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”
Making things publicly available, rather than just sending them if someone asks, is something philosophers in general don’t do enough.
I wrote this two levels deep in a thread on Facebook, and it’s a point worth making here.
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.” I am ambivalent about identifying as an analytic philosopher, but I don’t really recognize myself in this at all.
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”
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”
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.
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. The danger in using such a measure is that, if widely adopted, it would quickly become uninformative. 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”
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.” 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.
Hey, now I have written about those things. How about that? Continue reading “Nothing leads where I expect”
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.
Based on your own sense of how words work, pick one of the following:
- Every word is an anagram of itself.
- Some but not all words are anagrams of themselves.
- No word is an anagram of itself.
There’s a principled case to be made for every answer. Cristyn and I hashed it out over goat cheese last night, but I won’t tell you the considerations we mustered on various sides or what we concluded. I’m curious about what you think.
My department has had a precipitous drop in both applications and admissions for our PhD program. We have funded positions which we haven’t been able to fill with new-to-program students. These are a pretty good deal and involve no teaching responsibilities for the first year.
So I have two requests:
First, how do you think we should go about trying to make people who might be interested aware of the opportunity? Some programs mail out glossy posters touting their graduate programs. I suspect those mostly get thrown away, however, and I’m not sure that people these days look to posters for information.
Second, if you are in the position of mentioning our program to someone who might be suited for it, then please do so. Obviously this isn’t everybody: Students who can get funded slots at top-ranked programs should take them, some students should be talked out of going to grad school, and so on. But there are students who would get a lot out of coming here. We have strong faculty in a number of areas. Our graduates have a decent record of getting permanent and even tenure-track jobs. Many have gotten jobs at community colleges, the sort of jobs that aren’t even on the radar for graduates from top-ranked programs.
If you have ideas or questions, please comment.