Publications by U.S. Black Authors in Top Philosophy Journals: The Numbers


Liam Kofi Bright, a graduate student at Carnegie Mellon University, has produced a study on the number of publications by black philosophers in the U.S. (“US BIPs”) that have appeared in highly regarded philosophy journals from 2003-2012. The results appear in a guest post at The Splintered Mind:

In total there were 30 publications by US BIPs for all journals during this period. By contrast, there were 10659 publications overall during this period. This means that publications by US BIPs were 0.28% of the publications during this period. Of the 30 publications, 15 were research articles as opposed to book reviews. There were 7638 research articles overall in this period, meaning that research articles by US BIPs were 0.19% of the research articles published. Assuming that 61.5% of the population were US philosophers, this would make black philosophers 0.46% of the US philosopher authors. Likewise US BIPs would be 0.32% of US authors of research publications…

The 15 research articles were produced by 11 US black philosophers, 9 of whom were men and 2 of whom were women.

More information about the findings and the methodology used to obtain them are here.

US BIPS pubs

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esteven barr
esteven barr
5 years ago

How would someone (contact) network with the 11 philosopher?Report

Enzo Rossi
5 years ago

Illuminating work. 0.28% instead of 1% of publications is grim. The AOS skew is unsurprising but still interesting. It might be fruitful to think about these issues in a subfield-specific way more often.Report

Professor Plum
Professor Plum
5 years ago

I don’t know what to think of this kind of research: on the one hand, since many are dismissive of narratives of what it is like to be a woman or a minority in philosophy, it is good to have some hard numbers to point to; on the other hand, we know that philosophy’s obsession with rankings and status is highly pernicious. Arguably, this thirst for rankings contributes to philosophy’s climate problems. Yet this paper takes, as given, the “rankings” of journals that emerged from a silly poll on a philosophy website that no one thinks represents the discipline as a whole. Report

Liam
Liam
5 years ago

Thanks for the replies folks! I am not quite sure I understand your question, esteven, could you rephrase? I should say that I avoided identifying individuals because one of the data sets used to construct this study has some IRB protections around accessing it, and I got some conflicting information about how much I could reveal. Professor Plum. Two things. First, alas, it’s not a paper, just a blog post with no paper attached! Secondly, I don’t think it is taken as given, I flag explicitly that it is a noisy signal as to prestige. But one has to start somewhere, and this seemed like a good place to start. One of the reasons I pointedly avoided evaluating the trends displayed is because I thought the category of “top journal” should not be taken uncritically; one response to this that I did not want to rule out or take a stand against is to think that in any case publishing in those particular journals is of no especial importance. Report

Professor Plum
Professor Plum
5 years ago

I’m not convinced by the “you’ve got to start somewhere” rationale for the project (be it a paper or blog post).

The obsession with rankings is bad for philosophy in general, and, arguably, especially bad for women and minorities in philosophy. When you appeal to internet polls which purport to provide a rankings of journals, you are giving the rankings a kind of power and authority that they do not merit. And you are giving them this authority no matter how much you talk about noisy signals.

As one of my favorite (black) philosophers, who, incidentally, never published in a “high ranking” journal, famously pointed out, you can’t dismantle the master’s house with the master’s tools. Report

Liam Bright
Liam Bright
5 years ago

Here are two interpretations I can think of for the paragraph about empowering these powers. Interpretation 1: this blog post using those polls in that way will cause some people to take them more seriously, or be more likely to take them into account when making decisions, or in any case in some way cause events that can reasonably be described as empowering them. Interpretation 2: this blog post using those polls in that way constitutes an act of empowering the polls. (These claims are not mutually exclusive. My apologies if I have missed your meaning and neither of these interpretations are what you had in mind.)

I disagree with interpretation 1. I think that academics’, and philosophers’, concern with prestige, hierarchy, or standing in one’s field, is a deep fact about our sociology, unlikely to be affected much by my blog post. For one example of why I think this, I note that institutional incentive structures tie one’s reputation among one’s peers to one’s ability to get hired, to receive tenure, or to receive various professional honours. My guess is the psychological effects of being made or encouraged to conform to these institutional incentives will swamp out whatever effects reading my blog post has.

What is more, even if I agreed with claim 1, I might none the less think it worth the cost. In that, concerned as I am (I do not mean to doubt that you are too!) with the recruitment and retention of black philosophers, and noting the existence of the incentives just mentioned, I have good reason to be concerned with the position of black philosophers relative to those prestige hierarchies. Whatever I may think of the fact that we have structured our field (and the academy more generally) around prestige hierarchies, there are so few black philosophers that I do not feel we presently have the luxury of simply setting aside concern with the prestige hierarchy as distasteful. Lorde may have got by without generally conforming herself to the professional reward system, but, well, I am worried that this may simply be because she was a genius, and that the rest of us require a functional professional structure to pay the bills that we may philosophise. At the least, it would bother me if distaste for gathering and disseminating information regarding the prestige hierarchy led to us missing difficulties with the recruitment and retention of black philosophers, therefore allowing problems for black philosophers to fester while we feel morally upright for keeping our hands clean. Identifying and ameliorating any problems that might exist for the recruitment and retention of philosophers will likely involve collecting information about how black philosophers stand in the prestige hierarchies of our field.

On the other hand, I agree with interpretation 2. I have treated these polls as informative, therefore granting them a sort of epistemic authority. Perhaps this is distasteful, but given that I disagree with interpretation 1 I am not so bothered by the truth of interpretation 2. Maybe we disagree on this ethical question, in which case, fair enough!Report

LK McPherson
LK McPherson
Reply to  Liam Bright
5 years ago

Very well done.

The notion that marginalized philosophers — particularly women and racially inferiorized minorities — should be dedicated to countering professional hierarchies, prestige, and mainstream standards seems to have become a thing. I’ve recently encountered it regarding jobs (e.g., maybe black philosophers are self-selecting for non-prestigious, teaching-oriented positions?!), titles (I personally prefer that undergraduates address me neither by first name nor as “Dr”), journals (though I no longer bother submitting to Nous, Phil Review, and Mind, this isn’t because I’m trying to fight the power), and who counts as a philosopher (e.g., Lorde?).

One external referee for my tenure case claimed that my publication record — which at the time included Phil Studies and Philosophy & Public Affairs — probably wasn’t “distinguished” enough for tenure at Tufts, which has a terminal MA and no PhD program. (Thankfully, my department strongly supported me, even before I got acceptances during the process at Journal of Philosophy and Ethics). I’m no better a philosopher than I was because I published in these journals, but the record might help to counter familiar assumptions about ability, quality, and range. Although I haven’t been preoccupied with professional ambition, I am inclined to think that a few more black students might seriously consider pursuing a career in philosophy if they had more role models who were fairly successful by mainstreamish standards (especially when this doesn’t involve checking concern with “practical” issues at the door). Higher-minded philosophers are free, of course, to support different priorities.Report

Professor Plum
Professor Plum
Reply to  LK McPherson
5 years ago

While discussion of the idea that marginalized philosophers should work to counter professional hierarchies may be a recent “thing”, the idea that the marginalized have special responsibilities to counter unjust hierarchies, especially ones that contribute to their very marginalization, is not at all new. In fact, it is a central, animating theme of both feminism and African-American political thought.

Being an outsider has certain advantages. One advantage is that it is often easier for outsiders to question the point and value of the raindeer games that occupy the insiders.

I’m not interested in criticizing the decisions of individual philosophers, but given that I believe philosophers are supposed to be in the business of questioning doxa, and since I think the marginalized have special responsibilities to work to undermine the systems of hierarchy that keep them marginalized, I am troubled by this project and its underlying assumptions about polls and status and hierarchies.

But suppose a marginalized philosopher rejects everything I’ve suggested above about special responsibities and decides to take a narrowly self-interested approach and maximize her shot at professional success. I’m still not convinced that aiming at publication in “top” journals is really the best way of achieving that end. In fact, I’m a little surprised to see you, Professor McPherson, stressing the importance of publishing in high ranking journals. While very successful by any measure and clearly a member of the “talented 11” described in this project, you have been quite candid in other blog comments about your feelings of being passed over for academic positions due to your race. If someone who regularly published in high-status journals had this experience, it seems to me that we are doing a disservice to our young philosophers by suggesting that they will be better off, professionally speaking, by pursuing this path.

For me, speaking out against unjust hierarchies is a moral obligation, but even if I try and be less high minded about this, I don’t think publishing in high ranking journals is anything approaching a professional golden ticket, given the current state of philosophy. Report

LK McPherson
LK McPherson
Reply to  Professor Plum
5 years ago

I have made strong claims about the philosophy profession (and I stand by them). But I never claimed something like “being passed over for academic positions due to [my] race.” Nor do I have enough inside information to support believing that, at least so starkly stated.

I can agree that “publishing in high ranking journals is [not] anything approaching a professional golden ticket.” Regarding black philosophers, though, this couldn’t be known without a few test cases.Report