Words about words 
Miles MacLeod has a nice review of my book over at Metascience. You can see the first two pages for free, which are the ones before he starts raising objections.

I updated the on-line drafts of my work-in-progress papers about what Nelson Goodman would say and what John Stuart Mill would say.

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What venues are there for short papers? 
I have written several papers recently which have turned out to be a bit under 3,000 words each. I could make them longer, of course, but I think they address everything they need to address in order to make the point that I want them to make.

To extend one of these papers, I'd have to widen its scope. Instead of being a short paper that gives a concise argument for P, it would probably become a longer paper that gives arguments for P and Q with implications for R. Worse still, it could become a paper primarily about Q with a section addressing P. But I really think that P is important enough to have a paper written about it, even if I can make the point in 3,000 words!

But where can one submit a paper of this length, without having referees either reject it or insist that it should be resubmitted in a longer form?

Obviously Analysis, but hopefully there are other options. I searched the web for advice and turned up blog discussions from 2007 at Leiter Reports and at Thoughts, Arguments, and Rants. A few comments:

1. The discussion is a bit confused because the original question is posed about "discussion notes", which might mean either short articles or articles that are a direct response to just one other article. I have something in the works that's a discussion piece in the second sense, but it's comfortably long. The two short items are more general.

2. Brian Weatherson suggests that lots of short items should just appear as blog posts, especially if they are just one-off responses to an article or book. I totally agree. Just blog it and move on is good general advice for short items of the 'Some Philosopher Is Wrong' variety.

3. In addition to Analysis, people recommend Phil Quarterly and Dialectica. So there are some options, at least.

4. The commenters on both posts are enthusiastic about the idea that there should be a new journal aimed at short pieces, an on-line or even open-access affair after the fashion of Analysis. One commenter even says that there is something like that in the works but he's not at liberty to share. I suspect, since that was 2007, that it never came to be.

Do any of ya'll have better or more current advice? The three venues I listed above give me someplace to start, but perhaps the landscape has changed in the six years since those blog posts.

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Douglas on progress 
A follow-up to yesterdays' post about Heather Douglas' discussion of Kuhn's inability to make sense of progress:

Her central claim is that Kuhn's trouble with progress results from a commitment to the distinction between pure and applied science. She traces the history of the distinction and shows that it was an unquestioned, implicit part of Kuhn's milieu.

She writes:
I think that this problem of characterizing the progress of science arises for Kuhn, and indeed for philosophers of science generally, primarily because Kuhn (and the current philosophical community) is focused on pure science, quite divorced from applied science. It is an interest in theory, in the theoretical development of science, and theory alone, that generates the puzzle of progress. As such, it is somewhat an artificial problem. If we relinquish the idea that science is only or primarily about theory, the problem of progress disappears.

If we include applications, then there is an obvious sense in which science progresses. Its instrumental power increases over time, as it allows for greater prediction and control. She writes, "With the pure vs. applied distinction removed, scientific progress can be defined in terms of the increased capacity to predict, manipulate, and intervene in various contexts."

Yet she recognizes a dilemma for this account of progress. Either (a) any gain in instrumental power counts as progress or (b) only increase in valuable and important power matters.

(a) The first horn of the dilemma means that even monstrous and terrible power (e.g., efficient methods for genocide) would count as progress. This would not be a "sense of scientific progress that sounds genuinely like progress, with all its positive connotations."

(b) The second horn of the dilemma, Douglas' preferred option, requires (to put it crudely) that real progress is power to predict things that matter and to do good in the world. This aligns scientific progress closely to social progress.

Given my pragmatist sympathies, I am happy to accept that prediction and control are the bounty of science. Yet I don't see how this overcomes Kuhn's problem with progress. A Kuhnian paradigm change can disrupt theoretical progress because standards and meanings change, making some old puzzles either irrelevant or incoherent. In a similar way, social change can disrupt instrumental progress because values change, making old accomplishments irrelevant or worthless.

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Kuhn on progress 
We've finished Structure in my Scientific Revolutions course, and today we're discussing Heather Douglas' forthcoming article "Pure science and the problem of progress". She argues that Kuhn is both committed to there being scientific progress and also forced to deny the possibility of progress. She maintains, furthermore, that this tension results from Kuhn considering science just as basic research. And she offers an alternative way of thinking about progress.

Kuhn even says that something counts as science only insofar as it is capable of progress. Douglas describes this point as "echoing historian George Sarton", which is an interesting connection. (We read Sarton earlier in the semester, too.)

For Kuhn, scientific change occurs at two time scales. Over the short term, normal science exhibits progress by posing and solving puzzles. Yet normal science only occurs within a paradigm. Over the long term, paradigms fall into crisis and are replaced by others. Douglas writes, "Precisely because of the radical nature of change across paradigms, because scientists have to give up on some aspects of the old paradigm in order to embrace the new, any clear rubric for measuring change across paradigms is elusive for Kuhn."

Sarton also views scientific change at two time scales, but his are the reverse of Kuhn's: Over the short term, the development of science is subject to the historical vagaries of particular scientists. They might fail to make progress and might even, for a while, write falsehoods into the annals of science. Over the long term, science is the accumulation of truth. Any once-held falsehoods are ultimately rectified.

So the Kuhn is a like a mirror-universe Sarton.

(More about Douglas' positive account tomorrow.)

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Kuhn without incommensurability 
[cross-posted at It's Only a Theory]

We are finishing the close reading of Kuhn's Structure in my Scientific Revolutions course.

On Wednesday, we talked about Kuhn's claim that different paradigms are incommensurable, and today we talked about the considerations which might convince scientists to shift from the old paradigm to a new one. Kuhn characterizes the shift as a conversion experience, but not one that is totally unmotivated by reasons. Kuhn reviews a whole range of possible reasons, including puzzle-solving power, precision, novel prediction, and simplicity.

He insists that none of these reasons are necessarily decisive, however. He writes that
paradigm debates are not really about relative problem-solving ability.... Instead, the issue is which paradigm should in the future guide research on problems many of which neither competitor can yet claim to resolve completely. A decision between alternate ways of practicing science is called for, and in the circumstances that decision must be based less on past achievement than on future promise. (p. 156)

Because a paradigm serves to guide normal science, accepting a paradigm means committing to do normal science in that way. So the choice is forward-looking, while all of the reasons are backward-looking. So, one might say, the choice of paradigm is strategic rather than simply evidential.

While discussing this passage, I realized that the conclusion does not rely on incommensurability at all. Rather, it just relies on the problem of induction: Past performance of a paradigm provides no guarantee of future results. So proceeding with one paradigm rather than the other is a kind of gamble. Reasonable people with different hunches or different tolerance for risk might disagree about which way to go.

This allows for a philosophically conservative reading of Kuhn which accepts that revolution is different than normal science, because different paradigms would guide scientific practice in substantially different ways. The conservative reading also accepts that the choice between paradigms cannot be determined by the relevant reasons, especially during the period of crisis.

The conservative reading isn't adequate as a reading of Kuhn, because it accepts those things without any appeal to incommensurability. The change between paradigms might be like a conversion experience, as Kuhn would have it, because some strategic choices are; consider choosing a career, choosing to get married, or choosing whether or not to have children. But it might instead be a self-conscious choice, like choosing between mutual funds for your retirement account.

I think that this recommends the conservative reading as a philosophical position, even if it disqualifies it as a reading of Kuhn. The description of normal science and crisis is the really insightful part of Structure, while the stuff about incommensurability is the most problematic.

It occurs to me that what I've called here the conservative reading of Kuhn, in which underdetermination comes from the problem of induction rather than incommensurability, looks a lot like Lakatos' Methodology of Scientific Research Programmes. We're doing Lakatos next week in class, so I'll see if that idea holds up.

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