Reflections on philosophical rudeness

Nomy Arpaly has recently initiated a really interesting discussion on this topic.  After an excellent discussion of the problems of philosophical rudeness (read it!), she ties the issue to gender.

I would like to add the following. I think the state of women in philosophy can be improved significantly simply through the elimination of rudeness in philosophical discourse. One can have many views about things we could or couldn’t do, should or shouldn’t do, to improve the state of women in philosophy, but before we settle those issues, why not start by doing what we already know that we have excellent reasons to do – utilitarian, Kantian, virtue-oriented, and commonsensical reasons, independent of any special feminist theory – and reduce our rudeness?

Here is how I think it will help. First, if everyone is rude, women are judged unfairly (as potential colleagues, for example) because rude women are treated more harshly than rude men, by everyone, due to implicit bias. Implicit bias is notoriously hard to change, but thankfully it is not as hard to change behavior – such as rudeness. I am not saying that we should not try to change implicit bias – of course we should – nor am I saying that changing behavior is easy (I have plenty of experience to the contrary), but you get my drift.

Second, in the actual world, polite women are also judged harshly when they respond to the rudeness of others. In a job interview, for example, a woman who faces a rude interviewer has the choice between responding assertively (and thus facing the notorious “shrill voice” bias) and responding gently. A woman who responds in a gentle, conciliatory manner to a rude interview question, or who looks too insecure and intimidated in response to the rude question, is often perceived by the some people in the room as not having enough to say. This whole painful catch-22 does not occur if the interviewer is not rude in the first place. Again, changing behavior is much easier than changing implicit bias.

Third, it has been said many times that women are put off by the idea of entering philosophy because girls are not taught to handle confrontational, adversarial situations, or situations where one’s abilities are judged harshly. Some think philosophy should change here – either through what I called “pacifism” earlier or through changing the way we evaluate people, or otherwise. Some, on the other hand, say that though the education of girls should change, philosophy shouldn’t. After all, girls and women play sports nowadays, and compete in athletics, and the ones who do most definitely don’t ask for the rules of rugby to be changed to make it kinder and gentler, or for boxing be made non-adversarial, or for the cruelty of publishing players’ stats to be stopped.

Me? All I want to do here is suggest that we try to eliminate what we already regard as foul play, what we already know we shouldn’t do but do anyway. It won’t solve everything, but if we reduce rudeness, I solemnly promise that more women will want to do philosophy. I hereby conjecture with confidence that the simple words “sorry, but you were saying-?”, can make a critical difference, consciously or not, to some young women’s readiness to do philosophy. It might sound silly, especially if one forgets how susceptible all humans are to seemingly insignificant factors, but it is not silly, but rather tragic, if we have lost some wonderful potential contributions to the field just because we couldn’t wait for someone to finish talking. It would show the wrong priorities if we continue to lose such wonderful contributions in the name of some supposed sacred right to be as obnoxious as we’ve always been.

For further reflections on philosophy and rudeness, inspired by Arpaly, check out Kieran Healy.

Implicit Bias and the Teaching Excellence Framework

The UK government has decided to hastily throw together a framework for assessing teaching quality, which will be linked to funding.  One key feature will be a heavy reliance on existing measures of student satisfaction like the National Student Satisfaction survey. Jules Holroyd and I have an article about this out in the Guardian today, drawing attention to worries about implicit bias in student satisfaction scores (though also noting other problems with these measures!).

Why do undergraduate women stop studying philosophy?

UPDATE: We’ve decided (in consultation with Morgan) that it would be a good idea to open discussion here as well, so we’re doing so.  Please do feel free to comment!


An important blog post by Morgan Thompson, about an important paper.

In early 2012, Toni Adleberg, Sam Sims, Eddy Nahmias, and I began a project to gather empirical support for explanations of the gender gap in philosophy, focusing on potential causes of the early drop-off of women in philosophy between initial courses and choosing to major, since research shows that this is the most significant drop-off. If the proportion of women majors remains stuck under 1/3, as it has been for decades (National Center for Education Statistics 2013), then it will remain difficult to improve the proportion of women graduate students and faculty.

Our paper describing our surveys, results, and suggestions is now published in Philosophers’ Imprint here. We hope people will find it useful, especially for generating more hypotheses, research, and solutions. Below, we offer a few highlights and welcome discussion here at Daily Nous.


Diversifying a Discipline

I haven’t been able to read this yet because it’s behind a paywall, but I’m going to find a way around that because it’s important.

In 2015, Penn State produced an unprecedented number of black, female Ph.D.s in philosophy. Here’s how.


Effect of gender role threat on vote preference

This is a really important finding, and indicates something that we will very much need to find a way to fight, should Clinton be the Democratic candidate.


 Volumes of research in sociology have shown how men respond to perceived threats to their masculinity: in the face of personal or societal threats to their masculine identity, some men become more likely to endorse anti-gay stances, pro-gun policies, or anti-abortion views…

In the study, a randomized experiment was embedded in an otherwise normal political survey of likely voters in New Jersey. Half of the respondents were asked about the distribution of income in their own households – whether they or their spouse earned more money – before being asked about their preference in the Presidential general election. The other half were only asked about the distribution of income in their household at the end of the survey. This question was designed to remind people of disruption to traditional gender roles, without explicitly mentioning Clinton or a female president, and simulate the sorts of subtle gender-based attacks that can be expected when Clinton is a general election candidate.

The effects of the gender role threat question are enormous. As Figure 1 shows, men who weren’t asked about spousal income until after being asked about the Presidential election preferred Clinton over Trump, 49 to 33. However, those who were reminded about the threat to gender roles embodied by Clinton preferred Trump over Clinton, 50 to 42. Concerns about gender role threat shifted men from preferring Clinton by 16 to preferring Trump by 8, a 24 point shift…

The case that this is really about Clinton’s gender, rather than her party is made clearer by the fact that the same experiment has almost no effect on support for Sanders in the match-up with Trump.

This seems pretty compelling, and very worrying.


CFA: Bias in Context: Psychological and Structural Explanations (Sheffield)

Bias in Context: Psychological and Structural Explanations
The University of Sheffield, September 5th & 6th.
Deadline: 1st May 2016

What is the relationship between psychological and structural explanations of persistent social injustice? Much empirical and philosophical work focuses on individualistic psychological explanations for ongoing injustice. Such explanations appeal to phenomena such as prejudice, implicit bias, stereotyping, and stereotype threat, in order to understand persisting inequities in a broad range of contexts, including educational, corporate, and informal social contexts.

A key challenge to this body of work maintains that the focus on individual psychology is at best obfuscatory of, and at worst totally irrelevant to, more fundamental causes of injustice, which are institutional and structural. Yet structural explanations face difficulties accommodating the extent to which individual agency is implicated in those problematic structures or institutions. Nor are they well placed to articulate how individual agency might be directed towards changing these structures.

The aim of this interdisciplinary conference is to examine the relationship between psychological explanations and structural explanations of injustice. This work will generate more fully worked-out understandings of the interaction between these two kinds of explanation. These understandings can inform both future empirical study, institutional policy, and individual and collective action.

This conference is the second of four anticipated events on this theme (Cal Poly Pomona, May 2016; The University of Sheffield, September 2016; Sheffield, January 2017; The University of Utah, October 2017) in order to develop sustained attention to these questions.

Confirmed speakers, September 2016:
Dr Alex Madva (Cal Poly Pomona)
Professor Jennifer Saul (University of Sheffield)
Dr Joseph Sweetman (University of Exeter)
Professor Nicole Tausch (University of St Andrews)
Dr Robin Zheng (University of Cambridge)

We invite submissions of abstracts (1500 words) on the themes of the workshop. We encourage submissions from postgraduate or early career researchers. We in particular welcome submissions from individuals who identify as members of under-represented groups. Funds are available to support the travel and accommodation costs of speakers. Papers should be prepared for anonymous review, and submitted via by the 1st of May 2016. Submissions should be made to Andreas Bunge, postgraduate organisational assistant:

The venue of the workshop is accessible. More details about the conference room and venue can be found here:
Specific accommodation needs that are not already met by the venue can be detailed on our online registration form (details of which to follow). We hope to be able to assist with childcare costs, if needed. Please contact the organisers to make enquiries. Our aim is to plan the conference in a way that permits all participants to enjoy the full benefits of participation. Further inquiries about accessibility can be made to conference organizers at the addresses listed below or, if preferred, directly to the venue (contact details are at the link above).

This event is sponsored by The Society for Applied Philosophy, The Mind Association, and The Analysis Trust, as well as the University of Sheffield.

The full program and registration details will be available by 31 May.
For further details or enquiries please contact the organisers:
Dr Erin Beeghly,
Dr Jules Holroyd,

Gender Bias in Academia: some recent studies

A useful annotated bibliography of some key recent studies.


Here’s one that I hadn’t known about that sounds really interesting.


Gender bias against women of color in science
“Double Jeopardy? Gender Bias Against Women of Color in Science”
Center for WorkLife Law | 2014

In this report, Joan C. Williams, Katherine W. Phillips, and Erika V. Hall revisit and build upon the classic 1976 study, “The Double Bind: The Price of Being a Minority Woman in Science.” Their study finds that the four most common practices of gender biases in the sciences are: 1) women have to provide more evidence than men in order to be seen as equally competent; 2) women are caught between the perceptions that science requires masculine qualities and the cultural imperative to appear feminine; 3) “the maternal wall”: the assumption that women lose their competence and commitment after they have children; 4) the fact that women as well as men can be biased against women in masculine work environments. These conditions are exacerbated in STEM environments, practitioners of which often view their disciplines and practices as highly meritocratic. In addition, the dearth of women in STEM fields exacerbates the pernicious effects of tokenism. The report details how these biases function in different ways in relation to black, Asian-American, and Latina women, and how their experiences of bias in fact exceed the limits of these four categories. The report concludes with a list of best practices to implement when recruiting hiring, promoting, and tenuring women of color scientists.



#oscarssowhite: did you watch the show?

I warily watched the opening ceremony, and felt some relief that Chris Rock managed to call out at least the implicit racism (“the sorority racism:  we really like you but you are just not a kappa”) in Hollywood.  Every once in a while I turned the TV back on:  racism was a major topic.

here’s the transcript of Chris Rock’s opening monologue.

  1. The NY Times chief films critics discussed the ceremony here.  The beginning of their discussion:

MANOHLA DARGIS Our national nightmare is over: The 2016 Academy Awards are history. They were also history, too, just because for a few minutes Chris Rock tore the smiling mask off of the industry. Unlike most Oscar hosts, who just have to ease us through another grindingly dull show, he had a tough job Sunday night because everyone knew he had to confront #OscarsSoWhite, which he initially did pretty brilliantly.

Because while at first it seemed as if Mr. Rock was going to go easy on the room, with soft laughs about the “White People’s Choice Awards,” you could feel the room begin to cool when he started dropping words like “raping” and “lynching.” Rarely have the cutaways to the audience seemed as surreal. It was as if a chasm had suddenly opened between this single black performer and all those increasingly uneasy white people. The industry likes to obscure its racism and sexism, but its inequities and hollow insistence that the only color it cares about is green have become untenable as more people speak out. So, I don’t know about you, but I enjoyed watching that room squirm.

Ideology and bias


Ideology is a key factor in determining how people assess the credibility of scientific researchers, according to a new UBC Sauder School of Business study.

People who tend toward an elitist world view are more inclined to judge white male researchers as more credible, while people who ascribe to egalitarian beliefs are the opposite: they’re more likely to judge women or people of colour as more credible researchers.

For more, go here.