Jenny Saul (Sheffield) declared Prof. Jennings "a professional data guru." How professional? This exchange between her and David Wallace (Oxford) is instructive. Prof. Wallace starts by quoting Jennings's attempt to attack me with her data:
Here is a fairly good overview of what transpired. FAU's stated rationale for termination--failure to file reports about his "outside activites"--seems feeble and implausible. What they should have argued is that, given his academic specialty, his conspiracy-mongering suggests professional incompetence--it would be as if a biology professor taught creationism instead of evolution by natural selection, or an astronomy professor taught that heliocentrism was false. This process would have taken longer, but the fired professor's grounds for a breach of contract suit are probably stronger given how the university actually went about terminating him.
He's now slightly ahead of Trump among California Republican voters. I expect he will win Iowa and South Carolina, two of the first three primaries, and that will give him the momentum needed. As with Trump, Cruz is a gift to the Democrats.
These reflections were prompted...by an incident in a seminar I was teaching on ideological critique. The participants were a group of extremely intelligent and widely read graduate students - all impeccably radical. Despite my heroic efforts to focus their attention on particular, concrete examples, such as the controversy that has developed among ethnographers of the northern Kalahari desert, the students persisted in speaking and writing in the most suffocatingly abstract and stereotypical fashion. Things finally blew up when one member of the class, making a class presentation, referred in passing to "racism, sexism, classism, and homophobia." The phrase rolled off his tongue as though the individual words were simply syllables of one great polysyllable - stuck together by some sort of syntactical glue. Everyone in the class was quite comfortable with the phrase. It seemed to me that they found it reassuring, rather in the way little children snuggle down in bed when they hear "Once upon a time." All except a rather abrasive German student who interrupted to protest that she, for one, had nothing against classism. Indeed, she said, she regularly judged people according to their economic class, and thought it quite the right way to go about things. The class came to a dead halt, and no one knew what to say. None of the students had ever heard anyone question the appropriateness of the phrase "racism, sexism, classism, and homophobia," used as a term of opprobrium. It was as though, in the middle of a class preparing little Catholic boys and girls for First Communion, a smart-mouthed trouble maker had piped up and said, "I can take the Father and the Son, but you can keep the Holy Ghost."
...I simply couldn't get the students to see how mind-numbingly banal, how drained of all genuine thought, that phrase had become. I could not even get them to attune their ears to the ugliness of it as language. Freud says somewhere, talking about the dynamics of psychoanalytic therapy, that if there is a single topic that it is not permitted to examine in an analysis, sooner or later the entire analysis comes to be about that topic. I have always found this a profound insight into what happens in the classroom as well. A classroom in which it is socially or pedagogically unacceptable to question the appropriateness of the phrase "racism, sexism, classism, and homophobia" is a classroom in which neither real teaching nor real learning can take place. It is like a classroom at a Catholic university in which teachers are free to explore every conceivable subject - except the legitimacy of abortion. It is like the huge introduction to neo-classical economics at Harvard, presided over by former Chairman of the President's Council of Economic Advisors Martin Feldstein, who announced, when he returned from his duties in Washington, that the purpose of the course was to teach that the market works - not how it works, mind you, but that it works.
There are a number of ways in which an orthodoxy can be imposed on a classroom. The most obvious, and hence the least dangerous, is by administrative fiat. Considerably more dangerous, because harder to spot and to confront, is the quiet, tacit social pressure that enshrines certain ways of thinking as correct, stigmatizing deviations as morally reprehensible and unworthy of serious consideration. I have come to think of this as macro-thinking. By one of the ironies of modern discourse, this pre-programming of thought masquerades as ideological critique, when in fact it is the precise opposite.
Brian Bruya, who teaches philosophy at Eastern Michigan University and earned his Ph.D. at the University of Hawaii (specializing in Chinese philosophy), has penned a purported critique of the PGR, which an actual journal, Metaphilosophy, published (readers will see in a moment why this is surprising). Why do I mention these facts about the author? Because the author has reasons to be hostile to the PGR--he plainly feels he and his friends in the profession are undervalued because of the PGR--it should not be wholly surprising that the critique the author produces involves mistakes, shoddy arguments, and fabrications.
This is no longer my headache, but since the article ignores the participation of the Advisory Board in producing the report for the last 15 years, and continually personalizes his critique to me, let me note the following:
1. Bruya asserts (674), falsely, that the "Metaphysics & Epistemology" (M&E) category in the PGR includes 15 sub-specialties, more than "Value Theory" and "History of Philosophy" together. In fact, the M&E category has only 7 specialties listed, compared to 6 for Value Theory and 9 for History of Philosophy. In fact, there are 8 specialties under "Philosophy of the Sciences, Mathematics, and Logic," which is the fourth major sub-division of the field the PGR has used for a long time; these four divisions correspond quite well to the areas represented by about 95% of philosophers in the Anglophone world (most of the rest are picked up by the areas that don't fit neatly into any of the others, because they cross divisions, like Feminist Philosophy or Philosophy of Race). Buried in an appendix at the end, Bruya finally acknowledges conflating the divisions, with the explanation that, "It is uncontroversial that many of the specialties of M&E, philosophy of mathematics, and logic are core specialties of Analytic philosophy" (686). This is, of course, revealing about Bruya's biases, and his lack of understanding of "analytic" philosophy (he might talk to some philosophers of physics and biology to find out what they think of a lot of, say, contemporary metaphysics). But the mistake vitiates in its entirety the "analysis" on pages 668-678, where the statistical analysis purporting to show "bias" in the evaluator pool depends entirely on his massive inflation of the M&E category.
2. Snowball or chain-sampling is a perfectly appropriate method of sampling when what you want is a kind of "insider's" knowledge. Bruya's argument against it is silly:
The reason [snowball sampling] is used is as an expedient way to access a hidden population, such as social deviants (drug users, pimps, and the like), populations with very rare characteristics (such as people with rare diseases, interests, or associations), or subsets of populations associated in idiosyncratic ways (such as networks of friendships)....Philosophers are neither social deviants nor difficult to find, as every philosophy program's faculty list is public information. (660-661)
It does occur to Bruya that perhaps what is wanted is expert and well-informed opinions. Bruya comments: "the very earning of a Ph.D. is the academic standard for expertise" (661). If that's one's view of expertise, then the PGR will not make much sense. Later in the article, however, Bruya acknowledges that,
We want experts to provide their opinions when expertise is required for a sound assessment, and we would not insist on getting a representative sample of all such experts. We see this all the time in academia. We have PhD committees, tenure review committees, grant committees, and so on, which are formed for the purpose of providing expert evaluation. And for none of these do we insist on getting a representative sample. (667)
Given this admission, one might wonder what all the fuss is about? Bruya again points to "bias," but as we've seen (#1, above) the central and allegedly data-driven analysis of "bias" in the evaluator pool involves a straight up fabrication about the areas of philosophy represented by the evaluators.
3. In an unrelated effort to show "bias," Bruya asserts that there is a category of philosophers who are "Methodological Continentalists" (665-666) which would encompass programs like DePaul, Duquesne, and Emory (666). SPEP folks have long maintained, of course, that they are insulated from normal standards of philosophical scholarship because there's something putatively distinct about the work they do that makes such standards irrelevant. Bruya is entitled to endorse that myth. But what is, again, pure fabrication is to assert that "Leiter refers to this brand of philosophy in his own published work," noting the introduction to The Oxford Handbook of Continental Philosophy I wrote with Michael Rosen (666). Bruya gives no page reference, because there is none that would show that we recognize something called "Methodological Continentalists" represented by departments like DePaul, Duquesne, and Emory. How such a naked fabrication got through the peer review process is, again, mysterious.
4. Bruya repeatedly misrepresents Kieran Healy's research about the PGR; readers interested in Prof. Healy's views can start here.
5. Bruya's main methodological suggestion (681 ff.) is to aggregate scores in the specialty areas for overall rankings. The Advisory Board discussed this in past years. Since there is no way to assign weights to the specialty areas that would not be hugely controversial and indefensible, the PGR has never adopted such an approach. Bruya has no real solution to the problem (though one may rest assured Chinese Philosophy will count for more!).
I predict, with confidence, that no changes to the PGR methodology are likely to result from this very confused critique.
I also trust the journal Metaphilosophy will withdraw the article in its entirety given the fabrications, and subject a revised article to a more serious peer-review process, to insure the final version is not so obviously shoddy.
ADDENDUM: I suppose I should say a word about Bruya's defamatory claim that "one cannot help but wonder whether the PGR's hidden biases are based in sexism, racism, ethnocentrism and xenophobia" (679). Obviously, Brit Brogaard was motivated to join me as co-editor of the last PGR by the opportunity to help propagate "sexism, racism, ethnocentrism and xenophobia." So were the women, African-Americans, and Hispanics on the Advisory Board; and the dozens of women, African-Americans, and Hispanics who participated as evaluators. An alert reader might notice that Bruya motivates this smear first through his fabrication of a huge M&E category (see #1, above) and second through his unmotivated claim that "a program that was both complete and perfectly balanced...would have a total of thirty-three faculty members," one for each of the 33 specialties ranked in the PGR. Why should any program aspire to represent every specialty in the PGR? Bruya never explains. But, of course, if you start with that assumption, then it looks like Chinese philosophy, not to mention philosophy of religion and medieval philosophy and philosophy of art, get shortchanged. It never occurs to Bruya that this might be a fact about the profession that the PGR records, rather than creates (in fact, during the PGR's lifetime, the range of philosophical areas well-represented in the profession has increased, and that's been reflected in the PGR).
DEC. 15 UPDATE: After this update, I am not going to spend any more time responding to Brian Bruya, who in 14 single-spaced pages tries to create the appearance that he is responding to the criticisms, above. In some cases, it is obvious that he has no response, posturing to one side. I'll just make seven quick points:
1. Bruya claims that the "reason I wrote the critique of the PGR is that I see a group of very intelligent and apparently well-meaning people involved in an influential publication that ultimately locks out" non-Western philosophy. These are the same people whom Bruya smears in the article as having hidden biases deriving from "sexism, racism, ethnocentrism and xenophobia."
2. I noted that "the article ignores the participation of the Advisory Board in producing the report for the last 15 years, and continually personalizes his critique to me." Bruya drops everything after the comma, and then responds, irrelevantly, that his article mentions the Advisory Board in a couple of places. Anyone who bothers to read Bruya's article can see very clearly that throughout he treats the PGR, and all the bad things about it, as due to me, personally. He ignored the fact that it has been, for a long time, a collective effort. Thus, he does, indeed, "personalize" the critique.
3. Bruya's M&E category is a fabrication, and as I noted, he does finally acknowledge it to be so in an appendix at the end of the paper. The fabricated category allows him to claim that there are more M&E categories than value and history categories. It also vitiates his statistical claims, which trade on the huge M&E category he created. There's no doubt that, as Kieran Healy has shown, that metaphysics, epistemology, philosophy of language, and philosophy of mind are high prestige areas in Anglophone philosophy; the PGR records that fact, it didn't create it (a point on which Bruya continues to be silent). That does not justify Bruya's fabrication, which he still doesn't defend or even explain. (I did laugh out loud when the guy who smeared me and the PGR participants as infected by "sexism, racism" etc. worries that it might be ad hominem to note that he doesn't seem to understand what "Analytic philosophy" is.)
4. I noted that the 33 M&E specialties represent 95% of what philosophers do. Bruya repeats the non-sequitur that an APA survey (of only participants in one Eastern Divison meeting, the Eastern Division being the most atypical of the three Divisions) would have resulted in a different distribution of specialties. Many (most? I haven't checked them all) of the specialties that Bruya labels "other" are, in fact, part of existing specialty categories. If my 95% estimate is wrong, we still haven't seen the evidence.
5. Bruya manages never to respond to the points, above, about expertise, though assures us that he thinks his argument was a good one. Readers can decide for themselves.
6. Bruya repeats the falsehood that Leiter & Rosen endorse his version of Methodological Continentalists, as exemplified by programs like Emory, Oregon, and Duquesne. He now produces a quote which shows nothing of the kind.
7. Bruya thinks an alternative way of producing an overall ranking is to simply "sum" all the specialty scores. I confess it never occurred to me or anyone on the Advisory Board that this could possibly be a sensible way to proceed. Readers may decide for themselves whether Bruya is persuasive on this point.
Bruya, I suppose, is counting on the fact that the appearance of a response, complete with school marmish posturing, will suffice, and that readers won't examine his confused paper carefully enough to see what's really going on. Maybe he is right. Nonetheless, I continue to predict with confidence that Brit Brogaard and a new Advisory Board will not adopt any of the suggestions offered by Bruya because she is smart and will appoint a smart Advisory Board, and it's easy enough for any smart person without an axe to grind to see that the criticisms are mostly confused or tendentious (not all, some are familiar, but not significant). I am also hopeful that Metaphilosophy, which allegedly has a peer review process, will withdraw the article in light of the fabrications and defamatory smears.
ANOTHER: Unfortunately for Prof. Bruya, the philosopher of physics David Wallace did examine the paper carefully, and his conclusions are damning.
It may come as a shock that a candidate for President in last night's Republican debate, said something false, but as it happens Senator Rubio asserted falsely that welders make more than philosophers, but it isn't true. Average salaries for welders well into their careers are in $37,000-$39,000 range, far below the starting salary of assistant professors of philosophy at research universities ($65,000 and up) and at other colleges and universities (a wider range, but I've yet to see a salary for an assistant professor lower than $45,000 in recent years). Amusingly, even the popular media has called him out on this noting that even the average B.A. in philosophy earns more than welders. It's a shame, though, that this point had to be made at the expense of welders.
Feel free to links to more pertinent data.
In any case, with the facts clarified, it is good to know that at least one Republican candidate will now champion the cause of philosophers.
According to the Philosophy Metablog, philosopher Aidan McGlynn (Edinburgh) could not let the embarrassing reaction to a link to Les Green's piece on Greer earlier this week rest. Please note that what Dr. McGlynn referred to as a "problematic" and "offensive" article is this perfectly sensible and informed analysis of the sense in which gender is a social construct and its bearing on the question whether or not transgender women are women. The thought crime at issue was Justin Weinberg's linking to one small part of this essay by the Professor of the Philosophy of Law at Oxford University (who, as informed readers will know, has written quite a lot of important work about sexuality and gender). Here's McGlynn (in part):
I’m still disappointed with [Justin Weinberg]. The twitter post that created the fuss is still up, days after people pointed out how problematic it is, and Justin’s preferred tactic seems to be to ignore many of the people raising concerns (particularly Rachel)....First, some people don’t see anything wrong with linking to a problematic or offensive article so long as it’s made clear which bits one is cherry-picking. I don’t agree, and I don’t agree that it was clear in this instance....This discussion has nothing to do with ‘thought-policing’ (though in fairness, to my knowledge only one person has suggested otherwise). We’re not talking about Justin’s thoughts – we’re talking about what’s on the twitter feed associated with one of the places members of the profession need to go to for information and discussion concerning issues about the profession. Moreover, this is clearly how Justin took my remarks – he explicitly responded in terms of what he thought appropriate to take a stand on with the twitter feed associated with the Daily Nous [blog]. No one should expect Leiter to care about that distinction, of course....
It's fair to say I don't "care about" an irrelevant distinction, but put that aside. This finger-wagging produced a number of rude and sometimes quite apt rebukes at the Metablog, of which this one made me laugh:
The vocabulary is one of the main things I just can't stand: 'I'm still disappointed... deeply problematic...' Don't these people realize they sound like passive-aggressive schoolteachers, as reimagined by your worst nightmare? I actually prefer McKinnon's style to this, and that's really saying something.
And then there's the suggestion that it doesn't count as 'thought-policing' unless it involves the metaphysically impossible feat of actually policing people's thoughts. Does McGlynn seriously doubt that, if the relevant people could do that (whatever that would amount to), they would?
The vocab is hard to keep up with. Should we start a running glossary?
"Problematic": adj. (of arguments) false; (of pratices) must be banned; (of utterances) must be retracted and apologised for; (of tweets) must be deleted;
"Free speech": n. a problematic concept [see above]
"Censorship": n. the alleged suppression of problematic ideas, a largely mythical practice. [compare "silence"]
"Silence": v. (1) to ignore, not talk about. (2) to disagree with (3) to discuss a marginalized individual [see below] in terms they would prefer not to be discussed
"erase": v. synonym for silence
"identity": n. an (esp. marginalised) individual's conception of themself. NB all other definitions, such as those which have been explored by philosophers over the past two millennia, are problematic [see above]
"offense" - n. something nobody ever complained about [compare "harm"]
"harm" - the inevitable consequence of erasing [see above] an individuals identity [see above]
"listen" - (to a marginalised individual), agree with, show deference to,
"bully" - v. synonym for erase
"expert" - n. a marginalised person
"educate" - v. to inform a non-marginalised person of the correct opinion
"safe space" - one in which no identity is erased. Unsafe spaces are problematic [see above].
When I asked Dr. McGlynn via e-mail whether he had written the piece in question, he acknowledged doing so, but added, "I have been reflecting on this, and I have subsequently decided that I should not have written it. Therefore having initially edited it, I have taken down the entire post from my facebook page. Please accept my apologies." I am happy to accept his apology, though I don't feel he owes me one. I worry, alas, that the views expressed are consistent with the views he has expressed elsewhere, and are indicative of how some (hopefully small) portion of the profession thinks about these issues. Since this way of thinking is anathema to academic life, it's time for those who believe in freedom of thought and discourse to object, and object strenuously.
Meanwhile, Rachel McKinnon (Charleston) continues her twitter tirade against Justin Weinberg* (South Carolina), whom she apparently believed to be an "ally." (Her idea of an "ally" seems to be what everyone else would probably call "a spineless toady.") In any case, I will let Prof. McKinnon speak for herself:
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."
This is obviously crazy, and would not happen in any civilized society, and the backlash is already in progress. But I have to say I am just really sorry for my wonderful colleagues who are being put through this. I fear it will be the end of the University of Texas as a serious university, really one of the best state universities in America. (A few years after joining the UT Austin faculty, I used to joke that this was a great university but it needed to move to a civililzed state. Things have gotten much worse since. I really fear for the future there.)
...that exactly four years ago Rick "I'm actually dumber than I appear to be" Perry was leading the polls at nearly 30% for the Repug nomination. In other words, there's a lot more mischief ahead of us, long after the Republican Establishment destroys Trump. It's true that Trump is the most overtly racist of the current contenders, but he's far more sane on almost every other issue than the rest of them. So watch what you wish for!
Let’s do away with this shit. Many millions of Americans want their next president to be Carly Fiorina—an inept, failed CEO with no experience of public service who spent last night threatening to make war on half the fucking planet. She was like the eighth most irresponsible psychopath on the stage, and the rest of them, down to the least of them, all represent vast constituencies. This isn’t a failure of the political system—this is the political system working, expressing the will of the governed.
Any polity that can produce such an outcome should be abolished. Dissolve the United States, replacing it with a set of city-states, villages, and thinly-peopled hinterlands; let every public that wants one have their own Carly Fiorina or Bobby Jindal, and let everyone else go about their business. The candidate who proposes that will be the one to get behind.
...from narcissistic Berkeley undergrads this time. They apparently didn't notice the course was called "classics" of social theory. They do not engage the content of these classics at all, just their demographics, as though it is astonishing that during millennia of sexism and racism, the only authors to survive are white and men (they might have at least noted Foucault was gay). And since they do not engage the content, they fail to note the extent to which the ideas of, for example, Marx and Foucault contribute to the most powerful critiques of Western modernity.
The mindlessness to one side, it is a fair question why if you're going to include a late 20th-century author like Foucault among the "classics" of social theory, one should not also include, say, Adorno or de Beauvoir? But that, alas, was not the question raised.
A number of readers have written to me about one William Bradford, who has a rather sordid history in legal academia; the latest development is here and follow the links therein for more about this strange character.
This rather odd piece is making the rounds (thanks to reader David Zimmerman for sending it to me initially). It is titled, "5 Reasons to Be Skeptical of 'Campus Coddling' Scare Pieces," alluding to this. Oddly, though, there's only one actual reason given, since the other four points are irrelevant to whether or not these "scare pieces" are accurate. Here are the five purported reasons:
1. Most of the examples to support these pieces are purely anecdotal
True, but what in the world would data even look like in this context? And the denial that there is a problem is, of course, anecdotal too. What's clear by now is that there are a lot of anecdotes from a lot of different places; if they have anything in common that would caution against generalizing it is that they come overwhelmingly from elite colleges and universities, which probably have disproportionate numbers of coddled, spoiled narcissists in the student body.
2. Conservatives are in fact more likely to be “sensitive” and “babyish” about content, yet all the alarm is about liberalism.
Even if this were true, it would be irrelevant to the claims about the "New Infantilism" on campus. But is it true? The author offers this further non-sequitur:
A recent op-ed in the Washington Post also used facts and numbers to push back on the idea that “political correctness” was a left-wing phenomenon. Citing a survey about censorship, Catherine Rampell noted that: “In almost every category, Republicans were more likely than Democrats to endorse book bans.” Why is no one calling these censorious types squeamish babies who demand to be coddled?
Well, for one things, the attempts to ban books are not happening at colleges, typically, but at the pre-collegiate public schools, and one typically calls those trying to ban books more unpleasant names, e.g., "fascists" or "the Texas Taliban."
3. There may be real ways that millennials have a different cultural outlook, but no one is exploring the cause and effect of technology and culture on that outlook.
The question is how widespread the New Infantilism is, the question about its cause is separate, so this is irrelevant.
4. There are crises in academia, but they are not solely curricular or student-caused.
The author mentions the problems confronting adjuncts, as one example. Who could disagree? But the truth of the presence of the New Infantilism on college campuses does not depend on whether there are other more serious crises in the academy.
5. PTSD is not a being a baby.
No one called those suffering from PTSD "babies." Someone with PTSD is entitled to systematic accomodations under the Americans with Disabilites Act, and should receive them.
Given how absurdly unresponsive this piece is, one might note that another problem confronting universities is graduating nitwits who can't reason--though, as a friend on facebook quipped, for a site called "flavorwire," coming up with one feeble reason out of five alleged ones isn't bad!
As the newly released e-mails show, these two geniuses (Burbules and Tolliver) aided and abetted and rationalized the unlawful behavior by the Chancellor. The University of Illinois may be rid of Wise (who comes across as a remarkable lightweight in these e-mails), but no one there should rest easy until these two miscreants are removed from all administrative positions.
UPDATE: Corey Robin points out one e-mail in which Chancellor Wise admits to trying to destroy and conceal what would otherwise be discoverable evidence. Not smart, or prudent. That admission will be costly, I expect.
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)