My sayings 
Brian Leiter links to a cheeky column by Jonathan Wolff that begins in this way:
Several philosophers claim to have had the following conversation on long-haul flights: "And what line of work are you in?" "Me? I'm a philosopher." "Oh, really? And what are some of your sayings?"
Wolff notes that many philosophers are reluctant to talk about the profession with the hoi polloi. He thinks this is because self identifying as a philosopher is necessarily presumptuous, as if you were to tell the person in the seat next to you that you were a wise man or a guru.

I don't remember ever having been asked for some of my sayings, but it is a softball question. It invites a glib, goofy answer.

I was recently asked a question, my response to which undercuts Wolff's modesty hypotheses. My wife and I are buying our first house. At the home inspection I am distracted by a thousand things, none of them philosophical. I mention my profession to the inspector as we entered. As he is finishing up, he makes small talk by asking who I think is the best contemporary philosopher.

This is a tough question. I have no ready answer for it. Moreover, it is not clear whether he means to be asking about the philosopher who is most exalted in the profession, the one whose work I find to be the most advanced, or the one he should seek out were he to go looking for some philosophical reading. It is not even clear that he is determinately asking about any of these.

At that moment, however, my mind is filled with house thoughts. None of those distinctions come clearly or quickly enough to mind that I can ask him to clarify. I parry the question by asking, "Am I allowed to count my own work?" Fortunately, he laughs. Was this a successful jest, or did it just make me sound like a jerk?

Maybe I should have a stock reply to that question, because I have been asked it before. And maybe I should have a few sayings ready for the long-haul flights.

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The third degree 
I've heard several reports about Marilee Jones, dean of admissions at MIT, who resigned last week after it was revealed that she had lied about her academic history.

Twenty-eight years ago, when she got a low-level administrative job at MIT, Jones said that she had a several degrees from Albany-area institutions. In fact, she had no such degrees. In the years that followed, she rose through the ranks of the administration. The degrees were not prerequisites for her first job, and her promotions were no doubt based on her job performance. Should she have lost her job over this?

Jones' situation reminds me of Quincy Troupe's. Troupe was professor at UCSD and California Poet Laureate, when it was revealed in 2002 that he had lied about his academic history. When he applied for a tenure-track position at the College of Staten Island in 1976, Troupe said he had an undergraduate degree. In fact he had no advanced degree whatsoever. Following the revelation, Troupe stepped down as poet laureate and ultimately left UCSD.

It may seem as if these two cases are symmetrical: Whatever fate was fitting for Troupe is fitting for Jones. (As it happened, both resigned but did so before any official sanction could be taken.)

I suppose I have a professional investment in that symmetry, insofar as my job depends on a genuine college degree counting for something. Lying about having one (one might argue) is like lying about having collateral when applying for a loan.

If this line of thinking suggests any asymmetry, it suggests that Troupe was a greater offender than Jones. He was not just an administrator. He was a professor who was supposed to have expertise that he could pass on to students. The legitimacy of a college degree depends both on its being authentic and on there being real education behind it. So (one might argue) sham professors are worse than sham administrators.

I think these suggestions are wrong-headed; I think Jones' sin was worse than Troupe's.

Some people argued, regarding Troupe, that it set an unacceptable example for students. If students saw that a professor had lied about his qualifications, then they would think that it must be OK to cheat on exams. (Although this sounds like a straw man, I actually heard people make this argument.) Students can surely understand that the two are essentially different. A real parallel would be a student lying about having met the prerequisites to take a course; if this were discovered after the term was nearly over, surely the student would not be kicked out of the class. If any lie at all undermines academic authority, then professors caught cheating on their taxes ought to be fired-- but that's just silly.

Since the lies were in applying for jobs, another parallel for a student might be a lie in applying for admission. That does seem like a more serious problem for Jones, since her job was in admissions. The example she sets seems more on point.

Worse: Jones recently wrote a book on preparing for college life. I have not read it, but reports indicate that integrity is a central theme. The NYTimes provides this choice passage: "Holding integrity is sometimes very hard to do because the temptation may be to cheat or cut corners. But just remember that 'what goes around comes around,' meaning that life has a funny way of giving back what you put out."

In short, Jones' having lied about her degrees undercuts central parts of her message. It puts the lie to much of what she has been saying.

As the literature faculty at UCSD were quick to point out, Troupe was not hired on account of an undergraduate degree. He was hired on account of his teaching and literary productivity. Was Troupe's poetry compromised?

Larry Hinman, among others, argued yes. As quoted in The Chronicle, Hinman insisted that the matter "touches on the heart of being a poet. What poets do is tell difficult truths. They tell them in a way that's unflinching. And he flinched about himself. He didn't look his own situation in the face and assess it." The article mentions that Hinman moderated a roundtable discussion on the subject.

As it happens, I attended that discussion. I found Larry's line of argument unconvincing. Suppose Robert Burns had a lied when he said that his luv was like a red red rose. It would make no difference at all to his stature as a poet. Great artists often have blind spots.

Since the roundtable was part of the research ethics discussion series, many were quick to make analogies with scientific misconduct. Falsifying data is a seriously bad thing. It is more akin to cheating on a test than to lying about a prerequisite or on an application. Indeed, I would have a dim view of Troupe if it turned out that his books about Miles Davis were largely fictional. But nobody (to my knowledge) has suggested that they were.

The important upshot of the asymmetry between these two cases is that the gravity of lying depends both on what the lie is about and on who is telling it. Obvious stuff.

References



The New York Times on the Jones case

The Chronicle article on the Troupe affair


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Free variables, open access 
I just uploaded forall x version 1.22, which includes several small changes in response to helpful, unsolicited feedback from Craig Erb. The bigger change with this version is that the license now allows commericial use.

It has been about a year and a half since I released the first version. As I have said before, the goal was to provide instructors with an alternative to commercial textbooks. As such, I opted for a license that prohibited commercial use. Since then, 1000s of people have downloaded the book and it has been used at several universities.*

I have since come to realize that the noncommercial restriction might discourage legitimate uses of the book; other sites offer extended discussions of this point. The most recent version uses the Creative Commons Attribution-Sharealike license. Users are still required to acknowledge me as author of material in the book, and any derivative works must be offered under an open license. However, they may use the work or derivatives for commercial purposes. As a result of the fine print, derivative works may more readily include materials published under other open licenses.

There is little danger that a publisher will sell an overpriced deluxe edition of forall x, because the Sharealike provision would preclude them from exercising restrictive rights over it. The content would still be free.

And now it's more free than ever.


* The numbers are hard to pin down. The PDF on the main site is downloaded over 30 times a day, but lord only knows how many of those are by actual readers. I get occasional e-mails from people who have read and enjoyed parts of the book, I have corresponded with several people who have used it as a course text, and web traffic suggests that the text has been recommended at some other schools. People are under no obligation to tell me when they assign or use the book, however, and typically they do not.

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Author's rights, by which I mean mine 
My d-cog paper just appeared in Social Studies of Science. The journal does not provide paper offprints. Instead, they sent me a link which allowed me to download a disk image. On the disk image was an application that allowed me to open a secured PDF. Once I indicated that I was using the computer on which I intended to use the PDF, I was allowed to see the paper.

It will allow me to print the paper from this computer and forward the paper as a link to as many as 25 other people.* The whole rigamarole is meant to preclude my being able to forward the file directly or upload it to the web.

I was rather cross about this copy protection, and I wondered if the journal itself could be so difficult to access. By way of the UAlbany library website, I loaded the most recent issue and downloaded my paper. It is an ordinary PDF that has none of the crippling DRM that my author copy has got.

Subscribers, it seems, are more trusted than authors.**


* This latter part doesn't actually seem to work. I had someone e-mail me and ask for an offprint of my paper, but I can't see how to exercise the promised functionality.

** Considering my last post, I should add that the SSS author agreement is not especially egregious. I signed rights over to them, but the agreement explicitly permits me to reuse the paper in whole or in part in any work that I author, edit, or compile, to distribute photocopies to colleagues or students, and to put a final author draft on the web or in a repository. I am officially supposed to wait a year before putting it in a repository, but that is pretty standard.

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Author's rights and the community 
Last week, I attended a session on 'Copyright for Scholarly Authors.' Listening to the spiel, it occurred to me that there was an unresolved tension in the rhetoric.

Academic journals typically require an author to sign over rights to an article before they'll publish it. In addition to squeezing university libraries for subscription fees, the press can profit from reprint and archival rights. Many publishers have become more flexible on this point, but others (primarily corporate presses) are milking the system for everything they can get.

The situation is becoming untenable. University libraries are cutting back on subscriptions because they simply cannot afford them all. Once a journal becomes expensive enough, it can make sense to ask for specific articles by inter-library loan rather than subscribe to the journal; but that strategy only works if there is still a lending library somewhere that subscribes to the journal. Something has to give.

OK, but looming disaster is neither a principled reason nor does it point to the solution. There are two principled rationales for changing the system. Both are appealed to by various revolutionary parties, but they are fundamentally incompatible.

First: An academic author owns the copyright on an an article after he writes it, as recognized by law. Since academic journals rely on the free labor of scholars as authors and referees, there is no reason for authors to sign over those rights to the journal. The publisher does add some value, but the scholar gets more from the kudos associated with having a peer-reviewed article accepted than from the other services of the publisher. (Having someone copy edit my prose is good, but not every journal bothers. Appearing in print is nice, but most articles are not widely read. Professionally, the line on my CV is the biggest incentive.)

Second: Academic work is supported by public and educational funds. This is especially true in the sciences, where work is often funded by government or philanthropic grants. Even my work is supported by the state, insofar as it is part of my job to do some research or other. As such, academics are ethically obligated to disseminate the results of their work as widely as possible.

Both these rationales motivate rejecting the traditional model of academic publishing. If published journals are not Open Access, then authors ought to be able to put preprints in Open Access repositories.

I think it is obvious that authors ought to be able to make articles available in some Open Access way. But must they? Here the two rationales disagree. The first insists on authors' rights over their own work, and so must allow that authors may legitimately refuse to allow their work to be deposited in Open Access repositories. The second would find this anathema.

Regardless of how we settle that score, reprint rights are even trickier. If we say that the results of research must be disseminated as widely as possible, then what do we say when a commercial publisher wants to include an article in a collection or textbook? Should the article be free? Should the publisher be required to make a small payment to support Open Access repositories? Should the author or journal be able to set the price or conditions?

Unresolved tension aside, the session gave me something else to think about: I have tried to submit papers to journals with relatively permissive publication agreements. Nevertheless, I have ended up with some papers in more restrictive journals. In those cases, I have gritted my teeth and signed the journals' publication agreements. I now realize that I could have amended or rewritten the agreement. Journals may want unlimited, exclusive rights, but they can publish with something short of that. Now I know that journals may be willing to dicker on the details, so I'll try it next time.

UPDATE: Peter Suber links to a paper which I think deals with the issue that vexes me. I cannot say for certain, however, because the final sentences of the abstract are linguannihilated doublespeak and the article itself is available to paid subscribers only.

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