ANU Philosophers Awarded Over AU$1.5 Million (updated w/ info re: awardees elsewhere)

Faculty at the School of Philosophy at Australian National University (ANU) have recently received multiple grants totaling over AU$1.5 million (roughly US$1.15 million). [See the UPDATE, below, regarding winners of ARC grants at other institutions.]

  • Rachael Brown won an ANU Futures Award of AU$450,000 for work on philosophical issues related to the evolution of animal cognition and behavior, the relationship between Evo-devo and the Neo-Darwinian Synthesis, as well as model-based reasoning in biology and philosophy.
  • Bronwyn Finnigan won an ARC Early Career Researcher award of AU$380,000 for work on Buddhist ethics and moral psychology and its relation to Western approaches to these topics.
  • Matthew Kopec won an ARC Early Career Researcher award of AU$360,000 for work on devising strategies for group decision-making.
  • Katie Steele won an ANU Futures Award of AU$409,000 for work on decision-framing, theories of causation, inferences from predictive models, and ethics and risk.
  • Christian Barry and John Broome (Honorary Professor at ANU) were part of a successful ARC Discovery bid with Jeremy Moss (University of New South Wales) and Garrett Cullity (Adelaide) on developing a “rigorous ethical framework for dividing the world’s remaining ‘carbon budget’”, which was awarded $360,000.

Seth Lazar, head of the school, put together a press release with further details about the awards, which you can view here.

left to right: Matthew Kopec, Katie Steele, Christian Barry, Bronwyn Finnigan, Rachael Brown

UPDATE: A reader has helpfully written in with information about ARC grant winners at various institutions:

Early Career Research Awards
Project ID Investigator(s) Summary Announced Administering Organisation Primary FOR Funding Awarded
DE180100001 Dr Bronwyn Finnigan Buddhist ethics and moral psychology. This project aims to investigate the ethical and moral psychological foundations of Buddhist thought. It aims to critically analyse the theoretical differences between Buddhist philosophical traditions to reveal a plurality of theoretical grounds on which Western thinkers can embrace Buddhist insights. The project is expected to advance intellectual engagement between Buddhist and Western ethicists, and to demonstrate the importance of a collaborative, interdisciplinary approach to global philosophy. 10/11/2017 The Australian National University 2203 $383,183.00
DE180101119 Dr Matthew Kopec Making more effective groups and group decisions. This project aims to devise strategies that a wide range of groups, such as those in healthcare, science, business etc can use to improve their judgements and decisions. It begins with a philosophical approach to develop a practical framework for understanding and working with groups. This interdisciplinary examination will include devising concrete guidelines that various groups can use to improve the quality of their enquiries and decisions. 10/11/2017 The Australian National University 2203 $357,008.00
DE180100414 Dr Samuel Baron Timelessness in physics and philosophy. This project aims to offer a new approach to conceptualising the nature of time focussing on the gap between our everyday understanding of time, and the picture of time inherited from current physics. It is expected that the project will result in the generation of new knowledge that supports science communication, and strengthening research ties between the arts and science. 10/11/2017 The University of Western Australia 2203 $336,905.00
Discovery Projects
DP180102384 Professor Neil Levy Changing philosophical perceptions of belief in a post-truth world. This project aims to investigate and illuminate the processes underlying belief formation by using the tools of philosophy and cognitive science. Recent events have led many commentators to suggest that we live in a post-truth world. Beliefs seem decreasingly sensitive to evidence and instead, we believe what we want to believe. By developing a deeper understanding of the nature of belief and of the mechanisms that cause belief change, the project will develop concrete proposals for making beliefs more responsive to evidence, and to assess the ethical permissibility of utilising these proposals. It will develop tools that allow for better informed decision-making. 10/11/2017 Macquarie University 2203 $376,267.00
DP180101664 Professor Douglas Ezzy; Professor Gary Bouma; Professor Gregory Barton; Dr Anna Halafoff; Professor Lori Beaman; Professor Robert Jackson Religious diversity in Australia: strategies to maintain social cohesion. This project aims to make Australia safer through identifying constructive responses to religious diversity as incidents of discrimination and violence on the basis of religion are escalating. Programs that respond to religious diversity in local institutions are key to preventing social dislocation and violence. This project will identify strategies for responding to religious diversity in the institutions of education, policing, migration, and in legislation. It will evaluate the outcomes of these strategies in terms of their contribution to social cohesion and the prevention of violence. Significant benefit to the communities and organisations include providing practical strategies they can immediately use to make Australia safer. 10/11/2017 University of Tasmania 2204 $447,748.00
DP180103439 Professor Seumas Miller; Associate Professor Patrick Walsh; Professor Roger Bradbury; Dr Adam Henschke Intelligence and national security: ethics, efficacy and accountability. This project aims to generate an ethically informed set of practice and policy guidelines for viable security intelligence collection and analysis of electronic data by liberal democracies. In the context of global terrorism and the resurgence of technologically sophisticated authoritarian states, effective intelligence collection and analysis of electronic data is crucial for the national security of liberal democratic states. Yet intelligence agencies in Australia, United States, European Union and so on, are not only under pressure to perform, but must also meet a variety of ethical challenges, notably privacy constraints and democratic accountability. This project will contribute to Australia’s national security policy making environment, and to privacy and broader human rights debates, by providing an evidenced based, ethically informed set of practice and policy guidelines for viable national security intelligence practice in liberal democracies. 10/11/2017 Charles Sturt University 2201 $277,696.00
DP180100105 Associate Professor Kristie Miller; Professor Craig Callender; Professor Helen Beebee; Professor David Braddon-Mitchell; Professor Jonathan Tallant; Dr Samuel Baron; Dr Alastair Wilson Examining scientific, philosophical, and folk perspectives on time=. This project aims to consider three very different physical theories, each of which reconciles quantum mechanics and general and special relativity in a different way. While science is more accessible than ever, we are increasingly faced with a scientific world-view that is antithetical to the way we see the world and experience ourselves in it. This project will consider the tension between the scientific picture of the world and our experience of the world, and aims to reconcile the two by bridging the gap between lived experience and scientific findings. The project will provide a range of ways of bridging the tension between these physical theories with our lived experience. 10/11/2017 The University of Sydney 2203 $200,232.00
DP180100355 Professor Jeremy Moss; Professor Garrett Cullity; Professor Christian Barry; Professor John Broome Ethics, responsibility and the carbon budget. This project aims to provide a rigorous ethical framework for dividing the world’s remaining ‘carbon budget’ (CB). In order to avoid climate change the world must drastically limit its emissions of greenhouse gases. The project will develop a new analysis of how our assumptions concerning risk and harm shape conception of the CB. It will also provide a new understanding of how future emission rights should be allocated given that countries have emitted vastly different quantities of greenhouse gases in the past. The project will analyse how the CB will impact the climate transition plans of countries such as Australia. The project will thus bring significant new research in philosophy to bear on a practical issue. 10/11/2017 The University of New South Wales 2203 $356,926.00
DP180100107 Professor John Sutton Cognitive ecologies: a philosophical study of collaborative embodied skills. This project aims to develop a new theory of embodied collaboration and interaction in expert groups, asking how individuals with diverse technical and emotional skills align and cue their actions, or recover together from challenges. It combines foundational philosophical analysis and cognitive theory with empirical studies of experts in sport and music. The project will extend knowledge of how groups under pressure work in socially and culturally significant settings. 10/11/2017 Macquarie University 2203 $226,645.00
DP180103687 Dr Karen Jones; Dr Francois Schroeter; Professor Greg Restall; Dr Laura Schroeter; Professor Sally Haslanger Constructing social hierarchy. This project aims to generate new philosophical tools for understanding the persistence of social injustice. It will integrate anti-individualist approaches to mind, language, and action explanation in order to better understand the ways in which social hierarchies are created and maintained, often as the unintended outcome of the actions of multiple agents. The project will enrich the public discussion of hate speech, Indigenous/Non-Indigenous relations, and gender equality. 10/11/2017 The University of Melbourne 2203 $457,511.00
DP180103262 Dr Steve Matthews; Professor Jeanette Kennett Dementia, moral agency and identity. The project aims to examine the ethical issues raised by dementia and the care of those with the condition. The project will examine and evaluate the capacities those with dementia retain for social agency, valuing and relationships. The project will test and refine theories of agency, identity and vulnerability in the light of the cognitive deficits accompanying dementia. The project will lead to the delivery of more efficient healthcare through the development of increased understandings of the relevant ethical considerations for treatment, and recommendations for new and ethical approaches to policy on dementia. It brings benefits to the well-being and relationships of those with this condition, their families and friends, and the professionals who care for them. 10/11/2017 Australian Catholic University 2203 $351,361.00
DP180103549 Professor Mark Colyvan; Dr Brian Hedden Formal approaches to legal reasoning. This project aims to use formal epistemology to improve understanding of existing legal practices and to propose recommendations for improving the consistency and accuracy of legal proceedings. Since judges and juries rarely know all the relevant facts, they must make the best decision possible in the face of uncertainty. Formal epistemology employs probabilistic reasoning to advance understanding of how to form beliefs and make decisions in response to uncertain evidence. The project has potential to influence the relevant policy and will result in improved legal reasoning and risk reduction in legal decision making. 10/11/2017 The University of Sydney 2203 $278,336.00
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6 years ago

Big grants given at The University of Sydney and The University of Melbourne over the last couple of years and 2017. There’s PLENTY of work for LOTS of philosophers. You just have to get ‘inside’ the not-really-a-meritocracy.

Jon Light
Jon Light
Reply to  Bruce
6 years ago

Well then why don’t people send those in for recognition? It’s not DN’s fault for promoting ANU awards if the “lesser” schools choose not to effect appropriate billing. DN just posted a grant from UMass-Lowell a couple weeks ago, so pretty obviously isn’t being elitist about it.

6 years ago

Also: congratulations!

Dirk Baltzly
Dirk Baltzly
6 years ago

One of the things that is striking about Philosophy in Australia is that the quality is spread pretty evenly. There are 38 universities in the country. Among those 38, there are 25 universities that have something like a Philosophy program. The ‘Group of Eight’ research-intensive universities (ANU, Monash, Melbourne, Sydney, University of New South Wales, Adelaide, Queensland and University of Western Australia) dominate the scene, but there are non-Go8 universities that are very strong in Philosophy as well, including Macquarie, Australian Catholic, Woolongong and Tasmania. All received a research ranking of 4 out of 5. Within the Go8 there were five 5s.

The research grants announced last Friday were “nationally competitive grants” from the Australian Research Council. In the large project scheme (Discovery Grants) A$ 2.9 million was awarded for 9 projects at 7 universities: Australian Catholic, Charles Sturt, Macquarie (x2), Melbourne, UNSW, Sydney (x2) and University of Tasmania.

There were 3 Discovery Early Career Researchers funded by the ARC in Philosophy: 2 at ANU and one at University of Western Australia.

The ANU Futures Awards noted in the article are internal grants – not nationally competitive ones. So while ANU had a pretty good day on Friday, it’s not as if they’ve scooped the pool. There’s a lot of good philosophy being done in this country and while ANU is very prominent internationally, it’s not the only game in town. (I’m sure Seth in no way meant to imply that either. He’s just doing his job and spruiking his department.)

Before DN’s American readership says, ‘Gosh — I wish we had something like the ARC funding fairy’, keep this in mind: The success rate for these nationally competitive grants is about 18% for the Discovery Projects and 14% for the DECRAS. The resources that are consumed in the preparation and assessment of these applications is immense and very probably outstrips the amount of money granted once you factor in all the person-hours. Furthermore, the raw amount of funding on offer in the Humanities and Creative Arts cluster has declined to 2003 levels (without adjustment for inflation). There are an awful lot of good proposals that go unfunded. So while I’m absolutely delighted for all the recipients of ARC funding in last Friday’s announcement — at ANU and elsewhere! — I am also mindful that the research funding model for the sciences ill suits the discipline of Philosophy. Granted: sometimes we need some research funding to do some things. But the ARC schemes have minimum thresholds that are too high for most work in the Humanities. We need less per project, but a higher percentage of projects funded.

Reply to  Dirk Baltzly
6 years ago

Your last paragraph hits the nail on the head. In a system where earning these grants is important for philosophy departments to thrive (e.g., because it pleases University administrators who might otherwise be hostile and may provide some funds for a few postdocs) successful grant applications are good news. However, while we celebrate this good news we should also condemn the inefficient, wasteful, and often unmeritocratic national grant scheme that is a bane in the lives of most Australian academics.

I understand the need for philosophers to engage in slick marketing on things like grant success when selling philosophy to outsiders such as university administrators and politicians. However, when addressing other philosophers I expect more honesty.