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Philosophy’s Happiness Literature: More of It, More Empirical (guest post)

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 22/09/2022 - 10:43pm in

In the following guest post, Michael Prinzing (Yale) discusses trends in philosophical discussions of happiness and well-being.

Philosophy’s Happiness Literature: More of It, More Empirical
by Michael Prinzing

Something seems to be happening in the philosophy of happiness and well-being. Philosophers seem increasingly interested in what’s going on in the social and health sciences. Some philosophers are even conducting empirical research of their own. But is this a widespread phenomenon, or just a small subset of a sub-discipline? 

To investigate this question, I conducted a bibliometric analysis of articles published in the 50 most-cited philosophy journals on the topics of happiness, well-being, and the good life. (For those interested, I describe my methods at the bottom. The data and R code are available here.) 

Obviously, in the past 50 years or so, there has been a general trend of increasing publication volume—and not just in philosophy. That trend is illustrated by the blue line in the figure below. The blue line (scale on the right) represents the total number of papers published in the top 50 philosophy journals since the mid-20th century. Although growth leveled off a little between 1980 and 2000, there appears to have been fairly steady growth since the 1950’s. 

Things look very different when we turn to papers on happiness, well-being, and the good life. That trend is illustrated by the black line (scale on the left). There we see no growth at all until the turn of the millennium. At that point, the number of publications skyrocketed. Hence, this sub-discipline does seem to stand out from the general trend in philosophy. Moreover, whatever is going on in the philosophy of happiness and well-being, it seems to have started around the turn of the millennium. It’s possible that this has something to do with the rise of “Positive Psychology,” which also emerged at that time. That field of psychological research may have provided fertile ground for philosophers interested in similar topics. Or, perhaps some broader societal trend led to increased interest in happiness and well-being among both philosophers and psychologists.

The second figure, below, illustrates the proportion of papers on happiness and well-being that cited scientific sources. Since there were so few publications per year during the 20th century, I grouped the papers by decade. Prior to the 1980’s, not a single paper cited any scientific sources. In the 1980’s and 90’s, about 10-15% of papers did so. In the 2000’s the proportion jumped to about 35%, and since 2010 papers citing scientific sources constitute the majority.

Overall, then, it seems that not only have happiness, well-being, and the good life become much more popular topics of philosophical discussion, that discussion is increasingly intertwined with empirical research. Indeed, papers in the philosophy of happiness and well-being that don’t engage with scientific research are now in the minority.


Journal Citation Reports, a database of academic journals, includes 320 journals classified as philosophy journals. I selected the 50 most-cited of these and queried Web of Science for all the articles from those journals that included the terms happiness, well-being (or wellbeing), or “the good life” in the title, abstract, or keywords. This yielded 673 records, dating as early as 1947. After removing a duplicate record and non-articles (some records were book reviews, editor’s notes, etc.) there were 521 papers. Collectively, these 521 articles cited 7,389 sources. However, many of these were cited very few times. Only 318 received at least 5 citations. I categorized each of these 318 sources as either scientific or non-scientific, depending on whether the source is dedicated to reporting or reviewing empirical findings. Thus, this definition does not include journals that occasionally publish empirical findings—e.g., Noûs or Synthese. But it does include sources like the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology (this was the most-cited scientific source, with 78 citations.) It also includes sources like the American Economic Review, which, though it does not publish novel empirical results, is dedicated to reviewing empirical research. Of the 318 sources, 111 were scientific. 5 could not be categorized because it was impossible to determine the exact source from the abbreviated title given by Web of Science, or whether the source was scientific. These were: P BRIT ACAD, CRITICAL NE IN PRESS, DROP, VALUE ETHICS EC, WELL BEING. I then used this categorization to determine how many scientific sources each of the 521 philosophy papers cited.

Curation, Digitization, Path Dependence, and the Urgency of the History of Philosophy

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 15/09/2022 - 11:10pm in

Philosophy, and especially the history of philosophy, is not known for being in a rush. But an appreciation of the factors that go into shaping our discipline and its self-understanding might give us a sense of urgency.

At the Blog of the APA, Sophia Connell (Birkbeck College London) gives us an example to work, writing about the “striking absence of female names” from recent histories of analytic philosophy:

For example, the important 2008 book What is Analytic Philosophy by Hans-Johann Glock does not discuss any female philosophers. The extensive bibliography contains only one work by a female philosopher of the early analytic period, a short paper by Susan Stebbing. In 1933, Stebbing became the first female Professor of Philosophy in the United Kingdom; she wrote numerous important articles and nine books. Stebbing was also instrumental in introducing ideas from the Continent, particularly logical positivism, to UK philosophers. Her centrality to the philosophy of this period is not conveyed in Glock’s book, which reinforces her relative obscurity; many students of analytic philosophy have never heard of her or read her writing.

She observes: “The habit of ignoring female philosophers has become so entrenched that even the secondary literature is marked by their absence.”

The absence of women from analytic philosophy’s history ends up being self-reinforcing:

Familiar histories of 20th century analytic philosophy center on exclusively male figures. This narrative makes it seem like female philosophers played no significant role in the modern development of analytic philosophy. This is in part due to laziness in citation; when considering an argument or concept, philosophers often reach for the person they think most representative.

Given the exclusion of women, they usually think of a man. A case in point: thick concepts, or the idea that some words are both descriptive and evaluative, are almost always attributed to Bernard Williams. But they were in the air in Oxford in the 1940s as a collective response to Ayer’s emotivism. A lively discussion of this topic occurred in Oxford sometime in the late 1940s involving Midgley, Murdoch, and Anscombe. As Midgley tells it in her autobiography The Owl of Minerva, “we were discussing the meaning of rudeness. I think this topic must have come up out of background discussions that Philippa Foot finally expressed in her splendid article called ‘Moral Arguments’ (which appeared in Mind, Vol. 67, 1958), where she used the example of ‘rudeness’ to show that a word’s descriptive and evaluative meanings are not separate and independent” (115). It takes women writing about women to bring women to light in this history.

The longer the exclusion goes on, the harder it is to undo.:

Despite being educated and then publishing in the same venues as their male counterparts, female philosophers were and continue to be much less cited and discussed than male philosophers—the discussion, discourse, and processes of philosophy gradually purge their voices. Their published work is fading away because they are not in our courses and nobody reads and tries to understand them. The further away we get, the harder it is to understand these writings; they are not familiar and thus they may seem irrelevant.

Certain contemporary developments, such as pressures on libraries to cull their collections of hard copies and the academy’s increasing reliance on digitized materials, contribute to the worry of forgetting some valuable voices in the history of our discipline:

Libraries purge their shelves of hard copies of old journals and of books long out of print—such as Sophie Bryant’s masterpiece, On Educational Ends (1887), Susan Stebbing’s Introduction to Logic (1930), and Alice Ambrose’s Essays in Analysis (1966)—to make way for new books, some of which are histories of philosophy that leave out any mention of women. The work of female philosophers further disappears as digitized materials emphasise only those whose writings supposedly shaped our discipline. Think of the efforts spent on chronicling everything that Bertrand Russell ever wrote, including all of his letters, or on collecting and cataloguing Wittgenstein’s writing. Meanwhile, Sophie Bryant’s papers languish in boxes in a private day school for the daughters of the wealthy middle class.

Discussion welcome—not just on the history of the role of women in analytic philosophy, or of others whose voices are at risk of being lost, but also on the more general matter of how economic and technological pressures on the institutions that house and curate our research materials affect our understanding of our discipline and shape the work we do, and what we might do in light of those pressures.

What Memes Can Teach Us About Applying Educational Research in Practice

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 12/09/2022 - 11:09pm in



Poorly made stormtrooper cupcakes

Do you know the #nailedit meme? In its most common form:

  1. Someone sees a recipe or craft online.
  2. They try to recreate it.
  3. Things go terribly, comically wrong.
  4. They graciously post the results online, allowing us all to take joy in the degree to which they absolutely #nailedit.

Part of what makes these memes great is that they’re so relatable. Everyone has been there – faithfully (we believe) following a recipe or other set of instructions (looking at you, Ikea), only to have things go horribly wrong. It really can be difficult to get the desired results even when you’re following a step-by-step recipe with illustrations.

But what does that have to do with improving learning?

It’s becoming more and more common to hear people use phrases like “we applying learning science” or “grounded in educational research” when they describe the design of learning tools, activities, assessments, and other content they create. Unfortunately, sometimes these applications of educational research – like recreations of Pinterest recipes – are worthy of the #hailedit hashtag. There are at least four reasons why this happens.

First, it’s not an exaggeration to say that a lot of academic writing is intentionally impenetrable. In educational research, in particular, it feels like the more successfully an author obfuscates plain meanings behind technical jargon, the more likely they are to have their article accepted for publication. I was reminded of this fact this past week, when a friend reached out asking for advice. They had worked very hard to write an article that was clear and easy to understand. However, they had received feedback from the editor of the journal to which they had submitted the article that it ‘didn’t sound academic enough.’ No substantive critical feedback about the topic, method, review of literature, etc. The article was just too plainly written. This culture of “make it sound more impressive” isn’t doing anyone any favors. Actually, in addition to harming those of us who care about using evidence-based practices in instructional design and teaching, it’s actively harming the journals that encourage this kind of behavior by decreasing those same journals’ impact factors.

A second reason that “we apply learning science” can be harder than it seems like it should be is that, generally speaking, articles reporting educational research are not at all like clearly written recipes with step-by-step illustrations. In fact, they often completely fail to provide any concrete guidance about how to apply their findings in the actual design and creation of learning materials and learning experiences. The thought of trying to use these articles to design instruction reminds me of the “how to draw an owl” meme – there’s just not enough information provided to be immediately useful.


Step 1. Draw some circles. Step 2. Draw the rest of the owl

Third, as the #nailedit memes so hilariously demonstrate, even when a recipe is broken down into simple, clear instructions, our attempts at following those instructions can fail if we lack the necessary skills. It’s pretty clear what “frost the eyes and other elements of the stormtrooper helmets as shown below” means. But a certain amount of skill is necessary to do that – and no amount of clarity in the instructions can make up for a lack of skill on the decorator’s part. Similarly, we can give faculty the very clear advice that they should “build relationships of support, care, and trust” with students in order to improve the outcomes of their most at-risk students. But there’s a lot more detail that goes into drawing that owl, and a lot of social-emotional skill is necessary for the instructor to do it successfully.

Finally, sometimes recipes simply don’t work even when we follow them faithfully and with skill, because changes are required to reflect the reality of local circumstances. Perhaps some “exotic” ingredients aren’t available where you live, and you need to find acceptable substitutes. Or maybe you live at high altitude, which requires changes in baking temperature, duration, and even ingredients. Some experimentation will be necessary to “get the recipe right” in your environment. And this is true for all of us involved in education – local contexts require local adaptations as we apply evidence-based design, teaching, and assessment practices with our students. Some experimentation will always be necessary to get the recipe to come out right.

This is the reason why I’m so committed to integrating continuous improvement into the instructional design process. Even when we set out to create learning tools and activities and assessments that are grounded in rigorous research, some experimentation will be necessary to bring things together successfully in our specific contexts. As I’ve written about in some depth before, all instructional designs are hypotheses, regardless of how firmly they are “grounded in learning science.” And because initial hypotheses are seldom correct, the learning designs we create should be subjected to rigorous testing, updating, and retesting until they are proven capable of accomplishing their design goals.

We should never say “I followed the process correctly, therefore I don’t need to look at the result.” As a specific example, it isn’t sufficient to say “I followed an equity-centered design process, so I don’t need to confirm whether or not students achieved equitable outcomes. I followed the process! I’m sure it worked out fine!” This mindset reminds me of the Don’t celebrate too early memes.

At the end of the day we should care far less about whether a course design is based on Behaviorism or Connectivism, using the Four Component Instructional Design model or a Problem-based Learning model, or built on a blog or a blockchain. Instead, we should care much, much more about how well the course supports student learning. Fetishizing the process while ignoring the outcome doesn’t help students. Yes, of course we should begin by basing our designs on rigorous research. But that wonderful point at which you finally finish creating a learning tool / course / textbook / &c. is also the point at which the really hard work should begin – making sure that it actually supports student learning.


And if you’re not going to take the time to go through the improvement cycles necessary to make sure it’s more effective than what was already available, why did you spend all that time designing and developing in the first place?

Seeking Feedback on “Good Practices Guide” – Part 4

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 13/05/2022 - 10:51pm in

This is the last in a series of posts asking for comments on a draft “Good Practices Guide” for advancing diversity in philosophy.

The first in the series, published on Monday, concerned practices regarding sexual harassment, caregivers, and staff-student relationships; the second covered the sections of the guide on conferences and teaching; the third was about the sections on hiring and tenure evaluation.

Today’s post asks for feedback on the sections regarding journals, research projects, and learned societies.

Good Practice Policy: Philosophy Journals

Publication in philosophy journals plays a major role in the reputation and career progression of their authors, as—to a lesser extent —does participation in the selection process through membership of editorial boards, refereeing, etc. The recommendations below aim to ensure that, as far as possible, members of under-represented groups are not disadvantaged in either capacity by their identity. 

1. The editorial board should review the extent to which editorial and refereeing processes are anonymous. 

a. Where the process is not anonymous, the board should consider whether to introduce anonymity (philosophy journals with Interdisciplinary content are most likely to benefit from anonymized peer-review and editorial practices, while some data suggest that more prestigious philosophy journals benefit less – the data are not clear on why). 

2. Diversify representatives—editors, editorial board members, referees, trustees, staff, etc.—to include more people from under-represented groups (including philosophers residing in non-Anglophone majority countries) and on important but neglected topics of interest to a diverse range of philosophers, utilizing a diverse range of methods.

a. Commit to inclusion with influence. 

b. Ensure that member contributions are recognized and, where possible, appropriately compensated and rewarded.

3. Set specific, achievable targets to make progress in increasing diversity in authorship and content in your journal.

a. Consider publishing and promoting work by people from under-represented groups at least in proportion to their presence in the part of the discipline that your journal covers.

b. Consider including at least one special issue or symposium engaging with works by underrepresented philosophers or in underrepresented areas of philosophy in your journal.

c. Collect data on diversity relevant publishing practices, e.g. submission and publication rates for members of under-represented groups, referee and editorial board composition, etc. and track progress in increasing diversity in your journal.

d. Issue yearly reports on new commitments to diversity in the journals and report on progress towards achieving targets.

i. Consider including data on the journal’s demographics, makeup of editorial board, referee pool, authorships, and submissions. 

4. Implement promising practices to meet these targets and increase diversity in your journal, such as:

a. Solicit submissions of promising work by members of under-represented groups (PhilPeople might be a useful resource). When inviting authors, always bear in mind the importance of increasing diversity in the field (potentially via special issues).

b. Aim to include a fair representation of relevant work by members of under-represented groups.

c. Consider reserving more space for articles by members of under-represented groups to help meet specific targets.

d. Consider publishing more papers of interest to under-represented groups in philosophy and on important but neglected topics of interest to a diverse range of philosophers. This might include increasing the proportions of articles published in value theory, history, feminism, race, disability, and philosophical work in less commonly studied philosophical traditions.

e. Weigh the value of anonymity and non-anonymous editorial discretion, bearing in mind that evidence is mixed regarding the effectiveness of anonymous review in increasing diversity. Take special care to ensure that any non-anonymous parts of the review process do not omit or unfairly disadvantage authors from under-represented groups.

f. Attend to your regional context as well as the overall global context (e.g. the importance of including adequate geographical and indigenous representation in your journal).

5. Implement diversity-supporting referee practices, such as:

a. Encourage referees and authors to avoid using language that is insensitive to cultural differences or that inappropriately excludes or offends any group of people based on their ability/disability, age, ethnicity and race, gender identity, sexual orientation, class, nationality, etc.

b. Encourage referees and authors to check that papers cite and discuss related work and that work by people from underrepresented groups have not been overlooked.

c. Request referees to not google paper titles or request that they alert the editor prior to refereeing the paper if they know or have a strong suspicion about who wrote it.

d. Encourage referees to not reject promising papers on grounds of writing quality, if the concerns are merely stylistic, can be repaired to an adequate level, and the philosophical content is good. This helps ensure fair consideration of work by philosophers who are not native speakers of English.

e. Encourage referees to consider accepting papers on topics of   under-represented groups in philosophy and on important but neglected topics of interest to a diverse range of philosophers. 

f. Encourage timely and developmental reviews, since members of vulnerable groups are especially disadvantaged by long delays before publication.

g. The editorial board should consider providing referees with an explicit editorial policy on refereeing

i. See, for example, the journal Cognition Referee Guidelines

6. Implement promising practices to increase accessibility in journals, such as:

a. Create structurally-tagged content.

b. Utilize text-to-speech capability for print-impaired users in the absence of an audio book.

c. Include a navigable table of contents within your publications, and provide a defined reading order (including, for example, appropriate links between the main flow of the text and any sidebar or box out text) to help those reading through audio to navigate their way through the article

d. Include Alt-text descriptions to explain illustrations for readers with reduced access to graphic information.

e. Give readers control over the font (size, style, and color), background color, and line spacing for online publications, and/or make them available in html.

f. Consider trying to make your journal more accessible for those in developing countries by making your journal open access in those regions.

g. Employ W3C web accessibility standards where feasible, and check for web accessibility.

7. Evaluate progress at regular intervals and revise practices accordingly.

a. Work with researchers to identify particular areas to improve for achieving better representation of authors and marginalized philosophies.

b. Isolate and implement evidence-based practices that increase diversity in the identified areas.

c. Identify barriers to making progress on achieving diversity targets.

d. Communicate, collaborate, and advocate to overcome identified barriers. Certain academic publishers have policies that hinder progress. Assertively engage with the issue where possible.

8. Officially adopt these diversity-promoting practices and widely publicize your journal’s targets and commitment to promoting diversity.

a. Inform all representatives and bind future representatives to uphold these standards.

b. Publicly and explicitly adopt diversity-promoting practices, helping to create a culture of concern that enhances the journal’s reputation for welcoming diversity, attracting more diverse submissions.

Good Practice Policy: Research Projects

Large-scale (and normally externally funded) research projects often engage in activities that fall within the scope of the Good Practice Policy – hiring staff, running conferences, and so on. We recognise that some such projects may wish to sign up to the Policy independently of (or in addition to) the departments of the project’s investigators; this document allows this by, in effect, pulling together the relevant recommendations from the other Good Practice documents. The term ‘management team’ below is used to refer to whoever takes overall responsibility for the project. This might be the PI, the PI together with co-investigators, so some larger group. 

Hiring Panels 

1. Management teams should make sure that members of hiring panels know about the workings of unconscious bias. (A good source of general information for hiring panels is here:

2. Management teams should ensure that hiring panels (at both shortlisting and interview stages) include at least one, and preferably more than one, member of a marginalized group, unless there are exceptional practical reasons why this is impossible. But they should be aware that the presence of such members on the panel on its own will not correct for bias.

3. Management teams should agree specific hiring criteria (and their weighting) in advance and stick to the agreed criteria (and weighting).

4. As far as possible, management teams should strive to allow sufficient time for non-rushed consideration of job applications.

5. Management teams should consider ways of anonymising parts of their hiring process (e.g. by considering writing samples anonymously), and implement any ways of doing so that are practically feasible.

Conferences and Seminar Series

Management teams should implement all of the recommendations in the ‘Conferences and Events’ section of these Good Practice guidelines. 


Where members of the project team (including research students) have caregiving responsibilities, the management team should implement all of the relevant recommendations in the ‘Caregivers’ section of the document

Publication of Edited Collections 

Large research projects often produce edited collections as outputs. The editorial team should take steps to ensure that individuals from underrepresented groups are well represented amongst the contributors to any such collection. 

Advisory Boards, research Students, and Other Associated People

Where the research project involves the formation of an advisory board, visiting fellowships, PhD studentships, etc. The management team should take concrete steps towards ensuring that individuals from underrepresented groups are well represented amongst the members/applicants.

Good Practice Policy: Learned societies

As national bodies with some influence, especially when it comes to philosophy conferences and journals, learned societies are well placed to make a concrete difference to the representation of underrepresented groups in philosophy. We suggest that learned societies adopt the following policy. 

Executive Committee and Officers 

Learned societies should ensure that a reasonable proportion of underrepresented groups are nominated for positions on their executive committees and for official positions (President, Secretary, etc.). 


1. Where learned societies organize their own conferences and seminar series, they should follow the relevant Good Practice recommendations on Conferences and Events.

2. Where learned societies distribute funding to others to organize conferences and seminar series, they should make it a requirement of funding that the conference organizers follow the relevant Good Practice recommendations on Conferences and Events.

3. Learned societies should consider adopting a formal policy on chairing 20 seminars/conference sessions, for their own events and/or for those that they fund. See again the Good Practice recommendations on Conferences and Events, for some specific proposals you might consider implementing. 

4. Learned societies should monitor the proportion of individuals from under represented groups at conferences and seminar series that they fund. Where a conference or seminar series manifests an obvious imbalance, the learned society should make enquiries about the steps taken to promote representation, in order to satisfy themselves that appropriate steps were taken by the organizers. 

Icebreakers in the Arctic: An Overlooked Environmental Concern

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 15/04/2022 - 12:17am in
by Johanna Cohn

Global heating has a greater impact on the Arctic than the rest of the planet. In fact, the Arctic is warming at a rate almost twice the global average. This is due to Arctic ice’s high albedo, meaning the ice reflects a tremendous amount of sunlight into the atmosphere. As the ice melts, the sea water absorbs more sunlight than it reflects. The resulting water subsequently warms and evaporates, becoming a powerful greenhouse gas. A positive feedback loop ensues as warmer waters melt more ice, and more water vapor adds to Earth’s greenhouse effect.

Arctic nations—the USA, Russia, Canada, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Finland, and Iceland—view the thawing Arctic as an asset for tourism, fishing, and trade. Never mind the risks that come with shipping across waters that may contain icebergs, thanks to large ships called “icebreakers.”

The USA has two icebreakers in its fleet, and at least three more on the way. Russia, on the other hand, has at least 50. These nations recognize the value of holding power in the Arctic, and having icebreakers is a means to power. Nations that effectively use icebreakers in their Arctic fleets can grow their economies faster, improve the safety and efficacy of Arctic travel, and conduct scientific exploration. But at what cost?

Why Are Icebreakers So Loved?

image of a researcher exploring an Arctic pool, with an icebreaker ship in the background, cutting through Arctic ice.

Icebreakers allow researchers to explore areas once considered unreachable, but at what cost? (CC BY 2.0, NOAA Photo Library)

The USCGC Healy, one of the USA’s two icebreakers, is primarily used for scientific research and is famous for its advanced technology. In recent years, scientists aboard the Healy have accomplished two notable feats. The first was the identification of a species previously unknown to science called ctenophores—organisms similar to jellyfish—distinguished by the groups of cilia they use for swimming (commonly known as “combs”). The second was the discovery of Chukchi pockmarks during the exploration of the Chukchi Plateau. Despite encountering treacherous winds and waters, the size and stability of the Healy allowed researchers to continue mapping and studying the pockmarked area.

Another important asset of the Arctic is the Northern Sea Route, which lies east of Novaya Zemlya, Russia, and runs along the Russian Arctic coast by Siberia to the Bering Strait. As Arctic ice continues to melt, this route becomes more alluring for transporting goods across the North Pole. With the help of icebreakers cutting through remaining ice that could impede travel, the route reduces transportation time and costs, making it the most efficient route.

Icebreakers are also invaluable in Arctic search and rescue missions. The Arctic Council (an intergovernmental forum that addresses issues faced by Arctic governments and indigenous Arctic people) has taken action to allocate search and rescue resources on an international level. All eight Arctic nations signed the Arctic Search and Rescue Agreement in May 2011, making it the first legally binding agreement negotiated under the auspices of the Arctic Council.

Cold War Races in the Arctic

During the Cold War, the USA and the Soviet Union raced to pioneer new technology and discoveries, while competing for the greatest GDP. The Arctic was one arena for Cold War competition; whichever nation had the greatest presence in the Arctic would be better positioned to exploit Arctic resources and gain a significant advantage in climbing the GDP ladder.

Between the 1960s and the early 1980s, the Soviet Union launched Project 97, which added 32 new icebreakers into the Soviet fleet. These were a series of diesel-electric icebreakers, several of which are still operated by Russia today. The Soviets had plans to revive military bases on islands in the Arctic Sea, a move that would prevent the U.S. Navy from deploying into the Arctic.

During this time the USA also introduced a new class of icebreakers into its fleet, known as the Polar class. These two Polar class ships were designed to support science and research, provide resupply to remote stations, launch search and rescue missions, escort ships, protect the environment, and enforce laws and treaties in places other ships cannot reach.

In 2020, President Trump released a memo calling for a new fleet of icebreakers in the Arctic. This, in part, reveals the Trump administration’s concern about Russian and Chinese presence in the Arctic, a concern reflected throughout the U.S. population. When Americans were asked to rate their feelings toward Russia on a zero-to-100 scale, Americans averaged at 29, the lowest reading since 1982. The USA’s attitude towards China in 2020 was similarly negative, with 73 percent of people surveyed claiming an unfavorable view of China.

Since national sentiments towards Russia and China were overwhelmingly negative, President Trump produced a memo to address concerns. Trump announced his administration would create a plan within 60 days of the memo release to construct at least three heavy icebreakers by 2029 to compete with the growing Russian and Chinese presence in the Arctic. The Biden Administration has yet to retract this plan, so these icebreakers are still under construction.

What’s Missing from the Conversation?

Little information is available about the environmental concerns that icebreakers pose. Literature highlights the perceived “positives”—scientific exploration, search and rescue, trade and shipping, and competition amongst nations—as being more important than considering environmental degradation. However, here’s what we know.

Icebreakers break ice. As the broken ice melts, sunlight is absorbed, leading to increased temperatures, and thus more ice melting. An icebreaker cruising through the ice for 1,000 kilometers (620 miles), leaving an ice-free wake of ten meters (33 feet), would open an area of water ten square kilometers (3.9 square miles) over the entire cruise. Although the Arctic Sea covers about 4,000 kilometers (2500 miles), any amount of ice breaking harms the environment. With the continual use of icebreaker ships, the Arctic will continue to look more like ice cubes melting in a glass of water.

Birds-eye shot of an icebreaker ship in the Arctic, with patches of cracked ice floating atop the sea.

The Arctic: melting ice cubes bobbing in a glass of water.

As melting endures, we will continue to see environmental effects around the world. Changes in the Arctic Sea ice pattern leads to a rise in sea levels globally. Low-lying developed areas in the Gulf Coast and the mid-Atlantic regions are especially at risk from sea-level rise. The recent growth of coastal areas has resulted in larger populations and more valuable coastal property being at risk from sea-level rise. Major physical impacts of a rise in sea level include erosion of beaches, inundation of deltas as well as flooding and loss of many marshes and wetlands. Increased salinity will likely become a problem in coastal aquifers and estuarine systems because of saltwater intrusion.

Changes in Arctic ice patterns are also leading to more frequent extreme weather. In the past few years, such extreme weather has been seen particularly across the east coast of the USA, western Europe, and central Asia. These regions will continue to experience more extreme weather because of Arctic amplification, the enhanced sensitivity of high latitudes to global heating. Arctic ice melt has also been shown to distort the flow of and weaken the jet stream, resulting in more frequent periods of intense heat and ferocious cold.

There’s also evidence that the sound emitted from icebreakers is detrimental to marine animals, particularly whales and other large mammals. The sound interferes with their ability to communicate with their pods. Additionally, sound pollution likely has long-term effects that are difficult to predict.

Most of the Russian icebreaker fleet is nuclear-based due to the fuel costs of running an icebreaker. On average, an icebreaker working in regions with three-meter-thick ice uses more than 100 tons of fuel per day. However, nuclear icebreakers have obvious concerns as well. In fact, should an accident occur, the consequence would be as severe as the Chernobyl disaster and the Deepwater Horizon oil spill combined: devastating.

What Should Be Done?

Russian nuclear-powered icebreakers save on fuel costs, but flirt with disaster. (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0, GRIDArendal)

There is indeed much more research in support of the use of icebreakers than documented concern for the ships’ environmental impacts. Beneath the bias of growth, it’s clear that icebreakers are largely detrimental. By continuing to add more icebreakers into the Arctic and simultaneously ignoring the environmental consequences, we are making yet another mistake that could be avoided.

The best way to limit the use of icebreakers is by having Arctic nations sign a treaty. One of the main reasons for such large numbers of icebreakers is competition amongst the nations for control over the Arctic. This can be addressed in a treaty eliminating or significantly reducing the use of icebreakers. We’ve seen successful use of treaties in the Arctic through the Search and Rescue Agreement, so there’s no reason to suggest another one can’t be instated.

A potential treaty could manifest in many ways. One option is to divide the Arctic Sea into zones and designate certain zones as “no break zones,” where icebreaking would be illegal. This would allow nations to continue using icebreakers to a lesser extent while the international community monitors the environmental effects. With this option, zones could shift and change depending on weather and ice patterns.

An alternative could be a plan to phase out icebreaker ships over many years. This would allow nations to find other ways to accomplish important tasks that icebreakers achieve in the Arctic, such as search and rescue missions and scientific research.

However, before an anti-icebreaker treaty can be successful, there needs to be an international agreement on environmental protection in the Arctic. A common goal amongst Arctic nations must be concern for the environment, or we risk edging closer to a world in which the Arctic Sea looks like the Atlantic Ocean. Arctic nations must understand the impending doom that comes with breaking and melting Arctic ice. Once these nations take responsibility for protecting the Arctic environment, then an anti-icebreaker treaty can be developed and signed, and we can take one crucial step towards protecting the Arctic.

portrait of Johanna Cohn, environmental studies intern during spring 2022 at CASSE.Johanna Cohn is a spring 2022 environmental studies intern at CASSE, and a junior at American University majoring in environmental studies and political science.

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Smart People Work Everywhere - using your research skills outside academia

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 19/12/2018 - 2:20am in


Academia, research

A panel discuss using your research degree outside academia. Research degrees - what are they good for? Can you use the skills you have acquired during your DPhil in a career outside academia - and why would you want to? Professor Philip Bullock, Director of TORCH, chairs this panel discussion with individuals from a diverse range of employment sectors who use the skills they acquired during their research degrees in their current roles. Hear about their career paths to date, learn more about their current roles, and find out how they utilise their research skills in their professional lives. The panellists are Professor Kate Williams (author, historian, TV presenter and Professor of History at the University of Reading), Dr Mark Byford (partner at Egon Zehnder) and Dr Michael Pye (Investment Manager at Baillie Gifford).

Equality and the REF 2021 consultation

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 08/09/2017 - 9:06am in



Does the potential for the use of headcounts in determining REF2021 submissions run the risk of breaching equalities law? James Hand highlights the potential issues.

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REF just got real: mist now clearing on the road to 2021

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 04/09/2017 - 5:04pm in



Changes to the research impact and environment sections of REF2021 highlight the way the wider policy landscape is changing. James Wilsdon makes sense of the latest decisions.

The post REF just got real: mist now clearing on the road to 2021 appeared first on Wonkhe.

REF2021: much still to be decided

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 01/09/2017 - 11:12pm in



Another REF consultation exercise? David Kernohan surveys what still needs to be decided as we move ever closer to the end of the cycle.

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A beginner’s guide to Open Access

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 15/08/2017 - 9:12am in



Access to research publications is one of the key issues faced by researchers and scholarly publishers. For those new to the area, Graham Steel and David Kernohan explain.

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