Pluto pictures prompt ponderous posturing 
The New Horizons probe has just passed by Pluto, providing the more detailed pictures of it than we've ever had. People are excited about it, because it's cool.

Predictably, however, it's also been an occasion for whinging about the word "planet". The New Horizons team wants to talk up Pluto as a planet.

They are happy to play it up for a reporter. Alan Stern, the mission's principal investigator, complains that the IAU definition is "rather unscientific", that it's "trying to legislate what is and isn't a planet -- to keep the numbers small." His idea, I think, is that the discovery of Eris and other Kuiper belt objects revealed that there were too many planets to make up a countable list for school children. He raises some of the usual objections against the orbit-clearing criterion which figures in the official definition of "planet".

My view on this is that the 2006 decision to regiment the word "planet" in a way that excluded Pluto made the word track a natural kind. There's a broader natural kind which includes the planets, Pluto, Ceres, Eris, and a great many other round solar satellites. Astronomers could have made "planet" pick out that broader category, at the cost of reclassifying the asteroid Ceres. Either way, folk use of the term was going to take some bruising. (I deal elsewhere with the usual objections.)

The New Horizons team has some professional investment in the status of Pluto, of course. And their focus on studying Pluto also means that they are focused on phenomena which make the broader natural kind more salient for them. But it misrepresents the way that scientific language works to pretend that there was only one scientific thing for the IAU to do.


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Trouble in d-cog land 
Matt Brown has a short article on d-cog at the Social Epistemology Review and Reply Collective. It's something between a critical notice and a blog post, I guess.

Brown's aim, narrowly, is to engage Ron Giere's claim that distributed cognition counts as cognitive in virtue of having individual doxastic states among its outputs. His argument, by way of Wilfred Sellars and Paul Churchland, is to argue that the model of individual doxastic states itself elides all the material and social distribution that necessarily contribute to doxastic states.

In my own work, I've argued for a thin conception of d-cog according to which "an activity is d-cog if (1) the task is such that it would count as cognition if it were carried out entirely in a single mind or brain, and (2) the process by which the task is carried out is not enclosed within the boundary of a single organism."

Brown's argument seems to open up this objection to my conception: Belief and knowledge are never and could never be entirely in a single mind or brain. As such, it seems false that they would "would count as cognition if... carried out entirely in a single mind or brain". At best, it's undefined as to whether they would.

I find both my own conception and Brown's argument plausible. I'm not sure how to resolve this.

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LeWitt (1968) x Conway (1970) 
Divide a wall into a square grid. Mark arbitrary grid elements with a horizontal line about one-fifth of the way down in the square.

For every cell that was marked to begin with, if it is adjacent to two or three marked squares, mark it with another horizontal line about two-fifths of the way down in the square.
For every unmarked cell, mark it with a line if exactly three of the adjacent grid elements are marked.

Repeat with lines horizontal lines three-fifths of the way down, based on the previous lines.

Continue for a total of twenty sets of lines: The fifth set of lines will be at the bottom of the squares. For the sixth set of lines, mark vertical lines one-fifth of the way across the square... and so on. For the eleventh set of lines, mark diagonal lines one-fifth of the way across. For the sixteenth set, mark diagonal lines which slope in the other direction.

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Cited more often than the norm 
Justin at Daily Nous quotes the statistic that "82 per cent of articles published in humanities are not even cited once." Turning this around, only 18% are cited.

I was curious about how my own papers fared in this regard. Starting with data from Google Scholar and correcting some, 68% of my publications have been cited. One of the corrections was to dismiss articles which were only cited by me in another article. Counting self-citations, the rate jumps to 78%.

In a more self-serving mood, but the quality of my work is only one factor here.

Another factor is that all of my papers are readily available on-line. Once there's a draft worth sharing, I post it to my website. I update it with my final draft once it's accepted for publication, and I continue to make it available. The result is that people who are puttering around on a topic are likely to come across my work, and then they can cite me. This is certainly how forall x, my open-access logic textbook, has come to be cited 11 times. And I have some conference papers and working drafts which have been cited even though they've never been available anywhere but on my website.

In discussions of whether to post papers on-line or not, people underrate the advantages. People who notice my work because it's on-line almost never tell me about, but sometimes they do cite me.

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Counting journals that count 
There is administrative pressure, for purposes of tenure and promotion, to list the top philosophy journals. Some disciplines have lists which are approved by their professional organizations. So people from outside the department are sometimes incredulous that philosophy doesn't.

But we don't. Letter writers for T&P cases tend to say this but then waive their hands at the relative status of various journals, possibly linking to a blog post or something.

I have recently thought that it would be good to have a general statement about this for administrative purposes, rather than putting something together on an ad hoc basis for every case. Below the fold is a draft of what a general statement might look like. It's an alpha version, and I am not confidently committed to other the contents or the form of presentation. So quoting it without that proviso is likely to earn my wrath. Talking about it as a possibly half-baked blog post is fine, though, and I'd appreciate feedback.
Read More...

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