In September the US Bureau of the Census released its report on US household income by quintile. Every quintile, as well as the top 5%, has experienced a decline in real household income since their peaks. The bottom quintile (lower 20 percent) has had a 17.1% decline in real income from the 1999 peak (from $14,092 to $11,676). The 4th quintile has had a 10.8% fall in real income since 2000 (from $34,863 to $31,087). The middle quintile has had a 6.9% decline in real income since 2000 (from $58,058 to $54,041). The 2nd quintile has had a 2.8% fall in real income since 2007 (from $90,331 to $87,834). The top quintile has had a decline in real income since 2006 of 1.7% (from $197,466 to $194,053). The top 5% has experienced a 4.8% reduction in real income since 2006 (from $349,215 to $332,347). Only the top One Percent or less (mainly the 0.1%) has experienced growth in income and wealth....
Note that these declines have occurred during an alleged six-year economic recovery from 2009 to the current time, and during a period when the labor force was shrinking due to a sustained decline in the labor force participation rate. On April 3, 2015 the US Bureau of Labor Statistics announced that 93,175,000 Americans of working age are not in the work force, a historical record. Normally, an economic recovery is marked by a rise in the labor force participation rate. John Williams reports that when discouraged workers are included among the measure of the unemployed, the US unemployment rate is currently 23%, not the 5.2% reported figure....
The promised better jobs that the “New Economy” would create to replace the jobs gifted to foreigners have never appeared. Instead, the economy creates lowly-paid part-time jobs, such as waitresses, bartenders, retail clerks, and ambulatory health care services, while full-time jobs with benefits continue to shrink as a percentage of total jobs.
These part-time jobs do not provide enough income to form a household. Consequently, as a Federal Reserve study reports, “Nationally, nearly half of 25-year-olds lived with their parents in 2012-2013, up from just over 25% in 1999....”
Finance is the only sector of the US economy that is growing. The financial industry’s share of GDP has risen from less than 4% in 1960 to about 8% today. As Michael Hudson has shown, finance is not a productive activity. It is a looting activity (Killing The Host).
Moreover, extraordinary financial concentration and reckless risk and debt leverage have made the financial sector a grave threat to the economy....
The economy simply cannot go anywhere, except down as businesses continue to lower their costs by substituting part-time jobs for full-time jobs and by substituting foreign for domestic workers....
The collapse of the Soviet Union was the worst thing that ever happened to the United States. The two main consequences of the Soviet collapse have been devastating. One consequence was the rise of the neoconservative hubris of US world hegemony, which has resulted in 14 years of wars that have cost $6 trillion. The other consequence was a change of mind in socialist India and communist China, large countries that responded to “the end of history” by opening their vast under-utilized labor forces to Western capital, which resulted in the American economic decline that this article describes, leaving a struggling economy to bear the enormous war debt.
In my own fields, the pursuit of novelty has bad effects: one can be pretty sure that the next general theory of law will be more daft than the last one. And in moral and political philosophy writers continually ‘discover’ principles that no one in the history of humanity ever heard of.
The novelty-fetish has further knock-on effects. It isn’t enough for ideas to be new; others need to acknowledge that they are new, so small novelties get over-emphasised, and the errors of past writers exaggerated. No longer are others merely mistaken, misguided, or muddled—their claims must be ‘ridiculous’, ‘disgraceful’, or ‘ludicrous’. These epithets have various meanings, but they have a common use. They are all ways of pleading, ‘Don’t read him! Read me, me, ME!’
Here. The idea that anything Greer said is "hate speech" is preposterous, but also shows how dangerous that category can be in the hands of zealots.
The response to Greer and her alleged transphobia is just one example of a creeping trend among social justice activists of an identitarian persuasion: a tendency towards ideological totalism, the attempt to determine not only what policies and actions are acceptable, but what thoughts and beliefs are, too. Contemporary identity-based social justice activism is increasingly displaying the kinds of totalising and authoritarian tactics that we usually associate with cults or quasi-religious movements which aim to control the thoughts and inner lives of their members. The doctrine of "gender identity" – the idea that people possess an essential inner gender that is independent both of their sexed body and of the social reality of being treated as a person with such a body – has rapidly been elevated to the status of quasi-religious belief, such that those who do not subscribe to it are seen as not only mistaken and misguided, but dangerous and threatening, and must therefore be silenced.
If you haven't witnessed this first hand, this might sound a touch hyperbolic and overwrought. But in the methods and reactions of those who espouse the doctrine of gender identity, we see many, if not all, of the features of thought control identified by Robert Jay Lifton in his classic study of indoctrination in Chinese re-education camps, to varying degrees:
Milieu control - seeking to establish domain over what the individual sees, hears, reads or writes. Students at Cardiff University must not be permitted to hear Greer's views, because those views are supposedly dangerous.
Demands for purity - dividing the world sharply into pure and impure, good and evil, believer and nonbeliever. There are people who believe that trans women are women, and there are transphobic bigots who "deny trans people's right to exist". No intermediate position is possible.
A cult of confession - individuals are required to reveal their sins and transgressions in order to be redeemed. As a non-trans person, the only way to secure one's status as an ally is to confess to one's "cis privilege" and to engage in repeated, performative privilege checking. (My own personal experience of this came when I publicly stated that I do not accept the label "cisgender", which resulted in my being accused of the chillingly Orwellian-sounding crime of "privilege denial").
Loading the language - the use of thought-terminating clichés and complex and ever changing terminological rules. Just try to critically examine the soundbite "trans women are women" and see how fast the accusations of prejudice and bigotry come flying in. This is a phrase intended to stop you asking difficult questions.
As with so many of the current high-profile no-platforming cases, Greer is being ostracised and shunned, cast out of our moral community and declared beyond redemption, simply for the crime of believing the wrong things, of holding the wrong thoughts in her head, of defining concepts in ways that run counter to those of the newly-established doctrine of gender identity. It is not sufficient to behave towards trans women in a certain way, to respect their preferred pronouns and to support their right to receive the medical treatment they need. You must also really and truly believe that they are women. And if you cannot be made to hold this subjective mental state in your head, that is sufficient to justify silencing you, in the name of protecting the believers.
What all of this assumes is that we have the right to make these kinds of claims on each other's inner lives. It supposes that I can legitimately demand that you believe the things I believe in order to validate my identity, that I can demand that you share my perception of myself because it would be injurious to that perception if you do not. And from there, it's a quick step to the belief that if you do not share my perception of myself, you are committing an act of psychic violence against me. That by refusing to accept the narrative I tell myself about who I am, you harm me just as much as if you really did incite physical violence against me. Thus I become justified in using any tactics at my disposal to ensure that you see me the way I see myself, in making use authoritarian methods of thought control and indoctrination. Acceptance of the doctrine is the only path to salvation and enlightenment, and dissenting views are not only mistaken, but threatening - both to my understanding of myself, and to the ideology itself.
We're familiar with this in academic philosophy too, though mostly, so far, in the bowels of cyberspace. But if the current offenders actually get academic jobs and/or get tenure, then we will be in real trouble.
"...when posturing, preening wankers are regarded as if they are somehow its leaders"--Russell Blackford. So many candidates to choose among from philosophy cyberspace and social media! Maybe it's time for a new category: "posturing, preening wankers"?
South Park makes fun of "safe spaces." (A graduate student, whom I'd best not identify given the censorious atmosphere in certain dysfunctional parts of academic philosophy.)
Reader Michael B. sends along this item from Wales and sums up the stupidity aptly:
By now you know the routine: someone says something that some students don't like, so the students quickly muster their rage and start a petition to have that invited speaker banned. Which makes sense: universities are neither the time nor the place to hear or read, much less discuss, things with which one disagrees...
I remember Bertrand Russell writing that he would get attacked by angry mobs when he tried to talk about equality between men and women. Some of the worst were women who would react dramatically to the planned release of rats by saboteurs with whom these women were in cahoots. I suppose these students are too stupid and arrogant to realise their chosen tactic of silencing unpopular (with them) opinions is exactly what kept - and helps keep - people oppressed.
I've now had a chance to read the entire complaint. I won't have much to say about the University, except to note what is already clear from the news reports, namely, that its position will be that it, in fact, secured the resignation of McGinn and so complied with its Title IX obligations. I am sure the University will move to dismiss, and I would not be surprised if it were successful. The University is also named in some of the tortious wrongdoing claims against McGinn and/or Erwin, though I suspect as against the University, many of these claims are also likely to be dismissed, but some of this will turn on elements of Florida law about which I know little or nothing.
McGinn is being sued for civil battery and assault (for the unwanted touching/fondling--or expression of a desire to touch/fondle--of hands and feet), intentional infliction of emotional distress, defamation, invasion of privacy, and civil conspiracy; Erwin is being sued for the last three as well. The strongest claim is the defamation claim, it seems to me, and the biggest obstacle to the plaintiff's prevailing is the one that faced Ludlow when he sued newspapers for falsely reporting that he had been accused or rape: namely, that the plaintiff was not explicitly named by the defendants, except in letters McGinn sent to other philosophers and academics early on, but since that constitutes publication to third parties, it will suffice for defamation (though the limited exposure will likely affect the damage claims).
One question that will arise if the lawsuit survives the motions to dismiss is whether or not describing what transpired as failure to report a "consensual" romantic relationship, as the University did, was accurate or not. Given the facts alleged by the plaintiff, that does seem rather incredible as a characterization. It seems only if McGinn's e-mails were reciprocated in kind by plaintiff (as he and Erwin appear to have alleged at various points) might such a characterization be credible, but if such evidence existed, then this legal strategy on the part of the plaintiff would be both misguided and dangerous, so my surmise is it does not. And if it does not, then the defamation claims against the individual defendants and perhaps also the Title IX claims against Miami will be strengthened.
Part 1 of this series focused on (1) development and (2) pre-college philosophy. In part 2, I’ll focus on identifying the geographical distribution of philosophy to get a better understanding of where access inequality occurs and where we can strategically grow the profession. I am going to focus on comparing HBCUs, Women’s colleges, elite universities, and community colleges to help us determine where we should focus those efforts, which are crucial to the long-term success and health of philosophy. Growth at public and private universities with large enrollments and little to no philosophy should be part of the growth and diversification strategy, too.
I’m going to talk a bit about reactions to my Women in Philosophy post, sexual harassment, and the APA. I’ll keep it short.
I wrote a fairly benign post about what philosophy isn’t doing to promote itself to girls and women. I was falsely accused of calling feminist philosophers names, of advocating covering up harassment, of siding with harassers, and of claiming that someone was benefitting from the negative campaign. This is exactly the kind of inflammatory and false rhetoric the NRA, the Tea Party, Ann Coulter, and Donald Trump use to whip up the crowd. And, while I’m using myself as a convenient example, this isn’t about me, specifically, as I’ve seen this exact tactic used to mischaracterize or blatantly misrepresent the views of other people who have spoken up about similar issues.
...but they were really great (thanks!), and I enjoyed catching up on them since I've been back. They all have an open invitation to continue contributing. And, yes, for those who are wondering, Les Green is alive and well, just got occupied.
This is probably my last post here since Brian is now back in action. I’d like to thank him for the opportunity. I had in mind to write more posts, but I did not realize how time consuming this can be.
In any case, here is the follow up post I promised a few days ago.
John Doris and I have recently written a paper examining simple ways of improving philosophers’ use of the behavioral sciences. You can read the near final draft there. (Comments are welcome!) It’s written as a letter to our students, the kind of letters that we wished we would have received when we were still graduate students.
Some pieces of advice in this paper are fairly obvious, although that does not mean you won’t find many cases where these obvious suggestions are not heeded. We don’t name names. The paper would have been spicier if we had, but also perhaps uselessly polemical and confrontational!
Other pieces of advice will be somewhat less obvious, although none is absolutely surprising.
Here are some of my favorite pieces of advice, which are elaborated at great length in the paper:
1. Here’s an obvious suggestion: read the science! That would seem obvious, but we suspect philosophers sometimes get their science from summaries in scientific articles (Scientific American), pop science books, journal articles (the Science pages of the NYT) or blogs, and those turn complex, intricate results into talking points.
2. If you focus on one finding or on a few findings in a scientific area, you’re doing it wrong. You are likely to cherry pick, to engage in motivated reasoning (particularly if the science has a political or moral import), etc. Rather, consider many studies and rely on meta-analyses (critically of course).
3. Be wary. Scientists hype their results (don't believe the hype); some do shoddy work; falsified results or results that can’t be replicated keep being positively cited. So, investigate your sources. It helps to be able to talk to scientists to learn about the reputations of scientists and about what scientists think of various experimental results.
4. There are a few simple rules to assess experimental results in the behavioral sciences. Examine sample size and effect size (size matters); look for hypotheses that are obviously post hoc (be particularly concerned of hypotheses that predict an effect, but only for a particular demographic – good sign that the hypothesis is post hoc.).
Again, obvious suggestions, but as we say in the paper about one of those, "Once again, that advice is obvious does not mean it is bad. Nor is obvious advice always followed." There's much more in the paper. Check it out!
As a doctor with experience in international health I have found that some of the claims made by the proponents of effective altruism are not merely ‘satisfyingly counterintuitive’: they are wrong. For example, MacAskill claims that deworming has better educational outcomes among Kenyan schoolchildren than increasing the number of textbooks or teachers. This notion is based almost entirely on a single study published by Miguel and Kremer in the journal Econometrica in 2004 and has recently been debunked by Aiken, Davey et al in the International Journal of Epidemiology. Deworming does not improve educational outcomes. A review of the evidence available in the field of development studies makes it clear that improved educational outcomes in developing countries are best achieved by, wait for it, a decent, well-resourced school system. The idea that a single anti-worm pill is the key to solving the deep societal injustice of poor education is another instance of the glib ‘freakonomics’ style of thinking that has hijacked much of the field of social studies. Claims for a pharmacological magic bullet as a solution to poor educational attainment in Africa dovetail very nicely with the prevalent ideology of international health governance, which is content to accept structural inequalities in wealth and power while focusing on vertical, narrow, top-down, and ultimately ineffective strategies in alleviating health inequalities.
(Thanks to Arthur Smith for the pointer.)
ADDENDUM: Some EA apologists point me to this discussion of whether the original study was really "debunked." It seems to me there is a lot of quibbling here about the word "debunk"; nothing in this discussion, in any case, shows that the LRB letter writer isn't entirely correct that "the evidence available in the field of development studies makes it clear that improved educational outcomes in developing countries are best achieved by...a decent, well-resourced school system."
I was recently a keynote at a small school’s undergrad conference. I talked with the students about admissions, and asked them what was most important. They all named the gourmet report. And all of them would be hopeless at making their choice any other way (they don’t know how to evaluate vitas and research, their advisors are sometimes equally hopeless). It made me both sad and angry about what happened to the PGR. It’s depressing for me especially because people I am close to are not realizing how elitist and foolish it is to trash the PGR. The existence of the internet is not a substitute for informed rankings.
The internet is not only not a substitute, it makes rankings even more necessary, because it gives a platform for the mediocre to peddle misinformation and self-serving twaddle which just makes the situation of the least informed students worse. In the real world, I hear again and again from students and faculty how important the PGR has been, which is why Brit has my full support to make sure it can continue. Only in cyberspace, where the disgruntled gather and group polarization kicks in, does anyone actually profess to think the PGR make things worse.
So far my posts have revolved around inequity caused by university structure, the lack of accreditation for philosophy, the rise of assessment, and university privilege and the problem of diversity in philosophy. I claim that the only solution to the problem of diversity in philosophy is to grow the discipline and profession. There is a lot to offer, so addressing these topics will be a multiple post affair. Let’s begin with development and pre-college philosophy education. Neither of these topics is new, but they deserve more attention, and so I begin with them.
Here is an anecdote. A few years ago, Justin Sytsma and I published an experimental-philosophy paper ("Two Conceptions of Subjective Experience") in Philosophical Studies arguing that the lay concept of subjective experience does not correspond to the concept of P-consciousness. Brian Talbot wrote an incisive criticism of that paper, arguing among other things that our vignettes had simply elicited "System 1" (roughly, fast, non-reflective) intuitions that did not reflect people's genuine concept of consciousness. Justin Sytsma and I decided to test Brian Talbot's empirical conjecture by showing that our results did not change when care was taken to elicit slow, reflective ("System 2") intuitions (here). One of our manipulations was inspired by a then much talked about paper by Alter and colleagues ("Overcoming intuition: Metacognitive difficulty activates analytic reasoning") arguing that participants were more careful and reflective when they were presented with texts difficult to read (e.g., printed in a hard-to-read font). Justin Sytsma and I found that a similar manipulation did not affect participants' judgments about consciousness - as we had predicted against Brian Talbot's conjecture - and we included this empirical result in our response. The twist is that we know now that the manipulation reported in Alter and colleagues' paper was a false positive! One of our studies was thus premised on an illusory empirical finding. (Fortunately, this was only one of our results.)
This anecdote illustrates one of the perils of empirical philosophy (serious moral psychology, philosophy of cognitive science or neuroscience, philosophy of biology, naturalistic philosophy of mind, experimental philosophy, etc.): The findings empirical philosophers rely on can turn out to be false positives, they can be reinterpreted in many different ways, they can result from some confounds, etc.
Here are a few further examples in the recent philosophical literature. The literature on aliefs (including Tamar Gendler's papers) often discusses Bargh's classic priming experiments, particularly his famous 1996 article ("Automaticity of social behavior: Direct effects of trait construct and stereotype activation on action"). In this paper, Bargh reports that participants primed with words associated with being old walked more slowly to an elevator than control participants. Like many other papers in the priming literature, several studies in this paper have failed to be replicated.
The literature on the cognitive penetration of perceptual experience has cited many recent studies in social psychology, including the famous backpack experiment: People are said to estimate a hill as having steeper slant when they wear a heavy backpack. Many of these studies turn out to be straightforward experimenter demand effects (see "Cognitive penetration: A no-progress report" in the just published The Cognitive Penetrability of Experience as well as Firestone and Scholl's forthcoming paper).
There has been a lot of discussion of implicit bias - whether they are mental states or traits, whether they are propositional or associative, whether we can be responsible for having them or for the actions they influence, etc. - and for a long time implicit biases have been described, more or less explicitly, as having a large influence on behavior. We now have good reasons to believe that their influence is very small, and that implicit bias measures predict behavior very poorly (see this paper).
These and other examples raise the following question: How can philosophers minimize the risk of errors when they rely on the scientific literature? John Doris and I have recently written a paper on this issue, and I'll talk about it in my next post.
Each year around this time I can’t help but reflect on all those newly minted philosophy Ph.D. candidates who will be on the job market. If you land a job, you’ll probably walk around (who am I kidding…dancing…dancing is what you’ll be doing) feeling like a first round draft pick.
Mathias Frisch, a philosopher of science and physics at the University of Maryland, College Park, has been offered a Chair at the Leibniz University in Hannover, Germany, which has a large group of philosophers of science already. Germany academia has become a much more attractive place to work (no doubt due to government investment in higher education) over the last twenty years, so much so that we have seen a number of senior figures--Stephann Hartmann, Hannes Leitgeb, Michael Forster, among others--leave top British and American universities (or turn down offers from top British and American universities) in order to take up posts in Germany.
UPDATE: Frisch has accepted the offer, and will start in Spring 2016 at Hannover.
If you've studied philosophy at the undergraduate or graduate level, and are thinking about law school, I would like to urge you to consider the University of Chicago Law School. The Law School trails only Yale in per capita placement in law teaching, and graduates are also hugely successful in the private firm market, and in clerkships. Although we have a relatively small faculty (not quite 40 full-time academic faculty), we have two philosophers full-time in the Law School (myself and Martha Nussbaum), and a large number of colleagues with philosophical interests. This year, like most years, we have several philosophical visitors in the Law School, including Derrick Darby from the University of Michigan; Robin Kar from the University of Illinois; and John Tasioulas from King's College, London. In addition, every year we have a Law & Philosophy Fellow: this year's Fellow is Alexander Prescott-Couch, a recent PhD from Harvard. In addition, this year, one of our Bigelow Fellows (Bigelow Fellows teach legal research and writing while preparing for academic careers in law) is also a lawyer/philosopher, Ryan Doerfler.
There is an annual Law & Philosophy Workshop that meets throughout the year, and which students may take for credit: recent topics have included "Free Speech and Its Critics," "Life and Death," and "Freedom and Responsibility." Speakers in the last few years at the Workshop have included Jeff McMahan, Dan Brock, Joshua Cohen, Seana Shiffrin, Mary Kate McGowan, Derk Pereboom, Gary Watson, Frederick Schauer, Hanna Pickard, Stephen Morse, T.M. Scanlon, and Pamela Hieryonimi, among many others. The annual Dewey Lecture in Law & Philosophy has recently brought Axel Honneth, Barbara Herman, Philip Pettit and Elizabeth Anderson to the Law School. In addition, there are usually one or more conferences each year in the Law School related to philosophical topics.
There is now a large and lively group of philosophically-minded students here. More than 10% of the first-year class this year came to us with a philosophy major or advanced degree! This is the highest percentage since I came here in 2008, and probably one of the highest percentage of philosophy students at any law school in the U.S. There are currently two JD/PhD in philosophy students, as well as one JD student working on a PhD elsewhere. Of all the law schools in the U.S., the Chicago experience is also probably most like that of a graduate program in a PhD field, in terms of the intellectual engagement of both faculty and students.
Chicago currently has substantial merit aid to offer to very strong students (the best-known are the Rubenstein Scholarships, but there are other sources of aid, including for students interested in a JD/PhD). Philosophy students, both those with undergraduate majors and those with advanced degrees, have been very successful in getting this aid, and have performed very well at the Law School; as a result philosophy students receive favorable consideration here. Excellent numerical credentials are very important, of course, but even within that pool, applicants with philosophy backgrounds stand out. Students with philosophy backgrounds have recently turned down Yale, Harvard, and other peer law schools to come to Chicago. If you have questions about law study at Chicago, feel free to e-mail me at bleiter-at-uchicago-dot-edu.
From the story: The Obama administration is planning new executive action on higher education accreditation in the coming weeks, as part of a push to make accreditors focus more heavily on student outcomes when judging colleges and universities, officials said Monday...
“Accreditors need to do more and need to focus on outcomes,” Under Secretary of Education Ted Mitchell told reporters Monday. He said the department is still hammering out the details of its plans for accreditation, but he added that “there will be three parts: executive action, potential regulatory reform and legislation we feel is needed.”
For those of you following my recent Leiter Reports posts on accreditation and on the issues of outcome assessment, the comments on those posts will remain open for the rest of the week.
Philosophy is often criticized as being too white, too male, and too privileged. Yes, to all. Now what can we do about it? I claim the current methods of trying to diversify philosophy, though well-meaning, will not work. Syllabi with readings by diverse philosophers, summer seminars for a small group of students, or roundtables at APA meetings are all terrible ways to achieve diversity in philosophy. Terrible. Before I explain how the diversity problem in philosophy gets solved (and you won’t like the solution), let’s talk about privilege.
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)