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Helen De Cruz
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I think that comparing religious belief to belief in paranormal things like UFOs, tarot cards, etc, is just psychologically incorrect. This trope is often used by new atheists, but it does not align with psychological reality. In the psychology of religion, three groups are often compared to see how they score on a dependent measure (e.g., seeing agency, fear of death): people who hold religious beliefs, people who hold beliefs in paranormal entities (e.g., UFOs), and people who don't believe in either. If one takes people who fall squarely into one of those three categories, one often finds differences between the believers in supernatural-not-religious things and traditional religious believers on various measures. Interestingly, church-going "conventional" Christians in fact are less prone to believe in astrology, bigfoot and other paranormal phenomena than spiritual but not religious or non-church-going Christians. Mencken et al. found no effect of Christian beliefs on endorsement of the existence of paranormal phenomena, see One reason this psychological mistake of equating religious belief with belief in the paranormal is that, for the naturalist atheist, believing in God is mainly seen as subscribing to a bit of extra ontology. Now, a lot of that ontology is really weird: virgin births, people rising from the dead, and so on. But as you point out, belief in God to a religious person is far more than that, it is a practice woven into one's life, a moral compass and lots of other things that define a person. It's not the case that religious believers are unaware of the strangeness of these beliefs (an influential theory in cognitive science of religion says that religious beliefs are typically minimally counterintuitive, by which is meant that they violate our intuitive expectations; people know that humans don't normally rise from the dead.) So it's a fascinating question why religious believers hold these beliefs, but it is less perplexing to believers than to atheists, I think.
Jamie: I use the term "pedigree" not because I condone it (or all its connotations), but because the term captures, in my view, the belief that prestige of institution equates with (or at least is a reasonable proxy for) talent, skill and other desirable traits in its students. As you could see in my original post, I don't think that's the case.
I agree - it is hard to sift through lots of applications. I have recently been part of a SC too (not in philosophy, but in experimental psychology), and it was difficult. But I'm still unsure of the merits of using program as a heuristic for a first cut. It is bad for the profession if a substantial percentage of new hires (how much remains to be seen until we have a full sample & analysis, if Marcus Arvan or someone else is willing to crunch the numbers) come from just a handful of programs. And I fear that the proxy of prestige filters out lots of interesting people who could enrich our philosophical discourse: black philosophers and members of other minorities), disabled people (as was clear from a recent Feminist Philosopher post)... Do we take that big of a risk to hire someone who is not from a stellar department? If by "risk" is meant someone who writes differently and thinks differently as a result of a different education and background, certainly, but I would welcome that.
r: I don't deny those programs are difficult and demanding, and this might provide a reasonable justification for why our profession values pedigree so much. Also, as I've been witnessing now, there's a reason for why pedigree institutions are so highly regarded. Going to Oxford provides students with resources that I could only dream of: one-on-one tutorial sessions, a library that has almost anything you'd like to consult, counseling and support if things get difficult, an exciting academic environment with multiple opportunities for external engagement. Students who are tutored improve more rapidly in their paper writing skills, as they get one-on-one feedback each week on their papers by the tutor, than students attending universities where their papers are graded by the dozens. At the same time, students from disadvantaged backgrounds, as Heidi tells about her students, have to face several additional obstacles: family situations, lack of mentoring and support, responsibilities for younger sibs etc. Such students are often incredibly smart and hard-working, but for various reasons they cannot make it into the few top programs (as I've pointed out, such students often lack the mentoring and information that would encourage them to even apply to such programs. It might also be difficult for them to attend out-of-state schools). So if we have a pile of applications for a tenure track job, why does pedigree still play such a heavy role if there are other measures that allow one to assess quality, such as writing sample, or publications? If anything, I think a student from an unranked or lowly ranked program with roughly the same number and quality of publications as a student from a top program is a more promising candidate, as the unranked program-candidate has likely faced and overcome more obstacles than the top-program candidate, who also got the benefit and support that comes with such programs. I am also thinking about the potential loss of intellectual diversity. Marcus based his analysis on partial data, but we should be worried if only 5 programs are providing nearly 40% of all new hires.
Hi David: I did not see you replied to my earlier comment on FP. My apologies for this. You rightfully point out we need to be cautious with these data (although even in the case of an aselect sample, they could well point out biases in the selection process. The process is now more streamlined, where ethnic background is already asked in the recruitment stage, recruiters do not see these monitoring forms. So hopefully, we'll get better data. But biases aside, the fact remains that there are many hurdles that prevent black students from attending Oxford and other elite places, factors that do not reliably reflect intelligence or capacity per se, such as the A-levels you mention (more challenging, study-unfriendly home environment for instance). (This is a different issue from the hiring data I linked to, since hiring and student admission are 2 different things, and different biases/factors might play).
Hi Eugene: Thanks very much for the observations. Let me clarify how I see elite: roughly, I see elite in terms of how the place is perceived (for instance, in the PGR but also the general prestige of the university. While the PGR has lots of excellent state schools in its ranks, I note that in the top 20, we can find a lot of the Ivy League, including Brown, Harvard, Princeton, Yale, which as you point out are not on the radar of people from poor backgrounds. So while the prospective pool of schools to choose from (taking the PGR as a guide) is, say, 20 or 50, the pool for people from poorer backgrounds is 20 or 50 - n, a smaller pool. In my post, I draw mostly from the UK experience as I'm most familiar with that situation. In the UK, almost all universities charge £9000 for domestic and EEA students, which is the allowed maximum. So financial considerations don't play there. Nevertheless, students from wealthy backgrounds are much more likely to attend Oxford, Cambridge, etc because their grades are much better, their applications look much better etc (people who do admissions here often remark on the difference in applications of people who went to private schools and to public schools - they are a great deal better at self-promotion, and have received much better coaching to help them get into the best universities. I wonder if similarly students in the US from richer backgrounds, next to having better grades, also have better looking applications. So the hurdles are much bigger for poorer people to get into an elite university. Finally, you say " I even had my undergraduate letter writers report that I didn't have the money to receive extra SAT training and the like". This is very sensible of them, but it does support the main point of my blogpost. People who do have extra SAT training (rich, white upper and upper middle class kids) don't need their letter writers to point this out. They have higher SAT scores which increases their chances of going to university. I'm not saying there are no working-class background philosophers, who got their degrees at elite universities. Rather, I'm saying there are multiple factors that make it much less likely they'll get there. If that is true, we are systematically screening out working-class people (whose letter writers might, for instance, not have thought of pointing out that they could not afford extra SAT training) when we use pedigree as a measure of quality.
Thanks, Shelley. It is indeed quite a disheartening statistics, and so indeed, those who heavily emphasize pedigree in hiring decisions end up being (inadvertently or not) ableist as well.
Matt: you are totally right, the way I phrased this was garbled (so I updated it and added a note, since not everyone reads all comments). I mean to say that the percentage of black/other ethnic minority applicants is not reflected in the shortlisting and appointing stage, so 13% of applicants are ethnic minority, only 6% of shortlisted candidates are, and only 3% of appointments. About your second point: Shelby indeed went to Pitt from a relatively unknown university, and then on to Harvard. It is a success story, but the fortuitousness of him getting into a university in the first place (given that he missed the application deadline of all the big schools) is striking. And I think Eric Schwitzgebel's post, to which I link, indicates that the odds of getting into a good PhD program are smaller if you come from an unknown, small university (which is likely if you are from a poor background).
On the basis of this year’s partial hiring data, Marcus Arvan notes that the majority of tenure track hires (a whopping 88%) are from people of Leiter-ranked programs. Only 12% of hires are from people of unranked programs. Also, 37% of all tenure track hires come from just 5 schools,... Continue reading
It would definitely be a good idea to get more diversity in some areas of philosophy. Also: I would not say that the proposed test or the GCC are "short-term projects". I think the GCC is effective as a social mechanism to make conference organizers reflect on whom they're inviting, and the Bechdel philosophy paper test is a good personal rule of thumb to check whether for oneself whether one has not omitted a female philosopher whose work is worth mentioning in one's paper. Suppose you work in metaphysics or epistemology you could very well build an entire publication record (not saying anyone does this, but that it's possible) without citing a single female philosopher. Is this because there aren't enough quality female epistemologists or metaphysicians? Or, is it, as the Healey data suggest, that citation practices are subconsciously skewed towards men? This is not unique to philosophy, there are other studies showing that papers where a woman is first author are cited less. The robustness of this phenomenon leads me to think that there are implicit biases that make people less think about women contributors to their field when they write (or in the case of the GCC and what it is reacting against) when they invite a lineup of speakers. So I agree about getting more diversity, but disagree about the purported unimportance of what you term short-term projects. If I'm a female philosophy major, deciding what to study for my graduate degree, and I notice that all papers in my chosen field cite predominantly or almost exclusively men? Will I feel encouraged or discouraged to study this field? Or rather, would I like to focus on a field where the recognized top contributors are women? It seems to me not implausible that this plays a role when students decide to take up a field of study (I remember a developmental psychologist saying, "When deciding to study developmental psychology I was particularly guided by the fact that there are so many prominent women in this field, so I thought, if I want to make a successful career, I could choose this field". In this way, better citation practices and better representation of women at conferences could increase the field's long-term diversity.
I think that's a great idea! I recently refereed a course book for an intro to philosophy of religion course, where I noticed that for one of the sample chapters, the authors failed to mention any female authors (even though that particular field has several female scholars, several of which more prominent than the male scholars reviewed in that chapter), I pointed this out to the authors, but that was because it was such a glaring omission. I haven't routinely paid attention to it when refereeing.
This is true, and also the reason why the test would not be normative in the sense that there might be many reasons not to conform to the 3 criteria (e.g., it could be a work in history of philosophy, there could be very few women working on the topic etc). But on the whole, I think it's an interesting test to subject one's own papers to. I tried two recent papers of my own: one just published, which barely passes the test (it mentions and briefly discusses Nancey Murphy and 2 other female authors, but those other 2 aren't philosophers), and another, under review, which mentions Sharon Street and several female authors from psychology. In general, going over my past papers, I've noticed that my citations to philosophers are mainly to male authors, but that my citations to psychologists (usually a fair portion of citations) have a much better gender balance, usually 1/3 or 1/2. It does say something the maleness of philosophy - both in terms of numbers and in terms of prominence or, as I've mentioned in an earlier comment, the sense that one must cite (mainly male authors) in order to placate referees.
Hi Mohan: Thanks - There are different standards of citation in different fields. For instance, when I recently wrote a paper with a developmental psychologist, I was rather taken aback that about 1/3 of our paper was taken up by references. I was wondering if we need them all, but the practice in that field is to cite rather exhaustively whomever has contributed to a particular field or topic of study (so that's how you end up with a list of 5 or more citations for one claim). Philosophers can be more selective. I don't think we need to engage with work that we dislike, but if, say, you're writing on epistemic luck and raise a problem it's a good idea to cite people who have worked on the problem even if one doesn't like their take on it. The Bechdel test might help one to see if one has simply overlooked some authors because of various implicit biases. The one I propose - for female authors - is easy, but indeed, authors who aren't white are similarly subject to biases. So are authors of small institutions, authors who are in more teaching-oriented positions, or authors who haven't (yet) secured a tenureline or tenured position. In general, the citation practices in philosophy seem geared towards citing bigname philosophers from major research-intensive universities, and most of these people are white males. So I would say, yes, if one refrains from citing someone because one doesn't like their work, it's a good idea to reconsider because there may be many factors (additional to not liking their work) that make one not cite them. I must confess I sometimes cite papers that I don't really like but that I know are very influential in the field of the paper I'm writing in, and so I know if I don't cite them, referees will think that I don't know the field well (why didn't author cite X, such a landmark paper in the field?) So I cite them. This sort of reasoning, I guess, explains the Matthew effect in citation practices, and in that context, reconsidering to cite someone one doesn't want to cite because one doesn't like their work might be a good idea.
I think it does count, because, in philosophy, co-authorship always implies a substantial contribution. I know there are fields like physics where the lab director gets to put his or her name on each paper, with very little, if any work. The question of history of philosophy popped up before, which is why I think the test is just a quick measure to help one decide if one might have overlooked to cite female authors who made an important contribution. It's definitely not a new rule or norm.
Guess who: I am certainly not suggesting to introduce a new metric! To qualify even for (3) stringently read, I don't think the bar is set very high. Suppose you write a paper on, say, teleosemantics, and you specifically talk about Nick Shea's treatment of genes (so the topic of your paper would be the ideas of a man). Your paper would still pass this test if you briefly discussed the teleosemantics by, say, Ruth Millikan, and it had a citation to at least one other woman (even if just in a list of citations). I am in no way suggesting this be some sort of new rule or metric, but rather, just a quick and defeasible way to assess "Didn't I just, implicit-bias wise overlook to cite female contributors to the discussion I'm tackling in my paper?"
That's a really good point. My intuition here would be to say "no", if only because I think it's a good thing that philosophy papers incorporate some non-philosophical authors (I'm personally very enthusiastic about naturalistic approaches, where philosophers should engage with the questions, methods and results of other disciplines. Also, undercitation of women goes further than just philosophy, as I seem to remember (but don't have the reference handy) that also papers in the sciences that have a female first author are on average cited fewer times.) This is a general observation, and there is some variation. For instance, if I cite a female developmental psychologist, I'm citing someone from a field where women are very well represented and cited.
As I put in the OP, I didn't come up with #3, but the way I interpret it is that the paper to pass the philosophy Bechdel test should cite substantive original scholarship by female authors, rather than response pieces to male authors (you're right that otherwise a huge percentage of work in history of philosophy would not qualify, and I would say a paper on, say, an aspect of Hume or Kant's work would be substantive scholarship)
I have been thinking about an analogy to the Bechdel test for philosophy papers - this in the light of recent observations that women get fewer citations even if they publish in the "top" general philosophy journals (see also here). To briefly recall: a movie passes the Bechdel test if... Continue reading
In philosophy of religion, realist theism is the dominant outlook: belief in God is similar to belief in other real things (or supposedly real things) like quarks or oxygen. There is a rather triumphalist narrative about the resurgence of realist theism since the demise of logical positivism (see for instance,... Continue reading
This is indeed where the audio of our presentations is available.
Charles: Interestingly, Justin Barrett in his recent book with Templeton press argues for the aptness of cosmological, design etc arguments. He thinks that the human need for causal explanations in terms of agents is evidence for a divine designer who has implanted this way of reasoning (a kind of Reformed approach to natural theology). C Stephen Evans argues something similar in Natural Signs. While it seems a natural conclusion to draw for the believer, I don't think we can make that assumption without also already assuming God's existence - so, in other words, I don't think that the intuitions that drive natural theology are prima facie evidence for God's existence (I'm not saying you are making this claim, just that it has been recently made).
Sylvia, thanks - there is indeed no doubt that top-down cognitive processes are important in our interpretation of perceptual phenomena, for instance, we can "see" motion in pictures (stills) of running athletes etc. So we use background information to decide what is designed and what isn't. Stewart Guthrie suggested that humans have some perceptual (bottom-up) sensitivity to things like bilateral symmetry, but as Keil points out, those things don't necessarily invoke the design stance (think snowflakes - highly symmetrical, very complex, yet people on the Yahoo answers page he linked to did not think they appeared to be designed.
In the recent Mind & Language workshop on cognitive science of religion, Frank Keil presented an intriguing paper entitled "Order, Order Everywhere and Not an Agent to Think: The Cognitive Compulsion to Make the Argument from Design." Keil does not believe the argument from design is inevitable - I've argued... Continue reading
Dear Mohan: I am, as I said, not an expert (I gave the example of late night drinking because it came up in two of the recent case). But indeed, it's my personal view (and also Eleonore's if I do not misinterpret her) that it needs to be more specific, and to address the concerns specific to our profession (Eric had a recent blogpost on how the drinking culture seems well engrained in philosophy). But I would rather leave specific suggestions for content to the people who would draft the code.
Robin: As you can see, we refrained from proposing any content for the code, of course, how it is put in practice depends on the members of our profession. I certainly don't think a code like this would be a "more police" solution. Rather, I think it would help faculty see more clearly what is to be done in various situations. Of course, our individual institutions have already codes of conduct, but these are very variable. Oxford has some policies on harassment, but very little else, for example. When I was at the Oxford meeting with grad students in light of recent events, several faculty members expressed a strong desire for a code of conduct, for instance, (this was the sense there), to actively discourage amorous student-staff relationships. Unfortunately, the faculty (unlike the individual colleges) cannot enforce its own policies. At the university level, there are very few guidelines. So this is an instance where a code is welcome. Also, hypothetically, suppose one is in a situation like sketched in the Boulder site visit report. A code could empower faculty members and students who are in a program like this, often arriving in a situation that already has a lot of undesirable but entrenched features (e.g., where late night drinking is an essential part of the faculty's having contact). With the help of a clear guidance of a code, faculty members and students would have it easier to remedy the situation - recognizing there's a problem is often the first step toward the solution. Finally, while there is obviously a gendered dimension to the events portrayed, we did not mention a gendered agenda for the code (in fact, we provided no suggestions for content). Speaking for myself, I hope the code would be broader than being aimed at improving the climate for women. There are also issues like racism and cissexism, for instance, to be addressed.