Feminist philsci 
Last week I sat in on a meeting of a feminist philosophy course taught by my colleague Kristen Hessler. She was doing a unit on feminist philosophy of science and invited me to say a bit about how it relates to philosophy of science generally.

It occurred to me that feminist philosophy of science was a considerable influence on me. I got started writing about underdetermination when I was in grad school by thinking about Helen Longino's work. That ended up being the topic of my dissertation and many of my early papers.

Here are two other related thoughts: one about the significance of 1980s and 90s feminist philosophy of science, and another about two strands in the literature on values and science.

1. I hypothesize that feminist philosophy of science in the 1990s was crucial for subsequent literature that takes seriously the entanglement of science and values. Philosophers often presumed a value-free conception, especially in the Science Wars waged against relativist sociologists and others. Feminist philosophy of science modelled an alternative -- a way to recognize values in science without wild relativism.

There was not really a "values and science" literature in the 1990s the way that there is now. My guess is that this has been possible in part because of the initial wedge provided by feminist philosophy of science.

2. The literature in the 21st century has gone in two directions.

Literature in feminist philosophy of science has articulated ways in which specific sciences involve thick evaluative concepts, can change our conception of what is good, and so on. As these cases have been elaborated, the entanglement with values doesn't depend on some general argument which applies to all science (like underdetermination) but instead on details about particular cases. So this literature has narrowed insofar as it only applies clearly to specific cases, mostly in human and biological sciences. It is not clear how gender is entangled with (e.g.) astronomy.

There is also an active literature on values in science which is not explicitly feminist. For example, Heather Douglas argues that values always play an indirect role in theory choice. That is, adopting a theory reflects not just the evidence but also an assessment of the costs of possible errors and the benefits of possible accurate judgments. Another example: Justin Biddle and Eric Winsberg on climate science, who argue that current science is path-dependent. It reflects not just the evidence but also which prior enquiries were conducted and in which order. So value-laden choices about what to study and when effect the outcome of enquiries now.

Note that these latter considerations are, in one sense, broader than those raised by feminists. They apply to pretty much all science -- to astronomy as much as to biology and human sciences.

In another sense, they are narrower. Feminist philosophers of science argue against any limitation on what values may influence science. For the indirect role of values, it's only assessments about costs of various errors. For path-dependence, it's only past judgements about what ought to be done.

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I ought to mention 
I recently posted an updated version of my paper, coauthored with Jon Mandle, on the is-ought gap.

Somehow the gravitas of blogging has made me hesitant to post one-liners like this. I too-easily forget that I used to have an RSS feed just for new papers and updates to drafts, and that I suspended that when I started blogging because I could write one-liner developments posts to achieve the same effect.

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The internal proletariat is a-risin' (maybe) 
There seems to be more campus activism now than there was a decade ago or (peering further into the past) when I was a student in the 90s and early 00s. However, there's a loud chorus of the jabbering about current activism which decries student activists as entitled cry-babies who want to undo the enlightenment.

This story at the Daily Beast leads with the headline "The College That Wants to Ban 'History'". The story is actually about students at Western Washington University who issued over-the-top demands in which they opted to spell 'history' as 'hxstory' and 'person' as 'persxn'. Coverage at Inside Higher Ed is even-handed enough to note that this spelling is a peculiar affectation: "Replacing certain letters in pronouns or some other words (like 'Latinx' for Latino or Latina) with an X is [a] strategy to avoid gendered language. Changing other words, like 'person' and 'history,' in that way does not appear to be a very common at all, however: neither 'hxstory' nor 'persxn' have been used often enough to be graphable by Google Trends."

It seems unlikely this is actually a substantial student movement. The group's petition has only reached half of its goal signatures, and most of those are transparently unserious. Some use perennial joke names like 'Benjamin Dover'. Some use less common joke names like 'Solomon Lowe' and 'Mush Forbrains'. Others didn't even bother with joke names and just sign the petition with expletives, like 'Lolololol NOPE' and 'Demanding Entitled Shithead'.
Read More...

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Illicit repost about covers 
Last week, Rob Loftis was musing about covers over on Facebook:
If there's a song that sucks, but then someone comes along and does a cover of it that rules, does that mean that the song didn't really ever suck to begin with?

Have I violated a norm by cutting and pasting this comment into a blog post? Facebook is only a semi-public space. I can link to his comment, but it shows up as not available right now if you're not logged in and if you don't occupy a point close enough to Loftis in Facebook-space. This ambiguous publicity irks me about a lot of conversations on the internet: What we would have said in the comments section of a blog five years ago now gets said as a comment in somebody's Facebook feed. The Facebook algorithm might cough it up five years from now to say "Remember this!", but you've got little chance of finding it again if you just go looking and no chance if you do a general search.

In any case, I followed up with a comment about some of the literature on cover songs. The answer to his question is that it depends. Sometimes your reaction to the original version was an unfair condemnation of the song, sometimes the later cover is great despite the song being terrible, and sometimes the cover is transformative and creates an awesome new song that's a descendant of the crummy old one.

In any case, Rob looked at the paper and left this comment:
You mention that recorded mimic covers are rare because they don't really serve a purpose, but I can think of two kinds of exceptions to that. Sometimes movie producers will actually record a mimic cover because it is cheaper than licencing the original. Also, you sometimes see hastily done mimic covers on iTunes trying to capitalize on people who search for a song, but don't know the name of the original artist, and might wind up downloading the wrong track.

Cool examples. They're kind of odd cases though, and so I take them as friendly adjustments to our claim that mimic covers aren't usually recorded.

Someone else in the comments on Rob's post mentions the Onion AV Club Undercover, which had somehow escaped my attention. It's been going on for six years.

They Might Be Giants do a brilliant cover of Tubthumping that brings in all the Onion office staff.

The Polyphonic Spree does a cover of Neil Young's Heart of Gold that tampered with my memory of the original. It made me uncertain as to there were horns in Neil Young's version, because they fit so well into the song.

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Archives 
The archivist at Scholars Archive, the UAlbany institutional archive, offered to take my CV and the preprints on my website and add them as entries to the archive. It's now done.

A search for works by me in the archive turns up various editions of forall x at the top, because I've been using Scholars Archive for the last revision or two of the book. But below that there are entries for lots of papers.

I'm not sure if this will make my work available or salient to anyone who wouldn't have gotten it anyway, since I have the papers on my personal website. I figure it can't hurt.

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