The Lincoln Center campus denies approval for students who wanted to start a chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine. The Center for Constitutional Rights' letter to the Fordham admin sets out what happened and why it is unlawful. This is all-too-typical of the brazen hypocrisy about free speech on American campuses when it comes to Israel. Shame on Fordham. I hope their President will reverse this decision promptly.
The problem is that the hype over IAT research, and the eagerness to apply the test to real-world problems, has so outpaced the evidence that it has launched a lot of studies built on underwhelming foundations. “Implicit bias research has been driven by both the desire to understand truths about the human mind and the desire to solve social problems,” said Forscher. “These goals have not always been in conflict. Unfortunately, one of the ways they have is that the desire to do something, anything, to solve problems related to race has led some people to jump to conclusions about the causal role of implicit bias that they might have been more cautious about had their only focus been on establishing truth.”
To Forscher, implicit bias’s role in propagating racial inequality should be given a “fair trial in the court of scientific evidence,” not simply assumed. But what’s going on now isn’t a fair trial; instead, the overhyping of IAT stacks the deck so much that sometimes it feels like implicit bias can explain everything. But plenty of researchers think that other factors play a bigger role in determining some of the most important societal outcomes. “I think unconscious racial prejudice is real and consequential,” said Robb Willer, a sociologist at Stanford University, “but my sense is that racial inequality in America is probably driven more by structural factors like concentrated poverty, the racial wealth gap, differential exposure to violence, the availability of early childhood education, and so on. Though it is also worth noting that past and present racial prejudice helped create these structural inequalities.” This is a fairly common sentiment among social scientists who study race and discrimination.
So it’s an open question, at least: The scientific truth is that we don’t know exactly how big a role implicit bias plays in reinforcing the racial hierarchy, relative to countless other factors. We do know that after almost 20 years and millions of dollars’ worth of IAT research, the test has a markedly unimpressive track record relative to the attention and acclaim it has garnered. Leading IAT researchers haven’t produced interventions that can reduce racism or blunt its impact. They haven’t told a clear, credible story of how implicit bias, as measured by the IAT, affects the real world. They have flip-flopped on important, baseline questions about what their test is or isn’t measuring. And because the IAT and the study of implicit bias have become so tightly coupled, the test’s weaknesses have caused collateral damage to public and academic understanding of the broader concept itself. As Mitchell and Tetlock argue in their book chapter, it is “difficult to find a psychological construct that is so popular yet so misunderstood and lacking in theoretical and practical payoff” as implicit bias. They make a strong case that this is in large part due to problems with the IAT.
My "academic ethics" column this week at CHE will be on a similar topic, but this author does a good, concrete job on arguments to avoid and arguments to make. The idiotic comment by the Northern Iowa professor disparaging postal workers also lept out at me when I read it.
Apparently these legislators are too stupid to realize that tenure is non-monetary compensation, and that ending tenure will require enhanced compensation--unless of course the plan is just to destroy the public universities in the state. Which may be the plan. (The Iowa legislator apparently doesn't even know about breach of contract--it would certainly be a constructive expenditure of state resources to have to defend against a lawsuit by every tenured professor in the state were this legislation to become law!)
MOVING TO FRONT FROM JANUARY 9--SOME USEFUL COMMENTS, ESP. REGARDING PRACTICES AT BERKELEY (see esp. comment #19)
A student applying to PhD programs in philosophy writes:
I'm currently applying to PhD programs, and several of them are in the University of California school system. Many of these schools (Berkeley, UCSD, and UCLA, at least) of these schools either require or strongly recommend submitting a "personal history statement." Unlike the well-known (and relevant) "personal statement," the history statement says,
"Please describe how your personal background and experiences inform your decision to pursue a graduate degree. In this section, you may also include any relevant information on how you have overcome barriers to access higher education, evidence of how you have come to understand the barriers faced by others, evidence of your academic service to advance equitable access to higher education for women, racial minorities, and individuals from other groups that have been historically underrepresented in higher education, evidence of your research focusing on underserved populations or related issues of inequality, or evidence of your leadership among such groups."
I don't mind the first part of the question regarding how your personal experiences inform your decision to pursue a graduate degree. I can see its relevance (it speaks to the applicant's motivation and perhaps can be a useful predictor of how likely the applicant will be to finish the degree), and I can even see some students feeling pleased that they can personalize their application a bit more, expressing the unique things they can add to the program.
That said, besides the first sentence, the rest of the things on this personal history statement bother me quite a bit, especially when the essay is *required,* and therefore is likely being used to evaluate an applicant.First, the latter part is completely irrelevant to academic fit of the prospective student, like requiring an applicant to describe their medical history. Second, it seems overtly politicized, displaying a left-leaning preference in the institution. Since academia is *already* taking flak for being a politicized enterprise, this only brings that problem into sharp relief. Third, and most deeply frustrating in my opinion, is that this seems a clear selection mechanism for applicants who belong to a certain moral club -- that of making their dominant moral aims helping underprivileged students -- instead of being a selection mechanism for applicants with a strong moral character (having a strong moral character I could see being relevant, since most academics will draw on public funds for their work).
Researchers from the University of Wisconsin at Madison, Harvard, and the University of Virginia examined 499 studies over 20 years involving 80,859 participants that used the IAT and other, similar measures. They discovered two things: One is that the correlation between implicit bias and discriminatory behavior appears weaker than previously thought. They also conclude that there is very little evidence that changes in implicit bias have anything to do with changes in a person’s behavior. These findings, they write, "produce a challenge for this area of research."
That’s putting it mildly. "When you actually look at the evidence we collected, there’s not necessarily strong evidence for the conclusions people have drawn," says Patrick Forscher, a co-author of the paper, which is currently under review at Psychological Bulletin. The finding that changes in implicit bias don’t lead to changes in behavior, Forscher says, "should be stunning"....
Everyone agrees that the statistical effect linking bias to behavior is slight. They only disagree about how slight. Blanton’s 2013 meta-analysis found less of a link than a 2009 meta-analysis by Banaji and Greenwald. Blanton sees the correlation as so small as to be trivial. Banaji and Greenwald, in a 2015 paper, argue that "statistically small effects" can have "societally large effects."
The new analysis seems to bolster Blanton’s less-sanguine take. It found that the correlation between implicit bias and behavior was even smaller than what Blanton had reported. That came as a surprise, the researchers write.
Another surprise is that one of the co-authors of the paper is Brian Nosek, who is — along with Greenwald and Banaji — one of the three founders of the IAT. Nosek, best known these days as the director of the Center for Open Science and an advocate for better research practices, is well aware that this paper will provide aid and comfort to critics of the test he helped create....
He does defend the IAT, noting that it’s engaged millions of people in a conversation about the science of bias. He points to the test’s successes, like experiments that show how it can predict who someone would favor in a presidential election by tracking their associations. But what he calls the "very weak overall" connection between implicit bias and discriminatory behavior should, he believes, put researchers on notice. "You would think that if you change the associations, and the associations predict behavior, then the behavior would change too," Nosek says. "But the evidence is really limited on it."
Patrick Forscher, who shares the title of first author of the paper with Calvin Lai, a Harvard postdoc, thinks that there’s been pressure on researchers over the years to make the science of implicit bias sound more definitive and relevant than the evidence justifies. "A lot of people want to know, How do we tackle these disparities?" says Forscher, a postdoc at the University of Wisconsin at Madison. "It makes us feel important to say, Aha, we have these measures that can tell us what the problem is, and, not only that, we can tell them how to fix the problem."
That’s essentially Blanton’s argument as well. Public discussion about implicit bias has been based largely on the results from one particular test, and that test, in his view, has been falsely sold as solid science. "They have engaged the public in a way that has wrapped the feeling of science and weight around a lot of ‘cans’ and ‘maybes,’" Blanton says. "Most of your score on this test is noise, and what signal there is, we don’t know what it is or what it means."
I trust the philosophers who jumped on this bandwagon will now rethink their positions in light of the actual evidence. If one is looking for an explanation for the obstacles women face in philosophy, perhaps explicit bias and sexual harassment deserve the real attention.
(As a sidenote, and a reminder of the totalitarian environment in some departments, the PhD student who sent this to me asked not to be named since, "Folks in my department take this stuff as gospel, so I'd rather not be targeted as a skeptic." After this newest research, anyone who still takes it as "gospel" will have a lot in common with those who take the actual gospel literally.)
There are more than 200 suggestions by a diverse group of contributors, including many non-scientists, some philosophers (e.g., Daniel Dennett, Andy Clark), and even one charlatan. It's an interesting list, though a few of the concepts seem to me more the purview of pseudo-science (or not-well-confirmed scientific ideas or concepts).
The PGR is a very useful resource for prospective philosophy graduate students. But to the best of my knowledge no other graduate discipline has a similarly detailed, transparently and fairly assessed, regularly updated, and well regarded guide to the quality of its graduate programs. Or if there are any such guides, they are not easily accessible to prospective graduate students (whose first recourse is of course Google, where they will find only the USN&WR rankings and other such lists whose value and reliability students are in no position to discern).
It would be a great service to those of us who are thinking about non-philosophy PhD programs if there were a place to accumulate a list of any such guides. Would you please provide a comment space on Leiter Reports for your readers to post about similarly reputable and reliable rankings for other graduate fields with which they are familiar?
This question has come up before, and I am still not aware of such resources in other fields, and presumably for the reasons noted back in 2009: no good deed goes unpunished, especially when it involves providing prospective students actual information about program quality! The National Research Council used to provide such a resource every decade or so, but failed in its task the last time around. The "Qurky Silliness" rankings aren't of much use for philosophy, so presumably aren't of much use in other fields. So, readers, any ideas about resources? Any thoughts on the rather sloppy reputational surveys U.S. News conducts about various fields? Are they useful? Dated? Bizarre?
You lose your job for it, at least if you're at the mercy of the maniacs there in the Graduate Students Association. The irony of costing a human being his livelihood over a joke about wanting to hire a "slave" to "boss" around is unbelievable. Kudos to philosophy professor Byron Williston for speaking out:
The sudden closure drew criticism from many of the café’s customers. Laurier ethics professor Byron Williston penned a scathing open letter to the graduate students association, accusing them of acting like “spoiled children.”
“I suppose it’s a sign of the times, especially on university campuses whose student bodies — undergraduate and graduate — seem to have been taken over by the terminally thin-skinned and self-righteous,” Williston wrote. “Perhaps you should direct your moral outrage at some of the many real problems in the world rather than behaving like petty bullies.”
Williston said the termination was a gross overreaction to a joke, even if it was in poor taste.
“I wrote the letter because I think the operator has been morally wronged. I think it’s important for somebody to speak out for him,” he said in an interview.
Also Thursday, the regents added stronger language to a policy that faculty members already believe takes power out of their hands and places it in the hands of campus administrators.
The new language spells out that every five years, campus administrators must do "independent, substantive reviews" of tenured faculty, a process that faculty members fear could open the door to arbitrarily overturning positive performance reviews given by faculty peers, and ultimately justify a firing.
Regent Tony Evers, the state's superintendent of public instruction for K-12 schools, said the policy seemed to be "a solution seeking a problem, and I don't think this is a problem."
Many campuses are confronting issues related to the status of undocumented students, whose legal position may be threated in a Trump Administration. This letter from faculty to the U of Chicago Administration is illustrative of some of the concerns. A similar letter at Penn produced this response from University President Amy Gutmann. The good news is that Senator Lindsey Graham, a very conservative Senator from South Carolina, is already preparing legislation to protect these students whose status was protected by executive action by President Obama that Trump could repeal. He believes it will pass "overwhelmingly," which is hopeful.
Philosopher Michael Loughlin from MMU Cheshire writes:
[P]hilosophy is one of a number of academic subjects currently offered on the Cheshire campus of Manchester Metropolitan University. The whole campus is potentially facing closure as part of a commissioned "review" of its "financial sustainability" by a team of management consultants. The board of governors is considering options that include the survival of the campus with a significantly reduced range of academic provisions on offer to students, and its outright closure. In that event, a key provider of education in the Cheshire region for over 100 years would be lost and while some academic staff might be relocated to a city campus in Manchester, many academics - and many more support staff - could be facing redundancy.
We are trying to persuade the board of governors to consider less drastic options, arguing that campus closure would be a disaster for the local region and contrary to the university's commitment to "widening participation" - the region has been identified as an area with "a low density of HEIs" and we're concerned the students that commute from the local community may no longer be able to access university if the campus is closed. Too many academic provisions are being lost across the UK as universities 'streamline' their offerings, and this tendency represents a serious concern for those of us who believe that a traditional academic education should be an option for people from a broad range of backgrounds - social, geographical and economic. There is a case for a sustainable future for this campus, and in support of that case we're trying to get as many people as possible to sign a petition calling on the board to consider seriously the alternatives to closure. The petition can be accessed here:
The comments that many of our former students who have already signed are instructive, and we hope members of the board will read them - but they are more likely to do so if the petition has many supporters. So please consider clicking on the link and signing.
Nearly a thousand students, faculty and deans called for my and my husband’s immediate removal from our jobs and campus home. Some demanded not only apologies for any unintended racial insensitivity (which we gladly offered) but also a complete disavowal of my ideas (which we did not) — as well as advance warning of my appearances in the dining hall so that students accusing me of fostering violence wouldn’t be disturbed by the sight of me.
Not everyone bought this narrative, but few spoke up. And who can blame them? Numerous professors, including those at Yale’s top-rated law school, contacted us personally to say that it was too risky to speak their minds. Others who generously supported us publicly were admonished by colleagues for vouching for our characters. Many students met with us confidentially to describe intimidation and accusations of being a “race traitor” when they deviated from the ascendant campus account that I had grievously injured the community. The Yale Daily News evidently felt obliged to play down key facts in its reporting, including about the two-hour-plus confrontation with a crowd of more than 100 students in which several made verbal and physical threats to my husband while four Yale deans and administrators looked on.
I have always spoken up, but far too few do, perhaps because so many are committed to making it costly to do so.
A philosophy graduate student at Johns Hopkins University writes:
I am a member of the philosophy department at Johns Hopkins University writing to alert you to some rather disturbing events happening in the university. In short, the university’s administration is attempting to shut down an academic department without transparency, due-process, or clear justification. The department in question is the Humanities Center, an interdisciplinary department that has been part of the university since the 1960s. The issues between the administration and the department have been developing for several years, but they have just recently been made public. Several members of the department of philosophy, including myself, feel that the administration’s handling of the situation ought to be publicized as much as possible to discourage this kind of malfeasance both now and in the future.
Here is a brief description of the situation (further details can be found on this website, which has been set up in support of the Center):
Roughly three years ago, two senior members of the Humanities Center’s faculty announced plans to retire. The department requested permission to conduct searches to replace the retiring faculty. The dean at the time, Katherine Newman, told the department that any decision regarding new hires would be up to her successor, since she was planning to leave Hopkins that same year. Her replacement was Beverly Wendland, a member of the biology faculty. Dean Wendland informed the Center that she would not be considering either of their hiring requests until the department underwent a review, despite the fact that it had been recently reviewed twice (in 2008-2009 and 2011-2012). In both cases, the reviews were generally positive.
I’ve been wondering for a while now at the silence (I think!) in the philosophy blogosphere re the enormous troubles at South African universities, especially Witwatersrand but also UCT and others. They’ve been going on for ages and involve violence and closures and all sorts of extremely dramatic events (including libraries on fire, students being shot, intimidation of staff, etc etc). And it’s all revolving around a very complex and interesting issue - putting in a nutshell what probably shouldn’t be put in a nutshell - the issue of making university free for all at public expense in a country like SA where it’s still mostly whites that go to uni. There’s been some coverage in the Western news but not much as far as I know, e.g. http://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-34615004. Of course it’s all over SA news. A rather random selection of what it was easy to find:
Anyway, I just thought I’d let you know in case you're interested and of course in case you think it worthy/appropriate for a blogpost. Indeed I guess I think it’s in itself an interesting issue why this hasn’t already cropped up in the philosophy blogosphere (if I’m right that it hasn’t).
Comments are open for more links, information etc. on what's going on.
A draft law, the Higher Education and Research Bill, is making its way through the House of Commons. The bill amounts to the biggest shake-up in the sector for more than a generation. It is designed, among other things, to make it easier for private companies to set up universities, and to enable more researchers to commercialize their work. If it passes, existing funding bodies will close and replacements will be created. But in the process of change, the bill rips up an 800-year-old settlement between the nation’s scholars and the state. It opens the door to unacceptable political interference. It must be resisted.
I'd be curious to hear from UK readers, or others informed about this legislation, what they make of it and whether it will also have impact in other fields outside the sciences, like philosophy.
Philosophers often use LSAT data as a marketing tool to convince students who want to go to law school that they should major in philosophy. But how do we really know studying philosophy is the key to higher scores? Are the high scores really the result of studying philosophy or is there some other cause? In this post, I am going to suggest that privilege and economic class, rather than studying philosophy, better explain philosophy students’ LSAT results. Even if my suspicions are only partly right, it should make philosophers think twice about selling philosophy merely as a means to higher LSAT scores.
Making a causal connection for or against is very difficult (that alone should make us think twice). We don’t have access to either state level LSAT averages or LSAT scores from individual schools. What we have is the average score by majors. I am going to start with 2014 LSAC applicants by major report. Five of the most popular LSAT taking majors are: Political Science, Criminal Justice, Economics, Philosophy, and Sociology. Here are the LSAT results for those five majors:
Most colleges and universities have a general education mathematics requirement with some, including WIU, allowing a gen ed logic classes to satisfy that mathematics requirement. I am most interested in discussing the issue of mathematical reasoning standards for general education--specifically logic classes and students with cognitive or intellectual disabilities.
My main concern is with students who have intellectual disabilities. These disabilities are things like dyscalculia or acalculia, but also IQ levels that are in the 70s. As an educator, I am struggling with methods of teaching and evaluating students who have genuine intellectual disabilities and can’t do the work necessary to pass my class with a grade of ‘C’. The ‘C’ threshold has become a bigger issue for me in the last year since the replacement course grade standard was changed from a ‘D-’ to ‘C’ to be in line with the mathematics course requirement.
...that discriminate against LGBT citizens--which is a lot of countries! Philosopher Michael Cholbi called this to my attention, but I haven't seen much on it, though it would seem to be a significant violation of the contractual right of California faculty to academic freedom, since there are many pedagogical and research-related reasons faculty might need to travel to countries with otherwise reprehensible policies. Comments are open for readers who know more about this law and what it means.
A propos my observation last week that academic law has more conservatives and libertarians than academic philosophy, along comes this study, which doesn't cover philosophy (but one can infer the likely result):
We investigate the voter registration of faculty at 40 leading U.S. universities in the fields of Economics, History, Journalism/Communications, Law, and Psychology. We looked up 7,243 professors and found 3,623 to be registered Democratic and 314 Republican, for an overall D:R ratio of 11.5:1. The D:R ratios for the five fields were: Economics 4.5:1, History 33.5:1, Journalism/Communications 20.0:1, Law 8.6:1, and Psychology 17.4:1. The results indicate that D:R ratios have increased since 2004, and the age profile suggests that in the future they will be even higher. We provide a breakdown by department at each university. The data support the established finding that D:R ratios are highest at the apex of disciplinary pyramids, that is, at the most prestigious departments.
These results are not surprising, given that the Republican Party is now nothing more than a FOX-created freak show. But the variation by field is telling: economists have many more Republicans because they are in the grips of a theoretically coherent but false world view about markets and regulation that make support of Republicans instrumentally rational against that background worldview (academic law is parasitic on this). "Journalism/communication" is not a Wissenschaft, so put that to one side. Most parts of current academic psychology mimic and sometimes live up to wissenschaftlich standards, but nothing about the field's self-conception as a scientific discipline would lead anyone to think Republicans are anything other than a fringe party. My guess would be that academic philosophy is closer to Psychology than Law, but if anyone looks at the facts about party registration let me know. Unnoted in studies like this is that the Republican Party in the U.S. is now a radical outlier, a "freak show" as I've put it. The old Republican Party now occupies the Democratic Party, which still also has its liberal, FDR wing. The current official Republican Party is, as Donald Trump has made finally clear, a deranged amalgamation of the pathologies of capitalism in America in the early 21st-century.
Story here. Is it possible that two graduate students and one undergraduate conspired to make false allegations against Prof. Wentworth? Yes. Is it likely? No, not at all. So this seems to me an effort to intimidate the complainants, but in any case, if it moves forward, it will put the matter into the hands of real courts, which can also probe quite deeply into the plaintiffs' past. Given that Prof. Wentworth's academic career is over unless he prevails, this gamble would make prudential sense even if he is guilty as charged.
I touched on this case briefly in my CHE piece, but this discussion by NYU law professor Rick Hills is thorough and well-informed. I should note that, unlike Prof. Hills, I am not Prof. Chouhdry's friend, and I'm not sure I've ever even met him. But due process matters, for all the reasons Prof. Hills articulates so well.
In the last year, the notorious law gossip website Above the Law eliminated its comment section entirely, since it had become an even more idiotic cesspool than previously. During that same time, the Chronicle of Higher Education, after being quite hands-off with comment moderation, realized that was a disaster, and has started to moderate aggressively to produce substantive discussions. Meanwhile, the Inside Higher Ed website, which always had some moderation, has gone the opposite route, becoming even more hands-off, with the predictable result: its comment sections are increasingly sewers of ad hominem abuse, tangential ranting, and assorted nonsense consistent with the First Five Laws of Cyber-Dynamics. I fear this is probably related to IHE's takeover by a private equity firm that invests heavily in for-profit colleges. Comment sections, even appallingly stupid ones, generate traffic and interest. Until they reform their practices, I am going to generally refrain from linking to them. I would urge others with blogs to do the same.
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)