Release the doggerels

Over at Crooked Timber, Harry Brighouse exhorts readers to write philosophical clerihews.

I was unfamiliaer with the form, but it’s not complicated. A clerihew is a four-line poem about some person or other with an AABB rhyming pattern. The sort of thing Ogden Nash would have written if he’d been less pithy.1

I contributed a couple, and I shamelessly cut and paste them here.

The Scotsman Thomas Reid
had a commonsensical creed,
a fondness for calico cats,
and questionable taste in hats.

The mustachioed John Dewey
might have gone all kablam and kablooey
if he had not understood inquiry
in a way that avoided such injury.

Continue reading “Release the doggerels”

E-publishing boondoggle

Via Daily Nous, I learn that Pacific Philosophical Quarterly (PPQ) has begun offering an odd choice to authors. When a paper is accepted, the author can opt either to have their paper appear post haste in an on-line only issue or to wait years for their paper to appear in a print issue. Articles in the print issue will appear on-line at the time of publication.

The publisher insists that the on-line only issues and the print+on-line issues will be of the same prestige and significance. After all, a paper is  accepted for publication before being assigned to one or the other.

Continue reading “E-publishing boondoggle”

Recruitment blast

As I wrote a while ago, my department is trying to drum up more graduate applications. One strategy is to send out encouraging e-mails. I’m endeavoring to write to all the philosophy departments in our corner of the country. I’m presently in the middle of that, so you might hear from me soon.

In the interests of maximizing reach, I’m posting the e-mail here too.

Continue reading “Recruitment blast”

Characterizing philosophy

I recently came across a passage that characterizes analytic philosophy in this way: “when it comes to constructing arguments, we beat words and ideas into submission.”1 I am ambivalent about identifying as an analytic philosopher, but I don’t really recognize myself in this at all.2

Philosophical prose is not written like poetry, but I’ve never felt it was like beating anything into submission. Reflecting on why that passage felt so wrong to me, I hit on a different analogy.

Continue reading “Characterizing philosophy”

Shagg Carpet would be a good name for a Shaggs cover band

via The New Yorker, I learn that the outsider rock band The Shaggs recently had a reunion just down the road from me. Writer Howard Fishman asks

Was it fair to even call this band the Shaggs? Or was it, rather, a Shaggs cover band providing a live karaoke soundtrack for the Wiggins to sing along with?

As someone who once judged a contest in which contestants tackled the question of whether a band can be its own cover band, I can’t let this pass as just a rhetorical question.

Continue reading “Shagg Carpet would be a good name for a Shaggs cover band”

Two links about AI

There are some articles that I read and think I ought to blog about that. Then I realize that I basically have. So this is basically a link dump kind of post.

Link #1: Geoffrey Hinton cautions that deep learning is not especially deep

I’ve written some posts about the glitzy fad for “deep learning”. It has the same strengths and weaknesses it had when it traveled under the less-shiny banner of “back-propagation neural networks”.

Link #2: Efforts to understand the bias inherent in algorithms

Procedures that are superficially objective can encode bias. I don’t have anything deep to say here, but I’ve blogged about it before.

The slipperiness of significant publication

I’ve written before about trying to establish the significance of a philosophy publication, which mostly becomes an issue at tenure and promotion time. In an earlier post, I argued that citation counts are mostly rubbish for philosophy. Still, there are pressures to provide numerical measures.

In support of a recent tenure case, our department gave the acceptance rates at journals as evidence of their significance.1 The danger in using such a measure is that, if widely adopted, it would quickly become uninformative.2 If scholars get more credit for publishing in journals with low acceptance rates, they will preferentially start to submit to those. The journals will get more submissions but still accept the same number. This will, in turn, drive down the acceptance rates of those journals.

I recently learned that there is a name for this general phenomenon, Goodhart’s Law: “When a measure becomes a target, it ceases to be a good measure.”

This shifts it from being this hunch I have to being a well-established phenomenon. I can now invoke it with greater conversational gravitas. Continue reading “The slipperiness of significant publication”

Nothing leads where I expect

When I started News For Wombats, I expected to be writing slightly different stuff than I did at Footnotes on Epicycles (my old blog).

I thought I’d post about politics, but I haven’t.

The present scene is alternately too depressing and too crazy. One example of a post that almost happened: I was struck, in the aftermath of Charlottesville, that the New York Times could could still whinge about Trump’s “moral standing as president.”1 I mulled it over a bit before posting, Trump doubled down on deferring to racism, and then the Time’s understatement seemed hardly worth mentioning.

I thought I’d write more capsule reviews, but I haven’t.

For example, the Netflix show Iron Fist is almost unwatchable. I ultimately soldiered through so that I could pick up the continuity of the Defenders. The biggest problem with Iron Fist is that the action scenes are terrible. I don’t just mean that the martial arts are technically poor (which they are) but also that they fail narratively. I am fine with fight scenes in old Star Trek episodes: Kirk takes out aliens with hammy rabbit punches, but it comes across that he’s supposed to be pretty good at punching. Silly fight choreography aside, the narrative is clear. In Iron Fist, Mister Fist is thrown around by even mook-level bad guys. The show doesn’t let me the viewer know that he’s supposed to actually be good at this.2

Hey, now I have written about those things. How about that?3 Continue reading “Nothing leads where I expect”

Tweets point nowhere

Mark Simonson’s blog got me thinking about information technology and the original aspirations of hypertext. Simonson laments that current technology is too much driven by concepts taken from print media. Part of the problem is the lack of a clearly defined alternative. Ted Nelson, who coined the word “hypertext”, had a vision of multiple texts floating on-screen with lines connecting points in one to points in another. I don’t see how that wouldn’t end up like items on a cork board linked by lengths of yarn, the idiom for madness from A Beautiful Mind which has become Hollywood shorthand for crazy conspiracy theories.

Old school blogging actually seems like a pretty good realization of hypertext. Good blog post take a while to write because you’ve got to provide pointers so that someone who hasn’t got context or who is curious can follow up. Someone who wants even more can search on key terms.

All of this crystallized for me what I don’t like about Twitter. In order to cut a thought down to Tweet length, people leave out context. What are they enraged about? What’s the thrust that drew their clever riposte? I can’t always tell.

Sometimes thoughts that won’t fit into a single tweet are written as a stream, possibly with numbered entries 1/9, 2/9,… I see entry 4 of 9 because someone reweeted it, and it’s a serious investment of effort just to view the original series in order. Even then, I can’t always suss out the context.

Twitter, in short, is hypotext. It eschews the links of hypertext but also the context you’d expect from a letter or newspaper article.

Part of the shift is that many people go on-line primarily with phones or tablets, appliances that are great for scrolling and clicking but bad for following multiple threads. Twitter and Facebook turn our feeds into one-dimensional things. We can scroll through, liking and reposting as we go. But reposting just drops another log somewhere into the flume.