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Percentage of Women Graduating with Philosophy Degrees Increases

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 03/09/2021 - 5:42am in

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data, gender

In 2020, 39% of undegraduates leaving colleges with degrees in philosophy were women, up from 35% in 2017, reports Eric Schwitzgebel (UC Riverside).

At his blog, The Splintered Mind, Professor Schwitzgebel writes:

Women were very steadily 30-34% of Bachelor’s recipients in philosophy from 1987 to 2016. In 2017, they reached 35% for the first time. In 2018, 36%. In 2019, 38%. In 2020, 39%. Although this might seem like a small increase, given the numbers involved and the general slowness of cultural change, this constitutes a substantial and significant movement toward parity. This increase appears to be specific to philosophy. For example, it is not correlated with the percentage of women graduates overall which rose from 51% in 1987 to 57% in 1999 and has remained steady at 57-58% ever since.


from “The Philosophy Major Is Back, Now with More Women” by Eric Schwitzgebel

He notes that the trend is especially pronounced among those with philosophy as a second major:

Aggregating over the past four years of data (2017-2020), 42% of graduates with a second major in philosophy were women, compared to 36% of graduates whose only or primary major was philosophy.

More information here.

The vaccine passport debate reveals fundamental views about how personal data should be used, its role in reproducing inequalities, and the kind of society we want to live in

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 13/08/2021 - 3:06am in

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Featured, data

Helen Kennedy draws on evidence from the Living With Data survey to link public attitudes to data collection and use to views on Covid-19 vaccine passports. Finding widespread concern about the involvement of commercial technology companies in such initiatives and about the ways that data-driven schemes might deepen inequalities, she suggests there is an urgent … Continued

How Far Will White Christians Go to Maintain Power? An Interview with Robert Jones

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 21/07/2021 - 1:47am in

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Archive, data, Polls

Robert P. Jones is CEO and founder of the Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) and...

Philosophy Majors & High Standardized Test Scores: Not Just Correlation (guest post)

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 15/07/2021 - 1:33am in

You’ve probably heard that philosophy majors do well on standardized tests for admission to graduate and professional programs, such as the GRE, LSAT, MCATs, and GMATS. You’ve probably also heard the warning that correlation is not causation.

Is there a way to identify whether, and if so to what extent, studying philosophy helps students do better on these measures of academic skill? Thomas Metcalf, associate professor of philosophy at Spring Hill College, thinks there is, and gave it a try. He explains his findings in the following guest post*.


[ceramic chain sculpture by Cecil Kemperink]

Philosophy Majors & High Standardized Test Scores: Not Just Correlation
by Thomas Metcalf

Most of us have seen the data: philosophy majors perform very well on the GRE, the LSAT, the MCAT, the GMAT, and on acceptance rates to postgraduate study. Daily Nous itself helpfully collects some of the data. But as critics such as Bryan Caplan, Jason Brennan, and Phillip Magness have recently observed, it’s not clear how much of this result is a treatment effect and how much is a selection effect. Perhaps earning a degree in philosophy actually makes you a lot smarter. But perhaps it was only the smart students who decided to major in philosophy in the first place.

In order to know with high certainty whether studying philosophy makes you better at the GRE and other standardized tests, much less whether it makes you smarter, we’d have to run randomized, controlled trials, and even those wouldn’t be double-blind; after all, most students have a pretty good idea what their college major is. Therefore, the best we can do right now is to try to estimate how academically skilled incoming philosophy students are and compare that to philosophy graduates’ academic skills. To do so, we can survey SAT and ACT scores and compare those to GRE, LSAT, and GMAT scores, plus compare SAT and ACT scores to law-school and medical-school admission rates. If incoming first-year philosophers are only of average academic skill relative to their peers, but are of high academic skill relative to their peers when they graduate, then this is prima facie evidence that the graduates’ philosophy programs actually gave them those skills.

As we’ll see, despite some limitations and challenges, there is some evidence that this is in fact the case. In some areas, especially writing and reasoning, a philosophy education seems to create measurable improvements in academic skill versus most of the common majors.

Complications and Limitations

I decided to collect standardized-test and admissions-rate data as best I could. But let me admit to some complications and limitations of my approach.

  • Some sources lump together philosophy and religion, or philosophy and theology, etc., while others separate them. The same goes for other groups of majors. When I had to create an average for a combined program from two individual programs, I weighted it by population. For example, if there were 200 chemistry majors and 100 physics majors, and the chemistry majors average a score of 10 and the physics majors average a score of 8, I considered the “chemistry and physics” average to be (200 * 10 + 100 * 8) / (200 + 100), viz. 9.3.
  • The ACT, SAT, GRE, LSAT, and GMAT don’t try to measure exactly the same traits. The GRE, SAT, and ACT are fairly similar, at least. Where available and appropriate, I broke scores down by subject areas or subscores.
  • Some of the data come from different years. None of the ACT, SAT, GRE, and LSAT data are older than 2016. The ACT and SAT data are from 2016; the GRE data are from 2017-20; the LSAT and law-school acceptance rate data are from 2018-20. Thus, fortunately, the ACT and SAT data are a few years before the postgraduate tests, suggesting that the cohorts taking the pre-graduate tests are roughly around the same cohorts as those taking the post-graduate tests. The GMAT data are from 2001-05. The medical school acceptance-rate data are from 1998. The reason I have to use older data is that newer data cost money. For example, the American Association of Medical Colleges, which oversees the MCAT, wanted $500 to tell me the breakdown by major. So I just went with an older source about medical school acceptance rates by major. Go ahead and take that with a grain of salt. The source on the GMAT I found seems to cite reliable data, but I also don’t have the money to get up-to-date data directly from the GMAC.
  • In some cases, not all majors are available to measure. Fortunately, I was able to get data for most of the most-common majors, viz. arts (visual and performing); biological sciences; business; communications and journalism; education; engineering; English; English plus foreign languages; foreign languages; health sciences; legal studies; philosophy; philosophy plus religion and theology; physical sciences; biological plus physical sciences; social sciences; and social sciences plus law. Of course, I’ll label which are which below.
  • As noted, philosophy and religion are normally combined. Where we have separate data, philosophy usually slightly outperforms religion. So if philosophy-and-religion outperforms some average, then, a fortiori, philosophy probably outperforms that average. In any case, in what’s below, I’ll sometimes say “philosophy and religion” when I mean “philosophy and religion” or “philosophy and religious studies” or “philosophy and theology” or “philosophy, religious studies, and theology,” etc. It’s some combination of philosophy and theology or religious studies, unless I just say “philosophy” simpliciter, which excludes the other fields.
  • It’s worth adding that philosophy doesn’t greatly outperform religion on most of these. For example, in fine-grained major-lists, mainline “Philosophy” averages 160 Verbal, 154 Quantitative, and 4.4 Writing on the GRE. “Religion/Religious Studies” averages 158 Verbal, 151 Quantitative, and 4.3 Writing.
  • More generally, the results aren’t as probative with GMAT and med-school admissions, because certain majors are probably very over-represented among test-takers. Lots of different majors take the GRE, and a fair number take the LSAT, but presumably GMAT takers are dominated by business majors. So what looks like “How well do philosophy or religion majors do against the average GMAT takers?” is really more like “How well do philosophy or religion majors do on the GMAT against business majors?” Still, that sort of complication should be blunted because we’re still comparing philosophy and religion to a bunch of other non-business major fields of study. That is, if it were only philosophy and religion versus business, that would be one thing, but I also list the average contributions of several non-business majors too, and philosophy and religion still do very well versus the average test-taker (i.e., mostly business majors) than the other non-philosophy, non-religion, non-business majors do against the average test-taker (i.e., again, mostly business majors).
  • There are reasonable worries about bias in standardized tests. That’s a big issue, but at the very least, unless we think that some of these tests are more biased against some groups than others are, we can hope that the biases “cancel out.” That is, I’m not using standardized tests to predict how smart a student is; I’m using standardized tests to predict how good a student will be at (other, similar) standardized tests.
  • There are reasonable worries about the predictive power of these tests as well. This is an area of active research. The SAT and ACT, especially when combined with undergraduate GPA, show some predictive power about college success versus undergraduate GPA alone, and some of the allegedly debunking studies are arguably flawed. The GRE isn’t a great predictor of graduate school success overall, but sections of it do show some correlation with graduate-school success in the relevant subject area, especially when we set aside applied sciences–and applied sciences are a relatively small portion of what we’re trying to measure. The LSAT does provide some prediction of law-school success, though other factors provide better prediction. There is some positive relationship between GMAT scores and post-MBA pay, although it seems to be present at the holistic school level rather than among individual graduates. And, obviously, there is an association between being accepted to medical school and graduating from medical school. At the same time, it’s not obvious that people who tout the power of philosophy believe that philosophy’s main contributions are to graduate school success, law-school success, post-MBA pay, or medical school success.
  • We can also debate about whether the skills measured on these standardized tests are valuable in general.

Those are the main limitations of this research. And here’s one more limitation: I’m not a social scientist. Maybe there are better social scientists out there who can take this approach and make it more rigorous or probative. If so, I welcome their contributions to this exploration. I primarily wanted to see whether there were any interesting results and to initiate this conversation. And since measurable results matter to the kinds of people who make decisions about which programs to preserve, this is an important conversation to have right now.

Results

In this section, I’ll compare the “contributions” each major makes to each of the postgraduate examinations and admission rates. I’ll list the majors under consideration in the particular topic as well as philosophy-and-religion’s rank. For the raw data, see the Appendix.

Contributions versus the ACT

In the set of major fields of study comprising:

  • Arts (visual and performing)
  • Business;
  • Communications;
  • Education;
  • Engineering;
  • English and foreign languages;
  • Health sciences;
  • Philosophy and religion;
  • Sciences (biological and physical); and
  • Social sciences and law;

philosophy and religion or philosophy, religion, and theology (“P&R”) contribute the following values of percentage-points, and ranks, versus the average scores across all ten majors (see explanation below table on how to read it and subsequent tables; see the Appendix for a table comprising all those majors):

To GRE V
To GRE QR
To GRE W
To LSAT
To law-school admit rate
To GMAT
To med-school admit rate

P&R graduates vs. prediction from ACT scores
+4.29
-1.61
+19.09
+2.60
+6.75
+9.14
+33.21

Average contribution across 10 majors
-1.21
-2.65
+3.45
-2.14
-2.35
-2.64
+14.81

P&R vs. avg contribution
+5.49
+1.03
+15.63
+4.74
+9.10
+11.78
+18.40

P&R rank out of 10
2
3
1
3
2
1
1

Summary: Given what you’d expect from intended philosophy or religion majors’ ACT scores, actual philosophy or religion graduates do extremely well on the GRE Writing section, on the GMAT, and in medical-school admissions. (See Notes 1 and 2.)

How to read this table and subsequent tables: The columns represent the contribution to the verbal GRE score, the quantitative-reasoning GRE score, the GRE writing score, the LSAT, the law-school admission rate, the GMAT and the med-school admission rates.

The first row of data is the average (mean) contribution that actually getting a degree in philosophy or religion makes, in percentage points, to postgraduate tests, versus what we would expect from intended philosophy majors’ ACT scores. For example, studying philosophy and religion makes you score 19.09 percentage points higher versus the average. If intended philosophy-and-religion majors score 2% worse than the average ACT score, and they score 17.09% better than the average GRE Writing score, then the average contribution of studying philosophy is 19.09 percentage points.

The second row is the average contribution across all ten of the previously listed majors. For example, on average, studying one of those majors makes you drop 2.64 percentage points from the average GMAT score versus what your ACT would have predicted. Maybe the average among the listed intended majors is to do 4% better than average across all test-takers on the ACT but 6.64% worse than the average across all test-takers on the GMAT, or something like that. (Why would the average among these very common majors be negative? My guess is that “undecided” intended majors, and intended majors in esoteric fields, are generally more academically skilled than the average student is.)

The third row is how many percentage points philosophy and religion do better than the average across those ten majors. We just subtract the second data row from the first.

The fourth row is the rank for philosophy and religion out of those ten majors by the magnitude of its contribution. As you can see, philosophy and religion are the best out of the ten for the GRE Writing section, the GMAT, and the med-school admission rate. They’re very good everywhere else.

Contributions versus SAT Subscores

In the set of major fields of study comprising:

  • Arts (visual and performing)
  • Business;
  • Communications;
  • Education;
  • Engineering;
  • English;
  • Foreign languages;
  • Health sciences;
  • Philosophy, religion, and theology;
  • Sciences (biological);
  • Sciences (physical); and
  • Social sciences and law;

philosophy and religion or philosophy, religion, and theology (“P&R”) contribute the following values of percentage-points, and ranks, versus the average scores across all twelve majors:

GRE VR vs. SAT R
GRE QR vs. SAT M
GRE W vs. SAT W

P&R graduates vs. predictions from SAT scores
-3.71
-3.04
+13.33

Average contribution across 12 majors
-5.11
-3.09
+2.08

P&R contribution vs. average contribution across 12 majors
+1.40
+0.05
+11.26

P&R rank out of 12
5
6
1

Summary: Given what you’d expect from the SAT subscores of intended philosophy or religion majors, philosophy and religion graduates do slightly better than average on the GRE verbal and math sections, but extremely well on the writing section.

Contributions versus SAT Comprehensive Scores

In the set of major fields of study comprising:

  • Arts (visual and performing)
  • Business;
  • Communications;
  • Education;
  • Engineering;
  • English and foreign languages;
  • Health sciences;
  • Philosophy and religion;
  • Sciences (biological and physical); and
  • Social sciences and law;

philosophy and religion or philosophy, religion, and theology (“P&R”) contribute the following values of percentage-points, and ranks, versus the average scores across all ten majors:

Program
LSAT 2018-20 vs. SAT C
Law school 2018-20 vs SAT C
GMAT 2008-12 vs SAT C
Med school 1998 vs SAT C

P&R graduates vs. predictions from SAT scores
-2.41
1.74
+4.12
+28.20

Average contribution across 10 majors
-2.16
-2.38
-2.67
+14.18

P&R vs. avg contribution across 10 majors
-0.25
+4.11
+6.79
+14.02

P&R rank out of 10
5
3
1
1

Summary: Given what you’d expect from intended philosophy and religion majors’ SAT comprehensive scores, philosophy and religion majors do average on the LSAT, do well on law-school admission, and do extremely well on the GMAT and on med-school admission. (See Notes 3 and 4.)

Discussion So Far

Given what we would predict from ACT comprehensive-score results, philosophy and religion make a much-better-than-average contribution to all these tests and admission rates, including a huge contribution to GRE Writing and to the GMAT.

Given what we would predict from SAT comprehensive and subscore results, philosophy and religion make an average contribution to GRE Verbal Reasoning and Quantitative Reasoning, a huge contribution to GRE Writing, a large contribution to law-school admissions, a huge contribution to GMAT scores, and a huge contribution to med-school acceptance rate. (See Complications and Limitations above, of course.)

One common view says that the ACT is kinder to writing-oriented students and the SAT is kinder to math-oriented students. I don’t know whether that’s true, but if so, then the enormous gain to philosophy majors in the verbal and writing sections of the GRE versus the SAT is even more impressive.

Given the magnitude of some of these effects, and philosophy majors’ similar performance throughout the recent past (my GRE data are 2017-20 but similar data are available from e.g. 2015-18) I think “chance” is a poor explanation for philosophy majors’ overall performance on standardized tests and admissions. I think the two best explanations are “mostly a selection effect” (i.e., people who are already academically skilled choose to major in philosophy) and “mostly a treatment effect” (i.e., a philosophy education makes people a lot more academically skilled, at least in writing, law-school-relevant reasoning, GMAT-relevant reasoning, and maybe med-school-relevant qualifications). But, crucially, given that intended philosophy-and-religion majors aren’t that impressive relative to other intended majors, this is prima facie evidence that a substantial portion of the effect is treatment. In all likelihood, studying philosophy confers a non-negligible benefit to your GRE-Writing-related and your GMAT-related academic skills, and more of a benefit than most other majors would have conferred.

Objections and Replies

Some minor potential objections are already addressed in the “Complications and Limitations” section above. Here are some of the strongest objections.

Objection 1: “These are just intended majors at the time of taking the ACT or SAT, not necessarily the majors ultimately declared.”

Reply 1 to Objection 1: Yes, intended philosophy-and-religion majors are of lower than average likelihood of declaring the major that they claim to intend. Part of that effect may also be that the just-linked report included two-year colleges, and more generally, that many colleges don’t offer majors in philosophy and religion anyway. Thus the consistency between intending to major in philosophy or religion and actually majoring in philosophy or religion at a college that allows one to graduate with a degree in philosophy or religion is probably higher.

In any case, we’re not just comparing philosophy-and-religion to some other variable; we’re comparing all majors to each other. So even if philosophy-and-religion intended majors are less likely than average to stick with that major, then to maintain that average, some other set of students must be more likely than average to stick with their major, and so the relative performance of philosophy-and-religion is still significant. Students in general are about 56% likely to stick with the major they “intend” to major in. If you want to cut all of the net effects listed above by 44%, philosophy and religion still look very good. 

Reply 2 to Objection 1: Yet suppose we assume that all students who intend to major in X are only 56% likely to become actual X-majors. Even then, we can appeal to an analogue of Condorcet’s Jury Theorem: as long as reliability is at-least-somewhat more than 50%, and the sample is large enough, random noise will partially cancel out in the verdict. About 1.5 million people took the GRE in the period surveyed. And as noted, people are about 56% likely in general to stick with their intended major, at least when they enroll.

Yes, it’s possible that somehow, by pure coincidence, only academically skilled students switched into philosophy and only not-so-skilled students switched out, but there’s no particular reason to believe there will be a strong effect in any direction. The real-life magnitude of the effect won’t be as high as it appears when we ignore this complication, but it won’t be nothing.

Objection 2: “It’s not just that people might not major in what they intend to major in. After having taken a few college courses, students now have an idea of how difficult their originally intended major is. The academically skilled college students might actually be switching into philosophy and the academically unskilled students might be switching out of it. Hence, the GRE scores are higher than intended-philosophy-major SAT and ACT scores would predict–not because the students in the program took philosophy courses, but because skilled students (who didn’t originally intend to major in philosophy) switched in.”

Reply to Objection 2: Academic performance is one of the less-important reasons people choose majors. And college students do not perceive philosophy nor religion to be difficult majors. Even at selective colleges, philosophy majors report that philosophy is only somewhat more difficult than non-majors expect it to be, versus many other programs whose majors report that the program is much more difficult than expected. Religion is perceived by both non-majors and majors to be very easy, which is further evidence that unskilled students aren’t switching out of philosophy-and-religion programs. Philosophy majors’ GPAs are only about a fifth of a standard deviation lower than average. Religion majors’ GPAs are high. Populations of philosophy majors have been dropping a lot since the early 2010s and so philosophy departments face some selection pressure to attract more majors, potentially by ensuring that their program is easy. In contrast, they do not face pressure from outside accreditors to add courses to the major nor to prepare students for career-defining standardized tests.

We know that students enroll in humanities majors overwhelmingly because they enjoy those courses, and secondarily because they do well in those courses. In humanities relative to other majors, the latter is far more important. Thus, if we take humanities as a whole, this is further evidence that switching into humanities majors because the other major was too easy doesn’t occur, and switching out because the humanities major was too difficult doesn’t occur. Major switching mainly occurs because students enjoy the courses in their new major more, and partly also because they expect the new major to contribute to society. Humanities as a whole has the highest percentage of students switching in because they do well in those courses; if anything, this suggests that students who aren’t as academically skilled are switching into those courses.

Really, what the data tell us is that it’s mathematics and natural-sciences students who switch majors (i.e. out of math and science) more than anyone else, and it’s STEM students who switch out because the courses were too difficult. But arguably, if that were inflating philosophy’s numbers, it would show up in the quantitative-reasoning numbers. As the data presented herein show, intended math-and-science majors are far better at the math section of the SAT than the intended philosophy-and-religion majors are. Yet a philosophy education only makes an average contribution to quantitative-reasoning scores.

Moreover, of non-STEM fields, the most-common major-switchers are those who switch out of education. We know empirically (see table below) that intended education-majors are among the worst performers on the SAT and ACT, and so if people are switching out of an initially-declared education major into philosophy or religion, that would drive the performance of philosophy and religion majors down, not up.

We can also survey students who actively did switch majors. Those who switch out of humanities do not report having done so because those courses were too difficult. Yet a non-negligible portion of new humanities majors switched because the old major’s courses were too difficult. Again, if anything, this is evidence that less-skilled students switch into, not out of, humanities majors.

Granted, people tend to switch into humanities because they “enjoy” or are “interested in” the courses, while people tend to switch into non-humanities majors more often because they expect more pay or to contribute more to society. If enjoyment is a proxy for ease, then perhaps students who are very good at humanities are switching into humanities, while students who aren’t good at humanities are switching out. But that would be more likely to inflate the performance of the students in their undergraduate GPAs, not necessarily on the GRE and so on; the course content in humanities courses isn’t generally identical to GRE or LSAT content. Put another way, if students just enjoyed GRE content, then their switching into some major would inflate that major’s GRE scores. But students don’t report switching into humanities because those students enjoy GRE content.

Counter-Reply: “But maybe it was the intended math-and-science majors who were bad at math who switched out of those majors and into philosophy.”

Reply to Counter-Reply: The data (see below) suggest that intended math-or-science majors are so much better at math than intended philosophy majors are that even if the ones who are bad at math are switching into philosophy or religion, that should still be inflating philosophy and religion graduates’ math scores.

Objection 3: “Maybe the people who are interested in philosophy as SAT-takers or ACT-takers are the people who are primed to get the most out of a philosophy education.”

Reply to Objection 3: Presumably those who are interested in other fields as SAT-takers or ACT-takers are similarly primed, then, to get the most out of their fields. Yet they don’t get as much of a benefit.

Objection 4: “But maybe philosophy majors respond to teaching better than the average student does.”

Reply to Objection 4: If that’s itself a selection effect, then presumably we would have seen it reflected in ACT and SAT scores of intended philosophy majors, but we didn’t. If that’s a treatment effect, then philosophy is great: it produces students who respond better to teaching.

Counter-Reply: “But high-school courses don’t really teach the material on the SAT and ACT.”

Reply to Counter-Reply: By presumably the same reasoning, undergraduate courses, then, don’t really teach the material on the GRE or LSAT.

Objection 5: “Okay, but in the end, do we really want to tell lots more people to major in philosophy, just so they can get these dubious benefits of high performance on standardized tests?”

Reply to Objection 5: Well, it’s not just standardized tests: it’s admission rates as well. But yes, the opportunity cost of generating lots of philosophy majors might be high. I’m not claiming here that the GRE etc. measure anything valuable or worthwhile in terms of, e.g., the productivity of society or the expected, total, net hedons generated per hour of philosophy instruction. That’s a much larger conversation. But my results should give administrators strong reason to provisionally maintain the existence of philosophy departments (and perhaps to include philosophy courses among general-education requirements or core curricula), at least until better data are available.

Counter-reply: “Still, there’s such a low number of philosophy majors at most colleges that it’s not clear that a lot of good is being generated by having philosophy departments, at least in the area of general academic skills.”

Reply to Counter-Reply: My guess, although I don’t have data to back it up, is that training has diminishing marginal return. I would guess that you improve a lot more in the first 20 hours of studying the trombone than you do in the second 20 hours. So including philosophy among general-education requirements might do a lot of good. But if most of the improvement comes in later philosophy courses, maybe colleges should require lots of philosophy.

Counter-Reply: “But wait, by claiming there’s diminishing marginal return to studying philosophy, are you really saying you learned a lot more in your first four years of philosophy (i.e., undergrad philosophy) than you learned in your next four (i.e., in grad school)?”

Reply to Counter-Reply: No, but I studied way more philosophy by hours expended in grad school than I did in undergrad, and I studied it among much-better philosophers as my peers (viz., other grad students) than my peers in undergrad were. I also probably learned more philosophy in grad school, while I probably learned more general academic skills in undergrad philosophy courses. (My teachers in both undergrad at UW Seattle and in grad school at CU Boulder were excellent, by the way.)

Provisional Conclusion

The data we have suggest that a philosophy education makes an average contribution to verbal reasoning and to math skills, and a large contribution to analytic-writing skills and to the GMAT-relevant skills: chiefly writing and reasoning. The analytical-writing section of the GRE matches intended philosophy-education outcomes well. Interestingly, three of the GMAT’s four sections match the standardly advertised philosophy-education skills.

As noted, to get better data, we would need to administer something like the GRE to a large cross-section of first-year students, and then again to those graduating seniors, and see which majors or which selections of courses made the largest contribution. Another useful project would be to construct an analogue of the GRE that attempts to measure the main skills that are normally included in “general-education requirements” and administer that to all students as first-years and as graduates, trying to derive a correlation between the raw number of philosophy courses taken (regardless of major) and performance on this test. It would also be nice to administer a test to first-years and that test again when they’re seniors or graduates, and track these students longitudinally, associating their improvement as graduates versus first-years with how many courses from each discipline they took during their career. I think this is something the Department of Education has reason and the resources to do; one would hope that they’d be interested in the effects of taking different sorts of college courses. (Someone might worry that the results would be used to cut certain departments’ budgets. I take that seriously, although I also think that if high-quality research shows that philosophy is useless with respect to some goal, then we should at least stop requiring or encouraging philosophy as a way of satisfying that goal.)

I don’t have the money to perform any of the high-quality research I’ve outlined. Maybe the APA, at least, should invest some money running some versions of some of these studies. Given what I’ve presented here, there’s reason for some optimism about the results. From what I can tell, philosophy programs actually make their students smarter in measurable ways.

NOTES

  1. For GMAT data, replace “visual and performing arts” with “fine arts,” “communications” with “journalism,” “health sciences” with “medicine/nursing”; and “physical sciences” with “the average of biology, chemistry, and physics.” The latter is not weighted by population, since I didn’t have those data available. Still, since physics tends to outperform biology and chemistry in these sorts of tests, yet comprise far fewer majors, this helps “physical sciences” versus the average and correspondingly harms “philosophy and religion” in relative terms.
  2. For med-school admission rate, replace “health sciences” with “the average of the scores of biology and biochemistry,” replace “physical sciences” with “the average of the scores of chemistry and physics,” replace “English and foreign languages” with “English,” replace “social sciences” with “history,” and replace “philosophy and religion” with “philosophy.” I grant that this may distort the results, so I don’t put a lot of weight on these data. Also, not all of these ten majors are represented in the med-school admission-rate data; see the full table in the Appendix. So it’s not a rank “out of 10” here.
  3. For GMAT data, replace “visual and performing arts” with “fine arts,” “communications” with “journalism,” “health sciences” with “medicine/nursing”; and “physical sciences” with “the average of biology, chemistry, and physics.” The latter is not weighted by population, since I didn’t have those data available. Still, since physics tends to outperform biology and chemistry in these sorts of tests, yet comprise far fewer majors, this helps “physical sciences” versus the average and correspondingly harms “philosophy and religion” in relative terms.
  4. For med-school admission rate, replace “health sciences” with “the average of the scores of biology and biochemistry,” replace “physical sciences” with “the average of the scores of chemistry and physics,” replace “English and foreign languages” with “English,” replace “social sciences” with “history,” and replace “philosophy and religion” with “philosophy.” I grant that this may distort the results, so I don’t put a lot of weight on these data.

Armed with New 2020 Election Data, What Should Democrats’ (Non-)Faith Outreach Look Like?

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 10/07/2021 - 5:03am in

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Book Review: What Do We Know and What Should We Do About Social Mobility? by Lee Elliott Major and Stephen Machin

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 26/06/2021 - 7:00pm in

In What Do We Know and What Should We Do About Social Mobility? Lee Elliott Major and Stephen Machin give an account of the long experience of social mobility in the UK, its barriers and a possible way out. Offering a strong base for those who are new to the subject and fresh viewpoints to those more well-versed in the … Continued

Book Review: The Crowdsourced Panopticon: Conformity and Control on Social Media by Jeremy Weissman

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 19/06/2021 - 7:00pm in

In The Crowdsourced Panopticon: Conformity and Control on Social Media, Jeremy Weissman explores the role of ‘peer-to-peer’ surveillance through social media and how this is increasingly shaping our behaviour. This is a welcome addition to the scholarly work on surveillance and privacy, writes Matt Bluemink, with a clear, approachable writing style and a wealth of empirical examples. This review … Continued

Philosophy Enrollment Grows — a Little — in Canada

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 16/06/2021 - 11:46pm in

While the total number of undergraduate philosophy majors in Canada is down since 2010, a recent bump and some anecdotal evidence has University Affairs reporting that “philosophy is having a moment.”

There has been a small bump in the number of philosophy majors, from 4,656 to 4,723 in the period from 2017/18 to 2018/19, reports Ian Coutts. That’s the latest period for which there is data, but Coutts reports on some developments at particular schools, including:

  • 17% increase in philosophy majors at the University of British Columbia since 2009
  • 23% increase in philosophy honors and majors students at the University of Alberta between 2014 and 2020
  • 16% increase in philosophy majors at McGill University between 2014 and 2019
  • 12% increase in the number of students taking philosophy courses in the last year at Athabasca University

Some schools have not seen an increase in philosophy students, such as the University of Calgary and the University of Montreal, but have been “holding steady” during a period of general decline in humanities enrollments.

The article does not specify whether other humanities disciplines at Canadian universities are also experiencing recent enrollment increases, so we don’t know if philosophy’s current “moment” is unusual among the humanities. Coutts, who has an MA in philosophy, thinks that there is something particularly appealing about philosophy to students today:

More than any other humanity subject, more than perhaps any other academic discipline, philosophy seems to match most successfully what might look like the seemingly incompatible concerns of young people today: the desire for material security, which has gotten a whole lot harder in the last couple of decades, and a deep-seated anxiety about the future of our world.

It may be that increased efforts by philosophy departments to counter stereotypes about the career prospects of philosophy majors (with information such as this or this or this or this), or perhaps philosophy’s increased visibility in popular culture (tv, podcasts, etc.) are helping philosophy’s image with students, but that is speculative at this point. Professional market research (“For philosophy?!” Yes.) might be useful.

Related: Facts and Figures About U.S. Philosophy Departments

How What It Is Like to Be a Woman in Philosophy has Changed over the Past Decade

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 04/06/2021 - 10:05pm in

How have things changed for women in philosophy over the past decade?

That’s the question Helen Beebee, professor of philosophy at the University of Manchester, takes up in a recent essay in The Philosopher’s Magazine.


[Chantal Joffe – “Poppy, Esme, Oleanna, Gracie, and Kate”]

Here are some of the positive developments she notes:

  1. It has become more widely known that women are underrepresented in philosophy.
  2. It has become more widely acknowledged that women’s underrepresentation in philosophy is a problem.
  3. There has been increased empirical research on women’s underrepresentation in philosophy at various levels (from becoming a philosophy major to article citation rates).
  4. There is active discussion over how to improve the representation of women in philosophy and their experiences in philosophy.
  5. Feminist philosophy has become mainstream.
  6. Women in the history of philosophy are getting more attention.
  7. The sexist and racist views of well-known philosophers are no longer automatically being ignored or downplayed.
  8. Philosophy seminars are less “incredibly aggressive”.
  9. There is better representation of women on syllabus reading lists.
  10. There is better representation of women as conference speakers.
  11. Childcare is more frequently offered at conferences.

The occasion for Professor Beebee’s refelections was the 10-year anniversary of the publication of a report she and Jenny Saul (Sheffield) wrote for the Society for Women in Philosophy (UK) and the British Philosophical Association entitled “Women in Philosophy in the UK“. The report looked at the number of women in philosophy in the UK at various levels. The two of them recently conducted the survey again. Here are the results, then and now:

% of the below categories who are women (UK)
2011
2021

Philosophy Undergraduates
44%
48%

Philosophy Master’s Students
33%
37%

Philosophy PhD Students
31%
33%

Philosophy Lecturers
26%
32%

Philosophy Professors
19%
25%

Professor Beebee says, “That’s not an earth-shattering improvement, but it’s definitely progress—and I’m optimistic that much more progress can be made.”

One thing Professor Beebee notes is that some of the problems, as well as some of the improvements, regarding the representation of, treatment of, and experiences of women in philosophy, are reflections of the broader culture:

In many ways, of course – philosophers are just people, after all; philosophy students are just students; and philosophy departments are just academic departments – you’d expect the obstacles to gender equality in philosophy to be pretty much the same as those facing wider society in general and universities in particular. Doubtless that’s true to an extent. For example, there’s no reason to think that sexual harassment is any more of a problem in philosophy than it is in any other male-dominated discipline; hence institution-wide approaches, if they work in general, ought to work in philosophy in particular. But even where a problem isn’t distinctively a problem for philosophy, it doesn’t follow that we can just leave the problem to Them Upstairs to sort out. 

You can read the whole article here.

I’d like to invite women in philosophy—students, faculty, and staff—to share their thoughts about Professor Beebee’s observations, and more generally about being a woman in philosophy, what has changed over the past decade or so, remaining issues and problems, possible strategies and solutions, and so on.

Comments on this post from women only, please. If you identify as a woman, you are welcome to comment on this post. If you don’t, please sit this one out. Thank you. Comments will be moderated to this effect, to the best of my ability. 

 

 

Results of the Philosophy of Science Association’s Climate Change Survey (guest post)

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 01/06/2021 - 5:00pm in

“There is a clear signal in these results that very many professional philosophers of science want to be working in a more online environment as a consequence of the climate crisis.”

That’s one of several findings of a recent survey conducted by the Climate Task Force of the Philosophy of Science Association, discussed in the following guest post* by Kerry McKenzie, associate professor of philosophy at the University of California, San Diego.


[Cheyney Thompson, untitled]

Results of the Philosophy of Science Association’s Climate Change Survey
by Kerry McKenzie

During March 2021, the Philosophy of Science Association Climate Task Force (PSA CTF) issued a survey aimed at gathering information on members’ experiences of working in a more online environment as a result of the Coronavirus crisis and gauging attitudes towards continuing with some of these practices in the service of the climate crisis. Below are described (1) the motivations for this survey, (2) its implementation, (3) the most significant quantitative results, (4) some of their implications, and (5) some of the lessons learned in the administration of this survey that we hope will inform future efforts.

1. Motivations

Motivating the formation of the PSA CTF was the conviction that philosophers of science, and hence the PSA, must play a part in the global movement to slash global greenhouse gas emissions by approximately 50% by 2030 and to reach carbon neutrality by 2050, as urged by the IPCC. Its aims are to (a) help the PSA reduce the Association’s associated carbon emissions and (b) assist PSA members in their individual efforts as philosophers of science to achieve this goal.

Since aviation-incurred emissions are a very significant part of the carbon footprint of contemporary academic research, an urgent question is how philosophers of science as a community can reduce the amount of long-distance travel they undertake as part of their professional lives. Unlike questions of, say, how our campus offices are powered, this is a question that we as a community can have a direct impact upon via the choices we make as to what meetings we attend and how we organize those meetings. Since these choices will in turn be a function of what other philosophers are doing and willing to do in future, the question represents a collective action problem—hence a problem whose solution requires common knowledge of the views of the community. Hence, our decision to conduct the survey.

2. Implementation

The survey was made available through a portal on the PSA website and publicized through an email to everyone on the PSA mailing list; an active membership was then required to gain access to the survey. This ensured respondents were PSA members but arguably created other problems, as we describe in Section 5 below. Current membership of the PSA is around 700 and in the end almost 200 members (189) took the survey. The full results will soon be available to members via the PSA website and will inform a discussion during the President’s Plenary at the 2021 PSA meeting in Baltimore. The most significant results of the survey however are outlined below.

3. Results

After being asked to detail their experiences of engaging in research activities in a more online environment over the course of the pandemic, respondents were asked the following question:

The United Nations International Panel on Climate Change states that a roughly 50% cut in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030, relative to pre-2020 levels, is necessary to avoid the worst consequences of climate change. Given this, are you interested in reducing the carbon footprint associated with your research activity in particular?

The options given were:

  • Yes — I would be interested in reducing it by 50% or more
  • Yes — I would be interested in reducing it to some degree
  • No —  I would prefer my research activity to remain unaffected
  • Unsure
  • Other (please explain)

Over half of respondents (100) said that they wished to reduce it by 50% or more. 85% (49 respondents) said they wished to at least reduce it by some degree. Only one respondent said they wanted it to remain unaffected. 10 were unsure, and 14 had another response to the question.

Respondents were then asked the question: ‘Given IPCC goals, do you think that many conferences and workshops should be hosted online?’ The options given were ‘Yes’, ‘No’, ‘Unsure’, and ‘Other’ (please explain).

Results:

About half of respondents said ‘yes’. The remaining 50% was about evenly split between ‘no’, ‘unsure’, or had another response to the question.

Respondents were then asked ‘Do you think that conference organizers should regard virtual as the “default” for meetings involving participants from distant geographic regions, moving to in-person only when they have good reason?’

 

There was a pretty even split between ‘Yes’, ‘No’, and ‘Unsure’.

Respondents were then asked to ‘Please consider the following statement: “Even if we assume that more workshops and conferences should take place remotely, there is special reason to host the PSA biennial conference as fully or partly in-person.” The options given for a response to this statement were ‘Agree’, ‘Disagree’, or ‘Unsure’.

About two-thirds of respondents answered that there was special reason to continue to host the PSA meeting in person.

These we take to be the most significant quantitative results of the survey and the most useful for the community’s planning purposes. However, respondents were also invited to elaborate on their experiences of doing more workshops and conferences online. We will not enumerate these qualitative responses here—again, the comments in their entirety will soon be available to members via the PSA website—but suffice to say that in addition to some supportive comments it was clear that many respondents judged online conferences to be, in general, a pale imitation of in-person events. Some also enumerated ways in which they did not always better serve those with accessibility constraints. Others objected that focusing on academic travel was diverting attention away from other areas where we might more purposefully direct efforts against climate change.

4. Interpretation

It is not the purpose of this report to explain or evaluate in any detail the reasons behind why one might or might not wish to move to a more online meeting model, partly as there has already been so much discussion on this forum of the pros and cons of online working from the point of view of environmental sustainability, access and inclusivity, and quality (see e.g. Daily Nous post here and Daily Nous post here). Those discussions have already made clear that there are dilemmas posed along almost every relevant dimension by both virtual and by in-person meetings; that no one model will work for everyone, at every career stage, and in every locale; that reasonable people disagree about the issue of the effectiveness of these sorts of interventions; and in sum, that there is a plurality of views on virtually every aspect of these issues that deserve to be respected.

However, given the high level of support shown by the results of this survey for making a very significant cut in our research-related carbon footprint and for assuming that online is the ‘default’ for conferences moving forward (other than the PSA biannual meeting), we think there is a clear signal in these results that very many professional philosophers of science want to be working in a more online environment as a consequence of the climate crisis. This should be of interest to conference organizers regardless of where they themselves sit on the issue. We should after all presume that the views expressed by the majority of respondents are not unreasonable, and as such that people who hold these views should not be deprived of the goods associated with interacting with participants from geographically distant regions.

It is worth pointing out that the conflict that many philosophers of science seem to be experiencing between current professional norms and the challenge posed by the climate crisis evokes a scenario of ‘conscientious objection’ of the sort frequently discussed by bioethicists. In such scenarios, people experience a tension between their moral views and the expectations placed upon them as professionals—a tension which can result in them experiencing ‘moral injury’ as a consequence of doing their job. As is well known, many (though not all) bioethicists would argue that where the moral views concerned are not unreasonable, the correct response by their community is to minimize the professional harms suffered by those who refuse to engage in the practices that they regard as morally unacceptable—in part because moral injury should not be made a condition of doing one’s job. To be clear, the PSA CTF did not explicitly ask respondents whether they experience participating in a carbon-intensive research paradigm as a form of moral injury, or probe other relevant questions concerning morality that would be necessary to flesh out this claim. But regardless of the ultimate aptness of this analogy with conscientious objection, given the extent and the reasonableness of the desire of many in our community to reduce their research-associated carbon footprint, it behooves us as a community to determine the professional harms that may be associated with foregoing long-distance in-person meetings, and how these harms may be mitigated.

Finally, we note that there was a clear signal sent to the PSA that most members wish this conference to continue to take place in-person. This raises the question of how the PSA can reduce its own carbon footprint, and what the relative benefits of small- versus large-scale conferences are.

5. Lessons for other organizations and for future surveys

As already noted, there were problems with the implementation of this survey. In particular, by tying participation to an active membership we effectively imposed a ‘paywall’—to quote a word used by a graduate student who could not easily get access—that likely biased our results (although in which direction is unclear). In retrospect the timing was particularly unfortunate, as the fact that the 2020 conference was cancelled meant that there were fewer active memberships than usual. However, it did mean that we could at least be sure that it was PSA members that were taking the survey. Those who may be planning to undertake such a survey within a larger or different community of philosophers need to consider carefully how to maximize participation while still targeting the right demographic.

It is also worth reminding anyone planning more comprehensive surveys that—as anyone with experience here will know—getting the wording of questions right can be challenging (not least when the target audience is analytic philosophers!). Consider again the question reported on above: “The United Nations International Panel on Climate Change states that a roughly 50% cut in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030, relative to pre-2020 levels, is necessary to avoid the worst consequences of climate change.  Given this, are you interested in reducing the carbon footprint associated with your research activity in particular?’’ At least one respondent thought that this question was ‘egregiously leading’. But we had worded this question carefully, deciding in the end that (i) the qualification that it was research activity in particular that was in question mitigated its ‘leading’ nature (given that one could reasonably be disposed to reduce one’s carbon budget but see research as sacrosanct), and (ii) breaking the question down into simpler questions produced something unwieldy and (frankly) patronizing, given our target audience. Clearly not everyone agrees that we made the right call here—the lesson being that those planning to issue future surveys will likely have to make difficult choices regarding wording.

Finally, in retrospect we are unsure that we asked the most ‘actionable’ questions in this survey. Both the PSA CTF and our partner association Philosophers for Sustainability therefore invite input on what sorts of information other philosophers would regard as most useful from a planning perspective. Anyone with views on this issue can reach out to the Chair of the PSA CTF, Kerry McKenzie, or Philosophers for Sustainability via their website. Readers may also be interested to note that Philosophers for Sustainability are shortly (June 10th – 12th) running a Zoom conference on philosophy and the climate crisis, one focus of which will be a critique of extant research norms and strategies for changing them.

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