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Roberta L. Millstein
Davis, CA
I am a Professor of Philosophy at the University of California, Davis; my research is in the philosophy of science, the history & philosophy of biology, and environmental ethics. The opinions expressed herein are my own and do not represent my employer’s views in any way. Nothing posted here should be considered official or sanctioned by my employer or any other organization I’m affiliated with.
Recent Activity
by Roberta L Millstein It's been a long time (too long) since I've blogged here, and now, with the political situation in such turmoil, it's hard to think about anything else. And one wonders what place philosophy has in all of this. But it occurs to me to share two... Continue reading
This evening I had an opportunity to get together with the other women in my philosophy department at UC Davis, and it caused me to reflect on how far we have come - when I joined the department in 2006, I was the only woman. Elaine Landry (front center) joined... Continue reading
To add a personal note: Many years ago Merrilee offered me invaluable advice about my graduate career. I am forever grateful for her kind and wise words. Later I (and my students) came to value the thoroughness and clarity of her Introduction to Logic and Critical Thinking. So I am personally very pleased that she is the PSA-WC's first Highlighted PhilosopHer of Science! She has indeed served as a model for many of us.
The PSA Women's Caucus is delighted to announce its first Highlighted PhilosopHer of Science, Merrilee Salmon. You can read about Merrilee's many-splendored career over at Science Visions. Congratulations, Merrilee! Continue reading
1. Well, we can debate what is early and what is not. I think at this point eight years ago Obama was no more well known than Sanders is, and perhaps even less well known. So, while you're right that Clinton has been running since Romney's concession (and even earlier than that, in some sense), I do not think that it is so "late" that the election has already been decided. 2. I think we are more or less agreed on this point. But I do think that whereas Sanders originally may have joined the race just to move Clinton to the left, after seeing his success in drawing crowds and in getting grass-roots donations from individuals, he is now running in earnest. 3. You're right, I've overstated things, and not in a responsible way. My apologies. I do think it matters whether we get a Republican or a Democrat as president for the reasons that you state. Yes, "she moves any closer to the center and she would have the same politics as a Republican moderate" was closer to what I intended. I think there is a moderate Republican or two running but they don't have much of a chance and would likely move right anyway, as you suggest.
Yes, and it might be even worse than you describe. In the political sphere, it's not just results of a study that are at stake, but the results of the election itself. (Perhaps a survey of likely voters would be more analogous to studies in the social sciences than the outcome of an election). "Further, a widespread belief that a candidate can win seems to me a strong, even necessary condition for that candidate's actually winning." <-- agreed.
But that assumes that: Sanders doesn't have a chance (which is the point at issue), wherein his chances are affected by pronouncements that he doesn't have a chance. I think it's too early in the race to predict chances, but his popularity is clearly growing. The Internet makes it easier for lesser known candidates to become well known; we saw that with Obama. Moving to the left would hurt Clinton's chances - this is not at all obvious to me. The Republicans don't really have a credible candidate yet. Polls tend to show people in favor of many leftist policies (the policies themselves, not always the people advocating them). Clinton might move more to the center - She's already there. She moves any closer to the center and she might as well be a Republican, in which case her loss would not be much of a loss.
That's interesting -- can you give me a specific example? I haven't really thought about this in the context of social science.
Yeah, the Nader case is a tough one, but as you suggest, it's not fully analogous. There is little "danger" to supporting Sanders at this point. Were Clinton to get the Democratic nomination and Sanders to declare as a third party candidate, then I might be singing a different tune. Here, though, I do think there are things that Jane Voter can change and change for the better. The race is still in its early stages and there are a lot of unknowns. I now also regret not mentioning the role of the media in all this. They too often engage in these self-fulfilling prophesies, and I think their effect is significant. So, Jane should pressure her local media to cover Sanders and not to issue self-fulfilling prophesies (about him or anyone else) so early in the game.
By Roberta Millstein Philosophers, and many thoughtful people more generally, pride themselves on having a healthy skepticism toward claims made by the media, by politicians, by scientists – by pretty much anyone. And rightly so. Many issues are complex and have not just two sides, but multiple sides. One ought... Continue reading
Thanks, Lori! (if I may). Yes, it seemed as though FP was trending toward accusing you of an "all lives matter" stance, and it seemed to me that you had *not* taken that stance. That was one of the things that motivated my response. But really, thank you for the article. I'd been groping toward trying to say something about all of these deeply troubling events, and was so relieved when you made articulate and clear some of the fuzzy ideas I'd been trying to put together. I'm now highly motivated to take a look at your book, so thank you for mentioning it. I agree that empathy, and failure to empathize, are key to understanding much of what is going on here. Another way of saying what I was trying to get at in my blog post above is that we should work at trying to get others to be more empathetic by expressing our own empathy. I had not heard about DuBose's support of his sister's vegan restaurant and his animal rescue work. Thank you for mentioning it. It is even more tragic that such an empathetic man was killed by someone who apparently lacked any such sense of empathy.
By Roberta Millstein I'd been trying to grapple with the weeks and weeks of horrifying stories about the treatment of Black Americans at the hands of police, with Sandra Bland and Samuel DuBose only the latest victims, when the story about Cecil the Lion hit social media. Some reacted angrily,... Continue reading
By Roberta Millstein Nominations are OPEN for the PSA Women's Caucus new Highlighted PhilosopHer feature, recognizing the work of the Caucus's membership. Nominations need not be from Caucus members (although nominees do), so this is your chance to crow about some of your outstanding colleagues! Maybe you saw a great... Continue reading
By Roberta Millstein Miriam Solomon has a post over at Science Visions, the blog of the PSA Women's Caucus, giving a summary of PSA demographics that she has been tracking since the Women’s Caucus began in 2006. The full text of the reports is linked to from the post. An... Continue reading
Nick Huggett and Christian Wüthrich are happy to announce the award of a major grant from the John Templeton Foundation to fund a three year investigation into the philosophical implications of theories of quantum gravity, "Space and Time after Quantum Gravity." The work, which will be divided between the University... Continue reading
Yes, it seems that you and I have had different experiences. I am always glad to hear about interdisciplinary work. It's not just my imagination that there is a correlation between how distantly related the two species are and the likelihood of unintended effects. See here: (I link to this in the article). I am not sure what sort of "complete ignorance" claim that you think I am making.
"Biology" is pretty broad; "biological sciences" is more accurate, and yes, it is my impression that the vast majority of geneticists are neither involved with studies of human health or environmental impacts. There is some degree of siloing. I'm not going to argue about whether most genes are modular or not because I don't think that anyone knows the answer to that question. But the question at hand is whether the particular genes being transferred are modular or not in their new genetic context. And I don't see how anyone could know the answer to that question ahead of time, at least not with our current state of knowledge. Also, the prevalence of lateral gene transfer (the extent of which is still also somewhat debated) says nothing about what happened after the transfer. An effect could be "fine" for the species but not be "fine" for the other species who eat it.
If scientists determine that a gene behaves in a certain way in a certain organism, they can try transferring that gene to a different organism. But there is no guarantee that it will express itself in the same way. If it does, then great, we might have a product (but we still have to check for other effects, since genes affect the expression of other genes). If it doesn't, then no product, back to square one. But it's the unknown side effects that I am really talking about.
I think I agree with almost everything you say here. But my case for concerns about GMOs doesn't come from consensus from anti-GMO lobbyists, whose expertise I would never appeal to. More generally, although I think consensus-of-experts is important, it can't be the whole thing, so even in the climate change case there have to be substantiated models and evidence as well as consensus (and I think there is). My point was just the smaller one that *if* we're going to appeal to consensus-of-experts, let's make sure they are experts in the question at hand. You're right, some anti-GMO critics may be anti-science in some sense, although in truth I find the phrase "anti-science" vague and problematic. This is in part because of the reasons I give in the article (that for GMOs, science and values are very much connected, and so questions of GMOs are not just about science), and in part because it assumes a broad sweeping rejection of Science on the part of the critic that may not in fact be warranted. Perhaps it would be better to say that many anti-GMO critics say things that show that they are scientifically misinformed about the relevant science. And it would be better if GMO defenders would not say that *all* criticisms of GMOs are anti-science, which seems to imply that GMOs are immune from critique.
Thanks for your comments. I think you're splitting hairs a bit about expertise concerning climate change (I think that people are not so siloed as all that, even if they focus their own research on one area), but I'll let others who know more about climate change speak to that. I think you're attributing to geneticists a knowledge about how genes will interact in new contexts that we simply don't have yet. Effects are unpredictable in a new context. As for "waffling," all I am saying is that consumers should have the information they need to decide for themselves if they want to take the risk, since it is their risk. Again (as I say in the article), this is a matter of their values and not just a matter of expertise about predicted effects. You have focused on health effects, yes. But as I said in the article, it is the environmental effects that I think have demonstrated harms, and are thus arguably of greater concern.
Thanks for your comments (a blog post in themselves, as most of your comments to me seem to be). If things are not all they should be with respect to the testing of new drugs, they are that much less with respect to GMOs.
By Roberta Millstein I'm sure we've all had the experience of committing to the final version of an article, only to think of that one more thing you should have said. Yeah, that just happened to me. Just the nature of the beast, I guess. My recent instance has to... Continue reading
1) Trevor, yes, right, Gould had other non-Spandrel publications critiquing Sociobiology, like his "Sociobiology and Theory of Natural Selection" or "The Critique: Sociobiology: Another Biological Determinism." 2) Interesting! Perhaps this is well known through the grapevine and somehow I just missed it (the grape?). 3) I guess I am doubtful about our ability to know what is functionally complex and even what is the product of convergent evolution without further study (so yes, I have consumed the Lewontin Kool-Aid). And I am concerned when what we find interesting starts to bias the sorts of results we get, if the question we're really trying to answer is, "how did this evolve?"
By Roberta Millstein About a month ago, David Sloan Wilson posted a transcript of a wonderful phone conversation that he had with Richard Lewontin concerning the (in)famous paper that Lewontin co-authored in 1979 with Stephen Jay Gould, The Spandrels of San Marco and the Panglossian Paradigm: A Critique of the... Continue reading
By Roberta Millstein Science Visions is the new internet home for news from the Philosophy of Science Association Women’s Caucus, and its editors are already hard at work collecting their thoughts on philosophy, science, gender, academia, and university life to share with you. Just as Donna Haraway’s Primate Visions sought... Continue reading