When will they ever learn? Update

UPDATE:  Owners of the new blog we criticize below have responded very positively to remarks made by several people, and an effort is being made to make the list of contributors more diverse.  The details of the effort are described below in the comments; congratulations are  due to those below and to Choice and Inference.

And I admit it: “unconscionable” (in the main body) might have been a bit strong.  However, while women are being allowed access to more fields, their progress is delayed when people act on old assumptions.   All of us who care about this should consider taking action.  As one commentor points out below, there are important issues about who the knower is; there are solid reasons for thinking a diversity of knowers enriches a field, in addition to being more just. 

Of course, many of our readers know all this!


How many women do formal epistemology and decision theory?  If you look at the new blog, Choice and Inference, the answer appears to be:  One.

But a look around the web shows that is certainly not true.  See here and here, for example.  So why does a promising new blog with 23 authors have only one women among them? 

Whatever the reason, it presumably does show that the list owners are unaware of the negative effects of such exclusivity.  And yet they probably have women students and even advise women on their careers.  One does despair.  How can they look around and not notice the extent to which the women are  missing?  (My guess to the answer is not happy; I suspect in many cases, they really do  think women can’t be as good as they are.)

So let’s get a bit explicit:  The first “here” above links to a conference, photos of which suggest strongly there were more young women in the audience than there were women speakers (even though the women speakers far outnumber those on the blog).  But the list makes it clear:  when you think of getting people together for an extended chat, you think of the guys. 

And the women  probably know that; it may well be on their list of very unpleasant features of their field, along with harassment of various awful sorts.  (Believe me, when women are talking in these small clusters at  conferences where nearly all the speakers are men, they are NOT talking about what an honor it is to be allowed to hear the guys.   Despite all the negative messages that women are given, almost all of us have figured out  that the situation is deeply unjust.)

All sorts of research strongly suggests that in formal fields women are having a much harder time than their male colleagues,  and a major reason is the exclusivity that men enact.  Shockingly difficult though it is for women in formal fields in the States, a lot of research suggests  the problems are worse in other places, including many European countries.  It is, in my opinion, unconscionable to act out the exclusivity in public forums like this. 

Now, they do ask that people interested in joining them as commentators send an email.  We must  hope some of the missing women do.  And I hope they don’t have  my experience in a comparable position:  email twice ignored.  (A woman’s name?  Probably unsuitable.)  But many women in the field, if they are anything like women in other formal fields, will already know the reception is unlikely to be friendly.

I’d recommend that the blog owners look at some of the names readily available on the web and send out explicit invitations.  And an addition to the blog to the effect that the blog strongly supports inclusivity would be a good idea.

44 thoughts on “When will they ever learn? Update

  1. And apparently… they are a bit selective in whose comments they let through, too. This is what I commented on their first blog:
    Saskia says:
    Your comment is awaiting moderation.
    April 16, 2009 at 8:58 pm

    Congratulations on the initiative!
    Is it not quite corny though, to have a blog on these topics and having exactly one author who is a woman in a list of 23?

    and that did not get approved. Some other non critical guy did.

  2. hippocampa, I knew there was something I left out, and it was mentioning you as the source of our knowledge of this. Many thanks!

  3. hehe, you’re welcome, I felt pretty pleased that I finally got something through :P

    I get acknowledged by the feminist philosophers, therefore I exist ;)

  4. It’s simple Bayesian logic:

    What is the likelihood of a woman being an epistemologist? Clearly, it’s 1/23 = 4%.

    Now, the likelihood of a person in general being a woman is 50%. Therefore, when you learn that someone is a woman, the posterior probability of that person being an epistemologist is only 4%/54% = 7%. So, they must not want to waste time evaluating candidates that have such a small chance of being epistemologists. By comparison, the posterior probability of a man being an epistemologist is 65%.


    Or maybe their epistemological training has done nothing to protect them against sexist bias. Also possible.

  5. Carl, I bet you’ve got it! Perhaps they should consider more fully how irrational we – and so THEY – actually are.

    H: I am glad.

  6. I tried to post a comment and it is still under moderation.

    The next step might be to contact its external affiliates:

    “Choice & Inference is run with the support of its external affiliates: Carnegie Mellon University; the Formal Epistemology Project, Katholieke Universiteit Leuven; and the Tilburg Center for Logic and Philosophy of Science, Tilburg University.”

    Does Carnegie Melon _really_ want to support the exclusion of women?

  7. Good idea, alphaf. Unfortunately, the director of the Tilburg Center appears to be on the list. Still, one could write to the affiliated departments.

    Following their links produced the following to write to:

    1. scheines@cmu.edu
    Richard Scheines is the chair of the philos. dept at CMU.

    2. igor.douven@hiw.kuleuven.be
    Director of the formal epistemology project

    3. S.Hartmann@uvt.nl
    Director of the Tilburg Center


  8. Well alpha, YOUR comment got posted at least, and replied to even “[…] Hi alpha, thanks for your comment. Yes indeed, it would be wonderful to have a more diverse contributor base. So let me just clarify what Jake and I said in this welcome post: anyone working in fields relevant to the topics of this blog – regardless of demographics – who is interested in becoming a contributor to Choice & Inference is most welcome to contact either of the blog administrators for further details.”

    I learn from this that the effort they are making is… well… zilch.

    My second comment, same as the first, got rejected as well.

  9. Here is what is really worrying. I looked up the guys running the blog. One is a post doc and the other a grad student. So much for generational turnover resulting in better politics…

  10. Alphaf, that is bad, but the blog I mentioned in the post was also run by a young guy. When I finally took him on, he assured me that there weren’t any women in the field.

    H: it’s really bad that they think somehow the burden is on the women to come knocking at the clubhouse door. They clearly have no idea how privileged they are; guys are the default, women the special vetted case.

  11. Alphaf, looking at their response, your idea of writing to the sponsors seems to me even more important. These guys are clueless about supporting diversity; I bet at least CMU is much less so. They shouldn’t sponsor things unless they take steps to make sure it isn’t exclusionary, even in fact if not exactly in intent.

  12. I’ve just written in asking to join, and making some positive suggestions about inviting other female contributors. One thing that would be good would be to get some more senior women on board, since Katie Steele and I are both very early-career researchers. I suggested inviting Cristina Bicchieri and Ruth Weintraub, but I’m sure I’m missing someone, or many someones.

    I’ll let you know how it all goes.

  13. (Also, hi! I’ve been lurking for a long time, but this one brought me out of the woodwork.)

  14. Rachael Briggs, Welcome and thanks so much. It is just great that you’ve done this. Getting senior women is indeed a good idea. At some point the word really has to get into the community’s consciousness.

  15. And congrats on doubling the number of women at that blog– I’ve just seen you on the contributor list. (And what a great opportunity for you to post something about gender equity, if you feel so inclined and feel safe enough to do that.)

  16. One of the bloggers sent me a very polite email telling me that they were making efforts to recruit more women. Very nice.

    In this message he thanked me for my concern and asked that I direct any advice or concerns about diversity to him personally and not post them because they are not relevant to the topic of the blog.

    This raises, at least, two issues. The first is an unwillingness to acknowledge even the possibility that what we know is related to who does the knowing–equity issues and the meat of philosophy could be linked. The second is a willingness to push equity discussions out of the public arena.

  17. A comment and congrats:

    1. We do see similar lists all the time, though usually with conferences or collections. Still, we might make a difference with conferences, and I’m wondering whether we should try to do so a bit more.

    2. Congrats to Hippocampus for starting this effort off with a note to us – and to them.

  18. I agree with jj.

    If we post cases of exclusion, then we can do something about it:
    1) email the people involved.
    2) email groups that support the people involved.
    3) email senior men and women in the field and ask for their support.
    4) post to list serves (ex. FEMMSS, FEAST), asking them to send emails.

    All of this takes relatively little time and is good activist work.

  19. I got the polite e-mail too this morning. I was originally irked because a) he could have sent that to me straight on day one, rather than ignoring my comments three times and waiting three days (probably only realising that this is serious when he hit this blog?) and b) I really think it IS actually relevant to that blog.

    Then I worked on an essay on a topic regarding that very blog we’re discussing, that is due today and that I have been procrastinating so hard on for the last couple of days (and with which this blog has aided me regardging the sheer approximation of excellence of my procrastination). It’s done now, so I am in a much better mood.

    I think it is pretty groovy that we made a difference: apparently they ARE making an effort now. Better late than never.
    Glad I brought it up. :D

    Am watching them though, see how successful they are. Might run into those guys, they are in my neck of the woods and things are depressingly bad here with women in academics, compared to the rest of Europe. I don’t shirk a bit of activism, however much it makes peoples’ eyes roll. Probably just because it does: it shows how necessary it is.

  20. Although not an excuse, a somewhat mitigating factor is that formal epistemology (along with phil math, logic, and phil physics) is a vastly more math-heavy area of philosophy, and so likely thereby inherits to a much greater degree than other areas of philosophy the huge bottom-up gender inequality featured in mathematics.

  21. Hippocampa, jj, and alphafeminist: thanks so much for making noise about this!

    I’ve gotten a positive response so far. Jake and I compiled a short and doubtless incomplete list of high-powered women we should invite, and Jonah has volunteered to send the e-mails. I’ve written a short post about it. Of course it’s not over until we actually get some decent representation, but these are good first steps.

  22. Go, Rachel, Go :D
    I am just pretty pleased about how all of this turned out so far, and I hope it will get better.
    And I hope we can just continue to make a difference. If not us, who then?
    Although I think it is a bit sad that it’s down to us now, you know what I mean?

  23. Wow– really impressive to see progress happening so quickly. How lovely! This really does confirm the thought that in a lot of cases today the problem is not ill will but implicit biases etc. Once it’s pointed out and some ways of taking action are suggested, progress can be made– at least in some cases. (OF COURSE this isn’t true of all cases, but it may be of a surprising number of them.)

  24. One last note:

    (Hi Rachel) It is great that Rachel is working on providing some diversity. I hope that some of the guys involved are also doing this work. Diversity work ought not fall on women alone–we already have enough work to do. So, I encourage everyone here to take a moment to help Rachel out. Drop your contacts an email, ask for names and direct them to http://choiceandinference.com/?p=165.



  25. You might like to know: Brian Weatherson has followed up on this, and is doing a very nice job:

  26. Sorry for not keeping up well enough with the comments here– hadn’t realised they had replied to Hippocampa and JJ.

  27. A bit of a pity though that a comment pointing out the lack of women should be discarded because it is written under a pseudonym. I have extremely good reasons to dwell on the internet under a pseudonym. I have been digitally stalked by some guy for … wow, close to 4 years now. Tried to do something about it, but ran into international boundaries and cross cultural quagmires. It doesn’t bother me much, fortunately. Sorry, this is rather off topic.
    Maybe not. I wonder how many men get digitally stalked in comparison to women. Exclusion of pseudonyms may just as well mean implicitly excluding women, because they are more likely to use pseudonyms because they are more vulnerable?

  28. Oh wait, that’s not what he said (lysdexia, daft foreigner… excuses, excuses).
    Well, my question stands anyway.

  29. Yes, I agree, not accepting comments made under pseudonyms obviously betrays an implicit misogynism.

  30. Ell, I don’t think it’s implicit misogynism. I think it’s more likely lack of knowledge about the ways in which women get hassled on the internet, and thus the reasons for choosing to use a pseudonym.

  31. Hi Monkey, yes you may be right, perhaps I spoke a little too impulsively! Sorry!

    By the way, this post has prompted a wee nose around on the blogosphere on my part and I can’t help but notice that there are many blogs that seem to display a similar, if not worse, contributor gender imbalance. This seems to include some of the better established blogs. Shouldn’t we be turning up the heat there as well?

    I was also wondering whether we should pay attention to edited volumes and special issues of journals. After all, these are often invite-only. I don’t see why publishing houses should should be exempt from positively encouraging female contributions!

  32. Ell, I agree.

    Ell, we might hope not to have to pick them up one by one; that is, if we can stir the general consciousness, people may come to start thinking on their own about what they are doing.

  33. I think it is a good idea, this particular blog just struck me because it announced on the lists that it had started.
    I think it’s practical to start with new initiatives and work our way back to the establishment.
    Hmmm, I did notice though that some recent femist conference has only women speakers… To be honest, I have no clue how many male feminists there are, let alone feminist philosophers.

  34. Hippocampa: hmmm… I now worry that they may turn things against us and ask us what active steps we are taking to recruit males on the forum and to make males feel welcome here. That might be awkward. Should we make some kind of token gesture? I don’t know what to think about this one!

    By the way, I have noticed that you link to the excellent ‘Just Another Angry Black Muslim Woman?’. Kudos to you!! Do you have any idea about the proportion of muslim contributors on here? I’d be interested. Moderate muslims, especially in the current climate, are understandably feeling very much like the odds are unfairly stacked against them.

  35. Hi Ell,

    We already have males writing for this blog, and a lot of our regular commenters are male. I’m writing this quickly when I should be working so this isn’t a particularly well thought out comment. But one of the issues about gender diversity on other blogs and at conferences is that women are underrepresented in philosophy. Since the imbalance is that way round, I don’t think there is such an onus on women philosophers to seek out male philosophers when putting on conferences or organising blogs. However, having said that, one of the things that many of us here are concerned about is the way in which feminist philosophy gets sidelined. One way to rectify this is to get more people interested in it and support those who work in the field. I hope that we are as welcoming to male feminists here as we are to female feminists. And indeed, anyone who doesn’t fit these binary categories.

    I’m not sure about the proportion of Muslim contributors here. Maybe one of the others has more info?

  36. Ell, you’re right to ask. We’re pretty lacking in religious diversity, I suspect. I don’t actually know the religions of all of our contributors, but those I know about are currently agnostic/atheist, whatever their upbringing. I strongly suspect none of us are Muslim, but I don’t actually know for sure.

  37. Let me note that we do have two or three bloggers who are disabled, though I think none visibly so.

    It’s interesting to ask in general what the reasons are for including some groups, and which apply where. Actually, maybe all apply most of the time, but some are more important than others. Some definitely apply at least a lot more in the case of including women at conferences than do here. E.g., by and large, we aren’t a nice cv entry, for example, nor do we provide free food, lodging or travel. (But maybe we should??) People reading us so far – at least as far as I can tell – are not flooding us with invitations, and so on. So the publicity benefits are small.

    One the other hand, we are enriched by diversity.

  38. I am just a caucasian agnostic protestant, myself. I read the entire quran though, does that count? :)
    What might be nice to do is look out particularly for muslim feminists and their activities, and give attention to them on here, for instance (maybe get them on board as a contributor?). I think of people like Asma Barlas (had the pleasure of hearing her when she had the Spinoza chair in Amsterdam) and well what about the other people on this list?

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