PhilPeople: from Philosophy to Philo-Me (guest post by Mitchell Aboulafia)


“The ‘me’ culture has colonized philosophy.”

The following is a guest post* by Mitchell Aboulafia, professor of philosophy at Manhattan College. A version of it first appeared at his blog, Up All Night. I’m reposting it here because I think it raises interesting questions about measuring philosophical work, and is also of a piece with more general concerns about increased reliance on quantitative metrics in our lives, owing in part to the increasingly technologically-mediated circumstances of our interactions with others.

In raising these questions, the post is critical of PhilPeople, a relatively new addition to the services provided by the PhilPapers Foundation, and implicitly critical of decisions made by the two people behind PhilPapers, David Chalmers (NYU) and David Bourget (Western). Since Professor Chalmers and Professor Bourget have done a lot for the philosophy profession, alongside these criticisms, I want to register appreciation for all of the work they do.


PhilPeople: from Philosophy to Philo-Me
by Mitchell Aboulafia

A few months ago, I posted “The Productivity Syndrome (or why I stopped writing philosophy).” * I argued that an overemphasis on productivity, defined in terms of the number of articles or books published, sells the philosophical community short. We should know better than to rely too heavily on quantitative measures to measure the contributions of philosophers. Yet we can’t seem to exit this runaway train.

Perhaps readers thought that I exaggerated the extent of the problem. Well, one doesn’t have to look much further than the current version of PhilPeople (PP), an on-line community for philosophers, to see the depth and the extent of the problem. PhilPeople undoubtedly has some good features, including informing philosophers about publications of interest and allowing philosophers to discuss their work with people half way around the world. But sadly, the specter of productivity measured in quantitative terms is embedded in the PhilPeople project. And the extent of the problem is manifest in how apparently ill-informed the designers were about potential criticisms (or worse, they didn’t care about them).  Let’s look at some examples.

First, we discover that departments are now being treated as units of production. You can now look up the productivity of a department as measured by the quantity of publications and citations of its entire faculty, or at least the faculty members PhilPeople has listed for a Department. And the kind folks at PhilPeople have even provided percentiles and quartiles for departments for several different measures.  At least one of these measures appears to rely on some kind of weighting of the quantitative exchange value of publications. “Faculty pub. volume,” as it is called, is explained thus:

This metric is the number of the publications by regular faculty members at the institution, weighted by publication type (book, article, review, etc).

I did not see an explanation for how publications are weighted, but whatever system they used it is going to be open to debate because of the apples and oranges quality of different kinds of publications. But aside from this issue, how is this information supposed to be helpful for the vast majority of philosophers and philosophy departments, which are often relatively small and not in Ph.D. granting research institutions? Think about it. If you have 6 or 7 or 8 people on a faculty and 3 are extraordinarily “productive,” and the rest, not so much, the department might be in a top quartile. Exactly what does this tell us about a department as a unit? Why are we measuring and quantifying this?  Why are we now “ranking” so many departments?

While it is not clear how valuable this information is, it does have a potentially dangerous side effect: it increases the impression that success in philosophy is wrapped up in a numbers game. How many articles can my department or I produce, etc.? This is bad enough for established faculty, but think about the message it is sending to graduate students and young philosophers about the profession and what it values.

Then there is PP’s stab at a citation “ranking,” in which citations are added up for a department and it is placed in a quartile or given a percentile score. Tellingly, this “ranking” is being made even though the creators are not sure of their data. Under “Total faculty citations” we can find the following:

This metric is the sum of the citations of publications by regular faculty members at the institution. This metric is not entirely reliable. Our citation data come from PhilPapers, which only tracks citations to PhilPapers works (so no citations in non-philosophical works), and the PhilPapers data are still beta quality and very incomplete.

Seriously, no citations from non-philosophical works by philosophers (how is non-philosopical determined?) and the “data are still beta quality and very incomplete.” And yet they are quite happy to list percentiles and quartiles. If this doesn’t suggest a mindset that is willing to say that any number is better than no number at all, I am not sure what does.

Consider the implications of making citation counts so prominent on this site, one that was supported by the American Philosophical Association (APA). If the number of citations is a central marker, then prudent graduate students or young philosophers may seek to work in areas of philosophy that are well trod, because there are more opportunities to be cited. But this mindset will impoverish philosophy. It will make younger philosophers skittish about pursuing work in areas that are less popular, as well as less willing to take risks that might involve breaking out of current philosophical boxes. (Note: the site also makes individual citation counts available, although unlike for departments they are not currently public. But as we all know, data often doesn’t remain hidden.)

Speaking of individuals and not departments, each philosopher can now see how many times a day, week, month, or year their profile pages and work have been accessed, and “unique visitors” are neatly plotted on a graph.  Here’s how these Web Analytics are introduced:

This section allows you to see statistics on the web traffic to your PhilPeople profile pages as well as your publications’ pages on PhilPapers. You can customize the time period of the results. You can also filter the results by the type of the visiting user.

Yes, it may be fun to see how many times one is being “hit” on the web on any given day, but really, do we want to be part of a profession that logs our interactions with fellow philosophers in this fashion?** It can only help increase the sense that what counts for the profession is quantity. Again, is this the message that we want to send to graduate students and young philosophers?

The packaging of philosophers doesn’t confine itself to the conspicuously quantitative. It also is demonstrated in a feature that allows philosophers to follow other philosophers. When they do so they are called “followers” on the site. This is worse than Facebook, where people are at least called friends, not followers. Please don’t misunderstand. I’m delighted if people are interested in my work, and I certainly would try to respond if they wrote to me about their interest. But followers? Please. This is ego stroking.

One of the dangers, of course, is that philosophers will start counting the number of their followers, and then use large numbers as evidence of their professional and personal success, much as people do on Twitter and Facebook, feeding the preoccupation with “me.” And please don’t tell me philosophers are above this. Just look at some people’s elaborate web pages to get an idea of how deeply marketing oneself has become a part of philosophic life in the 21st century. The fact that PhilPeople has been set up in this fashion and uses the language of “follower” by itself suggests that the “me” culture has colonized philosophy. Further, bear in mind that we now have a generation of young people who are continually being socialized into this kind of behavior. It won’t be easy for the Instagram, Twitter, and the Facebook generation(s) to turn away from assuming that the number of one’s followers or friends, one’s popularity, isn’t a marker for genuine achievement.

Aristotle famously spoke of three types of people who seek happiness: pleasure seekers, honor seekers, and contemplatives or philosophers. The honor seekers had one very serious roadblock on their way to happiness: they depended too much on the opinion of others for their happiness.

Aristotle would find those aspects of PhilPeople that assist our collaborating with other philosophers congenial, because, as he teaches, while one can do philosophy alone, it is better to do it with others. However, it’s fair to say that Aristotle would not find PhilPeople as a whole in its present incarnation congenial, either for helping to achieve well-being or leading the philosophical life. At some point, as Socrates instructs, you’ve got to give up on popularity and the prestige business if you are serious about philosophy. The marketed “me” is a philosophical dead end.  Let’s not feed the beast.

_______________________

* Different versions of this piece were republished as: “Higher Ed’s Real Productivity Problem,” in The Chronicle Review (The Chronicle of Higher Education) and “Down With the Philosophy Factory,” in Jacobin.

** PhilPeople’s Web Analytics also allows us to see which of our articles are receiving traffic, according to PP’s record keeping. And this information could be of assistance, assuming it is accurate. But access to this information doesn’t require prominently graphing the number of times one’s PhilPeople profile pages and publications’ pages on PhilPapers are hit in a given period of time.

Art: Kevin Twomey, “Diehl Transmatic (front view)”

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Daniel Kaufman
2 years ago

This is a very good piece that says a number of important things. Thank you for posting it, Justin.Report

Alfred MacDonald
Alfred MacDonald
2 years ago

quantitative metrics often if not usually arise from qualitative methodologies and if your qualitative methodology sucks your quantitative methodology is going to suckReport

Alfred MacDonald
Alfred MacDonald
Reply to  Alfred MacDonald
2 years ago

(obvious examples: misleading political polls, psych studies with overly broad self-reports, happiness indexes)Report

Mark Alfano
2 years ago

There are drawbacks to every system. The questions are whether PP is worse than alternatives and how it can be improved.

Luddite resistance to quantification is just as silly as uncritical technophilia.

From my point of view, it’s clear that something like PP’s quantitative approach is much better than the most salient alternative: allowing a few dozen powerful people at traditionally well-regarded departments to dictate what’s important and who is worth reading.

The system could benefit, though, from the input of both an independent expert advisory panel and a “public comment” period. Report

Michael Cholbi
Michael Cholbi
Reply to  Mark Alfano
2 years ago

The OP seems primarily annoyed that philosophers engage in self-promotion and sometimes betray careerist tendencies. But should we think it a bad thing if people’s work has many followers? Doesn’t that say something about the significance or impact of someone’s research if other PhilPeople (who, keep in mind, are largely accredited and published philosophers) want to stay up to date on their research?

But those issues seem distinct from the PhilPeople individual and departmental metrics, and Mark Alfano is exactly right here. Many complain that the PGR is merely a reputational survey; I agree that this is a critical flaw. But the best alternative is not to forego rankings but to rank on the basis of evidence, evidence that might tell us whose armchair reputations are deserved as opposed to due to prestige bias, institutional halos, etc.Report

Jack
Jack
Reply to  Mark Alfano
2 years ago

I’m curious how you made the connection between resistance to ‘technological progress’ (i.e Luddites*) and resistance to quantification.

*by the way, I am always amazed when this type of argument is considered respectable in the eyes of philosophers. The most depressing (and dangerous) thing is when philosophers themselves can hardly imagine any change/alternative society. This anti-luddite argument seems to lie on the other side of the coin- presupposing that almost any popular technological (which is always also social) phenomenon is either for the better or inevitable (and often both).
Just like 50 years ago almost no one would have believed that something could be done to combat the social phenomenon of smoking, I believe in due time the dangers and disadvantages of various technologies would be so great that they could well lead to this type of anti-tech-movement. And I hope they do.Report

Mark Alfano
Reply to  Jack
2 years ago

It sounds like you (Jack) think that “uncritical technophilia” is “silly,” so I’m glad we agree.Report

Jack
Jack
Reply to  Mark Alfano
2 years ago

If one can characterize the suggestions and criticism in this article as Luddite, I believe it’s fair to characterize your comment as uncritical technophilia (and apprently we miraculously get the quantaphilia for free).Report

Wesley Buckwalter
Wesley Buckwalter
2 years ago

The worry is taken in some fields, like psychology for example, where publication pressures arguably play a non-trivial role in things like the replication crisis. That said, it seems a ways off in philosophy, and that paying at least some mind (comparatively quite minimally so far) towards understanding our outputs and citations should be welcomed with open arms. In any event, there is no official ranking, you can simply sort by several different measures if you wish. Report

Matt
2 years ago

I am sympathetic to the worries about citation counts and certain other supposedly objective measures of merit. We should oppose efforts to turn evaluation of philosophical or intellectual (or other) merit into mere bean-counting, even if done well. (*) But, this part of the critique seems misguided to me:

I’m delighted if people are interested in my work, and I certainly would try to respond if they wrote to me about their interest. But followers? Please. This is ego stroking.

This seems to be taking an unnecessarily negative or uncharitable reading of the term. When I “follow” someone on the site, what I’m dong is signing up to be updated about their work. I am “following” their work – what they do. I’m not a “follower” of them in any sense like being a disciple or someone who is lead by another. The term, understood in a neutral way, seems clear and unoffensive to me, and the service itself a very useful and time-saving one. It’s one of the features that made me most interested and happy to take part, and I hope we won’t let needlessly uncharitable readings of the term itself cause us to not make use of this feature.

(*) I do think that “objective” measure can be useful, and don’t always object to them. But, they are at best one measure, and if great care isn’t taken, there will be strong tendencies for bureaucracies to rely on these “objective” measures exclusively or to too great a degree. This is already happening in many areas of Australian higher ed, for example. It should be vigorously opposed. Report

david chalmers
2 years ago

prof. aboulafia’s main beef seems to be not with philpeople specifically but with general features of contemporary academic culture such as quantitative metrics and the promotion of one’s own research. phil* didn’t create those features of academic culture — that ship has long since sailed. our role has been to provide services that philosophers find useful, and some philosophers find these features useful. numerous philosophers requested a better way to showcase their research on phil*, and numerous philosophers requested a way to help analyze the strengths of departments in various relatively objective ways that don’t depend on controversial reputational surveys. those seemed reasonable requests to us, so we provided the services.

the quantitative metrics on philpeople are obviously quite imperfect and are acknowledged as such. they’re intended as a useful ancillary tool for students and not as any sort of definitive PGR-style ranking. as far as we can tell, no one has been giving them weight as more than a useful ancillary tool, and no one should.Report

Phoenix, Son of Amyntor
Phoenix, Son of Amyntor
Reply to  david chalmers
2 years ago

You deserve an award for your patience in these matters. I hope you will forgive me for testing your patience further by pressing you about your reply (especially given that you were extremely even-handed when I raised worries about PhilPeople and data collection on an earlier DailyNous post.)

To use a controversial analogy: I’m worried that your reply to Aboulafia is akin to the arguments deployed by gun advocates. “Guns don’t kill people, people kill people.” But, we reply, we could reduce gun violence by eliminating guns. “That ship has sailed because you won’t get rid of the 2nd amendment.” But, we reply, you could reduce gun violence by not manufacturing automatic weapons. “Features such as bump stocks are requested by users. We intend these guns to be for hunting and home defense.”

I apologize for such a political example. I’m wracking my brain for a better one. Suggestions welcome. But, my point is to draw out Aboulafiah’s worthy criticism that Philpeople feeds the beast (i.e. misuse of collected data and very unhealthy psychological habits of social media) just as guns feed violence. Talking about the intensions of the product or what the market demands doesn’t actually address Aboulafiah’s issue head on.Report

david chalmers
Reply to  Phoenix, Son of Amyntor
2 years ago

we don’t ourselves have strong opinions about whether quantitative metrics or philosophical promotion are on balance good or bad. i’d say there are obviously upsides and downsides of both. in running phil*, we go largely with our sense of what the community wants. many people requested the features, so we created them. if it became clear that a majority of the community would prefer us to get rid of a certain feature, we very likely would. my sense is that this is unlikely in this case, however.Report

Mitchell Aboulafia
Reply to  david chalmers
2 years ago

Professor Chalmers refers to the quantitative metrics on PhilPeople as “a useful ancillary tool for students.” This claim is made right after acknowledging that the metrics are “obviously quite imperfect and are acknowledged as such.” But if one doesn’t know what kinds of imperfections we are talking about, or their extent, then alerting people to their existence is hand-waving. Exactly how are students supposed to know that the inferences that they are making are accurate or even close to accurate? Even in doing a political poll readers are alerted to the margin of error. We don’t know what the margin of error(s) is here, nor do we know how the imperfections may play out. Will certain “rankings” be less reliable than others? We don’t know. Will citation “rankings” prove less reliable for departments not in the analytic mainstream? We don’t know. Given how little guidance has been supplied, it’s tantamount to throwing a Rorschach before an audience and saying, make of it what you will, or perhaps more accurately, guess where the mistakes are in the Rorschach, and then enjoy your new tool.

Professor Chalmers, your statement that the quantitative metrics are “intended as a useful ancillary tool for students,” comes after you acknowledge that as a general feature of contemporary academic culture the quantitative metric ship “has long since sailed.” (A can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em mentality, if ever there was one.) But if you are reasonably well-informed about contemporary academic culture, you should also know who else is on that ship with students: administrators and faculty (in committees), many of whom just love any metrics that they can get their hands on, even if they aren’t up to speed. And you are handing them a whole bunch of imperfect metrics on a silver platter. If you are unaware of this and telling us that your database will only serve as an ancillary tool for students, then I’ve got a bridge in Brooklyn to sell you. (Btw, this is just how Leiter used to talk about the PGR. It was meant for students, and we all know how it was actually used.)

In your comment you use the phrase “numerous philosophers requested” to support decisions about what to include. I daresay that for folks giving so much attention to metrics on the site, I would have thought that you would have considered something less anecdotal. You know, a good old-fashioned survey would have been nice. And a survey in which people could add comments, not just check a bunch of boxes. Who knows what you may have discovered through an empirical investigation of this sort?

Your team also made a decision to exclude works that are not on PhilPapers. I can understand the practical reasons for doing so, but this puts individuals who work in interdisciplinary areas, among others, at a disadvantage. Their work and references to their work will not be counted. Offering quartile rankings under these circumstances is only adding insult to injury for many philosophers. (Check out how often there are significant imbalances between the total volume of publications and citation quartiles. I suspect that you will discover systemic biases, often against non-analytic schools or those not working in “mainstream” areas. And this is not solely a problem of imperfect data.)

I could go on. But I will stop here by simply saying that a general defense of these features of PhilPeople appears to be that something is better than nothing, or something is better than the PGR. Well, I agree, just about anything would be better than the PGR, except a site that could easily lead Leiter and company to point out that results are only as good as your data, and your approach to data leaves you wide open to this criticism.

I now see that you have a second comment. In it you say that you would be willing to go with what the majority of the community wishes. So, would you be willing to suspend the “rankings” etc., on the site until a more comprehensive survey of the profession has been done? This is a real question, not a rhetorical one.
Report

david chalmers
Reply to  Mitchell Aboulafia
2 years ago

um, no. however, we can easily enough survey a random sample of philosophers in the philpeople database to get a sense of community opinion.Report

Roberta Millstein
Reply to  david chalmers
2 years ago

Does that mean you’re going to do a survey?Report

Dirk Baltzly
Dirk Baltzly
2 years ago

Philpeople also compensates for another challenge that increasingly plagues Australian Philosophy. Many Philosophy Depts have been merged into Schools of Humanities or Social Sciences or whatever. Many — but not all — university websites have a way to filter by discipline so one can see easily ‘Who are the philosophers at university of x?’ But some universities are so deeply in the grips of the ‘disciplines are old-fashioned’ fashion that you need to scroll through a long list of staff to find the philosophers. Philpeople lets me see who’s where quickly and easily.

No one likes Metrics Mania. But Dave’s right. That ship has sailed. I’ll use the aspects of philpeople I find useful and ignore those that I don’t.Report

Professor Apricot
Professor Apricot
2 years ago

Ships can of course be steered back to port, if it’s decided that they’re better off there.Report

driftinCowboy
driftinCowboy
2 years ago

I worry about PhilPeople for completely selfish reasons: I’m neither good at nor interested in curating a social media presence. I’m worried that, on top of everything else required for career success, one will also be pressured to become a social media self-marketer. Report

Julia
Julia
Reply to  driftinCowboy
2 years ago

The extent to which participating in philpeople requires “curating a social media presence” amounts to uploading papers you’ve written. And maybe tagging their areas, so people who are interested can find them more easily. That hardly requires public relations expertise. Report

S.
S.
2 years ago

I appreciate the usefulness of most of the features on PhilPeople and the community-mindedness of those who have contributing to bringing it about. However, to echo Professor Apricot’s point, there’s something very iffy about saying “that ship has sailed” in response to aspects of the world (i.e. quantitative fixation) that have come about through deliberate human decisions and can be changed through deliberate human decisions. That ship has sailed only to the extent that the statement “that ship has sailed” is offered and accepted as legitimate.

Since there are some people who want the feature and some people who see it as harmful, perhaps there could be an open discussion followed by a poll of Phil* users.Report

Grymes
Grymes
2 years ago

Aboulafia’s just appealing to Aristotle and Socrates because they have the most followers.Report

jj
jj
2 years ago

I just note that unlike Facebook, which might be evil in other ways, philpeople created a profile for me without my consent. Also who are.”the many” who asked Chalmers and others for certain features? Majority of philosophers in the US, worldwide? Or just bunch of ther friends?Report

Sergio Tenenbaum
Sergio Tenenbaum
Reply to  jj
2 years ago

This concern was raised in another thread, and David Chalmers addressed in the comments here (of course, people might not find his reply satisfactory, but just wanted to point out that this was discussed in a previous thread here):
http://dailynous.com/2018/05/31/philpeople-launches-guest-post-david-bourget-david-chalmers/Report

jj
jj
Reply to  Sergio Tenenbaum
2 years ago

Yeah, not satisfactory answers much at all! No service I know makes you a public profile and then leaves it up to you to “opt out”The fact that I opened an account on A (philpapers) does not seem enough for them to then simply take that and make a public profile on a different service B (philpeople). Even academia or others who do it, leave it up to the person to “opt in” or make it public (like google scholar). It seems to me that there is a certain level of arrogance going on – letting us know who really IS the world of philosophy and does whatever they want – rank us, profile us, etc. With only the best intentions, of course…Report

concernedgrad
concernedgrad
2 years ago

Social media sites produce approval seeking behavior. Do we want more of this in the Philosophy profession?Report

Nathan Nobis
2 years ago

Most of us are average: we don’t have many ‘followers’. So when we publish things, it’s nice to learn that maybe some people read what we wrote and found it somehow valuable. These types of services are useful for that, even if that’s just a “personal” reason.Report

Bharath Vallabha
2 years ago

Beyond the issue of metrics and social media, there seems to be a genuine debate between Aboulafia and Chalmers on a broader issue, namely: What is it for competing visions for the philosophy profession to be adjudicated fairly? Or is the issue of fairness moot here, and it’s just a matter of whoever can best spread their vision?

On the one hand, if 10 people decide to get together to make a change in how they will be in the profession, it would be bizarre for them to poll all phil professors in America before trying out the change they are interested in. And if that’s true for 10 people, what’s the problem if it’s 200 or a thousand people? And if that change catches on, how could the very fact of popularity make it unfair somehow? Here issue of “fairness” seems off. Let people try their visions out, and whichever catches on, well, so it does.

On the other hand, it makes a big difference if the 10 people are (a) grad students, (b) profs at small liberal arts colleges, or (c) R1 chaired professors. It matters because the flow of influence goes much more in one direction than another: normally what members of (c) do affects (b) much more (way much, much more) than vice versa. Here “fairness” matters if one vision catches on more because it is aided by institutional privileges, as if the deck is stacked.

A conversation between Aboulafia and Chalmers on how to balance these would be fascinating. And important.Report

Mitchell Aboulafia
Reply to  Bharath Vallabha
2 years ago

Bharath, Nice idea. It would be good to expand the conversation, but judging by David’s terse response he isn’t much interested in having an exchange about issues of this sort. Perhaps he’ll come round.Report

Bharath Vallabha
Reply to  Mitchell Aboulafia
2 years ago

Really hope you and Chalmers have a public dialogue. I think both of you are thoughtful and the differences in your views might prove very productive.

In that spirit, while I agree with concerns about the productivity mindset, connecting philpeople with ego stroking or with a me-mentality seems off. And it is an obstacle to a genuine dialogue. One ship that has definitely sailed is the increasing centrality of social media and similar things to our modes of interactions and communication. One can stay off facebook and twitter, but that isn’t going to slow them down, and for the next generation they will be as basic to them as the phone or tv is to previous generations. That a similar thing is happening in academia is part of this larger social current. Far from resisting it, better for philosophers to embrace it even more. A huge question is: what does careful dialogue and reflection look like when it is not done in person but through social media? We need Socrateses and Aristotles of our age to confront this head on.

Philpeople right now connects some people and their publications. An extension of that might be philosophers finding new modes of talking on line. That might lead to new practices which might filter into facebook and enable that to be reflective. This possibility seems to me great. But if in the process – as also seems likely – it runs roughshod over other modes of doing philosophy or ignores the needs and situations of non-research departments, that’s awful. A balance has to be found.

Our society is struggling with such balance. Non-academics like me are looking to academics to see how they handle it. If academics don’t find a balance, both R1 and small depts will be in trouble.Report

david chalmers
Reply to  Bharath Vallabha
2 years ago

with apologies: i’ve tried to respond to specific concerns about phil*, but i have many other duties, and i don’t currently have the time for an open-ended online conversation about adjudicating visions for the philosophy profession. others are welcome to have that conversation.Report

Bharath Vallabha
Reply to  david chalmers
2 years ago

Makes sense. Clearly you do a lot within the profession and also a lot of public philosophy.

Though if philpeople catches on to an extent that it adversely affects the professional lives of those who don’t use it, hope you might feel otherwise. One of the specific concerns about Phil* concerns it’s downstream affects. It’s like if people wanted to talk to Zuckerberg a decade ago about visions of news in a Facebook age, and he responded (as he did even until a year ago), “that’s too big picture. I can only respond to specific concerns.”Report

Mitchell Aboulafia
Reply to  Bharath Vallabha
2 years ago

I began my piece by mentioning ways PhilPeople can be helpful to the philosophical community. I am not opposed to using new technologies to assist us. (I do blog after all.) But this is not the issue here. The issue is the manner in which the technology is being used. Among questions one should ask: why is PhilPeople willing to use data they know is incomplete to rank so many different kinds of departments? To be more specific, why are we now dragging smaller departments into the rankings maelstrom? What is the point of extending the rankings mentality to non-graduate programs? Doing this runs the danger of leading administrators to think that the philosophical community supports ranking all departments on the quantity of research and citations, and that their philosophy departments had better get in line. This in turn will lead more faculty to focus on the quantity, as opposed to the quality, of their publications. Freedom from preoccupation about quantity has been a benefit to many who are employed in non-Ph.D. programs. It allows for more focus on teaching and service. PhilPeople threatens to undermine these programs and their faculty. In other words, people will be pushed into undesirable self-preoccupation in order to receive promotions and salary increases.

PhilPeople is not a neutral platform. It is in fact supporting a certain vision of how to do philosophy, one defined in terms of concerns typically associated with very career minded people on graduate faculties. If Chalmers doesn’t appreciate what the consequences of the current organization of PhilPeople might be, then we certainly need to have more people involved in consulting about PhilPeople, especially if Chalmers is now telling us that he doesn’t have time to engage in on-line discussions about visions for philosophy.

At minimum, the APA needs to be more involved.

Report

Bharath Vallabha
Reply to  Bharath Vallabha
2 years ago

“Freedom from preoccupation about quantity has been a benefit to many who are employed in non-Ph.D. programs. It allows for more focus on teaching and service. PhilPeople threatens to undermine these programs and their faculty. ”

An absolutely great point. Makes a lot of sense. If I were still at a small department as I was, I would be concerned. And would think, as you are saying, that addressing this should be a very high priority.Report

Shelley Lynn Tremain
Shelley Lynn Tremain
2 years ago

PhilPapers and its offspring foster an outdated and conventional conception of philosophy and facilitate the reproduction of ableism, racism, Eurocentrism, and sexism in philosophy.

I have published several articles and blog posts that draw attention to the ways in which the PhilPapers Foundation medicalizes disability, marginalizes critical philosophical work on disability, and thus disadvantages disabled philosophers of disability and disabled feminist philosophers of disability in particular. The founders of PhilPapers and the relevant editors are fully aware of my criticisms and do not respond to them or even acknowledge them.

In 2013, I published this article in which I explain how PhilPapers and PhilJobs disadvantage disabled jobseekers and marginalize critical philosophical work on disability: https://www.academia.edu/5812065/Introducing_Feminist_Philosophy_of_Disability

In 2014, I published this article (which previously appeared on the then-popular New Apps blog): https://www.academia.edu/6651947/Disabling_Philosophy

Between 2014 and 2017, I wrote a few blog posts on the Discrimination and Disadvantage blog about the matter.

I also wrote about this issue in the preface to Foucault and Feminist Philosophy of Disability which was published in November 2017: https://www.press.umich.edu/8504605/foucault_and_feminist_philosophy_of_disability

In June of this year, I wrote this blog post on Discrimination and Disadvantage: http://philosophycommons.typepad.com/disability_and_disadvanta/2018/06/reining-in-philosophys-big-datty.html

In the early new year, my article “Feminist Philosophy of Disability: A Genealogical Intervention” will appear in the first issue of volume 57 of Southern Journal of Philosophy. A penultimate version of the article in which (among other things) I explain how PhilPapers and PhilJobs, individualize and medicalize disability, marginalize critical philosophical work on disability, and disadvantage disabled philosophers of disability who are jobseekers can be found here: https://www.academia.edu/37039971/Feminist_Philosophy_of_Disability_A_Genealogical_InterventionReport

Wondering Grad Student
Wondering Grad Student
Reply to  Shelley Lynn Tremain
2 years ago

Is it possible that they just weren’t convinced by your criticisms? (Crazy as it seems, sometimes, philosophers aren’t convinced by other philosopher’s arguments!) If that’s the case, do they owe you a reply for why they aren’t convinced? (That’s a serious question. I do not mean it rhetorically.) And if the answer is “no,” then I guess I’m not seeing the problem.
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david chalmers
Reply to  Shelley Lynn Tremain
2 years ago

shelley: when you requested that the philpapers area-level category “philosophy of gender, race, and sexuality” be renamed to “philosophy of gender, race, sexuality, and disability” a few years ago, we acknowledged your request and responded at length. we followed our standard procedure in dealing with these requests by consulting with relevant editors and others with expertise in the area. the consensus was that such a name change would not be appropriate at that time, mainly because the level of activity in philosophy of disability did not approach the level of activity in the other three areas. of course these things can change over time. now that the request has been reissued some years on, we will follow the same procedure and determine whether a change of name is warranted.Report

Shelley Lynn Tremain
Shelley Lynn Tremain
Reply to  david chalmers
2 years ago

David,
as I indicated in email, your comment above misrepresents what actually took place. As I reminded you and David Bourget last evening, you repeatedly refused to take me seriously when I, as a category editor for PhilPapers, explained to you back in 2012 why you should change the Subcategory of “Gender, Race, and Sexuality” to include disability. Nevertheless, I persisted. Finally, you asked your three editors of feminist philosophy, who seemed to have no familiarity with critical philosophical work on disability and a limited understanding of intersectionality, whether a change should be made. They said “no.” That is a testament to how little feminist philosophers had done and have done to incorporate disability into their analyses rather than a statement about how important integrating disability into feminist analyses was or is or how much work is done or had been done. When I asked for explanation or justification for the decision, none was forthcoming.

Despite the fact that I have repeatedly criticized PhilPapers and PhilJobs in public forums since 2012 (as my previous comment demonstrates), neither you nor any of your feminist editors has acknowledged my criticisms or addressed them.

Despite your remarks here, furthermore, you said to me last evening that you “firmly disagree” with me that a subordinated status on the system constitutes a form of exclusion. This comment suggests to me that you really do not understand how marginalization and exclusion are produced in general, how they are produced in policy instruments in particular, and how PhilPapers and PhilJobs produce marginalization and exclusion especially.

I am pleased that you have now decided that you should take some of my criticisms seriously. As I pointed out in email last evening, however, I will continue to criticize your system as I see necessary, regardless of what your consultants tell you to do with respect to revising the subcategory of “Gender, Race, and Sexuality.” The problems with your databases are not limited to the aforementioned issue. Report

Caligula's Goat
Caligula's Goat
2 years ago

As with most philosophy, this conversation is long on criticism and short on answers. I love the Phil* pages but, for those who don’t, I wonder what you’d prefer in its place? Here are some possible answers:

1. The way things were before: for those of you who think that philosophy is a prestige-based white man’s world, going back to the way things were not only doesn’t serve as a solution, it makes the problem worse. The way things were before priviliges the elite in philosophy based largely on the reputation of philosophers who came to promise in the 60s-90s and their students. Phil* radically cuts against this system by allowing people to search for topics that interest them and find specific papers written by philosophers at diverse institutions (instead of looking up advisers or specific universities). Going back to the way things were before would erase all of this. I can’t fathom anyone disagreeing with Leiter’s GR ranking for these reasons but somehow seeing Phil* as contributing to this problem.

2. Ad-hoc lists: they’re ad hoc…how is this better?

3. Academia-wide metrics: there were some complaints made that Phil* leaves out interdisciplinary work. One potential solution then would be to try and re-cast Phil* into something like an non-profit version of Academia.edu. On the one hand, and in my experience, the worry about interdiscplinarity simply isn’t true. My work is deeply interdisciplinary, I have a Phil* profile, I appreciate the metrics. While my metrics on Phil* might not fully reflect the impact of my work (since Phil* is mostly built by and for philosophers), it’s far better than the way things were before. Who would run and maintain such a site? Where would the money come from?

While I understand that some of you might dislike imprecise metrics, Phil* is a work in progress and I can only see it getting better with age.

Those worried about Phil* as reifying the racist, ableist, or sexist elements of philosophical work strike me as missing the target. While Phil* is a reflection of the field, and while there may be looping effects that could, in theory, contribute to the problem, the way things were before was (from my perspective) so much much worse that I’d really like to hear more those who think that the Phil* system is bad just what you’d prefer exist in its place.

So much of this debate seems to conflate ideal and non-ideal theory. Phil* is non-ideal but it’s a step in the right direction (even if it has its own problems). Report

Bharath Vallabha
2 years ago

Mitchell, Your deeply right point might be getting clouded by the side point about the “me” mindset or careerism of users of philpeople. Just not clear that’s a good description of the users; everyone cares about recognition for their work and career. But the users’ motivation for using the platform is irrelevant to the core point: that it will lead to imposing a certain picture of research on all departments. At least with PGR the assumption is that model of research applies only to PhD granting departments, and its effects on small departments are indirect. With philpeople the effect would be very direct.

But a nagging doubt. I have grown more uncomfortable with the argument form, “They need to change their actions and interests to suit my interests.” Everyone pursues their own vision and to that extent hinders those with a different vision. And it is just a fact that there is nothing really binding all philosophy professors: not philosophy (which is very diverse), not an institution (APA is not like the senate with all phil profs as citizens), not morality (difference between research visions isn’t a moral one, or it seems dangerous to treat it as such).

To be blunt: Suppose in 10 years philpeople leads to pressure on your department for every prof to publish 5 articles a year. Do the creators of philpeople have an obligation to care about that? What kind of obligation is that? Or is it they don’t have an obligation, but it would be nice if they cared?Report