Hot takes on Controversial Ideas

I’ve run into lots of posts and news about The Journal of Controversial Ideas, both from philosophers who you’d expect to be talking about this thing and elsewhere.1 The journal, organized by Jeff McMahan, Peter Singer, Francesca Minerva and others, is meant to be a forum for scholarly papers which scholars would be afraid to publish elsewhere. To shield authors from blowback, all the papers will be published anonymously.

A. Lots of people have commented that the new journal is likely to be a cesspool of racism, sexism, and other terrible views which people like to pretend they can’t talk about. I suggest this modest principle: If the president can tweet a view, then there are already sufficient venues for its expression.

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Flavours of Open Access

Over on Facebook, Matt Brown linked to my previous post and some interesting discussion ensued.1 In one sub-thread, Matt makes some distinctions between different types of OA. He mentions one I hadn’t seen before, Copper OA, coined by Egon Willighagen and defined this way:

1. the author(s) remain copyright owners,

2. the work is made available under an Open license to all users a free, irrevocable, worldwide, right of access to and a license to copy, use, distribute, transmit and display the work publicly and to make and distribute derivative works in any digital medium for any purpose, subject to proper attribution of authorship, as well as any further rights we associate with Open as outlined by, for example, the Debian Free Software Guidelines.

This is kind of a mess, resulting in part from the collision between the push for open access in academia and the older open source software movement. When I wrote forall x, back in 2005, most people could only understand it on analogy with open source software. Now, more people know about Creative Commons licenses. And CC licenses are just a better framework for licensing text than free software licenses are.

It’s important to note that there are at least two dimensions of ‘open’ which are getting conflated here.

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I’m not going to feel guilty about not reading your closed-access paper

There are lots of times that I find a reference or a link to a paper that looks like it could have something to do with a topic that I’m researching. If there is a readily-available version of the paper, then I read it. If it is in a closed-access journal, then I may check to see if I have access through my university library. Especially for recent or on-line first papers, the answer is often no.

At this point, I could request a copy by interlibrary loan or e-mail the author to ask for a copy. Sometimes I do these things, but only sometimes. There isn’t time to chase down copies of every possibly-relevant paper. So there are papers I never read that would be useful if I did look at them.

I used to feel guilty about this, but I’ve decided that I’m over it.

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Puzzling about philosophy books

1. Publishers usually set the prices of philosophy books so as to exploit the market, rather than so as to maximize readership. I hate my publisher especially, but putting ideas in books often means sequestering them where they won’t be read.

2. Most philosophy is best done in journal articles, both for reasons of style and dissemination. Philosophy is no longer a discipline that requires a book for tenure. So the obvious response to 1 is just not to write books.

Nevertheless, there are still some projects that make sense as books rather than as articles. So what’s one to do?

3. For a textbook, I can offer it as an Open Education Resource. If it meets a need, other people will use it. And it can be acknowledged as legit after the fact.

4. For a monograph, I can share an unformatted draft in the same way I do for articles. This kind of self-archiving (Green OA) should be more common than it is, but that’s a rant for another post.

The thing I’m puzzling about is what alternatives there are for the published book itself.

5. This post felt like it should be a list of numbered points, even though it looks pretentious now that I’ve typed it out.

How do matters lie with the polygraph dissertation?

I’ve been thinking lately about dissertations. The traditional model is for a PhD student to write a book-length exploration of a topic. A newer model is for the student to write several publishable papers on related topics. I’ve heard the former called the monograph dissertation, which naturally makes the latter a polygraph dissertation.1

I have met some philosophers who are hostile to the polygraph dissertation, but not for any clear reasons. I’ve met others who welcome the new model. As someone advising graduate students, I would like to have a better sense of what the disciplinary norms are.2

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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.

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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.

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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.

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