Implicit bias and the old boys’ network

Kieran Healy has dramatically demonstrated just how much women are left out of citation networks in philosophy. I think it’s vital to do some hard thinking about what this means and what we can do about it. One reason it’s vital is that citation rates DO get used in hiring, tenure and promotion decisions. We need to make sure that the Healy data don’t just get used as a nice list of who should be getting job offers from leading departments. We need to see the data as what they almost certainly are: an illustration of implicit bias in action. We don’t have direct evidence for this, but it’s exactly what we’d predict from what we know about implicit biases. Just as the first names to leap to mind for your conference (or syllabus) are likely to be male, the first names to leap to mind for your bibliography are likely to be male.

Prompted by Healy’s work, Ross Cameron’s been reflecting eloquently on this on Facebook:

Looked at the bibliographies in my papers for the last few years. In almost all of them, I have citations to women, BUT (i) they are significantly outnumbered, more so than I expected and (ii) it tends to be the same women I’m citing again and again (more so, I think, than that it’s the same men I’m citing again and again).

Just like many of us have been making a conscious effort to invite women to workshops etc, and trying to think outside the box about who to invite (“Oh, Katherine Hawley, Karen Bennett and Laurie Paul are all busy. Better just have an all dude metaphysics workshop then!”) it seems clear that we need to also concentrate on making a conscious effort to cite women and to think outside the box about who to cite.

I am lazy about scholarship, no doubt about it, but there’s no excuse for laziness if that means you’re contributing to injustice. Time for the Gendered Citation Campaign!

I hereby urge you all to go look at your bibliographies, and– even more importantly– make sure you actively think about what women you should cite in current and future papers. Also: speak up when people use citation data to argue against hiring or promoting a woman. Show them the Healy data, and talk to them about implicit bias.

UPDATE: And when you’re refereeing, have a look at the references. If the author is leaving out women who should be in, suggest that they add them.

4 thoughts on “Implicit bias and the old boys’ network

  1. Just to add something to the ‘lazy scholarship’ remark. What I have in mind is this: our professional culture is not demanding about scholarship, in the sense that you don’t need (in order to get published, have your work taken seriously, etc) to make explicit the complete history of ideas that lead to your thesis. That’s a good thing, I think. Most of us aren’t doing history, and it should be fine when that isn’t our goal to simply gesture at the recent inspirations for your ideas, or to use the ‘See X et al’ when all you want to do is acknowledge that some issue gets talked about elsewhere. So it’s not the laziness per se that’s a problem. It’s when we use this permissiveness in scholarship as an excuse to only cite the stuff that is most salient to us after a moment’s reflection: since that is exactly when implicit bias is going to kick in. So I think what’s important is that when we’re citing ‘X et al’, etc, we just put in a bit more work to think about whether there’s a woman we can cite.

  2. I think this is great advice. Two other things:

    1. Those in a position to advise graduate students should look at their students’ works cited pages and suggest additions and changes.

    2. We should be doing the same for racial groups underrepresented in philosophy. The list is pretty grim on that front too, from what I can tell.

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