What I said in Paris, more or less 
The talk I gave in France a few months ago was mostly a paper, but there were parts I hadn't written out. I had bullet points where I was saying things I've shown in other papers or in my book, because I could talk those through just fine without scripting them precisely.

I finally got around to filling in those lacunae, and today I posted a draft.

I am sure there are places where I should say more in order to be clear, but I am not sure where they are. If I elaborated on every point where I could say more, it would recapitulate most of my prior work. So, if you take a look, I'd be glad to hear which parts seem to go by too quickly.

Link: Taxonomy, ontology, and causation

Abstract: When we ask what natural kinds are, there are two different things we might have in mind. The first, which I'll call the taxonomy question, is what distinguishes a category which is a natural kind from an arbitrary class. The second, which I'll call the ontology question, is what manner of stuff there is that realizes the category. When causal accounts of natural kinds are assessed without clearly distinguishing these two questions, they fare poorly. The reason is that causal structure only provides an answer to the ontology question, it does so for many but not all natural kinds, and even where it applies it provides some importantly different kinds of answers. This confusion occurs when philosophers take John Stuart Mill's Kinds to be predecessors of our natural kinds, because it ignores Mill's equal commitment to what he calls natural groups as the right categories for scientific taxonomy. It occurs, too, when philosophers take homeostatic property cluster (HPC) accounts as a candidate definition for `natural kind', because being an HPC is neither necessary nor sufficient for being a natural kind. So we should think of causal accounts as just partial answers to the ontology question. I argue that most philosophers have systematically failed to distinguish these questions but that making doing so would offer several advantages.

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Referee calls foul 
In discussions of peer review, somebody always mentions referees searching the internet to suss out who the author is. There is disagreement about how common this is. Inevitably, somebody recounts rumours about scholars who do this before even reading a paper they've been asked to review, and everybody involved in the conversation mumbles and swears that they never do it.

I do not know how common the search-before-reading approach to refereeing is. I also don't know how pernicious it really is, although the phenomenon of implicit bias suggests that it's probably more pernicious than one would think.

Regardless, it is clearly a perversion of blind peer review. The process is constructed precisely so that the referee can read the paper without knowing the identity of the author.*

So imagine my surprise when I was invited to referee a paper, I logged into Editorial Manager, and one of the Action Links was to do a Google Scholar Title Search. This was the option right below View Submission, which is what I had to select to download a PDF of the paper. So the submission management website gave me a quick link for the search-before-reading approach and made it salient by putting it somewhere I was likely to see it.**

Crikey!


* Sometimes anonymity breaks down, because the referee already knows the work (from a conference, say) or has a good guess who the author is (because the work extends the author's earlier work or is written in a distinctive style). I think that a referee has an obligation to let the editor know about the breakdown in anonymity, and the editor can decide how to proceed. Sometimes it makes sense to use the referee's report anyway.
** Actually I had already downloaded the PDF, because there was also a direct link in the invitation to referee the paper. But I only followed that link first, rather than the link to Editorial Manager, because I wanted to take a look at the paper before agreeing to referee it. In a different mood, I might have followed the agree link first.

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Ergo, ego 
Ergo, a new open access philosophy journal, recently posted its first issue. It includes a long introductory essay by Franz Huber and Jonathan Weisberg explaining why they think the new journal is important. One reason, they write, is that "By partnering with publishers instead of open access initiatives at university libraries, we effectively give our work over to middlemen from whom libraries must then buy it back."

I have begun to feel this in my own research. When I find a reference to a recent article and my university doesn't get the journal, I stop short. Often I do the work to get my hands on a copy, but sometimes I don't. And scholars all over the world face that same situation. So the article is not read as much and is not as influential as it could be if it were readily available for download.

My recent practice has been to e-mail the author of the paper and ask if they could send me a PDF. The response tends to be friendly and enthusiastic. In some cases, authors hadn't even realized that their paper had finally been published!

To sum up, I am an enthusiastic supporter of open access journals in general and Ergo in particular. So I'm especially pleased that they have accepted my paper Science and rationality for one and all.

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UAlbany philosophy, still changing 
My colleague Bonnie Steinbock has retired after long and distinguished service to the department. There was a retirement party for her earlier this week. This time, we thought to take a group photo before anyone had left.


Read More...

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Amalgamating ratings 
Although I haven't been following it closely, last year President Obama proposed rating universities using factors like affordability and graduation rates. TIME recently hacked together an example of how such a system might turn out for 2500 colleges and universities in the US.

The ranking is generated from just three components: graduation rate, percentage of students receiving Pell grants, and affordability (the inverse of cost).

The University at Albany comes in at a respectable 129th.

That showing depends on how the various factors are weighted, however, because UAlbany does not do as well given any of the components separately: 299th in graduation rates, 535th in Pell grants, and 277th in affordability.

The greater oddity is that none of these components indicate the quality of instruction offered by the institution. However, they might be as good a thing to base a decision on as alumni giving rates, which is a major component of the usual rankings.

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