Everyone is risk-averse; and not

Over at Daily Nous, there’s discussion of an argument by John Symons that academic philosophy has become more risk-averse. Symons writes that

…the current incentive structure of academic philosophy in the United States favors cautious and modest research agendas for early career philosophers. Philosophical inquiry thrives when it is conducted in a spirit that risks overreaching a bit and welcomes criticism. Philosophy thrives when its creative, skeptical, and self-critical core is not subordinated to excessively cautious American-style professionalism…

The trick, though, is that any system where there are more researchers than jobs must hire some of them but not others. This creates an incentive structure for scholars to do work that tends to get people hired.

In a system which rewards provocative overreaching, a risk-averse young scholar who wanted to maximize their chance of a job would portray their work as provocative overreach. This would probably mean not citing too much other work (so as not to make one’s project look too in-the-box) and, when citing things, doing so only with disapproval (so as to suggest that one is against the system). Someone who is genuinely interested in formalizing the context sensitivity of epistemic modals would have to include a fiery introduction that explains why their work sticks it to the man.

Ultimately, risk-aversion can arise in any incentive structure.

Moreover, no young philosophers are truly risk-averse. They have spent years of their life pursuing a PhD in Philosophy, which is a risky proposition regardless of the research topic. The genuinely risk averse young adults didn’t become philosophers.

UAlbany hiring in Philosophy of AI

The University at Albany is hiring dozens of faculty across the disciplines to launch the UAlbany AI Institute. One of those lines is a tenure-track position in Philosophy.

As part of this enormous cluster hire, the schedule is not the usual thing. The JFP ad just went live today, and we’ll begin review of applications January 12— so the search is open for just over a month. And the job starts Fall 2023.

Note that, although the new person will need to teach AI Ethics, this is not specifically an Ethics search. It is in Philosophy of AI broadly construed, which includes relevant value theory but also philosophy of mind and philosophy of science.

If that’s you, please apply.1 If you know someone who would be a good candidate, please encourage them to apply.

Why I love my publisher

My book, A Philosophy of Cover Songs, was published by Open Book Publishers. They are, as their website says, “a not-for-profit Social Enterprise run by academics who are committed to making high-quality and prize-winning research available to all, and… the hub of choice for a rapidly increasing international network of scholars who believe that it is time for academic publishing to become fairer, faster and more accessible.” They were my first-choice publisher for the book, and my experience with them has been great.

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Presumptuous invitation

It feels a bit cringe to think in terms of professional networking, but a few recent posts have me thinking about the personal and professional connections that maintain philosophical life.

TL;DR: 1. I should be better about keeping in touch and attending on-line events. 2. If you feel like you’d benefit from being in touch with me, feel free to reach out.

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Open access and the falsest of false dilemmas

It’s been a while since I’ve complained about the narrow understandings of open access that too many people have got, but I’ve been meaning to post about Keith Burgess-Jackson’s provacatively titled Why I Publish in “Predatory” Journals—and Why You Should, Too. He argues rightly that open-access journals have several advantages over traditional journals, but fails to imagine relevant alternatives. To summarize the advantages he discusses:

  1. Audience: More people will read a freely available article than one that’s only available to subscribers and pirates.
  2. Publication speed: Traditional journals can be slow both to review an article and to put it into print.
  3. Length: Traditional journals often won’t publish papers longer than 7-8,000 words.
  4. Ownership: Traditional journals often require authors to relinquish copyright.
  5. Referees: Journal referees often respond in obtuse ways. They either reject a paper for weird reasons or demand unnecessary changes.

On the basis of these reasons, he argues that (a) we should stop publishing in traditional journals and (b) we should start paying open-access journals to publish our papers.

This is the falsest of false dilemmas, and the recommendation he arrives at is pretty bad.

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Non sequitur references and possible paper mills

Via Kevin Zollman, I recently learned about the work Elisabeth Bik and her team have done to identify what they call the Tadpole paper mill, an operation responsible for “over 400 [papers] from different authors and affiliations that all appear to have been generated by the same source.” The image forensic techniques that Bik and colleagues use have no ready application in philosophy. Still, there are dubious publications.

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The mysterious island

Deep within these grooves of Academe,
In quiet cubicles, white and bare,
Hunched homunculi strain and labor
(Like monks of old in cloistered cells
Balancing angels on needles’ points)
At tasks bizarre with tools outrageous
Through days and nights of anguish unrelenting.

Edith Eliot1
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Measuring influence

At The Splintered Mind, Eric Schwitzgebel gives what he describes as “a rough measure of current influence in … ‘mainstream Anglophone philosophy’.” His method starts with citations in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Considering only authors born after 1900, he tallies up the number of distinct articles in which they are cited.

The highly-influential Hilary Putnam is cited in 168 articles. Using that to ostensively define a unit, identify that as 1 Putnam of influence.

Putnam is in third place on the list, behind WVO Quine (1.14 Putnams of influence) and David Lewis (1.59 Putnams).

The inevitable vanity search and a little math reveals that I have 77.4 milliPutnams of influence.1 Should I be chuffed about that? Can I put it on my CV?

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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