Thoughts from the Public Philosophy Network 2018 Conference

First, I’ve been away from my own blog for far too long. My apologies. Second, no more ‘Press This’?! Ugh. So, here is a LINK to the full program of PPN 2018.

Most of these thoughts were generated during the workshop run by Paul Thompson on day 1 on ‘Evaluating Public Philosophy as Academic Scholarship’. This issue is important for everyone who would like to see public philosophy succeed; but it is vitally important for those of us on the tenure track, since not being able to evaluate public philosophy as academic scholarship often means that it is reduced to a ‘service’ activity. Service, of course, is seen as even less important than teaching, which is often seen as less important than research. This hierarchy may be altered at small liberal arts colleges or others that put special emphasis on teaching. Generally speaking, though, one’s research rules in tenure decisions. I’ve never heard, or even heard of, any advice along the lines of ‘Do more teaching and publish less’ or ‘make sure you get on more committees or peer review more journal manuscripts’. Whereas ‘Just publish more’ is something I hear frequently.

So, it’s vitally important to be able to evaluate public philosophy as academic scholarship.

I want to add that, although many of these ideas were not my own and came from group discussion, I am solely responsible for the way I put them here. I may mess up, but no one else should be blamed for my mistakes. What follows isn’t quite the ‘Survival Guide’ that Michael O’Rourke suggested developing. Instead, it is a list of things I (and perhaps others) would like to see coming from PPN. (This may change what PPN is, of course. Can a network that meets once in while provide these things?)

We need:

  1. A statement on the value of public philosophy as academic scholarship. [EDIT: The expression of this need came up at the workshop, but no one there mentioned that such a statement already exists HERE from the APA.  Thanks to Jonathan Ellis and Kelly Parker for help in finding it! Apologies to APA for my ignorance.]
  2. A list of scholarly journals that are public philosophy friendly (i.e., where one can submit and publish work that includes public philosophy). The list would need to be curated so that new journals can be added and old ones removed when they fit or don’t fit the bill.
  3. A list of tools for making the case for the value of public philosophy. I have in mind things like altmetrics (see HERE or HERE or HERE), but it could also include building capacity among a set of potential peers who could serve as reviewers for public philosophy scholarship.
  4. Of course, developing a cohort of peers will mean developing a set of community standards for what counts as good public philosophy. I wouldn’t want that imposed from above (somewhere?) and think this will arise naturally if we are able to foster the development of the community.
  5. Some sort of infrastructure for networking. It’s supposedly a network, right? Is there anywhere people can post profiles?
  6. A repository of documents related to promotion and tenure in public philosophy. Katie Plaisance described how she developed a memorandum of understanding detailing the fact that her remarkably collaborative work deserved full credit as research, despite the fact that she works in a field that seems to value sole-authorship to the detriment of collaborative research. Katie was awesome and said she would share that document with me. But what if she (or everyone) who did smart and cool things like this to help guarantee their ability to do public philosophy had a central repository where all these documents could be posted for everyone to view and use? What if departments that have good criteria for promotion and tenure — criteria that allow for or even encourage public philosophy as scholarship — could post them on such a repository as resources for others?
  7. Leadership! Developing and maintaining these (and no doubt others I’ve missed) resources will require leadership, and maybe even money.

I’d be interested in thoughts on this list, including things you think should be added to it.

Modernising Research Monitoring in Europe | Center for the Science of Science & Innovation Policy

The tracking of the use of research has become central to the measurement of research impact. While historically this tracking has meant using citations to published papers, the results are old, biased, and inaccessible – and stakeholders need current data to make funding decisions. We can do much better. Today’s users of research interact with that research online. This leaves an unprecedented data trail that can provide detailed data on the attention that specific research outputs, institutions, or domains receive.

However, while the promise of real time information is tantalizing, the collection of this data is outstripping our knowledge of how best to use it, our understanding of its utility across differing research domains and our ability to address the privacy and confidentiality issues. This is particularly true in the field of Humanities and Social Sciences, which have historically been under represented in the collection of scientific corpora of citations, and which are now under represented by the tools and analysis approaches being developed to track the use and attention received by STM research outputs.

We will convene a meeting that combines a discussion of the state of the art in one way in which research impact can be measured – Article Level and Altmetrics – with a critical analysis of current gaps and identification of ways to address them in the context of Humanities and Social Sciences.

Modernising Research Monitoring in Europe | Center for the Science of Science & Innovation Policy.

Publishers withdraw more than 120 gibberish papers : Nature News & Comment

Publishers withdraw more than 120 gibberish papers : Nature News & Comment.

Thanks to one of my students — Addison Amiri — for pointing out this piece by @Richvn.

Feature: The REF – how was it for you? | Features | Times Higher Education

Feature: The REF – how was it for you? | Features | Times Higher Education.

How journals like Nature, Cell and Science are damaging science | Randy Schekman | Comment is free | The Guardian

These journals aggressively curate their brands, in ways more conducive to selling subscriptions than to stimulating the most important research. Like fashion designers who create limited-edition handbags or suits, they know scarcity stokes demand, so they artificially restrict the number of papers they accept. The exclusive brands are then marketed with a gimmick called \”impact factor\” – a score for each journal, measuring the number of times its papers are cited by subsequent research. Better papers, the theory goes, are cited more often, so better journals boast higher scores. Yet it is a deeply flawed measure, pursuing which has become an end in itself – and is as damaging to science as the bonus culture is to banking.

via How journals like Nature, Cell and Science are damaging science | Randy Schekman | Comment is free | The Guardian.

Thanks to my colleague Diana Hicks for pointing this out to me.

The last line of the quotation strikes me as the most interesting point, one that deserves further development. The steering effect of metrics is well known (Weingart 2005). There’s growing resistance to the Journal Impact Factor. Although the persuasive comparison between researchers and bankers is itself over the top, the last line suggests — at least to me — a better way to critique the reliance on the Journal Impact Factor, as well as other attempts to measure research. It’s a sort of reverse Kant with an Illichian flavor, which I will formulate as a principle here, provided that everyone promises to keep in mind my attitude toward principles.

Here is one formulation of the principle: Measure researchers only in ways that recognize them as autonomous agents, never merely as means to other ends.

Here is another: Never treat measures as ends in themselves.

Once measures, which are instruments to the core, take on a life of their own, we have crossed the line that Illich calls the second watershed. That the Journal Impact Factor has in fact crossed that line is the claim made in the quote, above, though not using Illich’s language. The question we should be asking is how researchers can manage measures, rather than how we can measure researchers in order to manage them.

Peter Weingart. Impact of bibliometrics upon the science system: Inadvertent consequences? Scientometrics Vol. 62, No. 1 (2005) 117-131.

Peter Higgs: I wouldn’t be productive enough for today’s academic system | Science | The Guardian

To what degree is quantity being substituted for quality in today’s research assessment exercises? This strikes me as a symptom of the overvaluation of efficiency.

Higgs said he became \”an embarrassment to the department when they did research assessment exercises\”. A message would go around the department saying: \”Please give a list of your recent publications.\” Higgs said: \”I would send back a statement: \’None.\’ \”

via Peter Higgs: I wouldn't be productive enough for today's academic system | Science | The Guardian.

Thanks to Lance Weihmuller for pointing me to the article.

AIBS Public Programs — Faces of Biology

The contest was an opportunity for members of the scientific community to showcase the broader impacts of the biological sciences, including informing natural resources management, addressing climate change, and advancing foundational knowledge. The photos will be used to help the public and policymakers to better understand the value of biological research and education.

AIBS Public Programs.