30 thoughts on “Men discuss social epistemology

  1. Principal investigators

    Erik J. Olsson (Lund) & Vincent F. Hendricks (Copenhagen)

    Doesn’t the name sound familiar?

  2. Funny (or would be funny if weren’t so pathetic): They advertize that “Past workshops have dealt with belief polarization, echo chambers, and pluralistic ignorance.” And the workshop last April was called G.I.R.L.
    As Julia Gillard might say: “Some people need mirrors, not workshops.”

  3. If you read the page, it says the review process was BLIND.

    If women did not get chosen to present, then they were just not good enough.

  4. Or women chose not to send in papers.
    In addition, while anonymous review helps, it certainly does not exclude biased selections. For example, one may well get skewed results if the referees are looking for people who write like them, or think like them or share their general perspectives.

  5. Andrew: because it is dead obvious that the only selection criterion they used was pure unmarked ‘goodness’, not, say, any consideration with fit with their prior sense of what count as relevant or legitimate topics, fit with their sense of the whole program, use of other work with which they are familiar, absence of (say) feminist philosophy citations that they find uncomfortable or don’t take seriously, and so on and so on? We have all been around the same points so very many times. Please let’s just not, again, I can’t stomach it.

  6. Rebecca and Anne, does this mean that the GCC recommends *against* using blind review, because blind review can often lead to single-gendered conferences?
    If so, I think the FAQ should be amended to say so.

  7. Is there any point at all at which we get to stop being nice and just say “Fuck you”?
    Juss aksin’.

  8. Adele, it is so tempting, but we must resist. We will become better for it. (Not sure where I got that thought, but still, let’s resist).

    Matt: indeed. We should stop feeding them. Let them play under the bridge and chatter away. As long as they chatter nicely.

  9. Some commenters above may be unaware of the bizarre Vincent Hendricks photoshoots (you can google your way to them, I won’t post a link). Perhaps this bit of history made women less interested in submitting papers to a conference which he was organizing.

  10. Oh, excellent, #7!

    But if a commenter who wasn’t a friend of FP posted,

    “Is there any point at which I can stop being nice and just say Fuck You?”

    right after a comment by, just for example, Adele Mercier, that comment would violate the rule and be removed immediately. It would be funny if it weren’t so pathetic…

    The conference used blind review. The GCC should be applauding it, not excoriating the organizers.

  11. A friendly and serious suggestion, Anne JJ and other FP bloggers. There are *so many* single gender conferences to report and *so many* people willing to make exactly the same arguments with the exact same responses every time … perhaps you should post these routine notices without comments on? I mean the point of the GCC isn’t really to have a big (mindnumbingly annoying and repetitive) conversation about each of these, but just to flag their existence. For those with, ahem, questions about the significance of flagging them, you still have your link to the GCC page with each. If any come along that are somehow especially controversial or discussion worthy you could of course allow commenting ad hoc. I feel like this would serve the ends of the GCC no less and perhaps save me and others from having a stroke.

  12. I’m a bit torn about whether or not it’s sensible to take a workshop with papers submitted through blind review as an issue for the GCC. On a recent workshop I organized with a colleague, we had 25 submissions, of which only 3 were by women. As it happened, we did retain 2 of the 3 female speakers, but I can imagine other cases where they do not make the cut. One problem I’ve seen is that women graduate students and postdocs are not encouraged to submit to conferences as their male peers are. I have known cases where the advisors of female grad students simply assumed they would not be interested in traveling as they had young children. One advisor said: “I think it’s best to leave her alone and make sure she at least finishes her PhD”.

  13. Dear Brad my friend,
    I apologize to you from the bottom of my heart if my comment offended you. There can be no excuse for how I behaved. You were making a prima facie decent point and I should not have gotten as frustrated as I did. Anne is right: we must never ever ever succumb to frustration. We must forever and ever and ever explain, all over again, every single time someone new appears in a conversation that has lasted many, many years. What should it be to us? After all, the conversation we have been having for those many, many years with people who joined in at the very beginning has not progressed so much that it is all that different starting again at the very beginning with each new joiner. Ugh. I am ashamed at my impatience. After all, who am I, and who are we, to expect, just because I (we) have been explaining things over and over again, that anyone should have listened, much less learned anything, or anything worthy of passing down to prepare newcomers to the conversation, so that they avoid, inadvertently for sure, to press our much depressed buttons. No, no, this is an extended (everlasting?) game of snakes and ladders, with some getting the ladders, and others (see all the way back to Biblical references) getting the snake. We must accept it with grace. So here goes:

    Brad: the organizers of this ‘blindly’ reviewed conference feature among them a philosophy professor infamous for advertizing his logic class surrounded by young damsels in sexy, half naked schoolgirl uniforms… who really look like they are terribly impassioned with logic… [You can read the article about it below, reproduced in its entirety, minus the picture, which you can find at http://jezebel.com/vincent-hendricks/%5D His reason for doing so? He thought it might be used “to view logic from a somewhat humorous and UNTRADITIONAL perspective”… [LOL] This is a man whose judgment has been repeatedly questioned, on a variety of topics. [See below]

    Now, I don’t know how many women would want to be caught dead at a conference organized by this man. So maybe the absence of women at the conference reflects their fear of his sense of “humour” and his perspective on tradition. But more important is this: even ‘blind’ review can only be as perspicuous and objective as are the reviewers. This is a case of the blind leading the blind.

    Here is the article: [do take a look at the picture first]


    Philosophy Prof Wisely Decides to Advertise Class With Sexy Schoolgirl Photos

    Ever wish your college course websites looked more like lad mags? No? Well, philosophy prof Vincent Hendricks apparently did, because he posed for pics with ladies in sexy schoolgirl outfits — and then splashed them all over the site for his spring logic class.

    Feminist Philosophers broke the news of Hendricks’s steamy shoot — he’s since taken it down, but screenshots are here. Hendricks teaches at the University of Copenhagen (he also has a non-teaching appointment at Columbia), and Hey, lady! here’s a good breakdown of how his photo shoot might affect prospective students:

    If you were a woman at Hendricks’s university contemplating which courses to take and you looked at this course page, what you would think? Would you think that your professor would regard all students in the class as equally serious? As equally capable of doing logic? As equally deserving of respect? As equally likely to become future peers? And, if you tried to imagine your fellow classmates, what would come to mind? Animal House?

    These are important questions not just because individual students deserve to pick courses without having to also look at cheesecake shots, but because women are already underrepresented in philosophy. Some women in philosophy have cited a climate that’s subtly hostile to them — or, in this case, not subtly at all.

    Hey, lady! also asks “What can [Hendricks] possibly be thinking?” Good question! His site at one point carried the note, “Pictures for ‘Man of the Month’, Connery Magazine, february 2012.” Connery is a Danish online men’s magazine — a lad mag, really — that features pictures of scantily-clad “babes” alongside articles about cars, restaurants, and George Clooney. So maybe Hendricks thought it would be funny to post his Connery shoot on his course webpage. This is a bad decision in itself, but it’s also worth asking why he agreed to the photo shoot in the first place? Why would a prominent academic pose for a men’s mag in a way that demeans his female students?

    Maybe because he has bad judgment. That’s what Brian Leiter says about Hendricks in a stinging recap of what philosophers call the Synthese scandal. Basically, Hendricks is co-editor-in-chief of the major philosophical journal Synthese. In 2010, they published a paper by a philosopher named Barbara Forrest arguing (persuasively, it sounds like) that intelligent design is bullshit. But then ID folks got mad at them. So they responded by telling Forrest that she needed to tone down and resubmit her paper, making it more “neutral” and allowing for things like the possible existence of miracles. Leiter wrote that by caving to ID crazies, Hendricks and his co-EIC had “betrayed a catastrophic failure of professional judgment, which has damaged the Guest Editors and all the contributors to their Special Issue; the cause of serious science education in the United States; as well as the integrity of Synthese.”

    So maybe Hendricks is just not all that good at knowing when something will damage his reputation as a serious philosopher. To his credit, he has apologized, posting the following message on his site:

    To the Philosophical Community

    Some recent pictures on my website have caused some debate. The intention was that the pictures, as a cover on a forthcoming magazine, might be used to view logic from a somewhat humorous and untraditional perspective appealing to larger audience which the magazine covers. However it had the opposite effect offending various parties in the philosophical community. I truly apologize for this and I stand completely corrected. I have removed the pictures from the website.

    Why he thought the photo shoot was a good idea in the first place remains somewhat unclear. I’ve asked him, and await a response.


    My final words: he has “truly apologized” and “stands completely corrected” but he has learned *not a thing* from any of it, WITNESS his “blindly reviewed” all-lad conference.

    Back to you Brad: can you find enough compassion in your heart to forgive my frustration?

  14. In blinded conferences, when the difference between the quality of the submissions is not great, the social benefits of including women and minority speakers may outweigh the cost of the marginal quality difference between the two papers. In such cases, it doesn’t seem unreasonable to hold that conference organizers ought to include the paper by a women or minority speaker. Of course, there are social costs to this approach (women an minorities being perceived as producing slightly lower quality work, or as being selected on non-academic grounds more than other groups). You might think that these social costs outweigh the benefits, or that even marginal short-term academic benefits outweigh strong social benefits. That’s a debate you can have. But it’s not one that you engage with by just pointing out that the submission process was blind.

  15. I’m just noting that the point of this campaign is to call attention to all-male conferences, and to argue that people should try to avoid them. We make no claims whatsoever about blame or even about what caused the all-maleness of any event cited.

  16. “One problem I’ve seen is that women graduate students and postdocs are not encouraged to submit to conferences as their male peers are. I have known cases where the advisors of female grad students simply assumed they would not be interested in traveling as they had young children. One advisor said: “I think it’s best to leave her alone and make sure she at least finishes her PhD”.”

    H: I hope that you see that that’s extremely paternalistic.

  17. Why not kill a bunch of birds with one stone and just have fewer conferences? They’re terrible for the environment and a completely decadent use of money that should be going towards financial aid for students or helping lower-income people heat their homes. Even at prestigious conferences, I find the papers are often lackluster, and at any rate, I consistently find that I could have learned just as much by staying at home, reading papers from authors’ websites, and Skyping or e-mailing them. As to the present point — a gajillion conferences all across the globe, on hyper-specialized topics, often by invitation, with sketchy review procedures when not, and the prospect of being the only woman at quasi-party full of dudes in a faraway land — of COURSE you’re going to get gender disparities. So yay to the GCC, but I’d like to see an Anti-Conference Campaign (ACC) as well!

  18. @Adele:

    I share your frustration. However, I try to think of this kind of experience the way I think about having to debunk naive relativism in every intro class, having to field the “but humans are naturally competitive” remark in every discussion of Marxism, etc: it is one of those blessed teaching moments.

    True, we owe to our students a patience and educational approach that we do not owe to strangers on a blog. Perhaps we could relieve ourselves of some of the frustration by asking (insisting) that anyone who wants to comment on one of these gendered conference posts read the original arguments. In other words: please do your homework before posting.

  19. I have to admit, I too think it would be ethically incumbent on the profession to at least consider reducing events. And I love conferences, a lot. But yes.

  20. I’m extremely sympathetic to the goals of the GCC, but it’s not at all clear that it is always going to work for small workshops in small sub-disciplines.

    For example, the workshop that this group held last year had a woman giving the main invited talk. This is just an area where not many people have written papers appropriate to the topic, regardless of gender. There isn’t a huge pool to draw from. And in this instance, this workshop probably suffered from the fact that a week before, there is another workshop in Tilburg that has a topic overlap, and features (the same) woman giving a series of three public lectures, surrounded by commentary and some blind-reviewed papers, including presentations from women. Both workshops draw from roughly the same set of people. The timing was bad, and one conference drew more women this time around.

    I presented at the Lund-Copenhagen workshop last year, and helped with reviewing abstracts this year. I can’t speak to invited speakers, but I know that the blind review process had a fair amount of procedural effort to avoid accidental bias (people were asked to randomize order of review, etc). Women were among the people asked to review abstracts.

    Again, though, this is just a small sub-discipline. There is an even smaller number of women who are (to my knowledge) involved in it. It would be burdensome to demand that these women attend anytime people want to be able to get together and talk about their research – like everyone else, women who work in formal social epistemology probably would like to be in control of their schedule.

    I think for larger, or less subfield-oriented, conferences, the GCC goals make complete sense and ought to be pursued. But it seems that it is likely to be especially onerous on smaller fields that themselves already have trouble breaking into mainstream philosophy.

    Small workshops are for me at least the most productive kinds of meetings – the group is small enough that you can actually meet new people, and you can get a new collaboration going, or learn about someone else’s work in some detail. It’s hard to replicate this just by email with strangers and downloading papers. I more than agree that conferences like these would benefit from greater diversity. But I think realizing that diversity can be rather challenging, particularly if there are small numbers of people to draw from. The organizers could well have invited women, or encouraged them to apply, and have had them say no.

  21. Ryan, there actually seem to be quite a few people publishing in an area called ‘social epistemology’, so I’m wondering what demarcates the smaller field you are talking about. Would Miranda Flicker’s Fricker’s work be considered as in this qsmall field. If not, why not?

  22. Ryan, I’m also confused about what you mean. From the conference website: “We invite abstracts on any topic in Social Epistemology (i.e., both formal and informal work) for presentation at the above workshop.” I can think of a pretty long list of women working in social epistemology, just off the top of my head.

  23. Anne and Kathryn,

    The abstract request goes on to say that “Past workshops have dealt with formal models of belief polarization, information cascades, echo chambers, and pluralistic ignorance. Novel contributions addressing these themes will be treated with priority, likewise for results obtained from agent-based modeling.” Primarily this workshop is focused on formal (agent-based) models of social epistemic phenomenon like belief polarization, cascades, etc. I agree that social epistemology itself is broader than that, but the main interest of the small conference is on a pretty small area. I’ve seen some of Miranda Flicker’s work, and certainly she is an interesting social epistemologist, but as far as I’m aware, I haven’t seen any work of hers on these topics in particular with a formal treatment. Cristina Bicchieri, for example, has published a ton of excellent work on these topics, which is why she headlined the workshop last year.

    I too can come up with a list of very talented female philosophers. I can only come up with a pretty short list of female philosophers who work in this (pretty narrow) area of formal social epistemology. (My list of male philosophers isn’t all that much longer – it’s a field with a few dozen people in it tops.) I would love to recruit more women to the field – I try to encourage students to pursue work in this area, and I co-author papers with women in this general area.

    So, insofar as formal social epistemology is a subfield that people would like to hold workshops on, and we think that it’s a reasonable goal to have a conference with sufficient methodological overlap such that the discussions can be productive and promote future collaboration, what steps can be taken to become more inclusive? And if those steps are taken, and we still end up with lopsided small workshops, what should be done then? Not have them?

  24. Ryan, you are asking one of the toughest questions. I think it can’t be answered until we know more about why the field is nearly bereft of women. There are plenty of women doing formal work in various fields, work probably more technical and austere than this work. So what’s going on?

    Another thing to consider is that the field may be in one of these self-reinforcing situations, when women don’t go into it because there aren’t any women in it. Do the question might be better put as: how does one break out of these cycles of (in practice) exclusion.

  25. Thanks Ryan. I understand that the workshop is meant to focus on formal social epistemology, but I took it from the invitation that the organizers weren’t necessarily looking for that as an exclusive focus– hence my confusion. As to the rest of your reply, I’m not quite sure what to say (though, that won’t stop me from replying any how!). I also tend to think that small, focused workshops and conferences can be more productive in some ways, but, I also think that one way to encourage growth and diversity is precisely to find ways to network with others in closely related fields where all could plausibly benefit from collaboration (e.g., informal social epistemology). This, of course, would mean a shift in focus but I’m not sure it would need to be any less productive on the whole. Ultimately, there are costs and benefits on both sides but I tend to think given the state of the profession as a whole, having more inclusive conferences ought to be a very high priority. Given how many philosophers work in social epistemology more broadly, it seems like this would be a good way to spark interest in the formal side of things. (Also, FYI, it’s Miranda Fricker– not Flicker.)

    Though, I should point out– I don’t think any of this discussion is relevant to whether or not such a workshop should be flagged by the GCC, which “aims to raise awareness of the prevalence of all-male conferences (and volumes, and summer schools), of the harm that they do.” The GCC is not about blameworthiness– just about the phenomenon and its effects.

  26. Anne and Kathryn,

    Thanks for your thoughts on this. I’ve got a personal interest in improving outcomes here, and insofar as I occasionally end up on organizing committees or am one of many reviewers, I’d like to make sure that I do my part to help.

    Perhaps you are right, and it’s a good goal to broaden the topic enough such that it more easily includes more women – at least for keynotes, where it is easier to do recruiting. I don’t think that formalism itself is terribly exclusive, nor is it particularly restrictive in terms of the sorts of questions one could ask. But maybe there are opportunities for seeking out talks that might be on subjects that are amenable to formal treatment, even if the talks themselves are informal.

    In the instance of this particular conference, for example, I’m not sure if there were even any papers submitted that ended up being much broader. I have no idea of the gender distribution of the submitted papers. (I don’t know who was asked to give keynotes, but I know that women were amongst the reviewers.)

    A reason for me bothering to post at all on this is that I worry that some people who work in formal social epistemology have gotten enough bad press that I don’t want the general philosophical community to decide that it’s a woman-hostile area, thus further discouraging women from participating. Which is why I’m trying to work through what the best thing to do is. I have no interest in being in a boy’s club, but I also want to be able to work on questions and tools that I think have promise, even if they aren’t widespread yet. Since not many people work on these things, it’s hard to talk to colleagues except at workshops like these. Balancing these (and other) demands is nontrivial, so it is very useful to hear your suggestions.

  27. I will say this – and I mean it totally descriptively, not as an argument for the correctness of my attitude. If I had seen this CFP, with Hendricks at the helm, there is zero chance I would have submitted anything no matter how well my work suited the topic.

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