It never rains but it pours…the future of philosophy of science

Well, readers of this blog know in advance what they’ll see; readers who are not familiar with our discussions of all-male conferences, might  look here.

Sydney-Tilburg conference on

The Future of Philosophy of Science

Wednesday 14 – Friday 16 April 2010

Tilburg Center for Logic and Philosophy of Science (TiLPS) 


… In particular, we are interested in how the different methods philosophers of science use relate to each other, whether they can fruitfully complement each other, and whether current trends allow predictions about the development of our field. 

The program of the conference is now online. Please visit:

The invited speakers are Michael Friedman, Chris Hitchcock, Hannes Leitgeb and Samir Okasha. Contributed speakers include William Bechtel, Ronald Giere, Alfred Nordmann, Michael Stoeltzner, and Paul Teller.

The registration deadline is 15 March 2010.

Addition:  EB has pointed out that there are women among the contributed speakers, though not mentioned in the notices we’re getting.

Addition:  Women on the program include:  Chiara Lisciandra, Anna Leuschner, Carla Fehr, Kathryn Plaisance, Kristina Liefke, Katya Tentori, Catarina Dutilh Novaes.

26 thoughts on “It never rains but it pours…the future of philosophy of science

  1. Hmmmm I thought some of the names on that conference site was familiar… we actually scolded one of them about the launch of that Choice and Inference blog last year, when they had one woman contributing in a list of 23.
    As a matter of fact, Tilburg University is one of the affilliates.
    So it’s not as if they couldn’t have known there is something amiss with this, one’d think.

  2. Hippocampa, I think it is exceptionally hard to change one’s behavior, though I agree that we might have expected something else.

    Somehow not even mentioning the women who are contributors? I mean, a choice of whom to mention was made.

  3. BB, Done. Thanks.

    Some are grad students or postdocs, but not all. I didn’t count how many men on the program are not named in the announcement that went out, but that would be interesting. Also interesting to see if any were faculty.

  4. Hey there!
    I guess the problem is that especially theoretical philosophy (e.g. philosophy of science) is still dominated by men. It’s quite normal that at a conference with 40 participants the average number of attending women is, well, let’s say, six or seven. And, as we probably all know, the percentage decreases as higher the people’s positions are, so there are just a few female professors in theoretical philosophy (in Germany I know only one, Elke Brendel), though there are some graduate students.
    I am very displeased with that fact and my discontentedness increases from year to year.
    Anyway, about the case of the Tilburg conference I want to say that it was a blind review procedure and I felt very encouraged as a participant (much more than in some other communities.) That there are just male contributors named in that notice you got is because of the fact that the key note speakers are all male. But that’s a problem of the system, it’s not the organizer’s fault. They mention neither female nor male students in their announcement, they just use famous names to promote the conference – and that, I think, is no discrimination.
    So I guess what we have to work on is not blaming those men who support young female graduates but contribute more in these theoretical and natural scientific areas which are still male-dominated, support each other and of course fight discrimination (which cannot be found in Tilburg as I assume.)
    Very best wishes, Anna

  5. AL, thanks so much for your comment. I’ve been thinking about the idea that they were just listing famous names to promote the conference, and its the system’s fault, not the organizers’, that the famous are all male. I really can’t say whether none of the women is as well-known as the mentioned men, so let’s put that aside.

    I wonder, then, whether we should look at the idea that its fine to advertise the conference by listing the famous participants. Surely that’s ok, perhaps most would say. But I wonder if its seeming ok is really because we don’t have at the forefront of our minds that the field has a long history of discrimination. Even the Repulican Party has woken up to the fact that just having white guys on the stage signals how exclusionary they have been. Further, even they have realized that by advertising themselves as a party of white guys, they decrease the desire of others to join.

    So one suspects there is a problem somewhere. Do they not know that the advertisement will openly express the discrimination in the field and in fact add to it? Or do they not care?

    Anyway, I think perhaps graduate students going to a conference would be well advised to NOT try to answer such a question!

  6. The trick with male dominated fields, I believe, is to get a bunch of nobs on your list to make the event sound sexy, and then to slide in a really good female philosopher (or two, or three) who’s not a nob, and then all of a sudden, by association, she becomes one.
    Also, it should really be VERY embarassing not to have managed to secure even one invited female speaker. Srsly. I think it already is, but maybe I am biased.
    Why are nobs nobs anyway? Consider that.

  7. If you were one of the women on the program, what would you do? It seems that on one handed attending is implicitly endorsing these practices. On the other hand, attending is increasing the representation of women. So, what do you think are the relevant costs and benefits of:

    -attend and raise a stink while there?
    -attend and raise a polite question while there?
    -attend, don’t say anything, but give a kick ass paper?
    -something else?

  8. That is, raise the question politely and give a great paper. But also:
    I think it may depend a bit on age and seniority. Younger women generally need to go to conferences. But if you are senior, you might consider withdrawing, with an explanation.

  9. I would go with a variation on option 4 (attend and give a kick ass paper). Then casually remark that there are no women on the main program in the presence of the organizer, who is completely taken aback by the high quality of my paper presentation. Then mention that it would be great to see more women at these otherwise excellent conferences. Perhaps also drop the names of a few women who were not invited but obviously should have been.

  10. This is slightly off topic, but a female philosopher I know recently reviewed a book manuscript on one of the core areas of philosophy for one of the major university presses. The volume had a large number of male contributors but not a single female contributor. My friend mentioned in her review that she didn’t think the volume should get accepted without any female contributors. She then mentioned a large number of obviously competent women who could contribute. I don’t know exactly what happened after that. But I think that in the end the press editor required the volume editor to include some women among the contributors. So, sometimes it helps to speak up.

  11. BB, I completely agree with your recommendations.

    I think that in the past I’ve not had very good luck in recommending more inclusiveness, but I hope that’s changing. I’ve gotten the sense, perhaps particularly with non-US publishers, that this might just be seen as a US hang-up with political correctness, or even overly assertive US feminism!

    Giving a good list of possible female contributors has got to be helpful. We described an effort recently to compile a list to be available to the profession. Much check on that.

  12. I gave a paper at this conference yesterday and tried to follow BB’s recommendation: “I would go with a variation on option 4 (attend and give a kick ass paper). Then casually remark that there are no women on the main program in the presence of the organizer…” (Well, *I* think the paper, which I presented on the behalf of Carla Fehr and myself, was kick-ass, anyway…. and it did inspire a great discussion about the reward structure of our discipline). I plan to follow up with the organizers to thank them and proceed with part 2 of BB’s suggestion: “Then mention that it would be great to see more women at these otherwise excellent conferences. Perhaps also drop the names of a few women who were not invited but obviously should have been.” (I just didn’t get an opportunity to do so when I was there…) I think this is especially important as organizers from Tilburg and Sydney (the co- institutional organizers) puts on an annual conference.

    There definitely was a dearth of women there (I think there were 5 on the program besides Carla and myself, out of 45 speakers!), but also worrisome was this: it seems as if I was the only woman faculty member in POS! The other women, from what I could tell, were graduate students or postdoctoral researchers (plus a Psychology professor). Plus, I’m an Assistant Professor (just finished my first year in a TT position in Canada), so that means that, if my research hasn’t led me astray, there were NO TENURED WOMEN IN PHILOSOPHY/PHILOSOPHY OF SCIENCE at the conference. Sheesh.

    I did have an explicit discussion about this with a male attendee who knows the conference organizers, and he told me that he heard they didn’t get very many submissions by women philosophers. (It would be good to find out if this is true.) But, I then pointed out that they could have at least INVITED one ore more woman philosophers, especially since there are several whose work is quite prominent in POS (e.g., Helen Longino, whose work was favorably used in some of the talks) or who have explicitly discussed the future of our discipline (e.g., Janet Kourany, who has several papers in Philosophy of Science on our discipline, including a nice exchange with Ron Giere in 2003).

    If anything comes from my plan to follow up with the organizers, I’ll certainly post an update here… In the meantime, if anyone would like to get in touch with me about this, I’m at the University of Waterloo (in the Centre for Knowledge Integration, cross-appointed to the Department of Philosophy), and can be contacted at kplaisan [at] uwaterloo [dot] ca.

  13. (Quick follow-up for clarification): Carla Fehr, who co-authored the paper that I presented, IS a tenured woman in philosophy/POS, but, quite unfortunately, she couldn’t attend the conference. So, based on some googling of the women participants, it seems that the program included: one tenured woman in POS (who couldn’t attend), one TT woman in POS (myself), a couple of women postdoctoral researchers, and a couple of women graduate students (plus, I think woman professor in psychology). If anyone knows differently, PLEASE correct me!

    Most disturbingly, I didn’t see any of the women I would have expected to see at a conference on the future of philosophy of science (e.g., senior women philosophers who are at the forefront of our field). I’m sure many of the names are obvious to most, but I won’t list them here.

    On a final note: I was glad to see young women philosophers of science at the conference, who gave wonderful talks!

  14. What is even more disturbing about the lack of women at this particular conference is that the topic was about the _future_ of philosophy of science. It was a place to address both topical and structural issues regarding our discipline–gender is important in both respects. I agree that philosophy of science is one area of philosophy in which the boy’s club is particularly homogeneous and strong. Even though I know there were men at the conference who, as individuals, support the development of particular women philosopher’s careers and who are not happy with the homogeneity of the discipline, the lack of any leadership or corporate action is distressing. If it ends up being a group of primarily men discussing their future in the relative absence of women, well, it makes me lose a little bit of hope.

    In addition to Janet Kourany and Helen Longino other appropriate women include:
    Alison Wylie*
    Sandra Mitchell
    Elisabeth Lloyd
    Kristen Shrader-Frachette*
    Nancy Tuana*
    Nancy Cartwright*
    Kathleen Okrulick*
    Sandra Harding*
    Heather Douglas*
    Kristina Rollin
    Roberta Millstein
    Lisa Gannett*
    This list took me 30 seconds to generate and I am sure that it would be much longer with only a tiny amount of research. The * marks women who I happen to know have done professional work on the structure or the kinds of questions that are typical of the discipline.

  15. KP, I hope you won’t mind if I draw attention through a short post to your very welcome report and reflections. I think a lot of people would not want to miss this.

  16. JP, I don’t know which of these is more difficult to take: (1) Organizers seem to think that women will be suitably represented if they sit back and wait for it to happen or (2) they are utterly and totally unaware of the operating mechanisms of exclusion.

    I think giving them a list is a great idea. Do include Libby Potter, who has really wonder work on social elements on the social epistemology of science.

  17. More women would be invited to be on programs if more women were on the program planning committees. Volunteers folks and get some power.


  18. Robin, I wish it were true that women on program committees will invite women to talk. Unfortunately, it isn’t, and there are some startling exceptions, even very recently. Women can internalize just the same values as men and, even when they don’t, they may just go with the familiar names. Still, one hopes that we are getting more sensitized to the issues.

    My interest is really sparked by your comment about volunteering; what sort of opportunities for volunteering are you thinking of? In the groups I know of, usually program chairs/committees are selected.

  19. Hi JJ
    I am thrilled to see how much interest you’ve generated in this topic. My experience with Philosophy per se is not as optimistic but, for example, ASBH calls for volunteers for prpgram planning.

    Anyone who is interested should nudge a little or network to get on a committee, if not this year then next year. I don’t think we can wait to be asked.

    I participate in a regional bioethics network that over the years has given me the opportunity to say, “gee fellas, all the speakers are white or male or academics…” National programs may be tougher but most affinity groups or philosophical interest groups have regional or topical conferences that are easier to crack.


  20. On the topic of women helping women, yeah there are some (women and men) who will not be supportive. We’ll have to work this “bird by bird” I’m afraid. But meanwhile, network and work with the great women philosopers at SWIP and FEAST (Association of Feminist Ethics and Social Theory) and other groups that support and develop women scholars. These are our incubators and can provide invaluable mentoring relationships.

    Best, Robin

  21. I have a question that is related to this topic, though perhaps doesn’t belong in this thread.

    I’m curious what people think about what to do about cases in which conference submissions are blind-reviewed, and it turns out that all of the accepted papers are by men.

    I recently organized such a conference– it was our grad conference, and as it turns out, out of about 70 submissions, less than 10 were from women. (The conference had one male and one female keynote speaker, and our department is more well-balanced than many in terms of gender, so I can’t imagine that either of those things are what discouraged women from submitting– and the conference didn’t have a particular theme or topic, so it can’t have been that either.)

    Any suggestions about how to encourage more women to submit to conferences, aside from the obvious (e.g. putting ‘submissions from women, other underrepresented groups strongly encouraged’)?

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