Bias, Subjectivity, and Superficiality in Philosophy


The philosophy profession in the United States is overwhelmingly male and white. What explains this? In an essay in The Los Angeles Times, Myisha Cherry (UI Chicago) and Eric Schwitzgebel (UC Riverside) offer an explanation:

One of the main causes of homogeneity in philosophy, we believe, is subjectivity and bias in the evaluation of philosophical quality.

They say that unlike math and science, in which certain external standards are imposed, philosophy is different:

Philosophy… is partly about challenging existing standards. We admire philosophers whose central arguments are nearly impossible to understand, or who speak in paradoxes, who accept seemingly bizarre views, or who display dazzling skill with formal logical structures of no practical significance…

It’s almost aesthetic, the assessment of philosophical quality. And like aesthetic judgments, it’s shaped by a huge range of factors—how well the view fits with your hopes and preconceptions, whether it’s argued with confidence and flair, how clever or wise the author seems, how much other people admire the author…

To a substantial extent, what we assess is whether the person who is expressing the ideas in question sounds smart. If you’re going to convince someone to take your perplexing, paradoxical ideas seriously, or if you’re going to convince them that your impenetrable prose is worth the struggle, you had better first convince them that you’re wicked smart.

Being good at seeming smart is perhaps the central disciplinary skill for philosophers. [!]

[And in comparison to women and people of color,] white men have better command of the cultural apparatus of seeming smart.

The whole article is here. Discussion welcome.

koons balloondog-magenta

(Jeff Koons, Balloon Dog)

 

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Komal
Komal
5 years ago

This is brilliant.Report

UG
UG
5 years ago

” white men have better command of the cultural apparatus of seeming smart.”

That’s some solid armchair science right there.

I’m inclined to think that philosophers do tend to seem smarter than others. The question then is this: is this in virtue of the fact that they are philosophers and make use of obscure terminology (at times), or is it because they are mostly white? (there are, of course, other options available) I’m at a loss to see why anyone would think the latter to be true. Report

Alfred H MacDonald
Alfred H MacDonald
Reply to  UG
5 years ago

the conclusion is hilarious. “consider that your judgment likely reflects a range of influences that are difficult to see, many of them probably unlovely, culturally specific, and unrelated to intrinsic value.”

here’s how this plays out: “okay, I considered it. you’re still wrong.”Report

Tom
Tom
5 years ago

“Unlike math and science, in which certain external standards are imposed, philosophy is different”

You should try doing some math and/or science before deciding what things are like over there. I have. It’s not different. And the `external standards’ proclaimed here are (at the very best) a myth.

Unfortunately, we can’t look to the subject matter of philosophy to decide why we’re all such douchebags over here. It turns out we have to look at ourselves. But good try at deflecting!Report

YAAGS
YAAGS
5 years ago

More idle armchair speculation about the causes of complex social phenomena. I’m not sure if there is such a strong bias in philosophy or whether it is one of the primary causes of the lack of diversity. Maybe it is. We’d have to have a lot of data before we could even begin to answer the question… But I am pretty sure that any scientifically literate person who reads this is going to laugh at it. C’mon.Report

Alfred H MacDonald
Alfred H MacDonald
5 years ago

thought this was going to be about problems of subjective evaluation generally, and got excited

thought this was going to repudiate allowance of biases more generally and got excited, especially since there are dozens of known cognitive biases studied in cognitive psychology

but no, it’s both of these things solely as a means to make the same “white male hegemony in philosophy” argument that’s been on social media to the point of nausea. it’s as if any time I click on a philosophy article that concerns itself with bias, it’s sex bias almost exclusively. can’t these people concern themselves with something different, for once?Report

Kathryn Pogin
Kathryn Pogin
Reply to  Alfred H MacDonald
5 years ago

I was going to say I’m sorry you feel nauseous, but then I read your blog post arguing that Tosh shouldn’t have apologized for his rape jokes from the broader principle that public apologies should not be given. So, instead, I’ll just say it’s too bad. Report

Alfred H MacDonald
Alfred H MacDonald
Reply to  Kathryn Pogin
5 years ago

thanks for the fake concern and misrepresentation of my argument dating back four years ago but I was not actually nauseous, “to the point of nausea” is just the English version of “ad nauseam” since we are on computers and are capable of moving our fingers to an extra few keys to avoid sounding like pretentious philosophy people who use Latin phrases all the time

and yes, public apologies should not be given [because they are not usually sincere [and are made to save face]]. you missed this aspect so it’s a question of whether you did this deliberately or whether you just temporarily had a lapse in reading comprehension

because, had you read to the point of this paragraph…

“If you legitimately haven’t done anything wrong, it would be more dishonest to make a public apology because it would be a lie. Then you’d be stuck wondering if you should make a public apology for making a false public apology. But again: if you legitimately feel like you’ve done something wrong, maybe you might want to take the PR hit. It’s your call.”

…you’d see that I *do* endorse apologies if they’re sincere. they just happen to not be.

so maybe you do endorse dishonesty, which would be consistent with deliberately misrepresenting me, although I’d prefer to believe you were just temporarily bad at reading.

what we should be a lot more concerned with is the 19 people who clicked ‘like’ on that without actually confirming that your paraphrase was accurate. considering that this is an issue of merely opening a new tab and using google, I’m inclined to say most took you at your word, which is bad epistemic practice.Report

Kathryn Pogin
Kathryn Pogin
Reply to  Alfred H MacDonald
5 years ago

Perhaps I should have qualified this as on,u pertaining to “emotional” controversies or public figures, but as you know, the end of your post reads: “So the next time a public figure is asked to make a public apology — even if the term “PR Disaster” is used — the lesson is this: Never back down. Never apologize. It will only bring you down further. Ride the storm out, and you’ll be fine in the end.”Report

Kathryn Pogin
Kathryn Pogin
Reply to  Kathryn Pogin
5 years ago

*onlyReport

Alfred MacDonald
Alfred MacDonald
Reply to  Kathryn Pogin
5 years ago

and the end of the post is *****assuming that the public apology is insincere but made to appease the people asking for it*****

which is why the exception paragraph I quoted exists

but then again this is also an article I wrote four years ago and could have completed college a second time since, so the fact that I even have an exemption paragraph makes me want to high-five myself from the past
,
anyway, I’m really only responding at this point because these Like counts are like high scores on Mario Kart and you’re ahead of me and I don’t have a red shell, but in all seriousness, philosophy could drop this subject for a hot minute and talk about…………………any other bias or problem of subjective evaluation, and it’d be far more novel, and not the gender bias equivalent of Head-On Apply Directly To The ForeheadReport

Kathryn Pogin
Kathryn Pogin
Reply to  Alfred MacDonald
5 years ago

In all seriousness, why would you even be looking for a red shell rather than a super star anyway? Report

Jonathan Jenkins Ichikawa
Jonathan Jenkins Ichikawa
Reply to  Alfred MacDonald
5 years ago

Given the way Kathryn is rocking this thread, I think Alfred should be hoping for a blue shell.Report

Alfred MacDonald
Alfred MacDonald
Reply to  Alfred MacDonald
5 years ago

jonathan no one invited you and your linguistic rainbow blocks to this 150cc conversationReport

Kathryn Pogin
Kathryn Pogin
Reply to  Alfred MacDonald
5 years ago

Have you never played Mario Party? Everyone’s invited. Report

Alfred MacDonald
Alfred MacDonald
Reply to  Alfred MacDonald
5 years ago

Kathryn mario party is how people end up dying. haven’t you read the phaedo? they played mario party before any hemlock was involved. check the translations. it’s all there. socrates even steals two stars. entirely deserved execution imo.Report

Richard Yetter Chappell
5 years ago

It’s an interesting proposal, but would be good to see how it matches up with data. For example, if under-representation is largely a pipeline problem, then it’s unlikely that our assessment practices are “one of the main causes” of ethnic minority students not signing up for philosophy classes in the first place. Some more general explanations might seem more promising to explore.

Having said that, explanatory hypotheses aside, I completely agree that philosophers are too easily sucked in by superficial appearances of “seeming smart” (which can correlate more with confidence and quickness than with good philosophy) and it’s good to be aware of this.

(P.S. Isn’t there a worry that op-eds on philosophy’s diversity problem in popular newspapers are likely to contribute to the problem? A guest post on Daily Nous might have been wiser…)Report

Matthew
Matthew
5 years ago

Alfred H MacDonald I don’t know who ‘these people’ are for you, but as someone outside (for now) of such debates I’ve always held it basically true that white men like myself have always had it better when it comes to the operation of prejudice. Because of civil rights movements and feminism, which I’ve always imagined as ongoing.
What is interesting is how many people these days recognise the basic fact that philosophy is more about seeming than about doing. Daily Nous threads number in the tens over the past year I’m sure in detailing a crisis of confidence in philosophy from both inside and outside (especially as such is made necessary in response to the pressure of corporatism in the universities). Put in a simple way, if philosophy is full of bullshit, it is only because it is full of bullshitters praising others on their ability to reproduce the same bullshit. How many philosophy students today are taught to reproduce with merely apparent mastery the ‘history of philosophy’, and get slapped down with arguments from it the second they try to think for themselves? At my last estimation it was all of them.Report

Arthur Greeves
Arthur Greeves
Reply to  Matthew
5 years ago

If students haven’t spent a great deal of time understanding the arguments of others, they are most likely not qualified to make any interesting contribution by “thinking for themselves”. You seem to think that understanding and describing another philosopher’s view is a form of bullshitting. It is not. It is probably the most important way we learn philosophy.Report

Alfred MacDonald
Alfred MacDonald
Reply to  Matthew
5 years ago

“these people” refers to the people who make articles and arguments like this. it had no racial presumption. perhaps you imported one.

in fact, I deliberately wrote “these people” because offense at “you people” has become a media trope and there’s a subtype of person who loves being offended by it as if they are culturally important from imitating that righteous category of person.

btw, prejudice differs depending on where you are. my city is 28% white. I’ve been a minority for all of my life barring the 2 years that I spent time at an extremely expensive private university and could not afford after that, even with private loans.

finally, you can just say ‘alfred’, there isn’t any other alfred in the convo and this place autofills my name (and for some reason doesn’t update my avatar from the very old suit-wearing one from the days when I didn’t even lift)

Report

Fritz Warfield
Fritz Warfield
5 years ago

I’ll focus on just this one claim —

“We admire philosophers whose central arguments are nearly impossible to understand…”

I don’t know who this “we” is. Maybe that’s how these authors go about things in their home departments — I do not know and the authors do not say.
Where I work, if your central arguments are nearly impossible to understand you’re going to be told that we can’t understand your arguments and you’re going to be asked if you can explain things more clearly. Whether we “admire” you or not will not be determined by whether you pretend to be smart. Plenty of people who do so pretend are not at all admired by us and plenty who manage to not give off any superficial signs of genius are highly admired.

Report

Matty
Matty
Reply to  Fritz Warfield
5 years ago

Fritz, do you understand Kant’s Transcendental Deduction of the Categories?Report

Ed
Ed
5 years ago

Here’s an idea: maybe we philosophers are good at inventing rationalizations for why our colleagues, whom we secretly think are inferior to us, are considered smarter in the profession? “Hey, maybe it is because they know how to SEEM smarter!” Report

Hey Nonny Mouse
Hey Nonny Mouse
5 years ago

If I’m following the data, females seem to be less keen on philosophy on average before even stepping into a philosophy classroom, and so presumably before they’ve seen philosophers in action. That doesn’t mean that the factors speculated about by the article don’t have an effect, but the factors the article spoke of wouldn’t explain this difference. Also, the article doesn’t address the fact that outside philosophy, it is exactly those fields with the most “objective” criteria that are having the hardest time attracting females, while most fields with more “subjective” criteria are starved for males. Philosophy weirdly bucks this trend.Report

Arthur Greeves
Arthur Greeves
Reply to  Hey Nonny Mouse
5 years ago

Philosophy is a field with subjective criteria? I would have thought the laws of logic were a bit more inflexible than that.Report

Hey Nonny Mouse
Hey Nonny Mouse
Reply to  Arthur Greeves
5 years ago

I work in philosophy of logic and everything is up for grabs, right down to the law of non-contradiction. There are certainly objective facts about whether someone is following a logical system correctly or not, or whether a system works or not. However, whether a position is brilliant or nuts (or both) tends to come down to individual interpretation.Report

Arthur Greeves
Arthur Greeves
Reply to  Hey Nonny Mouse
5 years ago

Those who challenge the law of non-contradiction and such have simply gone off the deep end. The very assertion that “the law of non-contradiction is false” would, on their view, be (sometimes? always?) semantically indistinguishable from “the law of contradiction is true”. To even make the claim is impossible.

But I agree that many, many non-logical premises are up for grabs, in philosophy. Some things are not up for grabs, though: the law of noncontradiction, the fallacy of begging the question, modus ponens, and so forth.Report

Hey Nonny Mouse
Hey Nonny Mouse
Reply to  Arthur Greeves
5 years ago

If philosophers who challenge the law of non-contradictions have simply gone off the deep end, then given that highly respected philosophers have challenged the law of non-contradiction, it follows that there are highly respected philosophers who have simply gone off the deep end. If the same sort of situation doesn’t arise in the sciences, or arises to a much less degree, that would suggest that philosophers differ a lot more about what makes good philosophy than scientists do about what makes good science.Report

Arthur Greeves
Arthur Greeves
Reply to  Hey Nonny Mouse
5 years ago

I imagine that most scientists would mention plenty of other highly respected scientists that have gone off the deep end.Report

Tom
Tom
Reply to  Arthur Greeves
5 years ago

The idea that challenging the law of non-contradiction is out of the question is naive. I take it you either (a) work in philosophy of logic and have an axe to grind or (b) have no idea what you’re talking about. Based on the *exceptional* naivete and ignorance displayed in “The very assertion that “the law of non-contradiction is false” would, on their view, be (sometimes? always?) semantically indistinguishable from “the law of contradiction is true”.”, I’m going to guess you have no idea what you’re talking about.Report

Arthur Greeves
Arthur Greeves
Reply to  Tom
5 years ago

I’m certainly no expert in logic, but the point I was trying to briefly make above is much better expressed by David Lewis, in his paper “Logic for Equivocators”.Report

Arthur Greeves
Arthur Greeves
5 years ago

The puzzle, to me, is why people think that the solution to a lack of diversity is to change the discipline. Instead of interesting people in metaphysics and showing how it is relevant to them, we act as if “philosophy of Chicana architecture” is an actual subfield. It is an admission that we are ashamed of the substantial contributions the discipline of philosophy has made over the years, and it is patronizing to minority groups. How would you feel if someone tried to interest you in mathematics by talking about “African mathematics” or “Arab mathematics” or “feminist mathematics” or “[insert-your-ethnicity-here] mathematics”?

It is one thing to explain how important Arabic people were in the development of mathematics. It is quite another thing to act like mathematics ITSELF changes depending on one’s ethnicity. Even if there is some philosophical argument for the latter claim, you will not interest the mathematical Arabic people by talking about history instead of mathematics. Similarly, we will not interest philosophically gifted minorities in philosophy by talking about something other than philosophy.Report

Hey Nonny Mouse
Hey Nonny Mouse
Reply to  Arthur Greeves
5 years ago

I think the question of why professional philosophy is important (if it is important!) must be prior to the question of if and how we need to diversity our subject matter. I think our best shot at attracting underrepresented groups is to convince them that philosophy is important. That can involve thinking about how philosophy might relate to their lives in particular.Report

Arthur Greeves
Arthur Greeves
Reply to  Hey Nonny Mouse
5 years ago

I agree. But I don’t see how “philosophy of feminist geography” (to take a recent excerpt from philjobs) does anything except patronize people. There is nothing the discipline of philosophy has to contribute to feminist geography, if there even is any such study. I would find it far more preferable to try to bend over backwards to show underrepresented students that epistemology is relevant to their lives. (Of course, we can’t even do this if such students don’t first sign up for a class, which is of course an important and challenging goal).Report

Hey Nonny Mouse
Hey Nonny Mouse
Reply to  Arthur Greeves
5 years ago

If you don’t know if there even is such a study as “philosophy of feminist geography”, then how can you know enough about what it is to dismiss it?Report

Hey Nonny Mouse
Hey Nonny Mouse
Reply to  Hey Nonny Mouse
5 years ago

Sorry Arthur. I misrepresented what you said in my last post. “Feminist Geography” was the field you claimed ignorance of. The point stands though. Without knowing what feminist geography is, we can’t dismiss it. Besides, imagine that “Feminist Geography” is a load of rubbish. Won’t philosophy have an important role in determining that?Report

Arthur Greeves
Arthur Greeves
Reply to  Hey Nonny Mouse
5 years ago

Thanks for the apology — I certainly didn’t mean to make any claim that feminist geography is necessarily worthless, since I don’t know a thing about it. It just seems to me as the type of thing that, if it has value, belongs squarely within the discipline of geography. And I can’t imagine that such a subdiscipline is so very distinct from science (or geography) as a whole so that it would merit the creation of another sub-discipline.

Indeed, I wish that philosophical subdisciplines would start using some pretty powerful birth control, since they are becoming far too fertile.Report

Arthur Greeves
Arthur Greeves
Reply to  Hey Nonny Mouse
5 years ago

The third sentence should read, “And I can’t imagine that such a subdiscipline is so very distinct from science (or geography) as a whole so that it would merit the creation of another ‘philosophy of’ sub-discipline.”Report

Carolyn
Carolyn
Reply to  Arthur Greeves
5 years ago

I only see a job ad that lists “feminist geography” as an area of interest, and not “philosophy of feminist geography.” I know someone who works in feminist geography and he is well-versed in feminism and gender studies in general. I take it that the ad is meant to target both those with PhDs in philosophy and those with PhDs in cognate fields with the relevant expertise and interest. Report

Mr. T
Mr. T
Reply to  Arthur Greeves
5 years ago

You make a poor analogy. What if the substantial contributions of Arabic philosophers to mathematics were simply ignored by mathematicians in general? You also fundamentally misunderstand how the terms are used. When we use phrases like “Chinese Philosophy” or “African Philosophy” we mean Chinese contributions to philosophy or African contributions to philosophy. It’s the same as if people talk about, say, “19th century German philosophy.” It’s not patronizing to Germans to use these phrases, nor is it patronizing to use them with other groups. Your arguments are simply not very good.Report

Arthur Greeves
Arthur Greeves
Reply to  Mr. T
5 years ago

Mr. T,

I didn’t intend my comment as a criticism of things like Chinese or African philosophy, which have rich traditions and distinctive things to offer the discipline. I meant it as a criticism of, say, philosophy of African economics. Or the like. Such “disciplines” don’t offer anything BUT diversity, since philosophy has nothing in particular to contribute to them. African economics might have a right tradition (for all I know), but “philosophy of African economics” doesn’t.

Thus, I agree with your points, and it must be a fault of my post that I seemed to disagree with them.Report

Arthur Greeves
Arthur Greeves
Reply to  Arthur Greeves
5 years ago

Typo: “rich” tradition, not “right” tradition.Report

Ben Bronner
Ben Bronner
Reply to  Arthur Greeves
5 years ago

A Google search returns only one hit for “philosophy of African economics.” Do you have any genuine examples of putative sub-fields which you think don’t deserve recognition, yet are nonetheless presented as legitimate fields of study?Report

Phoenix, son of Amyntor
Phoenix, son of Amyntor
5 years ago

I wonder if we philosophers have failed to make headway on the problem because our toolkit is not up to the challenge of sorting out *why* the numbers of women and minorities in philosophy remain so low. Our standard toolkit entails skills such as argumentation and textual analysis. These skills are very valuable for a number of questions, but I fear that they falter when we approach the problem at issue here. When we do approach this problem, I think we philosophers try to use our toolkit (e.g., arguing with each other in peer reviewed journals) but, as that makes little headway, we simply wind up relying on introspection and a pet theory.
Instead (and here is my truly heterodox thought), I wonder if we need the aid of outside fields (with their differing toolkits) to get to the root of why the numbers remain so low in philosophy. I don’t know whether that would be looking to anthropologists, or statistics-oriented sociologists, or even “Freakonimics”-style analysis of our career trajectories.Report

Morgan Thompson
Morgan Thompson
Reply to  Phoenix, son of Amyntor
5 years ago

Some philosophers do empirical work themselves and/or closely analyze empirical work in their philosophical projects. For example, experimental philosophers have experience writing surveys and performing appropriate statistical analyses of the results. At least some philosophers do have it in their toolkit to empirically investigate why different groups are underrepresented in philosophy. Other philosophers like Sarah-Jane Leslie (whose work is cited in the piece) already do collaborative work with psychologists on these issues. I think there could certainly be more empirical investigation of the problems members from underrepresented groups face in philosophy, but it’s worth pointing out that many philosophers have or are in a position to gain the relevant skills to do this empirical work.Report

Phoenix, son of Amyntor
Phoenix, son of Amyntor
Reply to  Morgan Thompson
5 years ago

Good point!Report

Marcus
Marcus
5 years ago

The comments have elucidated part of the problem in our discipline I had never seen before. The desire for grand unification, parsimony, and wide explanatory force goes so deep that many members of the profession won’t even consider a possible explanation of part of the problem, under the assumption that the problem must have a unified single source.

Given the research cited in the article about implicit bias and the perceived role of brilliance in the profession- research with which I assume most of us are pretty familiar – its not clear how those two phenomena could fail to be related in some problematic way. Report

Arthur Greeves
Arthur Greeves
Reply to  Marcus
5 years ago

This is a very good point. The LA Times authors may have correctly diagnosed one aspect of the disease, even if there are other aspects.Report

Eric Schwitzgebel
Eric Schwitzgebel
5 years ago

Some continued thoughts on our piece here, partly inspired by this comment thread and partly inspired by comments from other sources:
http://schwitzsplinters.blogspot.com/2016/03/like-oscars-philosophysowhite.htmlReport

Mr. T
Mr. T
5 years ago

The article starts with (1) data about the skewed make-up of the philosophy profession, then moves on to (2) the claim (supported by data from surveys of philosophers themselves) that the standards for what counts as successful philosophy are not altogether clear, then uses evidence from social psychology in applying (2) as an explanation of (1). This is a pretty straightforward argument that can be challenged on its merits, yet a lot of the criticism on this thread makes points that are totally irrelevant. Whether different things happen in your department, whether there are additional explanations for (1), whether you think there are too many articles about bias in philosophy– none of these things make any difference to whether the argument is successful.Report

paolo
paolo
5 years ago

I cannot disagree more with the article. To my mind, it basically makes a mockery (unintetionally, of course) of a serious question – and does so by giving us a caricature of a whole discipline derived from we are not told what (other than simply the authors’ own views). Philosophy, historically, flourished in rich societies at mostly the peak of their flourishing – this is true of China, India, Persia, Greece, Rome, France, Italy, etc. Its centers and dynamics moved where the economy allowed it to move. Greek philosophy is largely the product of rise and fall of Athenian democracy and of Alexander’s Empire. Medieval philosophy flourished in the Arab world and Northern Italy/France, rennaissance philosophy in Italy, later we move to Germany and Britain and so on. It comes to US after WWII, for obvious reasons. This is to say – philosophy requires rich society that allows for what is, in reality, a leisurely pursuit. Leisurely in the good sense – it’s not useless, or stupid, or trivial, but it is not something tied to basic human needs. In order to study philosophy, one must see it as something that one can afford as it were. There is little doubt that, at least for now, most people who could see it in such a way were white males from middle and upper class. It is for them – and for the kind of lives they can expect to lead that philosophy is long term not a silly investement. There are exceptions of course, people who are from poor white backgrounds, black neighbourhoods, and so on, but only exceptions. For women, too, until recently, their prospects of studying something like this as a career – not so great. This is true of most disciplines that are not particularly practical but more “academic”. If we make sure (not sure how) that black people’s social standing, income, and prospects in the society – and of others – are equal to the white people – philosophy “diversity” problem will solve itself. This might be very hard – after all, even in Europe, philosophy really is strongest among the rich countries, and in Asia, China’s economic growths is fuelling a revival in philosophy too. So it’s a problem of poor vs rich, as always. Seeming smart is a red herring. It’s something grad students are obsessed with, but not something that actually matters. After a while, nobody cares if you “seem” smart – unless you think that most professional philosophers (or academics) are easily fooled… When it comes to “combative” mode of philosophy – other disciplines, like linguistics, are just as combative, and there are plenty “combative” women in there. So that argument does not really hold. Report

philosopotamus
philosopotamus
Reply to  paolo
5 years ago

So philosophy is a bourgeois discipline (which doesn’t totally explain the absence of bourgeois women and non-whites from the canon, but okay), probably no one is really surprised by this sweeping characterization. But your claim that it’s a present problem of “rich and poor” relies largely on vague country designations to make the point (i.e., Europe is like this, China is like this). It doesn’t explain the intransigent imbalances we have seen in faculty diversity among professional academic philosophers for at least the last three decades in the United States. During this time, universities have become far more accessible to lower income individuals and have achieved significant levels of all forms of diversity. Graduate degrees in philosophy (at least in my experience) are not expensive and may even be mostly free (unlike other professional degrees like law or medicine or business, which are very expensive and yet have higher levels of diversity). For roughly the last two generations, a PhD in Philosophy has not really been a risky financial venture for those looking to climb the social ladder out of poverty. And yet today there are only 31 women of color who are tenured philosophy professors, out of roughly 13,000 professional philosophers? So I just don’t feel like your rich/poor claim can really cover the explanatory distance it needs to cover here.

If philosophy could financially be a viable profession for anyone who is suitably informed about it and has had the right encouragement and preparation, and the problem *isn’t* that certain sorts of people (women and minorities) just don’t get the right sort of notice and encouragement during their undergraduate studies, then what conclusions does this leave us? Report

Urstoff
Urstoff
5 years ago

For professionals trained in skepticism and critical thinking, philosophers sure get hilariously overconfident when it comes to social phenomena and politics. Report

Avi Z.
Avi Z.
5 years ago

This may be a “meta-issue,” but what is the upside of having this discussion in a widely read newspaper such as the L.A. Times? It certainly doesn’t put philosophy in a positive public light. This opinion piece insists on the subjectivity and bias of philosophy, a discipline that most readers of the L.A. Times know little about and that is already popularly dismissed as worthless, subjective, and speculative opining. I can imagine many (especially minority) readers of the L.A. Times who had little knowledge of philosophy previously and who now have definite reasons to ignore philosophy. This effect does not, of course, depend upon whether the truth of the claims made in this opinion piece. That is a separate issue.Report

Lisa S
Lisa S
5 years ago

I heard a brief talk from Zabeen Hirji, the Chief Human Resources Officer for RBC, a major Canadian bank the other day. The refrain was “Diversity is a Fact; Inclusion is a Choice.” Implementing that motto has allowed RBC to have an executive that is over 30% female (3/8) (in banking!). Have a look at the RBC page on its diversity policies. http://www.rbc.com/diversity/index.html

Is it too much to ask that the discipline of philosophy be at least as sophisticated as banking on these matters?Report

Philippe Lemoine
Philippe Lemoine
5 years ago

I don’t think the authors of that article make a very convincing case. As far as I can tell, the only data they cite which *directly* bear on philosophy are from Leslie et al.’s study, but I don’t think that study is very good. The problem is that it neglects to test another explanation of the hypothesis which, as it happens, seems independently rather well supported. Scott Alexander wrote a, to my mind, rather devastating critique of that study a while ago where he makes exactly that point: http://slatestarcodex.com/2015/01/24/perceptions-of-required-ability-act-as-a-proxy-for-actual-required-ability-in-explaining-the-gender-gap/. As for the other data mentioned in the article, since the exact references are not given, it’s not clear to what extent they actually bear on the lack of diversity in philosophy. As far as I can tell, the kind of studies the authors have in mind typically have little ecological validity and I doubt they can support their hypothesis in any significant way, even if that hypothesis were in fact true.

Moreover, the data we have that directly bear on philosophy seem to contradict their hypothesis or, at least, be at odds with it. For instance, in the regression analysis performed by Carolyn Dicey-Jennings and her team (http://dailynous.com/2015/09/01/philosophy-job-placement-data-update/), being a woman increased the odds of getting a permanent position by 85%, other things being equal. However, those are *odds*, not *probabilities*. What it means in terms of probabilities will depend on the value of the other variables. But, if we take as baseline the average rate of placement in a permanent position for the whole sample, namely 53%, it corresponds to a 27.5% increase in the probability of getting a permanent position.

As I noted back then, this probably underestimates the effect of gender, since the analysis didn’t contain a variable for the number of publications and, according to previous data collected by Carolyn (see this discussion: http://dailynous.com/2014/12/23/this-year-in-philosophical-intellectual-history/), men have significantly more publications on average. Thus, assuming that other things being equal having more publications increases one’s chances of getting a permanent position (which strikes me as very reasonable and, to be clear, does *not* imply that number of publications tracks merit), including a variable for number of publications in the regression model would no doubt show the effect of gender to be even stronger.

I’m not sure, however, what was the sample used for that regression and how the dependent variable was defined. Based on private correspondence with Carolyn, it seems that the data used for that regression might only have concerned people who reported having found either a permanent position or a temporary one, in which case when I talk about the probability of finding a permanent position above it should be understood as the probability of finding a permanent position vs finding a temporary one, not as the probability as finding a permanent position vs finding either a temporary one or no position at all. If that’s right, I think we should run a different regression analysis, because it would be more interesting. I think Carolyn told me that she and her team intended to publish the data they collected eventually, so we’ll probably be able to know more after they do.

In any case, to the extent that we can tell something at the moment, it seems that being a woman actually helps on the job market. The data is silent on members of ethnic minority though, so it would be interesting to collect data on that in the future. Of course, it’s possible that including even more variables, such as the prestige of the PhD-granting institution, would somewhat mitigate that conclusion I draw above. For instance, it could be that women are more likely than men to get their PhD from prestigious institutions and that prestige of PhD-granting institution independently increases one’s chances of getting a job, in which case it would mean that part of the effect of gender found by the original analysis actually resulted from that and not from gender per se. But frankly I doubt that it would make a big difference even if that were the case and, as far as I know, there are no data that support this hypothesis. In fact, I think that someone even argued that there was data which contradict that hypothesis somewhere, but I don’t remember where.

It also bears emphasizing that we should always be careful in interpreting the results of a regression analysis. For instance, even if after including a variable for the prestige of PhD-granting institution, we found that it has a positive effect on the odds of getting a permanent position independently of the other variables, one should probably not conclude that all of that effect or even most of it derives from prestige itself. Indeed, it seems reasonable to assume that people who get their PhD from more prestigious institutions tend to be superior on other unobserved characteristics that increase their chances of getting a job, such as the quality of their dissertation. But, at this point, I think it would be unreasonable to deny that being a woman helps on the job market. Or, if you want to be extra careful, it would not be reasonable to insist that it hurts your chances.

That sort of considerations makes it unlikely that the hypothesis defended by the authors of that article explain why there are less women in philosophy than one would expect based on the proportion of women among people with a PhD in philosophy. Unless I guess if the trends identified in the data collected by Carolyn and her team are *very* recent, but as far as I know, we have no reason to think so. It could still be that the hypothesis explains why members of minority and women are underrepresented among philosophy majors and graduate students, but again I think there is data that make that doubtful. Someone mentioned above that, insofar as there is leakage in the pipeline for women, it seems to occur at the entrance of the pipeline, i. e. before students have even taken any course in philosophy. I vaguely remember having seen data to that effect, though I don’t remember where. But assuming that’s true I think it would also weaken the hypothesis defended in that article. I’ll stop here but, to sum things up, I think the hypothesis in question is little more than a conjecture and not a particularly plausible one at that.Report

Alfred MacDonald
Alfred MacDonald
Reply to  Philippe Lemoine
5 years ago

the best reply on this page.

also, the goal to ‘seem smart’ is probably at odds with the goal to not be a fraud a la https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Impostor_syndrome which is common among graduate students.Report

Eric
Eric
5 years ago

I want to see more diversity in philosophy too, but this is garbage. Attacking the field as “being good at looking smart” is simply a sign that the authors are probably poor philosophers who don’t understand the norms of the field and are writing op eds instead of doing real work. Philosophy is a very strong field today, especially logic and philosophy of science, and there are very high standards for work to be accepted by the community. If you don’t know this then well…Certainly the lack of understanding of classic philosophers like Kant seems to be a red flag here. Women and minorities need to find out about philosophy and to be encouraged to pursue it. We have a publicity problem and a public relations problem no question about it. That’s why the numbers are skewed. Report

Eric
Eric
Reply to  Justin Weinberg
5 years ago

well if they got where they are by being good at sounding smart, that would tend to count against them.Report

JT
JT
Reply to  Eric
5 years ago

Trollololololololol.Report

Jessica Wilson
5 years ago

I think the ‘seeming smart’ trope as supposedly explanatory, in philosophy, of positive bias towards elite white males and negative bias towards everyone else is not in fact explanatory, and moreover is quite pernicious, in implying that there is some objective difference—say, having a plummy accent or not, being happy to take up conversational space or not, being unafraid to introduce new ideas or not—between the ways people present themselves or, more broadly, engage philosophically, that serves as a basis for bias, however undeserved.

That’s not true. Being a woman is not a way of behaving, much less of doing philosophy. Nor are there ‘elite’ or ‘white male’ ways of behaving or doing philosophy per se. Some elite white males burble inarticulately, others pronounce authoritatively, others blandly suggest. Some do nitpicky normal science of others, some carefully expand logical space, others gesture wildly in new directions. The deeper point and problem of bias is that the mode of presentation of members of unfairly advantaged categories *doesn’t make any difference*: however they speak, and whatever they say, they will be interpreted charitably. Conversely, however a non-elite/non-white/non-male presents themselves, and whatever they say, they will be interpreted less charitably. That’s the problem—not that the rest of us haven’t learned how to properly act the part.Report

Matt Weiner
Matt Weiner
Reply to  Jessica Wilson
5 years ago

Yes. Shouldn’t the null hypothesis for why philosophy is so overwhelmingly white and male be that our evaluations of philosophers are directly biased against people of color and women? It seems overly complex to posit “The problem is that philosophical evaluation is subjective, which leads us to emphasize seeming smart, which is something that white men are better at” when we haven’t ruled out plain old (and perhaps unconscious) sexism and racism, even if (especially if) that’s not a possibility that’s comfortable for us to think about.Report

Alfred MacDonald
Alfred MacDonald
Reply to  Matt Weiner
5 years ago

look, this has nothing to do with comfort.

the “hypothesis that PLAIN OLD SEXISM AND RACISM” is a possibility that anyone who follows blogs like this, or social media, or has interacted with anyone in an archetypally liberal city for more than a day has considered. not only is this something that’s considered a *lot*, it’s practically a dead horse that’s been beaten to death. the kind of people who like talking about this can’t shut up about it, and it tends to be exclusively the only thing they talk about.

if “philosophy is white and male” were a song, it’d be Boom Boom Pow by the Black Eyed Peas. yes I know already. yes, so 2008, and so 2000 and late, and the beats are so big you’re stepping on leprechauns. I know.

if “philosophy is white and male” were an activist TV commercial, it’d be “don’t drink and drive.” pretty much everyone on the planet who can be convinced by this ad has already. we know.

acting like this is SOME UNCOMFORTABLE HARD ISSUE WE SHOULD ESPECIALLY CONSIDER is incredibly, stupefyingly pretentious when:

1. it’s not, at all, and
2. there are so many other uncomfortable issues worth addressing, and
3. philosophy if anything is ESPECIALLY tolerant of appeals to discomfort as a means of altering methodology or outright consideration of an issue, either under the guise of social justice or under the guise of “good pedagogy” but either way having marshmallow emotions tends to be more effective than it is ineffectiveReport

Alfred MacDonald
Alfred MacDonald
Reply to  Alfred MacDonald
5 years ago

ugh I hate that this website has no edit button. “practically a dead horse that’s been beaten to death” should just be “practically a horse that’s been beaten to death.”Report

Matt Weiner
Matt Weiner
Reply to  Alfred MacDonald
5 years ago

Alfred, you’ve offered a lot of complaints about how much philosophers talk about plain old sexism and racism to explain our disproportionate white maleness. You’ve offered no evidence that it isn’t plain old sexism and racism. Or for any of the other points you make.

I’d add that the campaign against drunken driving was incredibly effective at reducing drunk driving fatalities. If there’s any analogy to the campaign against racism and sexism in philosophy, people of good will should keep hammering on that point, even if some people are sick of hearing about it–too bad for them.Report

Alfred MacDonald
Alfred MacDonald
Reply to  Matt Weiner
5 years ago

yes I did not offer evidence against “plain old sexism” because I was making no causal claim either way. not only is this really a question of psychology, not philosophy, it’s something I wasn’t responding to.

it would be rather silly for me to provide evidence for something I didn’t actually dispute.

I disputed the idea that this is a hard, uncomfortable, novel issue. it’s none of those things at this point. is it important? sure. but the days of claiming this is boundary-pushing (and being right about that) are over.

“I’d add that the campaign against drunken driving was incredibly effective”

I’d add that you wrote this sentence in past tense and I was referring to the present-tense ineffectiveness of repeating what we have already heard on, say, an LED traffic sign that would normally list road closures.Report

Matt Weiner
Matt Weiner
Reply to  Alfred MacDonald
5 years ago

So you weren’t disputing the main point of my post, or even anything that I asserted, but only the antecedent of a conditional clause? Good to know. Not sure why it was important to do that rather than addressing the substantive points. but hey.

As for the drunk driving analogy, the campaign against racism and sexism in philosophy has pretty clearly not achieved the ubiquity that that campaign did, nor has it yet achieved its goals in the way the campaign against drunk driving did. Just following blogs like this or social media might give you a skewed perspective. Report

Alfred MacDonald
Alfred MacDonald
Reply to  Alfred MacDonald
5 years ago

“Not sure why it was important to do that rather than”

nothing about importance follows from anything here, nor entails a tradeoff.

however, the exaggerated attitude is worth pursuing because melodrama is a form of falsehood. falsehood-exposure is generally worthwhile.Report

JT
JT
Reply to  Alfred MacDonald
5 years ago

Philosophy is “not at all” mostly white and male? Really? Sorry, but the facts disagree with you. Of 2404 responses from full members to the 2015 APA demographics survey with respect to gender, 1797 were from men. That’s ~75%. Of 2874 responses with respect to race, 2295 were from those who identified as white. That’s ~80%. There are many, many departments out there with either wholly male or wholly white faculties, and in a lot of cases the faculty composition is both. None of this would come as a surprise to anyone who is actually familiar with how things are in this region of the academy. So, I suspect that you are more of a gadfly to the profession than anything else (in the literal, rather than the laudatory Socratic sense). If you are going to continue to insist on sidetracking an important discussion between actual philosophers about the state of the field with ignorant nonsense, then I strongly suggest that you buzz off. Report

Alfred MacDonald
Alfred MacDonald
Reply to  JT
5 years ago

“Philosophy is”

ouch, could have stopped right there and avoided this mistake
http://i.imgur.com/D35JYon.png

shouldn’t have broken from N*Sync JT you were so beautiful and I loved youReport

JT
JT
Reply to  Alfred MacDonald
5 years ago

Oh, I see. I did misread your claim, sorry. But I don’t see how this counts in your favour, since your actual claim is even more wrongheaded than the one I took you to be making. One of the few things more obnoxious than a white dude barging into a discussion about what to do in the fact of obvious and troubling gender and racial disparities only to deny that the disparities exist is that thing where the white dude acknowledges the disparities only to dismiss them as “not at all” an “UNCOMFORTABLE HARD ISSUE WE SHOULD ESPECIALLY CONSIDER.” (Also, you can just say it, rather than all-caps it. Trust me, it’ll still be ‘incredibly, stupefyingly pretentious’ either way.) So, congratulations, I guess.Report

Alfred MacDonald
Alfred MacDonald
Reply to  Alfred MacDonald
5 years ago

no, it deserves the caps. the caps convey the melodrama of the sentiment.

it’s not a hard truth, it’s not that uncomfortable, and we’ve considered it about as much as human beings could possibly consider it relative to ALL THE OTHER PHILOSOPHICAL ISSUES we could be discussing. this is like going to a chinese buffet every day for 30 days and *only* eating beef lo mein for 28 of those days.

that’s not dismissal. it says nothing about how true it is. it says something about how actually difficult of an emotional reality this is for people who consider it. and the people pressing the issue are acting like they’re on to something a hell of a lot more revolutionary than they really are.

if you wish to make *my* commentary an issue of race, I can get my fiancee to say exactly the same thing, who is as black and low SES as you can get, and say it more emphatically than I am since she’s even more passionately against this kind of exaggeration. in fact, roughly last year we went to a party in her hood and a dude got fatally stabbed not 30 minutes after we left. I remember drinking with him. instead of being some shock to the community, this was just another thing that happens, because when death happens too much your body cannot produce the same stress/shock response over and over again. and this is just what I personally experienced — I hear about a death in that neighborhood every other month.

*that* is a hard truth, that you can just die and it won’t be an event to anyone. not “maybe this cushy job I have might be a little sexist because [causal speculation].” Report

JT
JT
Reply to  Alfred MacDonald
5 years ago

I’m truly sorry that your friend was stabbed and that what you describe is sadly a reality for so many people. But this has little bearing on the current discussion, just like how the suffering of refugees fleeing the terrible chaos in Syria would not bear on a discussion of the problems faced by those who live in your fiancee’s neighbourhood. There are many horrible truths in the world, but I don’t see how making a competition out of the relative horribleness of these is anything other than counterproductive. If your claim is that those who are disadvantaged and harmed by gender and racial disparities in philosophy are making mountains out of molehills because others have it worse, then you are in fact dismissing their concerns as overblown because they come second (or whatever) in the suffering olympics. But there are no winners in the suffering olympics, because every minute we spend comparing scars is a minute that could’ve been spent on improving their situation. So, please stop. And before you glibly lecture us all again about how inconsequential the problems faced by women and minorities in philosophy are, you should at least make sure you don’t sound completely ignorant of what it’s like to be an early career philosopher these days.Report

Alfred MacDonald
Alfred MacDonald
Reply to  Alfred MacDonald
5 years ago

“relative horribleness” is how you establish how bad something is in the first place.

you could have just as well said “I don’t see what the point is in establishing whether robbery is worse than assault, they’re both bad” but that’s exactly what utilitarianism does.

“suffering olympics” is a parachute people who have these discussions use when this happens:

A: Problem
B: Problem is not as severe because [reasons]
A: You could not possibly know that because you do not know what real hardship is like as you are not [demographic]
B: Yes I do know because [much harder thing], in fact this is why that is not that severe
A: Woah woah woah suffering olympics buddy

and in the same breath, you say “you should at least make sure you don’t sound completely ignorant of what it’s like to be an early career philosopher”, like this does not establish some baseline to compare the difficulty of my circumstances to. should I now say “there are no winners in the difficult situations olympics, because every minute we spend comparing scars is a minute that could’ve been spent on improving their situation”? no. some situations are more difficult. this scenario you bring up could be one.

and when you or someone else uses melodrama as some kind of basis to establish the importance of something, yes, a baseline for horrible things (a “horribleness olympics”) matters, since you want to understand whether this melodrama is justified.

you can have this thing, or the other thing, but not both things.Report

JT
JT
Reply to  Alfred MacDonald
5 years ago

Woof. What’s that saying? The hard truth is that you can lead some horses to water, but some are just dead horses that’ve been beaten to death.Report

Alfred MacDonald
Alfred MacDonald
Reply to  Alfred MacDonald
5 years ago

right, twists on aphorisms. anyway, I forgot to mention two things.

first is that suffering and stress and etc are all physiological reactions (elevations noradrenaline/cortisol especially) so yes you can completely measure them and compare them. and since they’re reactions that are at least partially influenced by perception of reality (and partially influenced by exposure), you can say how justifiable a given reaction is compared to another. measuring noradrenaline is a bit difficult but you can even go to labsmd or privatemdlabs or whatever and get your cortisol measured tomorrow.

second “I’m truly sorry that your friend was stabbed”

I doubt you are, but that’s okay because you shouldn’t be anyway. I’m not. he wasn’t my friend. he was just some guy I met.

some person we know through other people dies like every other month. if you legitimately tried to expend sorrow and shock every time someone in these neighborhoods you would not have any emotions left to do anything. the body is very good at adapting to the neurochemistry of stress when said stress is unavoidable. if it weren’t, and say we always were just as shocked that people can die like we were at age 2 or 3 when we figured out what death was, we’d have heart attacks before 30 from the nearly constant elevation in cortisol and norarenaline induced by knowing that people die.

if, say, I died, yet somehow could see how you reacted, I would not believe you if you said you were sad that I did. usually, when people are sad and shocked by death in very cozy societies, it’s less loss of the actual person and more shock at remembering that death will happen to you than it is anything else, since people are pretty good at forgetting that death exists on a daily basis.

but anyway, stress totally does scale. if my idea of a tense conflict is getting jumped, and your idea of a tense conflict is a shouting match, I’m probably going to be calm throughout what is otherwise an extremely stressful situation for you.

and they do compare, because they aren’t different variables and you have circumstances to say how justifiable each one is. in some situations yes it’s just an issue of exposure, but then it’s not exactly doing someone any favors to say their lack of stress tolerance is due to deliberately sheltering themselves.Report

recent grad
recent grad
Reply to  JT
5 years ago

JT,

Just ignore him.Report

Alfred MacDonald
Alfred MacDonald
Reply to  recent grad
5 years ago

yeah JT,

[snide passive-aggressive side-conversation with third-person address.]Report

JT
JT
Reply to  recent grad
5 years ago

Yeah, in retrospect, I should’ve have taken your advice.Report

Diogenes of Sinope
5 years ago

In his quantitative analysis of the PGR data a few years ago, sociologist Kieran Healy found that philosophy is a high-consensus field relative to other humanities. We tend to agree on what is good work. Philosophy is more like science than literary criticism in that respect. The “diverse” disciplines have fewer shared intellectual standards. We’re not as subjective as the authors of the linked article claim. In any case, something tells me that the computer I’m typing this on doesn’t work just because a bunch of white men agreed on what makes for good science.Report

Kathryn Pogin
Kathryn Pogin
Reply to  Diogenes of Sinope
5 years ago

Why would consensus count against subjectivity? Certainly it could, but there’s no necessary connection, and an equally plausible interpretation of consensus as shared intellectual standards would be that consensus could arise with shared social standards. Report

paolo
paolo
Reply to  Kathryn Pogin
5 years ago

I assume nobody says its causation but an indicative correlation to the effect that philosophy would be an exception to the rule and one would have to come up with a non-ad hoc explanation of why one should treat it as such. Report

Kathryn Pogin
Kathryn Pogin
Reply to  paolo
5 years ago

Diogenes of Sinope wrote, “The “diverse” disciplines have fewer shared intellectual standards.” If non-diverse disciplines tend towards consensus, and diverse disciplines fail to, or do so to a significantly lesser extent, it hardly seems ad hoc to think consensus could be social rather than intellectual. Report

Steven French
Steven French
5 years ago

I’m a little surprised that no one has mentioned the SWIPUK/BPA report on ‘Women in Philosophy in the UK’ (perhaps because its about women in philosophy in the UK?!). It notes the sharp decline in % of women from ug level, through to PhD and then across the career grades and suggests the reason has to do with certain structural barriers, including implicit bias, stereotype threat and sexual harassment.

fwiw the existence of such barriers (which seems to mesh with what Jessica Wilson says above) accords with union analyses of the shifting % of women across career grades in all subjects (and with my own experience as a union officer and caseworker) – that is, its not about being good at seeming smart; its about structural obstacles that women have to confront and overcome in entering and progressing through the profession.

As for black and ethnic minority students and colleagues – the nos are so low to begin with that its difficult to achieve a meaningful statistics based analysis. Whether the low nos of such students in UK philosophy is due to the claimed eurocentric and colonialist nature of the curriculum or to certain perceptions of philosophy as a career option (or leading to such) seems unclear. But given those nos, its little surprise that there are so few in the profession (given the, again, structural obstacles that BME colleagues have to face with regard to career progression).

Report

Philippe Lemoine
Philippe Lemoine
Reply to  Steven French
5 years ago

This is interesting, especially because the situation in the UK seems to differ from what’s going on in the US, at least if I remember a post on Feminist Philosophers from a while ago correctly. But I think the faith that many philosophers put in research on stereotype threat and implicit bias to explain that kind of data is completely unwarranted. First of all, like most presentations of the research on stereotype threat, the presentation in the report you cite significantly overstates the results found in the literature, for a reason that is explained in this piece: https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/rabble-rouser/201512/is-stereotype-threat-overcooked-overstated-and-oversold. (The argument is based on Sackett et al., “On interpreting stereotype threat as accounting for African American-White differences on cognitive tests”, 2004.) Moreover, the research on stereotype threat suffers from replication issues, as well as worries about publication bias. Finally, most studies on stereotype threat don’t have much ecological validity, so even if we ignored the problems mentioned above it’s not clear how well they could explain the data you mention. Similarly, I think that philosophers wildly overestimate how much of the discrepancy between men and women in the profession can be explained by implicit bias, if only because implicit bias doesn’t seem to have much predictive validity for the kind of behaviors that might explain the data you mention. This was shown by a recent meta-analysis in Oswald et al., “Predicting Ethnic and Racial Discrimination: A Meta-Analysis of IAT Criterion Studies”, 2013. It’s worth quoting their conclusion in full: “The initial excitement over IAT effects gave rise to a hope that the IAT would prove to be a window on unconscious sources of discriminatory behavior. This hope has been sustained by individual studies finding statistically significant correlations between IAT scores and some criterion measures of discrimination and by the finding from Greenwald, Poehlman, et al. (2009) that IATs had greater predictive validity than explicit measures of bias when predicting discrimination against African Americans and other minorities. This closer look at the IAT criterion studies in the domains of ethnic and racial discrimination revealed, however, that the IAT provides little insight into who will discriminate against whom, and provides no more insight than explicit measures of bias. The IAT is an innovative contribution to the multidecade quest for subtle indicators of prejudice, but the results of the present meta-analysis indicate that social psychology’s long search for an unobtrusive measure of prejudice that reliably predicts discrimination must continue (see Crosby, Bromley, & Saxe, 1980; Mitchell & Tetlock, in press). Overall, simple explicit measures of bias yielded predictions no worse than the IATs. Had researchers attended to the compatibility principle in the development of the explicit measures and consistently taken steps to minimize reac- tivity bias, the explicit measures would likely have performed substantially better (cf. Kraus, 1995; Talaska et al., 2008).” (This meta-analysis is methodologically and statistically much more sophisticated than Greenwald et al., “Understanding and Using the Implicit Association Test: III. Meta-Analysis of Predictive Validity”, 2009, but even the results in that article are hardly impressive in my opinion.)Report

Ben
Ben
5 years ago

I don’t think this proposed explanation passes even the crudest initial examination.

Gender proportions vary between subfields of philosophy. For example, ethics has proportionally many more women than the average subfield, whereas the converse is the case in logic. Are the evaluation criteria used in logic somehow more subjective than the criteria used in ethics? Are logicians more easily impressed by people who “seem smart” than ethicists are?

Gender proportions also vary between academic fields. English PhD programs tend to be dominated by (white) women whereas CS programs tend to be dominated by (non-white) men. Is that because the criteria used in English are more objective than the ones used in CS?

There is a premise often tacitly accepted in discussions regarding the proportion of women in philosophy that I’d like to challenge. The premise is that an equal proportion of women and men is the natural state of affairs and that there is something abnormal and peculiar about philosophy or philosophers that make it such that there are fewer than 50% women in the field. This premise has no support whatsoever. In fact, there are very few academic fields, professions, or even hobbies that don’t have a gender imbalance. Perhaps the reason philosophy is gender imbalanced is completely unique and has to do with the combative nature of philosophy, the unique sexism of male philosophers, or the tendency of philosophers to be easily impressed by charlatans, but anyone who wants to understand the gender imbalance in philosophy should at least acknowledge the fact than gender imbalance is the widespread norm and they should at least try to justify why philosophy requires a unique and narrow explanation that doesn’t generalize.Report

Alfred MacDonald
Alfred MacDonald
Reply to  Ben
5 years ago

this was a refreshing reply to read.

neurochemistry matters *a lot* more than people think. so much that I’d accept sexism as causal if and only if the neurochemical elements had been ruled out.

testosterone:estrogen ratios greatly influence the kind of preferences a person has. so will cortisol. so will dopamine and dopamine transport. so will various dopamine-like associations with certain kinds of verbal analysis that may have been developed over time. there are so many possible scenarios that I listing them all would consume my next hour.

I’ve felt vastly different intellectual preferences on different kinds of drugs. some induce me to prefer solitary problem-solving, a la computer science, while others motivate fiction and social interaction and romantic activity. we don’t have these drugs in the body but it’s not without reason that different neurochemical configurations, many of which may semi-inherent and associated with sex, could influence what kind of fields of study are gratifying.Report

David
David
5 years ago

If being applauded for seeming-smart by being obscurantist is directly correlated to maleness and whiteness, then how come there is a more even distribution of graduates and job-placement by gender in continental philosophy? which is more frequently labelled obscurantist?Report

Kristina Meshelski
Kristina Meshelski
5 years ago

I am only on here to say that feminist geography is awesome and some people in this thread need to read a book. I highly recommend Ruth Wilson Gilmore’s Golden Gulag. Report

philosopotamus
philosopotamus
Reply to  Kristina Meshelski
5 years ago

Yes, a hundred times, yes. And thank you for saying it. Her work is an example of how drawing bright lines around the definition of “philosophy” can cause us to leave out important thinking and exclude lovers of wisdom (of many and varied backgrounds).Report