Marx and Nietzsche as well (and which will appear in The Future for Philosophy volume out from OUP in the fall, with other essays by Annas, Pettit, Railton, Williamson, Chalmers, Kim, Goldman, Hurka, Cartwright, Kitcher, Garrett, and Langton covering almost all aspects of our discipline)--addressed three main topics: it argued against a whole family of what I call "moralizing" readings of Marx, Nietzsche, and Freud, in favor of naturalistic readings; it gave an account of the connection between explaining the causal genesis of a belief and having grounds for suspicion about the belief (the essence, on my reading, of a "hermeneutics of suspicion"); and it also argued against one important, recent moralizing reading of Freud--David Velleman's--which marries a quasi-Freudian account of moral motivation to a quasi-Kantian view of morality. (Velleman's ingenious work on these topics manifests a condition that deserves a formal, clinical name, which I hereby propose: "David Lewis Syndrome." Philosophers manifest David Lewis Syndrome when they bring extraordinary dialectical ingenuity to bear on behalf of completely implausible philosophical theses.)
I rushed back from College Station yesterday morning for a fabulous 3-hour workshop here in Austin with Larry Laudan, and faculty and students in the Law & Philosophy Program, on Laudan's paper on "Benefit of the Doubt." Laudan's work on the epistemology of proof is ground-breaking and will, I hope, get a wide audience among law professors (his paper on "Beyond a Reasonable Doubt" is appearing in Legal Theory shortly). Laudan notes, plainly correctly, that legal scholars simply take for granted that showing that a rule of evidence or procedure will reduce the number of false convictions suffices as an argument for changing the rule. Against this "error-distributionist" concern--a concern for how mistaken verdicts are distributed as between false convictions and false acquittals (with an overwhelming preference for minimizing the former)--is the error-minimizing objective of designing rules of evidence and procedure that maximize the number of true verdicts and minimize the number of mistaken ones, however they are distributed across convictions and acquittals. Laudan's proposal is to build all the error-distributionist concerns in to the standard of proof, leaving error-minimization as the only error-related consideration in crafting other rules of evidence and procedure. (There are, of course, a range of rights- and policy-based considerations that inform the rules of evidence, that are unrelated to either error minimization or error distribution; Laudan takes up the issue of how to navigate through these considerations, in conjunction with epistemic ones, in his forthcomng book on these topics.)
One nice pedagogical anecdote courtesy of Professor McDermott from Texas A&M. He often asks his students to write down on a piece of paper which of their central beliefs they "chose" and which they simply "inherited." As he put it, some of the students are (figuratively) "reduced to tears" by the exercise. Interesting!
"As an alternative, I propose that Congress appropriate $500,000, to be paid to Bruce Ackerman on the condition that he not come up with any dumb ideas for a period of one year....
"I'm sorry. Maybe there's something wrong with me. I went to Yale Law School and attempted to take a class from Prof. Ackerman and ended up dropping it because after listening to R.M. Hare, Jeremy Waldron, Ronald Dworkin, HLA Hart and Charles Taylor at Oxford, it was just too depressing. I went around thinking, 'why does everybody think this guy is so smart?' I still do not understand. It's not just politics. Some conservatives think he's smart. I admit he is very charming if you can stand to suck up to him like your life depends on it. But not everyone has that kind of energy. What if you just ate?"
And some people think I'm a bit rough on my targets....
Mr. Drum, it is worth noting, is one of the most mild figures in the blogosphere; unlike present company, Mr. Drum might actually be voted "nicest political blogger alive." Thus, it is all the more striking how the whole affair struck him:
"I've been following the whole thing with one eye, and while I have no sympathy for the ID jihadists I admit that all along I've had a sneaking feeling that, in fact, maybe it really was a bit inappropriate for an influential, tenured law professor to write such a blistering attack on a lowly student. Positions of power and all that, you understand.
"Today, though, I finally got around to reading VanDyke's note (warning: large, slow-loading file) and I immediately changed my mind: Leiter probably went too easy on this cretin."
It's not that often that someone suggests I've gone too easy on my deserving targets, but, suffice it to say, Mr. Drum may be right. I thank him for adding his comments to the debate.
It appears that Noam Chomsky now has a blog, at the Z magazine web site. Surprisingly, he has activated comments, which have already filled up with the typical brainless abuse one would expect a comments section on a Chomsky blog to have. The consequence, of course, will be that no one will look at the comments.
UPDATE 3/26: Comments have been removed from the Chomsky blog--thank goodness! It's a shame, of course, that one couldn't have a forum for intelligent discussion of the range of issues Chomsky raises, but it is inevitable, it seems, that the comments will be filled with garbage from the hordes of resentful Chomsky haters. Alas. Do see his 3/26 posting on "Electoral Realities."
Maybe Laura can read this one to him? Thanks to Mr. Hanrott for sharing it.
Three hundred years of Western science
Were intended to reduce reliance
On charlatans and superstition
Improving knowledge, health, nutrition.
Humans were expected to progress
Out of an obscurantist mess,
And, alchemy and ignorance spent,
Proceed to their enlightenment,
At a steady but increasing rate.
Our progress seemed inviolate.
"In a 21-page memo explaining his decision not to recuse himself from a case involving the vice president, Justice Scalia wrote, 'We purchased (because they were the least expensive) round-trip tickets that cost precisely what we would have paid if we had gone both down and back on commercial flights....
"Justice Scalia and his family probably saved a bundle by misrepresenting their intentions....[M]aybe Justice Scalia plans to use the return half of his ticket later. If he does not, however, he in essence has admitted to buying a ticket under false pretenses. He made a promise without any intention of fulfilling it. Justice Scalia is no doubt familiar with the legal term for such an act: it's called promissory fraud."
Thanks to Paul Kirgis (St. John's Law) for the pointer.
This is one of those rare moments when the blogosphere makes possible something of genuine importance and societal value: a terrific group of scientists and science educators have gotten together to start a new blog: The Panda's Thumb, devoted to defending the integrity of science and science education.
The participants include two folks well-known to readers of this blog--Ed Brayton and Paul Myers--as well as the following folks:
Wes Ellsberry of the National Center for Science Education (NCSE)
John Lynch of the Institute for Human Origins at Arizona State
John Wilkins of the Hall Institute for Medical Research in Australia
Steve Reuland of the Medical University of South Carolina
Andrea Bottaro of the University of Rochester School of Medicine
Reed Cartwright from the University of Georgia
Matt Brauer of the Institute for Integrative Genomics at Princeton
Richard Hoppe of Kenyon College
Jack Krebs with Kansas Citizens for Science
Nick Matzke of the NCSE
Kudos to these scientists and educators for pooling their talents and providing what will likely prove to be a crucial forum and resource for those resisting the incursions into our schools of the ignorant yahoos, the ID scam artists, and the Discovery [sic] Institute conmen.
"The students are not always initially happy about being required to take these [philosophy] courses, though our exit evaluations of satisfaction are very high. This underlines what is wrong with thinking of our students as customers, whose desires ought to drive our offerings. If we just give the students what they want, half of them would do nothing but channel-surf through undemanding courses on the symbolism of the Matrix movies and what the popularity of reality TV says about contemporary culture — with lots of video-viewing time.
"A somewhat better model than that of commercial customer is that of professional client, in relation, for instance, to a doctor or lawyer. No one with any sense goes to their counselor and says: Prescribe this drug for me in this dosage, or file a lawsuit for me under this section of the Uniform Commercial Code. One goes instead for access to a different kind of judgment and advice, which one wants to take account of a whole range of possibilities and constraints initially visible only to the professional.
"The case of university-level instruction is even further out on this spectrum. What we have to offer is in no small part instruction about what sort of education the students should be pursuing, what is worth reading, learning, thinking and writing about — and what counts as doing that. The students come to us to become familiar with, and be held to standards of excellence of various sorts, as much as for our specific knowledge."
...my site now gets over 2,000 visits each weekday, with 75% being returning visitors. More importantly, I've made contact with lots of folks who are equally appalled by the campaigns against science and science education, many of whom only discovered my site thanks to the NRO smear job.
One such person is mathematician Jason Rosenhouse at James Madison University, whose own blog has lots of good material related to controversies about evolutionary biology.
The sad thing is that Dembski's arguments attract all this attention not because of their quality, or his stature as a philosopher, but because his arguments impress the ignorant and serve the interests of a dangerous political movement committed to undermining science education for the sake of religion. That fact necessitates the work of Professors Rosenhouse, Shallitt, Sober, Orr, and many others who have taken the time to show that the arguments are, at the end of the day, bunk.
UPDATE: And here's a terrific resource on Dembski's work compiled by Dr. Elsberry of the National Center for Science Education (thanks to Professor Rosenhouse for calling it to my attention).
John Heil (philosophy of mind, metaphysics, epistemology), a longtime faculty member at Davidson College, has accepted a senior offer from Washington University, St. Louis, with appointments in both the Philosophy Department and the well-known Philosophy-Neuroscience-Psychology Program. Heil is the second accomplished philosopher from Davidson to be hired away by a research university in recent years; not long ago, Alfred Mele (philosophy of mind and action, ancient philosophy) accepted an offer from Florida State University.
As expected, Mark Timmons (ethics, metaethics, epistemology), currently at the University of Memphis, has accepted the senior offer from the University of Arizona. Timmons, and co-author Terence Horgan (formerly at Memphis, now at Arizona), were responsible, among many other things, for putting on the table one of the most-discussed arguments for moral anti-realism in the last decade, exploiting Putnam's "twin earth" device: for references, go here.
Two apt sets of remarks from this recent interview. First, on Iraq (and I'd ask my readers who viewed the Iraq war as a triumph for anti-fascism to take careful note of this one):
"There's little support for the government's efforts to maintain what amounts to a powerful, permanent, military and diplomatic presence in Iraq. In fact, it is little discussed, probably for that reason. Not very many people are aware of the fact that the US is planning to construct what will be the world's largest embassy in Iraq, with maybe 3,000 people. The military plans to maintain permanent bases and a substantial US military presence as long as they want it. The facts are reported, but marginally. Most people don't know about it. The orders to open the Iraqi economy up to foreign takeover are again known to people who pay close attention, but not to the general population.
"The general population offers little support for the long-term effort to ensure that Iraq remains a client state with only nominal sovereignty and a base for other US actions in the region. Those commitments have only a very shallow popular support and that's more of a reason for the objections, the uneasiness about policy, than the number of casualties."
"Kerry is sometimes described as Bush-lite, which is not inaccurate, and in general the political spectrum is pretty narrow in the United States, and elections are mostly bought, as the population knows. But despite the limited differences both domestically and internationally, there are differences. And in this system of immense power, small differences can translate into large outcomes.
"My feeling is pretty much the way it was in the year 2000. I admire Ralph Nader and Denis Kucinich very much, and insofar as they bring up issues and carry out an educational and organisational function - that's important, and fine, and I support it. However, when it comes to the choice between the two factions of the business party, it does sometimes, in this case as in 2000, make a difference. A fraction.
"That's not only true for international affairs, it's maybe even more dramatically true domestically. The people around Bush are very deeply committed to dismantling the achievements of popular struggle through the past century. The prospect of a government which serves popular interests is being dismantled here. It's an administration that works, that is devoted, to a narrow sector of wealth and power, no matter what the cost to the general population. And that could be extremely dangerous in the not very long run.
Remember Proculian Meditations, the stark raving pseudo-Marxist blog that attracted much commentary back in January and February? Our only clue as to the author's identity was that he used the name "William," and that he claimed: "I'm an untenured law professor at someplace that likes to think of itself as a 'Top Ten' law school. At work, I can't afford to say what I think. So I will say it here!"
Now as others noted, the latter clue would be far too revealing. There are clear cases of "top ten" law schools that are ruled out, since no one there merely "thinks" their school is "top ten," they "know" it (e.g., Yale, Harvard, Stanford, Chicago, Columbia and one or two others); and then, putting aside schools suffering from delusions of grandeur, there's another cluster of schools clearly picked out by the description, "someplace that likes to think of itself as a 'Top Ten' law school" (and, of course, arguably might be): Penn, Virginia, Texas, Cornell, Duke, Georgetown, UCLA, Northwestern and one or two others.
So it would seem that the author is basically giving away his identity: how many untenured closet Marxists could there be at these schools with the name "William"?
In fact, I think the second clue was meant to mislead. I've noticed that I get one regular visitor to my site who always comes via the Proculian site (and he is the only one to do so), who has the computer address: "user.supremecourt.gov." Now it is well-known that Supreme Court Justices like to think of themselves as being as smart as folks who teach at top ten law schools. And it is equally well-known that the Chief Justice of the United States is named William Rehnquist. There is only one conclusion to draw...
That leaves unanswered the question whether he is really a closet Marxist or whether he was just goofing? I'm inclined to suspect the latter.
Benjamin Hellie (philosophy of mind) and Jessica Wilson (metaphysics, philosophy of science)--assistant professors at Cornell and Michigan, respectively--have tenure-track offers from Ohio State University. (Wilson also has a tenure-track offer from Syracuse University--Syracuse and Ithaca are separated by what one correspondent aptly called "a valley of eternal precipitation.")
...are pictured and described here, just in time for the anniversay of the mass insanity which has gripped the United States for two years now. Scroll through the photo essay, and learn something about these human beings and their suffering. Remember it when you vote.
Reader Stein X Leikanger from Oslo, Norway, has written with the following interesting and illuminating observations:
"Having some knowledge of the issue from a Spanish perspective, I was amazed at the spin and talking-points that were uncritically regurgitated by the media, not only in the US, but also across Europe.
"Zapatero has been crystal clear, from the moment the war broke out, that he was adamantly against it, that he was against Spanish forces being sent to Iraq, and that he would withdraw them, should he gain power. His reasons weren't those of appeasement: he claimed that a venture into Iraq would side-track the war against terror, and would foment more Islamist terror, rather than reduce it. Since, on a clear day, his voters can actually see the world of Islam across the Gibraltar straits, he probably has a clearer perspective than the Pentagon's civilian desk warriors.
"However, as soon as the outcome of the election was clear, the spin was set in motion. 'This was a victory for al-Qaida and a loss for democracy.'
"As long as such claims are simply repeated by the media, uncritically, and by leading media, we have much cause to worry about the state of our own democracy, if it is so easily massaged with lies by leaders who have a less than trustworthy agenda.
"The truth is that Zapatero has said he'll keep Spanish forces in Iraq, if the UN is given authority over the nation building effort, over that of the USA. Rumsfeld, Cheney, Chalabi and Wolfowitz will, of course, have no such thing, and are therefore busy disseminating talking-points to have the world believe the Spanish socialist party (which has a record of being extremely tough on terror) will give in to al-Qaida. Since the Spanish enjoy close relations with Morocco (the Spanish queen was present at a memorial service held by the Moroccan state), you can rest assured that the war against terror will go ahead apace, and in the right place.
"Meanwhile - a sample of Rumsfeldian spin:
"He claims that Spanish forces only constitute 1% of the Coalition, and that losing Spain will not impact severely on the effort in Iraq. He fails at math. If you deduct the US and British contingents (who are not there in support, but need support) the proportion of Spanish forces of the remainder is significant.
Also, losing a major ally (through the folly of Aznar), will have serious repercussions for the Coalition of the Willing.
"That the media took the bait, the hook, the line, the sinker and the plunger, is incredible."
Do read this well-written, sensitive and textured portrait of the author's dilemma: "My dad has a good heart and he's a Republican. This is hard for me. I believe that if my dad were consistent - if his head were consistent with his heart - he wouldn't vote for George W. I'm trying to find ways to give my parents information about the Bush administration. I know my parents to be good and kind people, and so I can't believe they would vote for W. Their main sources of information are TV, AM radio, NPR, and the local newspapers. My dad thinks NPR is 'commie,' but he listens to the news there anyway." There's far more striking detail in the full posting.
Meanwhile, still no reply, correction or apology from The National Review, which was put on notice about this breach of journalistic ethics two days ago. I'm not holding my breath, but maybe I'll be pleasantly surprised.
UPDATE: I'm also grateful to Tom Smith (San Diego Law) and Steve Bainbridge (UCLA Law) for taking the National Review to task over this issue. Since both these colleagues have far more conservative readers, I'm hopeful they will reach some of those who saw the original NRO item. Of course, this will reduce my damages....
A number of scholars have, in the last few days, sent me links to on-line sources that critically evaluate Dr. Dembski's arguments for Intelligent Design (beyond the ones I noted originally). Dembski's work is technical (he is, as I noted previously, a clever and well-trained philosopher), and so are these responses at many places, but some readers, I'm hopeful, will find them of interest.
A well-known and important critique of Dembski is by philosopher of science Elliott Sober (currently Stanford, but soon returning to Wisconsin) and his students Branden Fitelson (now at Berkeley) and Christopher Stephens (now at British Columbia) from Philosophy of Science, which is available here. Part of their conclusion is worth quoting, since it bears on the issues we have discussed in recent days:
"Creationists frequently think they can establish the plausibility of what they believe merely by criticizing the alternatives [cites to biologist Michael Behe, philosopher Alvin Plantinga, and law professor Philip Johnson]. This would make sense if two conditions were satisfied. If those alternative theories had deductive consequences about what we observe, one could demonstrate that those theories are false by showing that the predictions they entail are false. If, in addition, the hypothesis of intelligent design were the only alternative to the theories thus refuted, one could conclude that the design hypothesis is correct. However, neither condition obtains. Darwinian theory makes probabilistic, not deductive, predictions. And there is no reason to think that the only alternative to Darwinian theory is intelligent design."
And they add: "What does [the design hypothesis] predict? If defenders of the esign hypothesis want their theory to be scientific, they need to do the scientific work of formulating and testing the predictions that creationism makes. Dembski's [work]...encourages creationists to think that this responsibility can be evaded. However, the fact of the matter is that the responsibility must be faced."
Distinguished young philosopher of language and PGR Advisory Board member Jason Stanley, currently at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor, has accepted the offer from Rutgers University at New Brunswick. Per our earlier discussion about U.S. programs in philosophy of language, it seems to me--as a non-expert but reasonably informed observer of the subfield--that this probably makes Rutgers tops in the country in this area, though with several other places (e.g., NYU, USC at least) being highly competitive. (Michigan will still retain a strong presence in philosophy of language with Ludlow and Thomason, among others.)
But I'll wait to see what some of the experts (Weatherson, von Fintel) have to say...and, of course, we'll see what the evaluators say in next fall's survey.
"This whole thing puts me in mind of Russell's remark: 'A stupid man's report of what a clever man says is never accurate because he unconsciously translates what he hears into something he can understand.'
"Actually, I'm put in mind of that remark every single day."
I don't generally share my e-mails, but it seems this fellow (reach him at: email@example.com) is keen to take on all comers. The subject line was as above, and here is the "challenge" he issued me yesterday evening:
"Dear Dr. Leiter:
"It is my understanding that you are an ardent defender of Darwinism.
"On behalf of Dr. Joseph Mastropaolo ["creation scientist": details here, and scroll down], I respectfully present you with the following challenge.
"The Life Science Prize
"The rules are like those for a prize sporting event: the winner takes all.
"Rules for the Life Science Prize
"1. The evolutionist puts $10,000 in escrow with the judge.
"2. The creationist puts $10,000 in escrow with the judge.
"3. If the evolutionist proves evolution is science and creation is religion, then the evolutionist is awarded the $20,000.
"4. If the creationist proves creation is science and evolution is religion, then the creationist is awarded the $20,000.
"5. Evidence must be scientific, that is, objective, valid, reliable and calibrated.
"6. The preponderance of evidence prevails.
"7. At the end of the trial, the judge hands the prevailing party both checks.
"8. The judge is a superior court judge.
"9. The venue is a courthouse.
"You must debate or default. If you default it clearly means that you agree that evolution exists only in your imagination.
"Please contact me without delay and we shall begin working out details of the debate.
I just don't need $10,000 that badly, but I would pay to attend this event if and when it gets scheduled.
UPDATE: Apparently, our creation scientists have been at this awhile: more details here.
ANOTHER UPDATE: A reader with a business background writes with some apt observations on this proposal:
"This wager is pure marketing. The idea is to sucker some biologist or philosopher of science into providing a public form for a discussion that should and does take place in the laboratories, the field and peer reviewed journals. This discussion, among experts, already has a clear winner. Yes, there are many details to be worked out and yes, at sometime another theory may(!) replace the modern consensus. But that will not happen in any superior court in any jurisdiction.
"Let's assume, and I think this is a big assumption, that some judge would allow the several years that would be required to present the facts and the beliefs in his or her court room and that some county in the US would be willing to pay for it. First, the terms of the wager are unclear about who would decide the case. It is not unusual for creationists to be unclear at important points. Let's further assume that the judge would be the 'judge'. The story comes out a little different (and worse) if there is a jury. It is unlikely that there is a superior court judge anywhere who could understand most of the technical details of the discussion. The judge would need to appoint a special master. Who would that be? Since this is a resolved issue among all but a very few qualified participants, it would be impossible to find an 'unbiased' master or a 'unbiased' judge that would be acceptable to both sides. Even if the 'case' got no further than this, the creationists would have met their goal. They would have 'demonstrated' the existence of a supposed controversy where none exists.
Shaun Nichols--one of a growing number of philosophers who have been at the forefront of bringing empirical psychology (beyond cognitive science) in to contact with ethics and epistemology--has accepted an offer from the University of Utah; he is currently an Associate Professor at the College of Charleston.
Other philosophers working in a similar vein include John Doris (UC Santa Cruz), Gilbert Harman (Princeton), Joshua Knobe (Princeton PhD student), Peter Railton (Michigan), Stephen Stich (Rutgers), Peter Vranas (Iowa State), and Jonathan Weinberg (Indiana/Bloomington), among others.
If successful, they'll help effect a long-overdue empirical revolution in moral philosophy.
Continental Philosophy Farhang Erfani, a philosopher at American University, provides a useful set of links to news, events, interviews, reviews, videos, etc. related to "Continental philosophy" (broadly construed)