Thursday, January 29, 2009

New PGR Ranking of Philosophy of Science Faculties

A couple of weeks ago Brian Leiter has published a sneak-peek of the 2009 PGR ranking of the top 11 faculties in general philosophy of science in the English-speaking world here. The most surprising result is that Group 2 has expanded from 2 faculties in 2006 (LSE and Irvine) to 10 faculties in 2009 (LSE and Irvine plus Oxford, Columbia, Rutgers, UCSD, Western, Carnegie-Mellon, Madison and Michigan, which were all in Group 3 in 2006). How do you interpret this and what if any is the significance of this change? And how seriously should prospective PhD students interested in philosophy of science take this ranking?


  1. Looking a bit more closely it looks like what's happened is that the top people have moved down a bit. Pitt, which was "5" in '06, is now top at 4.5, and LSE and Irvine, which were second at 4.5, are now down in the 4 group, while the 4 group has mostly stayed the same. This seems reasonable, given that Pitt lost a few philosophers of science, as did LSE. (I don't know about Irvine so much.) Michigan gained some of what Pitt lost, but Sklar is now over 70, I think, so this keeps Michigan in the 4 group. Looked at this way it seems to me to make pretty good sense and not be very mysterious.

  2. There is a small difference in the wording of the category that might make a difference. In 2006, the wording was something like 'Philosophy of Science (including, e.g. confirmation, realism, etc.)'. This left it ambiguous whether the category included areas like philosophy of physics and philosophy of biology that had separate specialty area rankings. The intention was not to include these (no specialty area in the PGR subsumes another area, although there are obviously some overlaps), but I suspect a number of evaluators did include these areas. In 2009, the wording was 'Philosophy of Science (excluding philosophy of the specific sciences)' which is less ambiguous. So this might have had some effect on the rankings.

  3. Matt,

    I didn't mean to suggest that the phenomenon is somehow mysterious--I was more curious of how people interpreted it. Your reading of it as a drop of the ranking of Pitt, LSE and Irvine is tempting (although it's tricky to read a drop in the absolute numbers from one PGR to the next as evidence of anything). But, if your interpretation is correct, this would mean that, e.g., Michigan dropped and I don't see why this would be the case (It's my understanding that Larry Sklar is still very active (am I wrong?)).


    I think you are right about the wording of the area in the 2006 PGR being ambiguous. But I still feel that the rankings sometime give credit in general philosophy of science for strength in philosophy of physics. I don't necessarily think this is a problem with the survy, but more that it reflects an "identity crisis" of general philosophers of science. (But this is going to have to be the subject of a future post).

    In any case Chris has really good advice for prospective PhD students who are interested in philosophy of science here:

  4. I agree that the rankings give a lot of credit for philosophy of physics and biology in the general philosophy of science rankings. I think this is reflected in Pittsburgh's receiving the top ranking in this category. I'm a Pittsburgh grad, and Pittsburgh remains a great place to do philosophy of science, but there is no one there who works primarily on general philosophy of science (confirmation, causation and explanation, realism, etc.) Of course John Earman and John Norton have both done work in confirmation, Sandy Mitchell has done work on laws, Ken Schaffner has done work on reduction, but I still don't think it compares to, e.g. CMU or LSE in terms of general philosophy of science.

    Of course it's often hard to separate general philosophy of science from philosophy of particular sciences. Some people do philosophy of physics in a way that connects centrally with issues in general philosophy of science (Nancy Cartwright, Sheldon Smith), while others do philosophy of physics that is driven primarily by problems that arise from the physics itself (John Earman, David Malament).

  5. I'm far from an expert (barely even an amateur!) in the philosophy of science so don't feel that I can make very good judgments about the quality of programs, but it actually seems that Michigan has gone up slightly since the '06 rankings- they were in the "4" group that time, but had medians and modes of 4 as well, while this time they are still in the 4 group but have medians and modes of 4.25. It seems to me that this would fit pretty well w/ the idea that they were credited some with the people they gained from Pitt (partly explaining Pitt's slight decline) while also set back a bit by Sklar's being older. As for that, it seems quite reasonable to me to "dock" a program a bit for having faculty over 70, even when they are still productive, for just the reasons Brian Leiter notes it anyway- the purpose of the Gourmet Report is to help people decide where to go to grad school, and it's less reasonable to pick a department where the most important people in an area are over 70, for obvious reasons, than one where they are younger. Give that, the changes seem completely straightforward and reasonable to me.

  6. I don't quite agree with Chris. One interesting element of comparison would be the number of courses in general philosophy of science offered in Pitt (HPS and philosophy), CMU, and LSE in any given year. Of course, there are some issues about what counts as a course in general philosophy of science (e.g., is a course in game theory or computability a course in general philosophy of science? I don't think so). But putting them aside, it seems likely that grad students are more likely to do more general PoS in Pittsburgh than anywhere else.

    Don't forget too that Pitt grads take classes at CMU too, and benefit from the visitors at the Center for Philosophy of Science


  7. Don't we have more serious topics to discuss than exegitical issues with respect to the PGR whose shortcomings are known to anyone in the profession?

    Zach Ernst's critique ( hits the nail on the head, as we say in German.