22 thoughts on “Nine Men discuss the semantic pragmatic distinction

  1. And your point is?

    The fact that lots of women are working in this particular area is, in an of itself, irrelevant. The list of speakers doesn’t include either any Asians, Latinos, or African-Americans, and if someone raised that point, my reply would still be the same. When you are planning a workshop, the two main criteria to select invited speakers are (i) what they can contribute to the workshop, and (ii) whether your department actually has enough funds to pay for their travel and accommodation. The proportion of women or minorities, to the extent that someone raises that point, is considered a minor priority.

  2. Luis’ comment is hard to take seriously: People are invited from Europe and Israel, so the funds were there. As to the ability to contribute to the topic of the workshop, many if not most of the main contributions to the topic have been made by women. I suppose that the nine people invited were among the first if not the first to come to the mind of the organisers, and they were the people felt most keen to have. The organisers would have to lack self-awareness to a high degree not to wonder how come, given the state of the field and the major role women play it, that these people were all men, and not to consider that, independently of merit or contribution, name of men come more easily to their mind, feel like better choices, and so on; in other terms, an unconscious cognitive bias is a very plausible explanation.

  3. Luis, So let me get this straight: (1) women and minorities can apparently contribute nothing the the workshop, even though a number of them work in this area; and (2) McGill cannot afford to fund the travel accommodation for any women or minorities. Did I get that right? Finally, exactly by whom — and why — is the proportion of women or minorities “considered a minor priority”? Would it be by those whose presence is NOT considered to be “a minor priority”? See any problems there?

  4. How do you know that the organizers didn’t invite some female speakers but that they perhaps couldn’t make it or something? To conclude that there are some unconsciuous biases toward women or gender discrimination from the fact that the gender is not equally represented in the participants list is fallacious. Should we impose gender quotas?

  5. “The proportion of women or minorities, to the extent that someone raises that point, is considered a minor priority.”

    At least Luis is honest in reflecting the conscious attitudes of many colleagues. He’s simply stating and implying the obvious–if anyone was truly wondering where some of us get the notion that the profession is widely a hostile or indifferent place.

  6. This appears to be an also-ran workshop run by wannabes for their own political agendas probably to increase their stature in their own universities and departments. That’s, I imagine, their “major” priority. Not much else matters to folks like this.

  7. I understand the concerns, and share them, to a certain extent, but may I add a word as one of the organizers?Two out of the eight speakers who were originally invited were local people. Two out of original six non-local invited speakers were women, and, unfortunately, they had to cancel.

  8. As upsetting as this is to see, my concern doesn’t rest on the circumstances of this particular conference. I’d love to see some stats on the gender ratio of semantics PhDs granted and those presenting at conferences, either as invited speakers or through abstract review. Or those on job shortlists. If this past year and this past SALT is any indication, the problem is much larger than many think (especially given semantics’ esteemed foremothers).

  9. I absolutely agree with Rett. I worry that semantics has become complacent because so many of the big names in our field are women. In the department I graduated from, it has been many years, 6 in fact, since a woman has been granted a PhD with a semantics dissertation. Over that same time, 5 men have done semantics PhDs (and 4 of them hold tenure track positions). As Rett suggests, we need to figure out just how big of a problem this is for our subfield, and we shouldn’t be surprised to find out that it is, in fact, a big problem.

  10. So our social crusaders on the hunt for hidden biases & discrimination are wrong after all? They really amaze me with the ease with wich they speculate without a shred of evidence about other people’s biases neglecting, perhaps, biases of their own: the bias, for example, toward thinking that unequal representation of some group is evidence of some bias or discrimination. I guess that they assume that their good intentions and commitment to their causes absolve them from the very same standards of evidence that they normally aspire to.

  11. Thanks to Luis for the information that the initial plan was to invite 6 men and 2 women, and that, after the two women declined,three more men were invited. Better than inviting nine men to start with, but certainly not representative of the state of the field. Possibly representative of a smaller group within the field sharing the goal of extending the methods of formal semantics to pragmatics and that happens whether by chance or for more interesting reasons to be mostly male. As to Al’s comment (leaving aside the personal sneers that don’t need answering), there is plenty of evidence of a gender bias in scholarships, with the sex ratio being ever more favourable to men as one goes up the hierarchy. This blog documents many wholly masculine conferences, so there is a pattern in which the McGill conference falls squarely. The criterion by the way is not, for me at least, parity but equity. So in a field such as pragmatics where there is at least as many women as men getting PhD, publishing and so on, equity should translate into, on average, equal representations. When variations are always or nearly always in the same direction, not only is this strong evidence of bias – of which there is so much independent evidence anyhow – but also it calls for a deliberate effort to restore equity. Inviting 25% women initially, and giving up inviting any when the two invited decline is not great, is it?

  12. Dan, men in US are struck by lightning 6 time as often as women although sex ratio is approximately 1:1. This statistical disparity is always or nearly always in the same direction. I gather that you will not conclude from this that this is strong evidence of „biased“ lightning. Critics of male-female unequal representation often ignore the most blatant fact about male-female differences: women have babies and, on average, invest more time and effort in their children than men do in theirs. So even if it’s true that in some fields there is at least as many women as men getting PhD, it doesn’t follow that we should expect equal gender representation in conferences, or otherwise conclude that there are some biases/discrimination that explain the disparity. Because they are the ones who carry the most of the burden of taking care of their children, women could be more reluctant than men to go on some far away conference. The fact that women, not men, give birth to babies means that their careers will have more interruptions and that their professional work may suffer more than men’s which could reflect on who gets more invitations. Now, I’m not saying that this explains the whole men-female disparity, I’m just saying the it doesn’t follow that equal PhD’s should translate into equal gender participation on conferences.

  13. Women “carry the most of the burden of taking care of their children”? Sounds like a bias to me. Maybe conferences should pay for child care at home. Or maybe conferences should punish the fathers who aren’t pulling their weight in child care by not inviting them. Not that these should-statements follow *necessarily* from any is-statements. But wait, back to is-statements: do women’s professional work actually suffer more than men’s? Dan Sperber’s initial comment argues otherwise.

  14. Let me just post part of my opening remarks from last year’s SALT (2012), hosted by the University of Chicago, as apropos: “We are also proud to have invited four renowned semanticists as our featured speakers this year, Paul Portner, Louise McNally, Anna Szabolcsi, and Jack Hoeksema. I’m sorry to have to say that Jack Hoeksema will not be here, due to a death in the family. The only silver lining from his absence that I can discern is that this SALT will now go down in history as the first SALT at which the majority of the invited talks were delivered by women, a historic first, to say the least, in a field that shares some roots with analytic philosophy.”

  15. The number of times we have to have the same argument over and over again is truly brain-bleedingly annoying and depressing.

  16. I am one of the organizers of the workshop and would like to add a clarification. Given that this may have created some confusion, please note that the first Luis who commented above is not Luis Alonso-Ovalle, another workshop organizer, who also posted a comment (under his full name).

    Also, I want to note that in the last two semantics events hosted at McGill, MOSAIC2 and TOM6 (http://mosaic2.wordpress.com/program/ and https://sites.google.com/site/tom6mcgill/), 3 out of 4 invited speakers were women. Usually we are very vigilant about gender ratio, though obviously not in this case. I think this website serves a good purpose, and is very effective in raising awareness, and we share the concern that this campaign addresses.

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