The Status of Philosophy of Science in the Profession (guest post by C. Kenneth Waters)


The following is a guest post* by C. Kenneth Waters, professor of philosophy at the University of Calgary and Canada Research Chair in Logic and Philosophy of Science.



The Status of Philosophy of Science in the Profession

by C. Kenneth Waters

Has philosophy of science been given a backseat at American Philosophical Association (APA) and Canadian Philosophical Association (CPA) conferences? Many philosophers of science think so and some complain bitterly. But what are the facts? As with many discussions about our profession, philosophers seem comfortable drawing broad conclusions from anecdotes. In this case, the anecdotes are usually not about experiences of those who have put in the hard work of constructing conference programs; rather, the anecdotes are about not having been invited to give presentations. Where’s the data? Brian Hanley, Niall Roe, and I are collecting some that could help inform discussion.

As part of a project we call PhilSci at the APA & CPA, we inspected the 2016 programs of the three APA conferences and we will inspect programs of future CPA and APA conferences as they appear. Our methodology adheres to official categories (e.g. major sessions, invited papers, colloquia papers, etc.). We try to identify and count all presentations in each category that address topics and that use approaches characteristic of presentations at conferences such as the Philosophy of Science Biennial Meetings, of articles published in journals such as Philosophy of Science, and of preprints posted at sites such as the PhilSci-Archive. This turns out to be more difficult than it might sound.

Our data shows that of the 13 sessions that the APA labeled as “major sessions” at the three conferences, none counted as philosophy of science. Of the 12 invited papers, none counted as philosophy of science. We counted 6 of the 59 invited symposia as philosophy of science, but all of them were at the Pacific conference. The combined number of philosophy of science presentations in the categories of major sessions, invited papers, invited symposia, and authors meet critics on the main programs of the Eastern and Central divisions was exactly zero. Perhaps 2016 was a fluke. We will find out as PhilSci at the APA & CPA continues to collect data.

But there is another side of the data. Only 4 contributed symposia and 22 regular colloquium papers for all three conferences were in the area of philosophy of science. This is a very small number, especially when compared to the number of symposia papers and colloquia papers presented at PSA biennial meetings (133 and 148, respectively). Is the acceptance rate of philosophy of science submissions to the APA similar to the acceptance rate of papers at the PSA (at the last Biennial meeting, it was 55% for symposia proposals and 43% for submitted papers)? Is the acceptance rate of philosophy of science submissions to the APA similar to the overall acceptance? Why aren’t philosophers of science submitting more of their work to the APA? We don’t know. When we don’t know, our imaginations can run wild.

Many societies construct program committees to reflect the proportion of papers submitted in different areas (work load considerations). If we philosophers of science are not contributing papers in proportion to our numbers, then perhaps the makeup of program committees reflect this. And if there is not much philosophy of science at conferences, there is less motivation for philosophers of science to attend or submit. Sounds like a downward spiral. More information is needed.

Comparing our statistics about different APA divisions is also revealing. The Eastern division conference was a desert for philosophy of science. Just 4 papers on the main program. The Pacific division was a comparative oasis, at least with respect to invited symposia. The data also highlight features of the conferences that I suspect go largely unnoticed. For example, did you know that the main program of the Pacific conference is considerably larger than that of the Central conference, and that the main program of the Central conference is considerably larger than that of the relatively small Eastern conference? The Eastern conference has a relatively high percentage of Society/Association/Research Groups Sessions. The structure of conference programs is interestingly different. As a pluralist and pragmatist, and as a philosopher of scientific practice, I find this diversity unproblematic and possibly quite beneficial. But now I want to know more about how the separate divisions construct their programs, who constructs them, and who chooses who constructs them. Collecting data raises more questions and provides a basis for more productive discussion.

After talking to many people about the standing of philosophy of science at APA and CPA conferences, and after inspecting the programs, I think we have lots to learn before we can draw informed conclusions. We need empirical information. And instead of asking “what are the APA and CPA doing for philosophers of science?”, I believe we should pursue our inquiry by asking what philosophers of science can do for the APA and CPA, or even better, what philosophers of science can help achieve for the larger philosophical community by participating in the APA and CPA. Sometimes I worry that with our spectacular success in creating specialist associations, journals, and conferences, we philosophers of science might have inadvertently volunteered to take a backseat.

I invite readers to look at the data, which is available here. Hearing what people make of the data, and from those who have worked within the APA and CPA, could help us see how to move forward.

seguy patterns

(patterns by Eugène Séguy)

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Roberta Millstein
5 years ago

I served on the APA Pacific program committee this year and have been to a number of APA meetings, so I will probably have more to say later. But I wanted to leave a quick note first: one of the things that the APA Pacific does is to require members of the program committee to put together two symposia. (I say “require” but I considered that a perk). That pretty much guarantees that, regardless of submissions, if you have philosophers of science on the program committee you will have philosophy of science on the program. If we want the APA Eastern and Central to have more philosophy of science, they might consider adopting the same policy. (Someone can correct me if I am wrong in my assumption that they do not).Report

Alan Richardson
Alan Richardson
5 years ago

One small comment: We ought not forget that the CPA overlaps annually with CSHPS (Can Soc Hist Phil Sci) and that most of the submissions in hps go to the latter; members of CPA are welcome to come to CSHPS sessions. CSHPS is a kickass group in which historians and philosophers of science actually learn from one another.Report

Chris Stephens
Chris Stephens
5 years ago

Hi Ken-

I seem to recall the acceptance rates at APA conferences are much lower (esp. the Pacific) than the Philosophy of Science Association conferences. They must have their statistics somewhere, but I can’t find them on a quick perusal of the website.Report

Jamie Dreier
Jamie Dreier
5 years ago

I think there are invited symposia at the Easterns, although they are not clearly labeled as ‘invited’. One of them was the symposium on computer simulation in science.
Roberta, I am pretty sure the Eastern program committee does have that same practice. It definitely did when I was on it, and I think it still does.Report

Margaret Atherton
Margaret Atherton
5 years ago

Central too when I was on the program committee offered such a perk to committee members.Report

Roberta Millstein
5 years ago

Jamie and Margaret, thank you for letting me know that the APA Eastern and Central have the same practice of requiring program committee chairs to put together symposia. But if that’s right, then Ken’s numbers seem to suggest that either there were some years there were no philosophers of science on the program committee for the Eastern and the Central. And do you know if it was two symposia or just one? In any case, this seems worth pursuing to me. In the spirit of Ken’s question, “what can philosophers of science do?”, interested parties might volunteer to serve on program committees for the Eastern and the Central. I don’t know how the committees are chosen, either – perhaps just invited by the program chair? But often people tasked with such jobs appreciate volunteers, so I think it is worth a shot.

My slightly biased opinion is that there was a good amount of high quality philosophy of science at the APA Pacific this year. I was sent great papers to review and had great speakers agree to be part of the sessions I organized (“Varieties of Biological Explanation” and an “author-meets-discussants” on Gillian Barker’s “Beyond Biofatalism: Human Nature for an Evolving World”). My colleague Alyssa Ney and former PSA Women’s Co-Chair Holly Andersen are likewise responsible for some of the great phil sci on the program. To my way of thinking, the issue is how the other societies can do as well as the Pacific.

Chris, here are the instructions we were given for this year’s APA Pacific: “The acceptance rate was less than 30% last year; if you are accepting more than 30% you should consider being tougher. Aiming for a rate of 20% would be better for this year… Also, just to let you know, there are 30 posters and 98 symposium papers (that the 5000 word paper). For the symposium papers, since there should be only about 6 on the whole program, the acceptance rate for these should be about 6%.” I don’t know how that compares to recent PSAs.

On another note, I might as well bring up the elephant in the room. Many philosophers of science I know find the APA Pacific a lot more congenial than the APA Eastern, and if that is a common view, it becomes a more complicated problem to change the culture (or maybe it’s just the perception of the culture). I don’t know why there isn’t more at the Central; maybe a coastal bias?Report

ejrd
ejrd
Reply to  Roberta Millstein
5 years ago

These statistics are incredibly helpful. Thank you Roberta. Do you have any sense of what the corresponding breakdown would be for this year (either in general, by sub-discipline, etc) or whether these data are kept track of by the APA?Report

Roberta Millstein
Reply to  ejrd
5 years ago

ejrd, we were told: “In the end there are 194 accepted colloquium papers (29% of the total colloquium papers submitted); 6 accepted contributed symposium papers (6% of the total); and 11 accepted posters (about 1/3 of the total).” I don’t know what the breakdown would be by sub-discipline. I think it was a lot of work for Ken and colleagues to figure it out for philosophy of scienceReport

D. Mayo
5 years ago

After 30 years in the field, it remains the case that philosophy of science is still, by and large, not considered real philosophy by the mainstream philosophy “establishment”, and the less so, the more it engages with science and evidence-based policy (unless clearly in ethics). One found more genuine philosophy of statistics and induction (my focus)–with innovative contributions by both philosophers of science and prominent statisticians–-30+ yrs ago. I think it’s part of the supposition that applicable philosophy isn’t quite philosophy, especially if it’s engaged in with scientists. At the same time, I’ve often felt that if philosophers of science really wanted to avail themselves of opportunities to run sessions at the APA, they probably could; I guess there are enough other venues that are more welcoming. I’m glad Waters is exploring some statistics on this.Report

George Gale
George Gale
Reply to  D. Mayo
5 years ago

First off, I would like to thank Ken for doing this. It’s extremely useful, and as the comments above, especially from Roberta, show, there is much to be observed in the behaviour of the various divisions of the APA. And, as Alan notes. up here in Canadia, things are interestingly different, mostly because of the straight-ahead notions of the CSHPS.
It has always seemed to me–and here purely subjective feeling are involved–that the Eastern Division was basically hostile to philosophy of science, not to mention HPS. Anything we can do to alleviate this would be worthwhile.Report

Hey Nonny Mouse
Hey Nonny Mouse
Reply to  D. Mayo
5 years ago

D. Mayo, I am surprised and disappointed to hear that you have found negative attitudes to philosophy of science in the philosophical establishment. I’m having trouble even imagining what grounds someone might offer for not thinking that philosophy of science is important. I’d be very interested to hear people’s views about what the “establishment” subjects are. I thought philosophy of science was one of them!Report

Mayo
Reply to  Hey Nonny Mouse
5 years ago

Establishment subjects: Ethics, history of philosophy, metaphysics and epistemology, possibly logic and philosophy of language. Perhaps others have different groupings.Report

Jamie Dreier
Jamie Dreier
5 years ago

Roberta, now that you mention it, I think it was just one session per program committee member. (Maybe someone who’s done it more recently than I can remember?)

“Ken’s numbers seem to suggest that either there were some years there were no philosophers of science on the program committee for the Eastern and the Central.”

I don’t think so – Ken only gave information for *this* year, and as I pointed out he was mistaken about the Eastern, since there were invited symposia (including one in philosophy of science). It’s just that they aren’t called “invited symposium”.

The program committee is chosen by the executive committee of the Eastern Division – I assume it’s the same for the other Divisions. The program committee chair is selected by the secretary-treasurer from the members of the program committee. I enjoyed being on the committee, although it was a lot of work.Report

Roberta Millstein
Reply to  Jamie Dreier
5 years ago

Fair enough. I still think one obvious and straightforward way to increase phil sci at the Eastern and the Central is to have more philosophers of science on the program committee and/or allow them to put together (more) sessions.Report

Margaret Atherton
Margaret Atherton
5 years ago

No division alike is the watchword of APA. The last time I was on Central, the committee members did two sessions although at one time there was some sort of weird voting procedures. The chair of the committee is appointed by the President and my memory is that the chair then rounded up the committee.Report

John D. Norton
5 years ago

Many thanks to Ken for assembling these data. In interpreting them, we should bear in mind that we have seen significant structural changes in our discipline over the last few decades. I’ll list some below. They all have the effect of diminishing attendance by philosophers of science at the APA/CPA.

There are now many new national and international conferences in philosophy of science. In addition to the venerable PSA and BSPS, without searching, I can list Formal Epistemology Workshop, Models and Simulations, HOPOS, EPSA, Society for Philosophy of Science in Practice, &HPS Integrated History and Philosophy of Science. There are also new conference series in the philosophy of a specific science, e.g. ISHPSSB. Individual Centers now routinely run conferences. The Pittsburgh Center runs at least 4 conferences and workshops a year. (Apologies if I missed your favorite conference series!)

This proliferation of conferences is in large part a result of the internet. With email, listservs and websites, it is now easier than ever to run a conference, even one with an open call. It used to be that this was such an onerous operation that standard conferences like APA were the only easy way of mounting an academic event.

The Eastern APA served as a traditional venue for job seekers. It was routine for applicants and departments to arrange to meet for interviews at the APA. With Skype, this is no longer needed.

Big conferences were traditionally the place to learn about the latest work. With the flood of information now available on the internet, including preprints on philsci-archive, there’s much less of a need to attend a national or international conference to find out about the latest work.

The effect of these changes is to move us towards ever smaller islands of groups of people with common interests. I suppose the real question is whether we can maintain the unity of the philosophical community in the face of these changes.Report

Ken Waters
5 years ago

Jamie, Thanks for calling our error to my attention. Apparently at the Eastern all symposia are invited unless they are labeled “Submitted Symposia”. We have corrected the statistics. Now 0 out of 3 submitted symposia are counted as PhilSci (instead of 1 out of 3) and 1 out of 28 invited symposia are counted as PhilSci (instead of 0 out of 0).
I should remind readers that we consider our statistics approximate because it can be difficult (for some talks) whether they should be counted as PhilSci. We appreciate having errors called to our attention and will correct our statistics as errors are identified.Report

Ken Waters
5 years ago

John, Great points! I would like to address your question. I doubt that the philosophy community has ever been truly united, but I think it is important that philosophers meet together to share and exchange ideas and viewpoints at conferences. We should keep in mind that the APA does more for the profession of philosophy than organize talks and symposia. Its mission includes advancing philosophy within the academy and beyond. It works (or should) on lots of issues confronting philosophers including those related to professional development, teaching, outreach, and promoting the appreciation of philosophy beyond the confines of our departments. The APA represents philosophy and philosophers. I believe it is important for philosophers of science to contribute to all the work of the APA. One mechanism to keep philosophers of science connected to our colleagues in different areas of philosophy and to have us involved with the broader work of the APA is for us to attend and participate in APA conferences. I agree that the changes you describe make this more challenging, but I don’t think they make our attendance and participation any less important.Report

Ken Waters
5 years ago

There has been discussion of how the different divisions put together programs. I have started to explore the APA website to learn more about this, and my impression is that the process might be more open than it appears. Every division has a means for any APA member to submit suggestions for invited sessions (see below). And there are lots of philosophers serving on committees. Most volunteer organizations are happy to accept new volunteers, and I wonder how difficult it would be for philosophers of science to serve on APA committees if they volunteered. In any case, here are some links to APA pages that you might find informative. I recommend looking at the Central Division’s “Program Organization and Policies” regardless of your division membership. Otherwise, you might want to look at your own division. This information still leaves a lot to be learned; for example about the “perk” Roberta mentioned.

Central Division
Program Organization and Policies including instructions for submitting suggestions for invited sessions:
http://www.apaonline.org/members/group_content_view.asp?group=110423&id=220072&hhSearchTerms=%22central+and+program+and+committee%22#suggestions
Program Committee:
http://www.apaonline.org/members/group_content_view.asp?group=110423&id=188237

Pacific Division
Program Committee:
http://www.apaonline.org/members/group_content_view.asp?group=110424&id=193785
Instructions for submitting suggestions for invited sessions:
http://www.apaonline.org/members/group_content_view.asp?group=110424&id=202872

Eastern Division meeting:
Program Committee:
http://www.apaonline.org/members/group_content_view.asp?group=110422&id=193779&hhSearchTerms=%22advisory+and+committee%22
Advisory Committee to the Program Committee: Marc Lange represented the philosophy of science as a “Special Field” in 2016
http://www.apaonline.org/members/group_content_view.asp?group=110422&id=196260
Instructions for submitting suggestions for invited sessions:
http://www.apaonline.org/members/group_content_view.asp?group=110422&id=202875Report

Elliott Sober
5 years ago

We philosophers of science often discuss what we can do to convince scientists that philosophy of science is relevant to science; we also often discuss how we can work more closely with scientists on subjects of mutual interest. I think that we philosophers of science need to do the same with respect to philosophers who are not philosophers of science. This could involve collaborative teaching and research and also with our writing articles for philosophers who are not philosophers of science that show how ideas and approaches from philosophy of science throw light on problems that are often taken to lie outside of philosophy of science. We also should try to publish these articles in journals that are not dedicated to philosophy of science. Bridge-building is important!Report

Ed
Ed
Reply to  Elliott Sober
5 years ago

True. Though my impression is that Phil Sci journals are much better when it comes to speed and quality of refereeing than generalists journals. While this is especially important for people on the market and pre-tenure, it is a dismal experience even when you are beyond that stage.Report

Marc Lange
Marc Lange
5 years ago

Thanks to Ken for initiating this discussion. I’ve served on the APA Eastern Program Committee (once as Committee Chair) and I’m now on the Philosophy of Science Advisory Committee to the Program Committee. I agree with a good deal that has already been said. I can add that at no time did I ever have the sense that the philosophy of science was at a systematic competitive disadvantage in getting onto the program.

The Advisory Committee members are asked individually to send a few program ideas to the Program Committee. Program Committee members develop their own session ideas and also decide which (if any) of the proposals submitted by the Advisory Committee make it onto the program. If you would like to suggest some program ideas to me, then I would be glad to receive them (at [email protected]). But as Ken noted above, every APA member can make suggestions directly to the Program Committee. I am sure that the Program Committee would appreciate having your suggestions and that they would be considered seriously.Report

Michael Strevens
5 years ago

These statistics undercount philosophy of science at the Central APA this year. I was in an invited symposium with Mariam Thalos and André Ariew that had plenty of philosophy of science content, if you count history of science and cognitive psychology of science as a part of the story. There was also an author meets critics session on Mike Bishop’s book “The Good Life”, which takes a philosophy of science approach to positive psychology. Neither of these sessions was pure philosophy of science, nor especially traditional philosophy of science. But if we should be pursuing the unity of philosophy, as John Norton rightly suggests in this comments thread, shouldn’t we count this sort of cross-over work as part of our domain?Report

J.D. Trout
5 years ago

To follow up on Michael’s point, at the Central Division there was also a symposium on “The Philosophical Lessons of Speech Perception”, with Michelle Montague, Mohan Matthen, and Casey O’Callaghan, which contained a fair bit of philosophy of science. I was a philosopher of science on the Central Division Program Committee this year. Like members of the Pacific Division Committee, we were asked to propose symposia. But not all of the symposia proposed are approved. All program committee members rate the symposia proposals.Report

Ken Waters
5 years ago

I agree with Michael and am glad he is using this discussion to draw attention to an important point. Philosophers of science should attend APA conferences because the conferences offer opportunities to learn about research in epistemology, ethics, social-political philosophy, philosophy of mind, and metaphysics that crosses into issues in philosophy of science. I think that philosophers of science could contribute to this crossover research if they attended such sessions at APA conferences. And as Elliott suggests, this would also contribute to philosophers’ of science own research. Furthermore, research that crosses into philosophy of science could be informed by APA sessions in the category of what Michael calls pure philosophy of science.

So I believe, and I think Michael does as well, that APA conferences should include a good representation of what he calls pure philosophy of science as well as cross-over work. We are counting the former. As I mentioned in the opening post, our goal is to count the kind of research that is recognized as being centered in philosophy of science by journals like Philosophy of Science, conferences like the PSA biennial meetings, and archives like PhilSci-Archive. The complaints to which we are responding are about the alleged dearth of this kind of work at APA conferences.

(Even counting APA sessions and papers within this category is challenging because it can be difficult to draw such lines (as Michael’s and JD’s comments make clear) especially when working with incomplete information, e.g. often just author names and titles. We sometimes googled authors and paper titles in an effort to get more information. When we were counting, I wondered whether we counted some sessions and presentations that many philosophers of science might not consider philosophy of science. In any case, our counting is only approximate. I hope, however, that our statistics give a good sense of the amount of work on APA program that falls within the category that Michael calls pure philosophy of science.)Report

Peter Ross
5 years ago

First, thanks very much to Ken for initiating this discussion. I was the program chair for the 2016 Pacific meeting in San Francisco, and had the great pleasure of working with Roberta. I agree with Roberta’s basic point that representation of philosophers of science on program committees is crucial. And I’ll give some additional background on how the program is set up at the Pacific.

For the Pacific, the size of the program committee has grown to be commensurate with the number of submissions (for San Francisco there were nearly 800 submissions), so that the committee now has 36 members. Program committee members have three-year terms, and when members rotate off, they are replaced by the program committee chair. The chair select new members in part according to expertise, so that submissions are reviewed by relevant experts on the committee. Sometimes we go off-committee for expertise, but that’s rare.

Each program committee member has the perk of setting up two invited sessions (book sessions, invited symposia, or invited papers). And the average number of submissions reviewed by each member was about 21 for 2016. Also, program committee members are autonomous in their choosing of invited sessions (so the committee doesn’t vote as a whole) and in their reviewing of papers.

Looking at submissions for philosophy of science for 2016, there were about 50 (these are ‘pure’ philosophy of science submissions, although there’s a fuzzy boundary between ‘pure’ and ‘crossover’). Also, I estimate that the acceptance rate for philosophy of science submissions was approximately the same as that for submissions in general.

Definitely offer suggestions for invited sessions. The instructions are here: http://www.apaonline.org/members/group_content_view.asp?group=110424&id=202872 (repeating the link Ken pasted above). As the instructions say, there’s no formal vetting procedure. But suggestions are collected by the program chair and conveyed to the committee. Suggestions won’t necessarily be taken up, but they are taken seriously.Report

Dominic Lopes
5 years ago

To follow up on Peter’s comments, let me underline a fact about the mechanism for populating the Pacific Division program committee and then a bit of history.

As Peter says (and so did Roberta), invited sessions at the Pacific are left up to individual discretion, so the number of philosophers of science on the program committee will pretty much determine the number of invited sessions in philosophy of science. As Peter intimated, the number of philosophers of science on the program committee is set to fill refereeing needs: the more philosophy of science papers needing referees, the more philosophers of science will be appointed to the committee. The lesson is simple: the best way to up the amount of philosophy of science on the program is to get philosophers of science to submit papers!

The bit of history is that this issue has come up several times in my decade-long tenure as secretary-treasurer of the Pacific Division–at least once as a semi-official inquiry from the PSA. I always explained the above. In addition, I also offered to come to the PSA and talk about how the APA works, My offer was never taken up, though it was completely serious, because inclusion has always been very important in left coast philosophy. Since this seems to be a constant irritant for philosophers of science, I do think some high-level discussions are in order, at least for the sake of clarity and sharing information.Report