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.]


  1. Without getting into specifics, I would say that several books on the list exceed the significance of some of the books that won recent awards. (Impact is a little harder to judge -- I don't know how the committee judges it, but as far as I can tell, a number of the books listed have already had a signficant impact).

  2. There has been such an enormous discussion surrounding, e.g. 'Every Thing Must Go', that I struggle to see how there could be a clearer impact and significance. It makes me wonder whether some of the mentioned candidate books, such as the one by Ladyman and Ross, have been ruled out because they're not entirely in the remit of 'philosophy of science', but are rather bordering on metaphysics and/or epistemology as well. That would be very strange and arbitrary though.

  3. I nominated Samir Okasha's book in 2007 but oddly it did not win until someone else nominated it the next year. In a previous year I nominated Don Ross' book on the foundations of economics. That was not seen by the advisory panel since apparently a committee only sends them a subset of those nominated. In my view, Maudlin's book is far above the standard required for award of the prize as are several of the others listed but my natural modesty and discretion forbids me from further specificity.

  4. I was baffled by the Lakatos Committee's decision as any number of the books on that list so clearly meet the relevant criteria and could stand alongside previous winners. But its a bit like the Booker - these committees reflect very personal interests and worldviews. And in the end, when it comes to the impact and significance of the likes of Everything Must Go, what was it that Mao said about the French Revolution ... ?!

  5. Steven omits to mention that his book with Decio Krause Identity in Physics would have been another worthy winner.

  6. oops i thought krause and french was a 2005 book. sorry steven! i'll include it as soon ad i get my hands on a computer. (not going to try from my iphone!)

  7. It turns out I cannot add French & Krause to the poll! Sorry Steven!

  8. Van Fraassen has won before. I suspect they have a policy (perhaps unofficial) of not re-awarding the prize to the same person.

  9. I guess Chris is right, but, since he won 25 years ago, I don't see why he couldn't win again if his book was deemed to meet the Award standards. It would seem a better outcome.

  10. Steven French's Booker comparison prompts me to suggest: maybe what we're seeing here is not the result of a committee united in thinking none of the nominated works worthy of an award, but rather the result of a passionately split committee unable to agree on a winner.

  11. Moments later, I notice that Mohan Matthan had already made my suggestion at NewAPPS...

  12. The committee appointed selectors. If the prize wasn't awarded, then it must be because the selectors wrote negative reports on the books shortlisted. You don't appoint selectors to then bypass their judgment and ignore the reports they've written.


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