Thoughts on the PGR and the Recent Controversy (Guest Post by Alex Rosenberg)


Alex Rosenberg is the R. Taylor Cole Professor of Philosophy at Duke University. He is known for his work in philosophy of science, particularly philosophy of biology, as well as the philosophy of social science and metaphysics. In the following guest post* he discusses the current controversy regarding the Philosophical Gourmet Report, defending its accuracy, value, and Brian Leiter’s management and ownership of it.


 Some Thoughts on the PGR and the Recent Controversy Regarding It

Let me begin by noting that the grad program I am associated with is very much in the middle of the pack (number 24 in the most recent PGR) and some of us at Duke think that we are a better program than that. We’ll quote citation Hirsh-scores and Stanford Encyclopedia citations, and whatever else we can get our hands on to prove different. So I have no particular motive to defend the status quo in regard to management of the PGR.

A little history
A decade or more ago Brian Leiter and the PGR were subjected to an attack, complete with petitions, from programs at the higher reaches of the Ivy League, claiming that the PGR rankings, then very much reflecting Brian’s personal opinions, were defective and did a disservice to grad students, sending them away from these hallowed institutions. The partisans of this attack were prompted by complaints from their administrators that unlike all other grad programs at the “best” universities, their philosophy departments were regularly turned down by grad students going to less prestigious universities, owing to Brian’s rankings.

Brian responded to these self-serving objections to his rankings by inviting dozens, then scores, and by now several hundred philosophers to provide reputational rankings that would test, and perhaps displace, his own purely personal ones. To the surprise of few, the rankings provided by a several hundred person panel of philosophers were indistinguishable from Brian’s own personal ones.  Nevertheless, in the interests of reliability, Brian continued at considerable logistical cost to involve increasingly many philosophers in the rankings, annually refreshing the panels through nomination (unvetted by Brian) of new participants.

If several score or even a hundred or so raters now decline to participate, the result will probably be much the same, equally reliable, and perhaps provide a further test of the “construct validity” of the rankings (see immediately below). 

The PGR and the structure of our discipline
About five years ago, Kieran Healy, a sociologist married to Laurie Paul, subjected the PRG rankings to an analysis. The most striking finding of his analysis was that the rankings of the top 20 departments by philosophers from the top 20 departments was almost identical to the ranking of the top 20 departments by philosophers from the bottom 20 departments. Our discipline is more like mathematics in its social structure than it is like other humanities or social sciences. What’s more, Kieran’s findings revealed what sort of weightings philosophers give to the various subspecialties in their reputational rankings (alas, I learned, the philosophy of science is not in the top three—phil of mind, phil of language and metaphysics).

All this means that Brian Leiter has provided us with a reliable picture of our discipline, one we can use, to advise our students, our junior colleagues, and even to correct myths about our discipline cherished by our administrators.

Over several decades now he has done our profession a singular service.

The PGR as intellectual property
Locke famously offered an account of the justification of private property, one that Nozick brought to our attention in Anarchy, State and Utopia. The account worked like this: morally permissible private property begins with original acquisition, and that happens when you mix your labor with nature, and leave as good and as much for others. Alas, this “Lockean” proviso is impossible to satisfy. Or at least it is in every original acquisition other than the case of intellectual property. Here one mixes one mental labor with nature—empirical facts about reality, including social reality. Since there are an infinite number of good ideas, the creator of intellectual property leaves as much and as good for others, and therefore has an unqualified right to what he has created.

Brian Leiter’s ownership of the PGR satisfies the most stringent test of private property I know. It’s his creation and he excluded no one else from mixing his or her labor with nature to produce a substitute for or for that matter a complement to his creation.

In light of this fact, the effort to separate him from his intellectual property owing to disapproval of his emails and posts seems rather preposterous.

Free speech
It is open to disapprove of Brian’s emails, to consider his adverting to the laws of libel as un-collegial, to deprecate the tone of his responses to accusations. But the notion that he should be deprived of his intellectual property as some sort of sanction for the expression of opinions whose substance and tone many disagree with, strikes me as a species of confiscation without due compensation that has been seen a couple of times before, in 20th European history.

Our community’s strong and unequivocal commitment to free speech should make such proposals literally out of bounds. Let us by all means reply to views we reject, and even do so in language as intemperate, if needs be, as the terms in which the views we repudiate are expressed.

Let’s remember Hume’s observation that mistakes in religion are dangerous, but mistakes in philosophy are merely ridiculous. That goes for mistakes by philosophers too.

Alex Rosenberg

 

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G.Byrne
G.Byrne
7 years ago

“…strikes me as a species of confiscation without due compensation that has been seen a couple of times before, in 20th European history.”

With friends like these, Leiter needs no enemies. I take it that Rosenberg is alluding to Nazism and Stalinism above. I confess that I was tempted to laugh. It would be hard to think of a more effective reductio.Report

A minority student
A minority student
7 years ago

Even if Prof. Rosenberg’s argument is sound, one can still refuse to contribute to PGR when BL still controls it. The argument from intellectual property says nothing about not signing the September statement. I expect more philosophers signing the statement, as Simon May argues.Report

Max
Max
7 years ago

So just because the lowest 20 agree with the highest 20 departments about the reputation of a department the ranking suddenly measures quality (By the way, the top departments are way overrepresented on the board of evaluators)? The point has been made over and over by Richard Heck but what is reputation alone good for? What if the PGR has already influenced so many people that it reinforces itself?
The PGR advertises itself as a guide to graduate study but since its main measure is reputation should it not be named a ranking of philosophy departments’ research quality (curiously enough without taking into account citation numbers…).

So far only a small minority wanted Leiter to turn over his PGR and nobody has called for a confiscation of it against Leiter’s will. Most people, if in favor of rankings at all, want something more transparent, more open to the public and less prone to reputational bias. Would it be so hard for the profession as a whole to set up another ranking? Or are philosophers afraid that they have to explain to administrators that the old PGR which they used as leverage was not that good after all, hence the need for a new one?Report

j/k
j/k
Reply to  Max
7 years ago

“nobody has called for a confiscation of it against Leiter’s will”

This is just false: many of the commentators in these threads are saying that Leiter should be “ousted”, that the “honor” of running the PGR should be taken from him, etc.

“Would it be so hard for the profession as a whole to set up another ranking?”

Then do it. I myself think Leiter is a jerk and that it is embarrassing that he has such a prominent place in our profession.* I’d happy defect to another equally good ranking system. But there isn’t one. There isn’t even a worse but still usable alternative ranking system. If you want to set one up, great. In the meantime, I’m unwilling to sacrifice the needs of prospective graduate students to satisfying my dislike of Leiter.

*Although, on the basis of much of the discourse about this issue, I’m starting to wonder if most other philosophers would be equally embarrassing, or worse.Report

Kathryn Pogin
Kathryn Pogin
Reply to  j/k
7 years ago

I would venture that the needs of prospective graduate students extend beyond a ranking of department reputation, including but not limited to, attention to professional climate.Report

j/k
j/k
Reply to  Kathryn Pogin
7 years ago

No doubt they do. (Unless, as many people seem to think, they can just ask their undergraduate advisors.) But it can hardly be a criticism of Leiter or the PGR that it doesn’t satisfy *all* the needs of prospective graduate students, can it? Leiter himself has been a huge champion of departments publishing their placement records, another bit of information that is very useful to prospective graduate students.Report

Kathryn Pogin
Kathryn Pogin
Reply to  Kathryn Pogin
7 years ago

Sure. But my point is that unless you have done a weighting of all the various needs of prospective students it is premature to say that we should leave aside considerations recent events in deciding how the community makes use of, and participates in, the PGR, lest we “sacrifice the needs of prospective graduate students.” My point is that I think overlooking (in the sense of not actively responding to) egregiously bad behavior is against the interest of prospective students.Report

Anonymous
Anonymous
Reply to  Kathryn Pogin
7 years ago

Ok, maybe we agree. I am just saying that, as of now, there isn’t a decent usable alternative to the PGR, and so getting rid of it would harm prospective grad students. I am fine with other people doing other rankings, trying to make improvements on the PGR, etc. But right now the PGR is basically all we have. So I don’t think we should tear it down. Since I don’t take you to be claiming that the PGR is worse than nothing, it seems like you agree. Is that right?Report

wheeler
7 years ago

The claim that “The most striking finding of his analysis was that the rankings of the top 20 departments by philosophers from the top 20 departments was almost identical to the ranking of the top 20 departments by philosophers from the bottom 20 departments” is ambiguous and difficult to disentangle without access to the raw survey data, which is not a feature of the PGR. By coincidence, Jerry Reiter, also at Duke, is an expert in anonymizing survey data. The suggestion to improve the PGR by allowing open data to critically check claims like this one was made two years ago here. It would be interesting to learn whether this advice was followed in the current iteration of the PGR and if not, why not.

That said, there is available evidence to cast doubt on whether there is widespread agreement in the pool of evaluators, setting aside the question of whether the pool of evaluators is a representative sample of research active faculty. (It isn’t, which is relevant both to the claim that a drop in participation would tell us something about the robustness of the PGR, and that Professor Leiter has given us a “reliable picture” of the profession.) This box and whisker plot from Healy’s analysis of the 2006 PGR that you mentioned, here, points to a high variance in opinion among the rater’s about departments outside the top 7, save for the very last on the list. The picture seems instead to be that there was a lot of disagreement in 2006 among a non-representative sample of research active faculty in philosophy filling out PGR surveys of faculty quality.

A note on history: I remember well the objections raised by Richard Heck to the PGR when he was at Harvard, and I wish to register my strong disagreement with your characterization of his arguments as “self-serving”. Whomever they may have served, and in whatever tone they may have been offered, the core of his objections were methodologically sound. Some of them have been addressed by changes to the PGR over the years, but most have not.Report

Richard Heck
Richard Heck
Reply to  wheeler
7 years ago

Leiter’s response to the request linked in the first paragraph is noted on that very page, as is the fact that some of the language Leiter used is not suitable for a “family blog”. Interesting in the present context, no?Report

wheeler
Reply to  Richard Heck
7 years ago

I think Drew Gelman was amused that someone would think to defend his statistical model by insulting its critics. That this Winchellist strategy worked for as long as it has, I am afraid, may say more about us than it does about BL.Report

Eric Schliesser
Reply to  wheeler
7 years ago

I have followed up on Wheeler’s comments with some methodological criticisms of Rosenberg’s here.
Here’s an excerpt: In order “to get construct validity, we would need to have a lot more independent testing — Alex, this is method 101, no? — than the test that Healy devised. (Here’s a simple test: let’s ask a quasi-random sample of non PGR rankers that work in liberal arts colleges and state schools, but that tend to hire from within the PGR ecology.) This is not a criticism of Healy, by the way. In fact, a lot of those tests could be devised by outsiders if data were shared (see below). Moreover, what is not known is to what degree evaluators/rankers get removed or gently discouraged from the pool of rankers (say prior to 2009) if their responses were outliers. (Pruning of one’s sample.)”Report

Thomas
Thomas
7 years ago

“But the notion that he should be deprived of his intellectual property as some sort of sanction for the expression of opinions whose substance and tone many disagree with, strikes me as a species of confiscation without due compensation that has been seen a couple of times before, in 20th European history.”

I, too, found this almost unbelievable. Unlike the above commenter, however, I don’t feel like laughing.
“expressions of opinions whose substance and tone many disagree with” – yeah right, Leiter expressed “opinions” by publicly (via twitter) calling younger philosophers a “disgrace” or a “sanctimonious ass” and by privately threatening them in very severe ways with highly abusive language.
I won’t go into the ‘analogy’ with ’20th [century] european history’, that is too ridiculous to merit engagement.Report

Daniel Elstein
Daniel Elstein
7 years ago

The argument concerning Leiter’s property rights is really very strange, quite apart from the overblown rhetoric used to propound it.

Let us stipulate that Leiter does indeed own certain things: the PGR website, the name, things of that sort. What is advocated in signing the statement is that philosophers stop cooperating with the production of the PGR so long as Leiter edits it; the further implication is that those who want something like the PGR (including members of the editorial board etc.) will set up an alternative if Leiter does not relinquish the editorship. That would not be any violation of Leiter’s property rights – he does not own the idea of PGR-like rankings, nor does he have any right that we should keep cooperating with and consulting his. It might of course be undesirable were we to end up with two competing versions of the PGR (Leiter’s, and a new, re-named version supported by the majority of the old editorial board) – that might confuse prospective graduate students etc. Many will hope that Leiter would act to avoid this eventuality by graciously relinquishing the editorship of the PGR. He might also simply stop the PGR, clearing the way for a new version without allowing the use of the name and website that he owns. Again, we might find this uncooperative, but he would certainly be within his rights to do so – the most we can do on this front is persuade him to put the interests of the profession first.

Nothing the statement calls for involves any violation of Leiter’s property rights: he has the perfect right to take his toy and go home, if he doesn’t want to share on reasonable terms. We have the right to decide for ourselves the role which Leiter’s property will play in our profession. If we act so as to make his property irrelevant and so less valuable, that is still no violation of his property rights.Report

enahmias
7 years ago

Alex, I can certainly see why the “September Statement” and various comments on blogs could be interpreted as an “effort to separate him from his intellectual property.” But as others are pointing out, no one is demanding that the intellectual property PGR be forcibly removed from Leiter’s ownership (were that even possible). I still haven’t heard a response to this argument that is based on Brian’s proclaimed interest *not* to run PGR anymore (see quotation from an earlier post I made, pasted below):

1. Leiter believes he would be better off not running PGR anymore but does so for the benefits that PGR offers students.
2. The benefits PGR offers students could be provided by PGR under new leadership (perhaps increased with improvements to PGR made during transition).
3. The benefits PGR offers students will likely be diminished if it stays under Leiter’s leadership, given the number of people who will stop contributing or paying attention to it under those conditions.
4. Therefore, students would be better off if PGR were under new leadership.

Premise 1 is based on Brian’s claims quoted below. Premise 2 seems plausible as long as the new leadership is good–I would hope Brit and other new leaders could take the best of PGR and try to find ways to improve what can be improved. Premise 3 seems true *regardless* of whether one believes people are justified in wanting Leiter out–this is clearly a case where perception matters.

Your thoughts?

EARLIER POST: Leiter wrote on his blog on Sept 23: “the PGR is a service to students, not to me. For me, it’s now nothing more than a headache–both because of all the time it takes, but because it opens me up to slimy attacks by unethical and unprofessional people. It would be in my self-interest to stop publishing the PGR, but it would not be in the interests of students or the profession.” If he meant this, then, unless he thinks PGR cannot be of service to students without Leiter as one of the editors, then it seems he should be happy to have PGR run by other people (ones he presumably helps appoint). Given the number of people who would not contribute to, or respect the results of, PGR if Leiter remains one of the editors, it is false that PGR is more of a service to students with Leiter as editor than without (at least assuming the new editors can do a good job, as surely they can).

So, repeating what I suggested in an earlier thread here, isn’t the optimizing compromise to have new leadership at PGR, perhaps delaying the process so that they can consider the sorts of changes suggested at various blogs.

Like many others, I would thank Brian for his long service to the profession in creating something that was much better than nothing (even if it had some flaws, some bad effects, and could probably be improved, etc.), that clearly has been a service to many students, and that clearly was a headache to him–one it would be in his self-interest to give up.Report

senior fac
senior fac
Reply to  enahmias
7 years ago

This strikes me as one of the best arguments I’ve heard in this current conversation, Eddy, and I have not heard an effective reply either.

Very nicely said.Report

M
M
Reply to  enahmias
7 years ago

Here are two stances that Leiter can coherently combine. (1) The PGR’s value is almost entirely for the students who use it. (2) It would exhibit an utter lack of self-respect to turn over the PGR, which has been fully competently run by me for years, simply on the basis of the demands made by an alliance of (a) people who are selectively outraged over my conduct with (b) PGR-haters.

If I were Brian, I would not feel particularly comforted by the line of people offering gratitude for my work on the PGR while snapping their fingers impatiently for me to hand it over.Report

Oscar
Oscar
7 years ago

I have sat in front of Ukrainian family members in their 70s and 80s who have broken down and openly wept in despair over the effects of Stalin’s forced appropriation, which included rampant starvation, disease and social chaos. Even IF philosophers were (somehow) converging on BL’s intellectual property and confiscating it–something which, other commenters have pointed out, is not happening–I would still find this comparison deeply offensive, absurd, and profoundly disrespectful. It shows a deep lack of ethical sense to even consider drawing comparisons like this, and I hope that BL knows that his own position is tarnished by being associated with “defenders” like this.Report

Daniel
Daniel
7 years ago

Wow. This is a red herring wrapped in hyperbole. The latter is obvious, and has been pointed out above–playing the Hitler/Stalin card so early in the game, are we? More importantly, though, who is suggesting that Leiter be deprived of intellectual property? I wasn’t aware that Leiter profits from the PGR. If he does, then fine: demanding new management isn’t the same as demanding new ownership.

What’s at issue here is an institution which enormously impacts the profession of philosophy. (Would anyone disagree with that claim? Leiter surely wouldn’t.) The question is whether, in the future, the PGR will impact the profession fairly and for the better, or unfairly and to its detriment.Report

Richard Heck
Richard Heck
7 years ago

I for one would like to know how Prof Rosenberg knows that “The partisans of this attack [not tendentious, that!] were prompted by complaints from their administrators that unlike all [really? all?] other grad programs at the ‘best’ universities, their philosophy departments were regularly turned down by grad students going to less prestigious universities….” That is not only without any basis in fact but is utterly absurd. Does Duke’s administration really indulge in that kind of meddling? If so, I am sorry to hear it.

What is true, as many people have noted, is that administrations and visiting committees had, at that time, taken to asking some departments what they intended to do about their “Leiter ranking”, as if it were some objective measure. And departments were generally feeling pressure to hire in the sorts of areas that would help their “Leiter ranking”. The objection (one of them) was thus that the rankings were *predictably* being misused, and that the biases built into them were distorting the field. Which they have continued to do.

Finally, and if I am remembering correctly, one major upshot of Healey’s analysis was that there was a *truly surprising* level of agreement among the different evaluators, one that (and now I speak in my own voice) might raise questions about the pool. Of course, that has long been noted as a source of bias, too.

Thanks to the others who have contributed to correcting these misrepresentations *by a member of the Advisory Board of the Philosophical Gourmet Report*. (Did no one think that worth disclosing? Seems to me to kinda sorta call into question whether Prof Rosenberg has “no particular motive to defend the status quo in regard to management of the PGR”.)Report

Matt Drabek
7 years ago

The point about “construct validity” is interesting, but it really depends on what you take Leiter’s construct to be. If the construct is “mainstream analytic philosophy as practiced in much of the anglophone world”, then Rosenberg is correct that that the correlations in ratings give us some reason to believe there’s been a nice test of the construct validity.

If you (as it appears Leiter tries to claim) claim that Leiter’s construct is philosophy in the anglophone world, without the “mainstream analytic” modifier, then the correlation in ratings Rosenberg refers to gives us no such test.Report

Anon
Anon
7 years ago

I find it very strange that someone would appeal, on a matter of great controversy, to the views on property of either Locke or Nozick, both of which I assume (and hope!) are highly controversial.

But leaving that to one side, I wonder if Leiter himself would really even want such a defense? I take it that Leiter’s interest in and respect for Marx implies at the very least a critically sophisticated stance on liberal and libertarian views about property.

And I suspect that, like Marx himself, Leiter probably recognizes that any commitment to the liberal conception of property rights has to be consistently held to include the right of workers over their own labor. And the statement is precisely that: an expression of moral control of workers over their own labor.Report

Derek Bowman
7 years ago

It’s also very strange to think that Locke’s (or Nozick’s) arguments are particularly applicable to intellectual property. When I work an unowned tree branch into a walking stick, I mix what I own (my labor) with something that I do not own (the branch), resulting in a product (the walking stick) which, in an already metaphorical sense, contains my labor.

But in the case of intellectual property, what is the medium in which I’ve mixed my intellectual labor? The paper that I’ve written the ideas on (or the magnetic bits of data storage on my hard drive)? Nobody’s trying to take those away. The minds, or notebooks, or data storage of other people? Those are not previously unowned.

Or is this supposed to be covered by the right of transfer? But how many of us have transferred any rights in our minds, or the various media that we might use to store and transmit our thoughts, to the supposed owners of intellectual property?Report

David Sobel
David Sobel
7 years ago

At the great risk of repetition, very few have advocated for doing anything that any sane libertarian would think of as having the remotest whiff of a property rights infringement. What is being said by those that sign the September Statement and by the bulk of those on the Advisory Board of the PGR is that we will not serve the PGR so long as Leiter is in charge of the thing. Beyond that, many have urged or recommended that Leiter step down. Obviously such urging or recommending infringes no sane person’s conception of anyone’s property rights.Report

IP lawyer
IP lawyer
7 years ago

Only original expressions are intellectual property, and perhaps the name could be trademarked. Nothing about the data itself or the way it is compiled could possibly be protected by IP law, other than any original text accompanying it. If the results of collating this data can be done by anyone using this methodology, then there is no legal reason to exclude competing reviews (though BL anti competitively tries through slurs to do so). Locke has nothing to do with IP law. It is a utlitarian mechanism created to encourage authorship, and only recently and mainly in Europe may datasets acquire some modest protection. Copyright protects Leiter’s blog, but not the rankings per se.Report

Kathryn
Kathryn
Reply to  IP lawyer
7 years ago

Focusing on this point and setting aside allusions to ‘feminazis’ and actions that no one has proposed taking, I do wonder if we should interpret this post to mean the PGR is not an aggregation of data but rather an artistic expression, where data happens to be one medium.Report

Aaron Garrett
Reply to  Kathryn
7 years ago

This is pure comedy gold. Thank you for making my day!Report

Amy
Amy
Reply to  Aaron Garrett
7 years ago

Agreed. Kathryn’s comment gave me the very pleasant mental image of the PGR performed as an interpretive dance.Report

Chris Frey
7 years ago

If what Prof. Rosenberg says is correct, then it gives evaluators even more reason to withhold their services. I imagine that many who choose to evaluate or be members of the PGR advisory board do so because they think their efforts are being given in service to the philosophical community, especially students. But if it turns out that this is just BL’s private property, then what they are doing is working to add value to something that belongs to BL entirely. All other benefits to the philosophical community would be merely accidental (or importantly secondary). Why would anyone choose to add value to BL’s personal property?

Since the only value the PGR has is due to the efforts of others, it is entirely within the rights of the evaluators and board members to no longer be exploited in this manner and cease to contribute. BL can keep the PGR if he wishes to do so; but what remains will have no value whatsoever. That, I take it, is what most are recommending.

Of course, everything would be better if BL swallowed his pride and let go so that the PGR could become a genuine service to the community. But it seems like the chances of his doing so are increasingly slim.Report

Anon
Anon
7 years ago

When a member of a community threatens and intimidates other members of the community with a weapon, it’s perfectly reasonable for the community to demand that they give up that weapon. It doesn’t matter that it’s private property.

Similarly, it is perfectly reasonable for philosophers to call for Leiter to step down as editor of the PGR, if they believe he’s abused the influence his position has given him in the discipline. If he refuses, then they can refuse to participate in the rankings. Whether that will deprive the PGR of its legitimacy is unclear, but it’s certainly a reasonable course of action.Report

GGale
GGale
7 years ago

Alex, dood, you’ve instantiated Godwin’s Law! http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Godwin's_lawReport

eric winsberg
Reply to  GGale
7 years ago

Well, it is a law. So somebody had to do it.Report

Anonymous
Anonymous
7 years ago

Doesn’t Leiter profit from his connection to the PGR? The ads on the side of his blog aren’t free (see his periodic comments about their availability and cost) and the blog receives most of its traffic because of Leiter’s connection to the PGR.Report

MRT
MRT
7 years ago

What’s all this talk about BL *owning* the PGR? Sure, in a certain sense, it’s his toy: he’s been the one primarily in charge of curating it into what it is today. I took it that his position with regard to the PGR was something like the relationship an editor stands in to her journal, or that a chairperson stands in to her department. Of course it’s possible to do a better or worse job with regard to being an editor, and some chairs massively increase the profiles of their departments while others don’t. But to say that the editor *owns* the journal or that the chair *owns* the department seems, to me, to deprive a vast array of other participants their share of the credit.

Nor does it matter, I think, that BL “created” the PGR; and editors and chairs don’t create their journals. Suppose that someone else created the Report, and upon the Ivy League controversy mentioned a decade or so ago, editorial responsibility was handed to BL, and from that the story goes as we all know. It seems that in this case the relationship BL stands in to the PGR is the same as before: and it seems equally strange to say that he *owns* it, as a matter of private property.Report

Ole Koksvik
7 years ago

This post has almost tempted me to emulate Professor Leiter in the use of expletives. But I won’t. Instead I’ll just make two points.

1.
“Brian Leiter … excluded no one else from mixing his or her labor with nature to produce a substitute for or for that matter a complement to his creation.”

The only sense in which this is true is a sense in which it’s irrelevant, because it’s the sense in which Professor Leiter _can’t_ exclude others from so doing: he can’t actually stop others trying to create alternative rankings in a country like the US, at least not without breaking the law.

But in every other sense it’s false, and *obviously* so, as everyone with even the most cursory grasp of recent events — including, I would strongly suspect, Professor Rosenberg — would know.

2.
“Nevertheless, in the interests of reliability, Brian continued … to involve increasingly many philosophers in the rankings, annually refreshing the panels through nomination (unvetted by Brian) of new participants.”

This is at best a half-truth. Professor Chalmers [disclosure: the chair of my PhD committee], said:
“brian makes additions to the advisory board and tells the board about them. board members can nominate PGR evaluators, but they don’t nominate or vote on board members. in my experience the main (possibly the only) things that the board votes on are (i) which additional specialty areas that the PGR should rank, and (ii) which “borderline” departments should be included in the survey. for what it’s worth, i think that ***control of the evaluator pool*** is the most significant source of power over the results of the survey, so brian’s indirect control of that pool does give him significant power” (*** emphasis added)
Here: https://www.facebook.com/catarina.dutilhnovaes/posts/531819273628513Report

anon
anon
7 years ago

Off topic, but this reminds how misunderstood Marx’s views about property are, and how rarely people see the beauty of his use of internal critique.

How great is it that he argued *on Lockean grounds* that the means of production are the property of the proletariat (since the workers are the only ones who have mixed their labor with them)?Report

Proper Proprietary Property
Proper Proprietary Property
Reply to  anon
7 years ago

I know, right! That’s the whole beginning of Vol I.!Report

Anon
Anon
7 years ago

I think Rosenberg talks about Leiter *owning* the PGR because he does. Leiter started it, it’s his, so he can’t be legally compelled to relinquish control of it, the way a publisher might compel an editor to relinquish control of a journal. But that’s completely irrelevant, because no one is denying Leiter’s claim to *own* the PGR. People are demanding that he step down as editor and relinquish control because it’s in the interest of the discipline for the PGR to either shut down or proceed under someone else’s direction.Report

MM
MM
7 years ago

I think it’s unlikely that IP satisfies the Lockean Proviso, or if it does, it’s not for the reasons that Rosenberg gives. That there is “an infinite number of good ideas” does not settle whether enough and as good have been left. We have a notion of “low-hanging fruit” for a reason – some ideas are easier to get to than others. To simply point to the infinite number of good ideas without any discussion of the ease of getting to them misses the point.

To show how this kind of argument wouldn’t work in the case of tangible property, suppose there was an infinite amount of fertile land in the universe. Would it follow that the Lockean Proviso would be satisfied when I homesteaded all the land on Earth? Could I say, “so what that I own all the land on Earth – just go over to the next fertile planet!”? I doubt very much that those who take the Proviso seriously would accept that reply.Report

Objections and Replies
Objections and Replies
7 years ago

Will Rosenberg reply to critics?Report

Jay L Garfield
7 years ago

The imminent departure of Brian Leiter from the helm of the Philosophical Gourmet Report gives us an opportunity to rethink the role and structure of such a report in our profession. I offer these remarks as a contribution to that rethinking.

On the whole, while the PGR has provided useful information to many, and while a central source of information about graduate programs is a potential benefit to us, I honestly believe that it has done more harm than good to our profession. Here’s why:

By collapsing a wealth of information into single ranking numbers in a league table, the report reduces, rather than increases the information available to its consumers, and this in two respects: first, it elides much detail that is important in this collapse. While that information is available elsewhere, the overriding effect of the number that synthesizes that information is inescapable. Second, the mechanism by which information in reduced to that single ranking number is occult: it reflects the explicit and implicit biases regarding what is important of those who do the ranking. And sometimes, I believe, those biases are pernicious. Does anybody, for instance, seriously believe that extraordinary strength in Chinese philosophy would life a department in the rankings over one with pretty good strength in Anglo-American metaphysics and epistemology? And can we defend that relative weighting? More important, why should we allow others to decide for consumers what kind of weights to use?

A consequences of this is what I see as the real harm done to us by the PGR so far: it significantly narrows our collective self-conception of what is important and “central” to our discipline (often in pernicious ways) in virtue of moving people to value what is done in “top Leiter-ranked departments” over what is done in others, increasing the devaluation and occlusion of, for instance, work in phenomenology, feminist theory, and all of non-European philosophy; it encourages our profession to become more narrow as departments working to “move up in the Leiter rankings” become more like the departments already at the top, skewing curriculum and job prospects to this model in the process; it encourages hiring committees to focus on candidates not only who will move them up in this narrowing process, but also to focus on candidates from departments near the top of those rankings, disadvantaging, for instance, candidates who studied at the best department in their speciality, which might, because that specialty is not as highly valued by those constructing the rankings, might not be highly ranked. After all, if you want a good Chinese dinner, you don’t, having discovered that Daniel is ranked at the top of the New York Michelin guide, go to Daniel; you look for the best Chinese restaurant around. And it is a good thing that a city has a variety of cuisines represented, and that restaurants are reviewed on multiple, not single dimensions. That is gourmet reviewing at its best, but it is not what we do.

All of this is happening at time when our profession should be working to broaden, rather than to narrow its scope, to create more diversity among departments, not less, as all of the other disciplines in the humanities and allied social sciences are doing. We should be encouraging the proliferation of departments that address divergent issues and traditions, not discouraging them. This would make our profession better, and would produce more interesting philosophical work, and more opportunities for our students.

I hence propose that we replace the current one-dimensional ranking system with a two-dimensional database, that might look something like this: Rows for departments, and lots of columns. We might have columns for many different areas of philosophical interest, including things like, anglo-american analytic m&e, Orthodox Indian philosophy; ethics (not just western!); classical chinese philosophy; American pragmatism; ecophilosophy; logic; philosophy of science; native American philosophy…. Etc.. Lots of columns. But ALSO columns for gender balance in faculty, and in graduate students, ethnic diversity, placement record in R1 departments, placement record in non-R1 departments, etc… Each column would be assessed by an expert committee, and each cell would have a number, say, from 1-7, with 7 indicating being world-leading in this area, and 1 indicating no representation at all.

A student looking for a department with strength in pragmatism and modern Japanese philosophy could sort the database looking for departments with high scores in those areas, and could compare them by seeing where else they were strong or weak. Perhaps gender balance means a lot to him, or perhaps, given his long-standing desire to teach in a liberal arts college, the fact that one had a great placement record in this domain would tip the choice. A student who wanted to study philosophy of science and chinese philosophy could look for departments where both are strong. She might then prefer the one that also had strength in classical Greek philosophy, etc… A student just looking for as much strength across the board might look for the departments with the most 7’s and 6’s, and then would note that where they were strong differed. One who just wants a job in an R1 could sort by that column. More information would lead to better decisions.

Moreover, search committees, instead of asking whether a student with a dissertation on Buddhist epistemology came from a “top 10 department,” would ask whether the department where she did study was strong in epistemology, and in Buddhist philosophy, etc…. More information would lead to better decisions.

Finally, departments thinking about their long-term development would not ask how to “rise in the rankings” but might look to see where there are niches in the profession they might occupy. Perhaps very few departments are now strong in modern Chinese philosophy. There might be room to build and to occupy that niche; perhaps there is a need for more departments doing both phenomenology and cognitive science. One might build there. This would lead to more diversity in our profession. Perhaps in a few decades, a department would note that few people are doing Anglo-american analytic metaphysics and epistemology, and try to build strength there.

We don’t need league rankings. We need information. We don’t need a narrow profession. We need a broad one. We don’t need to establish a common set of weightings of importance for areas of specialty; we need to allow our members and students to develop their own preferences. Replacing the Leiter table with a database like this would move us in that direction. Think about it.Report