The PGR’s Technical Problems (updated)

The PGR’s Technical Problems (updated)


Several recent posts here have discussed questions regarding the leadership of the Philosophical Gourmet Report (PGR), the best known ranking of philosophy graduate programs, with some discussion of what an alternative to the PGR might look like. In the meanwhile, discussions continue between the creator and current editor of the PGR, Brian Leiter (Chicago), and representatives of a majority of the PGR’s board members who have signed a letter asking Leiter to step down.

Alongside all of this have been discussion about what the PGR purports to measure, and whether it does this well. Though it has been mentioned in a few threads, it is worth drawing readers’ attention to “Our Naked Emperor: The Philosophical Gourmet Report,” by Zachary Ernst, a short and well-written piece explaining some concerns about the soundness of the PGR. Ernst writes:

It is my contention that the Report is not merely unsound as a ranking system and detrimental to the profession; it is obviously unsound as a ranking system and obviously detrimental to the profession. Indeed, its flaws are so obvious that it would seem to be unnecessary to discuss them. However, the Report is also an institution unto itself. It is so deeply entrenched into the profession of academic philosophy that otherwise highly intelligent and critical professionals seem to have developed a blind spot to it. Indeed, the Report’s flaws are so obvious and so severe that I find it embarrassing to be influenced by it, even unwillingly.

In addition, Gregory Wheeler, at Choice & Inference, has a series of posts on the measurement issues in the PGR, particularly concerning sampling and representativeness, leading him to conclude that “while the results of the survey might be accidentally true, in a Gettier sort of way, there is no reason to believe they are true,” and to recommend abolishing the PGR.

All of this makes for an excellent case study for those working on issues at the intersection of philosophy of social science and ethics.

These technical complaints, along with the other previously mentioned concerns, have led some to call for “No Rankings, Not Now, Not Ever.” That will take you to John Protevi’s blog, where he links to some other critiques, and asks people to join him in expressing opposition to rankings.

UPDATE: Interested readers should check out the Philosophers Anon and Philosophy Smoker posts on these issues. The latter has several helpful links, too.

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