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.