Friday, December 16, 2011

Title bout, round two

My manuscript on natural kinds is in the hands of the publisher. It will, in due time, be one of the first books in Palgrave's series New Directions in Philosophy of Science.

It was to have been titled Carving up the world: Scientific enquiry and natural kinds, but yesterday I learned about a just-published collection of essays titled Carving nature at its joints: Natural kinds in metaphysics and science. The collection from MIT Press includes a wide range of essays from the 11th Inland Northwest Philosophy Conference, so it really isn't direct competition for a focused monograph on natural kinds. Yet the title, as my publisher says, is "a little close for comfort."

In short, I need a new title.

Brainstorming this morning led to the following list, plus others too terrible to record. Do any of these sound like books you would want to read?

1. Planets, mallards, and other natural kinds

2. Natural kinds and the structure of the world

3. Pragmatism, realism, and natural kinds

4. What about natural kinds?

5. Science, philosophy, and natural kinds

[Cross posted. Feel free to respond wherever.]

Sunday, November 20, 2011

And the Winner of the 2011 (Unofficial) IOAT Readers' Choice Book Award is...

With 139 votes cast and 14 more preferences than its closest competitor, the inaugural (unofficial) It's Only A Theory Readers' Choice Book Award goes to (drumroll):

Tim Maudlin!

for his 2007 book 'The Metaphysics Within Physics'!

Congratulations, Tim!!! Unfortunately for Tim, the Award is just for the glory (and I'm afraid not even much of that. I bet he won't put it on his CV.)

(For those of you without any sense of humor or much common sense, please let me clarify that I do realize that this is not a serious book award and that I do not mean our little poll to replace the judgement of the Lakatos Award's committee. Also, I'd like to apologize again to the many people whose books I failed to include in the poll (and, in particular, to fellow bloggers Steven French (for his 2006 book with Decio Krause Identity in Physics) and Eric Winsberg (for his 2010 book Science in the Age of Computer Simulations [shoot!!! this is worse than teaching logic! How many parentheses do I need to close now???]))) [That should do it. Can't be bothered to check :-)] 

For the record, these were the numbers (the percentages don't add up because voters could choose multiple options):
1. Maudlin (2007)  38 (27%)
2. Wimsatt (2007)  24 (17%)
3. Ladyman & Ross (2007) 22 (15%)
4. van Fraassen (2009) 20 (14%)
5. Wilson (2006) 17 (12%)
6.  Bokulich (2008) 13 (9%)
7. Chakravartty (2007) 10 (7%), Craver (2007) 10 (7%) Douglas (2009) 10 (7%)
8. Mitchell (2009) 7 (5%)
9. Snyder (2006) 2 (1%)

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Should the Lakatos Award Have Been Awarded?

UPDATE:  The poll is now closed. 11% of the 139 voters agreed that the Lakatos Award should have not been awarded. (Let me note that I take the outcome of this vote for what it is and it's no ground to criticize the outcome of the LA. I was only curious as to see how many  readers of this blog agreed with the decision not to award the LA this year)

(Originally posted on Nov 12, 2011)

The Lakatos Award is arguably the most prestigious book prize for monographs in the philosophy of science broadly construed. As many of you already know, no Lakatos Award has been awarded this year. This is the statement that announces the decision:

The London School of Economics and Political Science announces that the Lakatos Award, of £10,000 for an outstanding contribution to the philosophy of science, will not be awarded in 2011.
The Management Committee for the Lakatos Award has considered the reports from the Selectors on the books shortlisted for the 2011 prize. While there is no doubt that all of the shortlisted books have their virtues, and that some make weighty contributions to the field, the overall view taken by the Management Committee on the basis of the Selectors' reports is that none quite meets the level of impact and significance required to merit the Award; and consequently no Award will be made this year.
Many, including me, found this decision somewhat surprising, for many important and interesting philosophy of science books have been published in the last five years. The following are a few examples (Aside from a few additions I made, the list draws on a post by Eric Schliesser at NewAPPS and the comments to it. Please let me know if there are any other glaring omissions, as I'm sure there are [UPDATE: Unfortunately it turns out I can no longer add titles to the poll. SO I apologize for any omissions]).
  • Bokulich (2008) Reexamining the Quantum-Classical Relation: Beyond Reductionism and Pluralism
  • Chakravartty (2007) A Metaphysics for Scientific Realism: Observing the Unobservable
  • Craver (2007) Explaining the Brain: Mechanisms and the Mosaic Unity of Neuroscience
  • Douglas (2009) Science, Policy, and the Value-Free Ideal
  • Ladyman and Ross (2007) Every Thing Must Go
  • Maudlin (2007) The Metaphysics Within Physics.
  • Mitchell (2009) Unsimple Truths: Science, Complexity, and Policy 
  • Ruetsche (2011) Interpreting Quantum Theories
  • Snyder (2006) Reforming Philosophy: A Victorian Debate on Science and Society
  • van Fraassen (2009) Scientific Representation: Paradoxes of Perspective
  • Wilson (2006) Wandering Significance An Essay on Conceptual Behaviour
  • Wimsatt (2007) Re-engineering philosophy for limited beings: piecewise approximations to reality
I'd be curious to hear what readers of this blog think. Should any of these books have won the 2011 Lakatos Award or was the committee right in claiming that 'none quite meets the level of impact and significance required to merit the Award'? I opened a poll where you can cast your vote.

[ADDENDUM: in order to compare "the level of impact and significance" of the above books to that of past winners of the Lakatos Award here is a list of the last five winners of the Lakatos Award:

2010: Godfrey-Smith, Darwinian Populations and Natural Selection),
2009: Okasha, Evolution and the Levels of Selection,
2008: Healey, Gauging Wat's Real
2007: No Award Made (Interestingly Okasha's book had already been published in 2006 so either it had not been nominated in 2007 or it was judged not to have met "the level of impact and significance required to win the award" in 2007)
2006: Brown, Physical Relativity and Chang, Inventing Temperature.]

Friday, November 18, 2011

Sorry, Catarina!

I believe that people should apologize for their mistakes. So, in order to be coherent with my principles, I should apologize for making some unfair remarks about Catarina Dutilh Novaes (in reply to some of her comments in a recent highly-charged thread). I now regret having made those remarks and I'd like to take them back publicly and offer my sincere apologies to Catarina. I would also like to apologize to the other contributors and the readers of this blog for failing to live up to its standards as both a contributor and an administrator. Finally, I would also like to thank Catarina for being so gracious about all this and to fellow contributor Mohan Matthen for helping me to see the error in my ways. I will now remove the incriminated comments (as I would have done if someone else had made them).

Sorry, Catarina! (and no more late-night blogging for me!)

Thursday, November 17, 2011


Helsinki, 14-16 June 2012

The Finnish Centre of Excellence in the Philosophy of the Social Sciences is delighted to host the 5th Models and Simulations (MS5) conference in Helsinki.

Conference website:

The previous MS meetings have taken place in Paris, Tilburg, Charlottesville, and Toronto. As before, the overall theme of the conference will be the philosophical and methodological issues of simulations and models, broadly construed.

Papers on any aspect of this theme are welcome from both philosophers and practicing scientists. One focus of the 5th meeting will be on models and simulations within and across the social sciences. Of course, submissions of papers related to the natural sciences in particular and modeling and simulating in general are also welcome. Possible topics include the following: Models, simulations, and scientific representation. Models, simulations, and scientific explanation. Fictions vs. idealizations. The role of simplicity, generality, robustness, unifying power, and other non-empirical epistemic virtues in modeling. Styles and conventions of modeling in different disciplines. Transfer of model templates and modelling methods across disciplinary boundaries. What kinds of inherent biases do model-based research heuristics involve? What standards should be used in assessing model-based expertise in policy applications? How to combine different sources of evidence within a model? How to render model-based evidence commensurable with other evidence?

Keynote speakers

•       Rosaria Conte (ISTC-CNR, Rome)
•       Mary Morgan (LSE)
•       Tim Benton (Leeds)


Abstracts of 100 words and extended abstracts of 800-1000 words

The deadline for submission is 5 February 2012

Abstract submission is electronic. To submit, please prepare a PDF file of your extended abstract. Make sure that the extended abstract is prepared for blind review. Then follow this link:

If you do not already have an EasyChair account, you first need to create one when you enter the site. When logged in, click on the new submission link. Include your 100 words abstract and upload the PDF file of your extended abstract. You will be able to revise your submission any number of times before the deadline.

For further information and inquiries, please contact

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

New Comments Policy

While most philosophy blogs have adopted stricter comments policies in the last year or so, until today I have tried to resist the trend here at IOAT. Unfortunately, as of today, I have decided that comments moderation is the way to go after all.

The plan is to publish most comments from people who sign their comments and provide a valid URL of their academic homepage unless they fail to meet the standards all contributions to a healthy debate should meet. The bar will be significantly higher for anonymous and pseudonymous commenters.
Please note that I have no intention of using this as a tool for censoring comments I do not agree with insofar as they meet the above-mentioned standards. In fact, please note that my approving a comment for publication does not in any way imply that I agree with the comment in question.

If other contributors to this blog want to adopt a different comments policy for some or all of their posts, please do let me know by e-mail.

I am really sorry it had to come to this but I'm just tired of dealing with trolls of all shapes and sizes.

Monday, November 14, 2011

On John Symons' Resignation from EiC of Synthese*

[NOV 16, 2011 UPDATE: As Gregory Wheeler points out in the comments below, as of today (November 16), there is an official announcement on the Synthese website that says among other things that John Symons "has decided to step down in 2012"]

I don't know if the news is in the public domain yet (it's not on their website), but, as journalists would say, I learned from "an extremely reliable source" [NOV 16, UPDATE: the source has now been revealed by Gregory Wheeler in comments to be Symons himself] that John Symons, one of the Editors in Chief of Synthese during the Synthese Affair, has resigned from his position as EiC. I do not know if this has anything to do with the way the crisis that followed the publication of the special issue 'Evolution and Its Critics' was handled by the other two Editors-in-Chief and by Springer but, given the evidence available to me, I find it hard to believe that it doesn't.

When I first heard of the scandal, I was very surprised that things had been handled so badly by a journal that was well-known for being well-managed and efficient, especially because Symons had always come across as a great and professional EiC in all my dealings with him. As more evidence came in, it became clearer and clearer to me that Symons had actually been sidelined by the other two EiCs. His resignation seems to confirm my suspicions.

In any case, Symons should be congratulated for the excellent job he did at Synthese in the years preceding the Affair and, if as I suspect and as it seems to be confirmed by his resignation, he played a marginal role in the Affair, that editorial debacle should not cast any shadow on his many years of excellent service.

I have claimed in the past that Synthese is headed towards losing its status as a truly international journal and to become more and more a journal for formal philosophers working in continental Europe. Unfortunately, this new development seems to confirm my prediction, as Synthese has now lost its only Editor-in-Chief who did not work out of a very specific geographic region.

(Btw, despite my being quite vocal about boycotting Synthese, it's nice to see that they still invite me to referee papers for them! But as I said, thanks, but no thanks!)

* The original title of this post was 'Synthese Editor-in-Chief Resigns!!!' and was (a seemingly failed attempt at) a joke on sensational news titles. Since some readers took exception to the title, in order to avoid any further misunderstandings, I decided to change it.

City University of New York to turn into a glorified high school

City University of New York’s Chancellor Matthew Goldstein is about to turn the prestigious system of senior and community colleges into a glorified high school. And few people seem to even want to try to stop him. This is bizarre, as Goldstein is a CUNY graduate himself and has been credited with major accomplishments since he took the lead at CUNY in 1999 (e.g., he raised admission standards, created the William E. Macaulay Honors College, and the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism).

Goldstein has recently begun what is known as the “Pathways to Degree Completion” initiative, which is being quickly rammed down the throats of the faculty members at all CUNY Colleges, in blatant disregard of faculty governance, interfering with curricula and the structure of majors, and possibly resulting in the elimination or great reduction of entire departments, mostly in the humanities (beginning with foreign languages, arts, assorted studies programs, history, and philosophy). The science and math requirements also are being reduced to ridiculous minimum common denominator standards, all in the name of increasing the graduation rate and decreasing the time to graduation of CUNY students — apparently the only currencies understood by the inept (to say the least) State legislators up in Albany.

According to CUNY’s central administration official mantra, Pathways is “designed to create a curricular structure that will streamline transfers and enhance the quality of general education across the University.” In reality, it will do little in the way of the first goal, and achieve exactly the opposite as far as the second goal is concerned. The centerpiece of this stunning coup that Goldstein and his associates are perpetrating on a system of 23 campusesserving 480,000 students is a reduction of the General Education requirements from above 50 credits (out of 120 necessary for graduation) — which is typical across CUNY’s senior colleges — to 30. Because, you know, our students already have far too much general education.

More specifically, Pathways is about to force the Colleges to adopt a common “required core” of 7 credits in English composition, 4 in mathematical and quantitative reasoning and 4 in life and physical sciences, accompanied by a “flexible core” of 15 credits distributed among very rigidly defined areas that include “world cultures,” “US experience and its diversity,” “creative expression,” and “individual and society.” This sounds good only until you realize that the individual Colleges are already requiring all of the above and then some, and that the core structures will severely limit the flexibility of the Colleges to establish their own curricula.

One of the major positive features of CUNY is that it is a system, where a student can go from community college to 4-yr college to Masters to PhD for comparatively little money and getting a pretty darn good education. Within the system, the individual colleges operate as quasi-independent laboratories of higher education, constantly trying different things, competing for admissions, and cross-fertilizing each other through a variety of instruments, including the inter-college disciplinary councils. Goldstein’s idea is not only a solution in search of a problem, it will essentially destroy what makes CUNY such an extraordinary place for both faculty and students.

The Chancellor and his hand-picked, faculty governance independent “task force” are moving at great speed, for instance allowing only two weeks to the Colleges to respond to the Pathways proposal (and, rumors have it, being prepared to reject pretty much any substantive counterproposal they may receive). By comparison, Harvard took two years to develop its GenEd curriculum...

Of course, there has been some resistance to this egregious abuse of power. The cross-CUNY Councils of a number of disciplines have met and asked the administration to reconsider. The Philosophy Council, on which I serve, for instance, has passed a resolution where it “urges the Board of Trustees to defer action on the current proposed framework and undertake to address the problems of degree completion and course transfer through a careful and consultative process that is better suited to the complexity of the issues, and in keeping with the principles of faculty governance.” We received no answer at all.

Hunter College, one of the most prestigious institutions within CUNY passed the following resolution, back in October:

“We, the undersigned Chairs and Program Directors of the Hunter College School of Arts and Sciences, oppose the process and implications of the Pathways Project proposal. While we all recognize the need to address the issue of student transfer policies, this proposal as it is being implemented will reduce the overall quality of a CUNY education and will erase the unique identity of its individual colleges. It lowers the standards of science and mathematics programs at a time when the U.S. is falling behind in these areas. It dilutes the rich liberal arts offerings of our college. Furthermore, in an increasingly globalized world, we do not see how CUNY can justify eliminating foreign language requirements and imposing curriculum changes that would undermine the value of pluralism and diversity. By undermining the expertise of CUNY faculty and our right to determine curricula, the Pathways Project will erode the national reputation of the university. Our goal is to offer the highest quality education to all of our students, not just the fastest and easiest path to a degree.”

As far as I know, this also was met with stone silence. Various bodies at the College of Staten Island have also issued anti-Pathways resolutions. Here is the one passed by the College’s General Education Committee (approved with no dissenting votes):

“The breakneck pace of the deadline Pathways imposes on CUNY Colleges and the Colleges' governance committees makes it impossible for such a radical change of our general education program to be given proper analysis and evaluation. Despite its best efforts, the General Education Committee has not been able to give due consideration to even this first stage of the Pathways master plan under this kind of pressure. The timetable would oblige the General Education Committee to overstep its bounds of authority by having it make major curricular decisions without guidance from the Departments, Curriculum Committees, and the Faculty Senate. We have been made aware that the student government and a growing majority of departments have made known their opposition to Pathways on pedagogical, social, legal, and ethical grounds in formal resolutions. For these reasons, the General Education Committee of the College of Staten Island believes the Pathways Proposal should not be implemented unless it is ratified by all of the CUNY Colleges in accordance with their governance procedures on curricular change.”

Again, nothing happened in response. The latest to act has been Queens College, whose Senate passed the following strongly worded resolution (just before releasing this I found out that Lehman College's Senate also approved a very similar document):

“Whereas the problem of improved student transfer facilitation, for which we recognize a need, can be addressed without the imposition of a standardized new curriculum on the colleges of the City University and

Whereas the Pathways initiative has shown a disregard for the legally defined and traditional rights of faculty governance over curriculum and

Whereas the imposition of a curriculum by a board of trustees, contrary to the national best practices of curricular reform, will make CUNY an outlier in the educational community, and so will erode the national reputation of the university and

Whereas Pathways would substantially cut the general education curriculum and devalue our students' education and the reputation of Queens College and the City University of New York and

Whereas Pathways undermines the College's stated goal in the strategic plan of ;advancing the schools academic programs; and

Whereas Pathways threatens to make the College less able to recruit and retain outstanding scholars due to its devaluing of the curriculum and undermining of shared governance and

Whereas the disregard shown to the faculty in the Pathways planning process undermines the College's stated goal of; building a culture of community;

Therefore the Academic Senate of Queens College concludes that the Pathways to Degree Completion Initiative cannot be redeemed by minor changes to its individual components and rejects Pathways on pedagogical, intellectual, and legal grounds.”

Despite these and other voices of dissent (including Brooklyn College), what is stunning is the inaction or complete silence by two other outlets that should obviously be deeply involved or interested: the faculty union and the local press.

PSC-CUNY (the Professional Staff Congress) has vaguely motioned toward the idea that what Goldstein & co. are doing (and the Board of Trustees has recklessly and hastily approved) may be in violation of faculty governance (you think?) and that the union will consider the possibility of legal action (consider? Why didn’t they file a suit immediately to stop the darn thing in its ill conceived tracks?).

What about the press? Ah, there too the silence is almost complete, and thereby all the more infuriating. WNYC, the local NPR affiliate, has a single entry on the matter, penned by education reporter Beth Fertig back in May (!!). It’s a good piece, but there has been no follow up since. As for the New York Times, I seem to remember something appearing during the spring, but I’ll be darned if I can find it on their web site, regardless of which combination of “CUNY,” “controversy,” “curriculum,” “transfer students” and “Pathways” I put in. Now, how is it possible that the leading newspaper and the leading radio news station in the city have been almost completely ignoring a huge controversy that is about to wreck New York’s largest institution of higher education, and which is going to impact, as I said, almost half a million New Yorkers and their families? If I were a bit paranoid I’d suspect political collusion, but it is as likely to be sheer indifference or incompetence.

So, dear readers, since few seem to want to do something about this mess, perhaps you can help stopping this train wreck of a reform by forwarding this post, or better yet by writing a brief note, directly to the people who ought to be interested and pay attention:

Chancellor Goldstein.
* CUNY’s Board of Trustees.
* The University Faculty Senate.
* CUNY’s Union.
* The New York Times “news tips.”
* WNYC education reporter, Beth Fertig.

And whoever else you may think appropriate. Thank you.

Friday, October 21, 2011

PhD & Postdoc opportunities at Kent

Postdoctoral Research Associate
£30,870 starting salary + annual increments.

PhD studentship
Fees paid + an annual maintenance grant of £13,590 per annum for three years.

1st May 2012 – 30 April 2015
Philosophy Department, University of Kent

To work with Prof. Jon Williamson on a project to research the relationship between Bayesian epistemology and inductive logic, funded by the UK Arts and Humanities Research Council.

The Postdoctoral Research Associate will focus on the development of a particular inductive logic, analysis of its key properties, and the development of computationally tractable methods for performing inferences in the inductive logic. This will require some familiarity with probability and logic. Programming competence would also be desirable. Applicants will be expected to hold a PhD on a related topic in mathematics, computing, philosophy or a related subject.

The PhD student will focus on the question of whether the resulting inductive logic survives a number of philosophical critiques. This will require competence in philosophical argumentation and knowledge of epistemology and elementary logic. Applicants will be expected to hold a Master’s degree, and a Bachelor’s degree at class 2(i) or higher; at least one of these degrees should be in philosophy.

Information about the project and application process is available at

The deadline for applications is 15th December 2011.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

CFP: 9th Annual Formal Epistemology Workshop

We are happy to announce that the Ninth Annual Formal Epistemology Workshop (FEW 2012) will be held in Munich, May 29 - June 1, 2012. This year's meeting is sponsored by the Munich Center for Mathematical Philosophy. The meeting will take place at the (stunningly beautiful) Nymphenburg Palace (compliments of the Carl Friedrich von Siemens Foundation).
Confirmed invited speakers include: Cristina Bicchieri, David Christensen, Igor Douven, Sarah Moss, Eric Pacuit, Rohit Parikh, Jeff Paris, Paul Pedersen, Wlodek Rabinowicz, Charlotte Werndl, and Robbie Williams.
We are accepting submissions for contributed papers. The deadline for submissions is January 15, 2012. Notifications will be sent out by March 15, 2012. Please send submissions to Branden Fitelson. A selection of papers presented at FEW 2012 will be published in a special issue of Erkenntnis.
Some funding will be available for graduate student participation. Please contact Hannes Leitgeb for more information.
There will be two special (afternoon) sessions at this year's FEW. The first will be a special session on Logic & Rationality, which will include talks by David Christensen and Robbie Williams, and the second will be a memorial session for Horacio Arló-Costa, which will include talks (pertaining to Horacio's various seminal philosophical contributions) by Cristina Bicchieri, Eric Pacuit, Rohit Parikh, and Paul Pedersen.
We will also have two (two part) tutorials, presented by Jeff Paris (inductive probability), and Charlotte Werndl (determinism, indeterminism, and underdetermination).
This year's local organizers are Hannes Leitgeb, Florian Steinberger, Vincenzo Crupi, and Ole Hjortland.
FEW 2012 is being funded by the Munich Center for Mathematical Philosophy.

Call for Book Proposals: Experimental History and Philosophy of Science

Paolo Palmieri and I are starting a new book series with the University of Pittsburgh Press. Please, contact us if you have book suggestions.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Another Philosophy Jobs Site: PhilJobs

We had none, now we have two and they are both amazing!!! Open-access philosophy job listings, that is. Alongside Phylo Jobs (check out the new features, btw!), now we have PhilJobs (courtesy of David Bourget and David Chalmers).
The next step now is to replace first-round interviews at the Eastern with either Skype interviews or straight on campus interviews and the dysfunctional APA will have be made completely irrelevant.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Spreading the word on a new jobs board.

Given what a disaster the APA website has turned out to be this year, I think its worth publicizing a new place to advertise philosophy jobs. Most of you have probably seen this already, but I think the more places it is posted, the better. Copying from The Philosophy Smoker:

David Morrow, who is awesome, writes:

Chris Sula and I have revamped the Phylo site to create an actual jobs board to (ahem) supplement the JFP. The URL is the same as the old wiki: As of today, we'll start accepting job postings in that space from departmental representatives only. Following Harry Brighouse's advice, we'll also require a link to an external site (e.g., an announcement on the department's web site) to verify each post's authenticity. We're moving the job wiki to People will still be able to post unofficial updates there. We're still in the process of updating the wiki software to play nicely with the jobs board, but it will be up well before anyone needs to post status updates. In the meantime, watch the main jobs board to find out about job openings..

Sunday, September 18, 2011

The Conclusion of the Kanazawa Affair

The LSE internal review into Satoshi Kanazawa's controversial blog post (which we discussed here and here) is finally concluded. The findings (and a letter of "apology" from Kanazawa) can be read here. The report states, among other things that
some of the arguments used in the publication were flawed and not supported by evidence, that an error was made in publishing the blog post and that Dr Kanazawa did not give due consideration to his approach or audience
some of the assertions put forward in the blog post were flawed and would have benefited from more rigorous academic scrutiny
and that
the author ignored the basic responsibility of a scientific communicator to qualify claims made in proportion to the certainty of the evidence.
As a result of these findings LSE has taken disciplinary action against Kanazawa:
In particular, Dr Kanazawa must refrain from publishing in all non-peer reviewed outlets for a year. Further, he will not be teaching any compulsory courses in the School for this academic year. 
Somehow the school thinks that these measures will ensure that
an incident of this nature does not happen again.
I don't know what readers of this blog who followed this story think, but as far as I am concerned this is an egregious example of too little too late and I really can's see how the measures put in place by the school can stop a repeat offender like Kanazawa, whose modus operandi crucially involves making outrageous and divisive claims on the basis of very little or no evidence evidence for the purpose of presumably getting some press attention, from offending again. What do others think?

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Evolutionary Psychology and Philosophy of Biology

Philosophers of biology often have a very dim view of evolutionary psychology, and evolutionary-psychology bashing has been a successful cottage industry.

I have been unimpressed by many of these criticisms, in part because of the feeling that the critics of evolutionary psychology were very poorly informed about what evolutionary psychology was. Imo, many of them simply have no serious acquaintance with the field they are criticizing.

But, so far, my reaction was just that: an opinion, a feeling. Not anymore.

In a forthcoming article ("An evidence-based study of the evolutionary behavioral sciences" in BJPS), Kara Cohen and I have provided support for this impression. using a new tool: quantitative citation analysis. We show that the usual, very negative characterization of evolutionary psychology is largely mistaken, and that philosophers of biology have been fighting a strawman.

It is also noteworthy that quantitative citation analysis could be particularly useful for philosophers of science who want to add quantitative tools to their toolbox.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

New Journal: The Journal of Causal Inference

We are pleased to announce the launch of the Journal of Causal Inference, a new
journal dedicated to building a rigorous cross-disciplinary dialogue in causality.

Existing discipline-specific journals tend to bury causal analysis in the language
and methods of traditional statistical methodologies, creating the inaccurate
impression that causal questions can be handled by routine methods of regression
or simultaneous equations and glossing over the special precautions demanded
by causal analysis. In contrast, Journal of Causal Inference highlights both the
uniqueness and interdisciplinary nature of causal research. The journal serves as
a forum for the growing causal inference community to develop a shared language
and to study the commonalities and distinct strengths of their various disciplines’
methods for causal analysis.


Journal of Causal Inference encourages submission of applied and theoretical work
from across the range of rigorous causal paradigms.

In addition to significant original research articles, Journal of Causal Inference also

1) Submissions that synthesize and assess cross-disciplinary methodological
2) Submissions that discuss the history of the causal inference field and its
philosophical underpinnings
3) Unsolicited short communications on topics that aim to highlight areas
of emerging consensus and ongoing controversy, or to bring unorthodox
perspectives to open questions
4) Responses to published articles in causality

To read more about JCI, including our aims and scope and editorial board
membership, please visit our website:

Papers can be submitted electronically at:

The first issue is planned for Fall 2011.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Philosophy of Science in the Latest Journal Citation Reports

On 28 June, Thomson Reuters released the 2010 edition of their Journal Citation Reports. The Social Science Edition contains a category for History and Philosophy of Science (for those interested, there's also a category for Ethics). Unfortunately, the coverage of journals specialising in philosophy of science is fairly incomplete, though it does include the three most important general journals. Here is the data for those journals:

Title JCR Data EigenfactorTM Metrics
Total Cites

548 0.829 1.299 0.564 39 6.5 0.00151 0.439

767 1.048 1.146 0.161 31 >10.0 0.00139 0.434

1648 0.602 0.931 0.044 68 >10.0 0.00191 0.281

1471 0.676 0.783 0.063 142 >10.0 0.00250 0.199

For those unfamiliar with the metrics, here is a brief overview. Impact Factor measures the frequency with which an average article from the preceding two years was cited in a given year. So the data above reflects the average citations in 2010 to papers published in 2008 and 2009. 5-year Impact Factor is just what you would expect—the same but for the preceding five years. Immediacy Index is the average number of citations by articles published in some year to articles published by the journal in that year. Cited Half-Life is the median age (in years) of the articles cited in a given year. The Eigenfactor metrics are more complicated. Eigenfactor (E-Factor) is a measure that weights citations by the influence of the journal measured by citations, similar to the way Google's PageRank orders the influence of webpages. Influence (Infl) is a measure of per-article impact, similar to Impact Factor.

Some initial comments on these results:
  • Overall the Cited Half-Life figures, which are high, resemble the other humanities disciplines more than they do the sciences. To take some sample contrasts—linguistics, mathematical physics and biology tend to have journals with cited half-lives of less than 10 years, while history tends to have journals with cited half-lives of more than 10 years. (Biology and Philosophy looks like an exception, but I think the lower figure is an artifact of the fact that it only started publishing in 1986).
  • BJPS and PoS have more dissimilar 2-year impact factors than they do 5-year impact factors. I conjecture that this is because there are more replies and discussions in BJPS than in PoS.
  • I'm impressed by the performance of B&P, especially the high Immediacy Index. I conjecture that this is because it contains a large number of fora on books and target papers.
  • EigenFactor is friendlier to Synthese than are the JCR metrics. This suggests that while Synthese is cited less overall than the others, it is cited more in the more important venues.
Here are some journals that it would be good to see indexed in future:
  • Biological Theory
  • European Journal of Philosophy of Science
  • Foundations of Physics
  • International Studies in the Philosophy of Science
  • Metascience
  • Mind and Language
  • Philosophy and Theory in Biology
  • Review of Philosophy and Psychology
  • Science and Education
  • Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part A
  • Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part B: Studies in History and Philosophy of Modern Physics
  • Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part C: Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences
No doubt I've forgotten some others, and some are too new to have two years of data to draw on. Of course, what would be really nice is a category dedicated to philosophy journals overall.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

The meaning of “theory” in biology

by Massimo Pigliucci
So, I’m spending a long weekend at the Konrad Lorenz Institute for Evolution and Cognition Research (KLI), where I have co-organized (with Kim Sterelny and Werner Callebaut) a workshop on the meanings of “doing theory” in biology. The basic idea is to ask questions about the (large and diverse, as it turns out) variety of activities that go under the rubric of theoretical biology, how they relate to each other, and what it is they are trying to accomplish.
My own talk got things started by highlighting some recurring trends in biological theory, and proceeding to discuss examples of different ways of engaging in theoretical biology. Let’s start with the trends. A pretty obvious and long-standing one is represented by what I think of as an obsession on the part of some biologists and philosophers of science to look for “laws” in biology. The literature is fascinating, but I am ultimately unconvinced that there are any such things as biological laws. Hell, I don’t think there are laws in physics, necessarily (only empirical generalizations). I think a good argument can be made that this search for biological laws is the result of the idea (put forth with the complicity of early 20th century philosophers of science) that physics is the “queen” of sciences, and since it always strives for the broadest possible generalization (of which laws are the epitome), then biology has to do the same in order to be taken seriously. I sincerely hope we are getting away from that kind of thinking and toward a more flexible and pluralistic way of what it means to do good science.
The second trend I noticed is more recent, though related, and it deals with attempts at producing “general” theories within the biological sciences. One of the best examples is Stephen Hubbell’s “unified neutral theory of biodiversity and biogeography,” or Sam Scheiner’s “conceptual framework for biology.” The first one is an attempt to set a general null hypothesis for community structure in ecology, while the second is an ambitious attempt at nothing less than the biological equivalent of a theory of everything. I tend to be skeptical of these grand plans as well, in Hubbell’s case because I don’t really have a high opinion of null hypotheses to begin with (and because data can too easily fit a null model even when there is quite a bit going on in the system), in Scheiner’s case because I think of “biology” as an inherently heterogeneous discipline that is ill suited to grand unifying schemes. But, of course, I could be wrong.
The central part of my talk — which was meant to be introductory to the workshop — quickly surveyed various modes of doing theory in the biological sciences, all legitimate in their own right, though of course all characterized by specific limitations and interesting problems.
To begin with, there are classical mathematical-analytical models, often explicitly inspired by theoretical physics. Fisher’s fundamental theorem of natural selection is an obvious example, and so is the Hardy-Weinberg “law” (really a mathematical truism that can be applied to describe the genotypic frequencies of a population at equilibrium if no evolutionary processes are at work disturbing that equilibrium). Typically, these models are rigorous but quickly become intractable because the number of variables affecting actual biological systems is very large.
Which brings us to the second type of modeling, statistically based (the analogy with physics here would be models in, say, statistical mechanics). This is the realm of quantitative genetics, where parameters such as means, variances and covariances are used to describe both the current state and foreseeable future of evolving populations. Quantitative genetics is extremely valuable for descriptive purposes but, I have argued in print, much less so as a predictive or explanatory approach to understand long-term evolutionary processes. Which doesn’t mean there aren’t people who (sometimes vehemently) disagree with me...
The third type of theoretical biology is the one relying on intensive computer modeling (the equivalent in physics here would be, say, climate science models). There is an increasingly fascinating literature using this approach, for instance Sergey Gavrilets’ modeling of very highly dimensional “adaptive landscapes,” or Andreas Wagner’s models of the relationship between robustness and evolvability — two fundamental properties of evolving biological lineages that are playing an increasingly significant role in what some of us refer to as the ongoing Extended evolutionary Synthesis.
Finally, there has always been a role in biology for conceptual/verbal theorizing, beginning of course with Darwin’s own “long argument” in the Origin, and continuing with the foundational books that established the Modern Synthesis during the 1940s. This non-mathematical approach, however, also includes visual models like those predominant in molecular biology — think of the kind of diagram used to summarize complex data sets concerning metabolic pathways and gene networks. Part of this heterogeneous group are also verbal/visual models of how the bio-physical properties of living cells and tissues generate organismal form, as in the work of Stuart Newman and Gerd Muller.
The very last part of my talk was then devoted to the role of philosophy of science in its particularly incarnation as — in the felicitous phrase by Hasok Chang — “the continuation of science by other means.” According to Chang, history and philosophy of science, besides being independent disciplines in their own right, can interface with science itself in the pursuit of common knowledge objectives. Chang calls this “complementary science” that “identifies questions that are excluded by specialist science. ... The primary aim of complementary science is not to tell specialist science what to do, but to do what specialist science is presently unable to do. It is a shadow discipline, whose boundaries change exactly so as to encompass whatever gets excluded in specialist science.” Examples in the philosophy of biology include discussions of species concepts and the ontological status of “species,” the role of alternative (epigenetic) systems of inheritance in evolution, and analyses of the logical structure and foundations of evolutionary theory.
Below is a brief rundown of the full list of speakers and topics featured at the workshop. The proceedings will be published either as an MIT Press volume or as a special issue of the journal Biological Theory.

Bruggeman, Frank
Netherlands Institute for Systems Biology
Systems biology and the meaning of “theory”
Callebaut, Werner
Konrad Lorenz Institute
What does it mean to do theory in biology?
Cleland, Carol
University of Colorado
Is a General Theory of Life Possible: Understanding the origins and nature of life in the context of a single example
Collins, Jim
Arizona State University
Role of theory in biology
Depew, David
University of Iowa
Rhetoric of evolutionary theory
Griesemer, Jim
University of California at Davis
Conceptual foundations of the “inexact” sciences
Gross, Lou
University of Tennessee
Selective Ignorance and Multiple Scales in Biology: Deciding on Criteria for Model Utility
Hammerstein, Peter
University of Berlin
Evolutionary game theory and the interface between evolution and economics
Kaplan, Jonathan
Oregon State University
Social impact of scientific theorizing
Leonelli, Sabina
University of Exeter, UK
Is there a difference between data-drive and theory-drive research?
Longino, Helen
Stanford University
Sociology of scientific theorizing
Love, Alan
University of Minnesota
Theory is as theory does...
Millstein, Roberta
University of California at Davis
Population genetics as the theoretical backbone of evolutionary biology?
Pigliucci, Massimo
City University of New York
Toward a broader concept of “theory”: back to Darwin?
Roughgarden, Joan
Stanford University
What might a general theory of ecology look like
Sterelny, Kim
University of Wellington, Victoria, NZ
Controversial theories in biology
Vorms, Marion
Institut d’Histoire et de Philosophie des Sciences et des Techniques
Theorizing and representational practices in Classical Genetics