Twitter buzz 
My department has a widget on its homepage which lists recent department news, and I came in today to find that something had broken in the string of tin cans which I had relied upon turn the Facebook feed to RSS to Javascript to a news box. So the other things I had to do got put on hold while I tried to unbreak our website.

After some searching, I gave up on finding a solution that mirrors the Facebook feed. The same information, more or less, is posted to Twitter. And Twitter provides widgets for mirroring feeds.

However, actually getting one of the Twitter widgets required registering for Twitter. So I did. I had no interest in having a Twitter account for actually tweeting, but whatever.

Almost immediately, I got a notification that someone I know is now following me on Twitter.

[Insert hold music: dum dah dum, doo doo]

I got distracted mid rant. Returning to finish the post, I realized that I might actually prefer Twitter to social microblogging alternatives like posting on Facebook or Google+.

Twitter posts are in many ways like tiny webpages: You can get at them with third-party clients. They are public things that you can link to. You can aggregate or sort them in different ways.

Those are things which are good about the web.

Facebook posts and comments, in contrast, are kept inside Facebook's private garden. You can't link to them. You're at the mercy of Facebook's interface. And Facebook will filter what you and others see in whatever ways they decide to use for now.

So maybe I should use my Twitter account.

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Epicycle on footnotes 
via Leiter, I read a long story by Charlie Tyson at Inside Higher Ed about sloppy citation practice in academic articles.

It's a popular item prompted by Ole Bjørn Rekdal's recent article Academic urban legends, which is specifically about the phenomenon in scientific articles of only citing a recent source for a factoid rather than following that source's reference to the primary source. The result, as his title suggests, is misinformation or misattribution that gathers a veneer of academic authority as it becomes cited and recited.

Tyson takes the occasion to talk about citation practices more broadly, including in the humanities. Historians, he tells us, are scrupulous. Philosophers, not so much. He writes:
Philosophers, by contrast, may be the worst of the lot, one philosopher and journal editor said. "This is part and parcel of the attitude of most philosophers these days," said J. Angelo Corlett, a philosophy professor at San Diego State University and the editor of The Journal of Ethics. "That scholarship matters nothing. That what really matters is the cleverness of your ideas and how you articulate them."

This strikes me as unfair to philosophers.

It is true that academic philosophy is not as dense with citations as writing in many other fields. Many academic fields write with clouds of spurious references. A sentence which makes a general claim often ends with citations to three or more different articles. And often the cited articles only tangentially relate to the point being made. This is why my articles at the boundary of other disciplines are among my most cited work. It would make philosophical writing worse, rather than better, if philosophers were to adopt this practice.

Moreover, an argument is different than a fact. If I present a philosophical argument in a paper, I need to make the case entirely within the paper itself. References might indicate where similar arguments have been made or what earlier work inspired the present argument. For example, it is the standard lazy citation practice to cite Laudan's "Confutation of convergent realism" as the source for the Pessimistic Metainduction. This promulgates a myth, because Laudan means to undercut an argument for realism rather than provide a direct argument for anti-realism.[1] But that's a myth about who said what, rather than (as in a scientific case) what the world outside academia is like.

Furthermore, practices differ within different subfields of philosophy. Historians of philosophy tend to be much more scrupulous. When I am doing exegetical work, attributing specific arguments to other philosophers rather than using their work as the occasion to talk about issues, I am more cautious.


[1] I'm guilty of propagating that myth myself in a paper with Craig Callendar, although we write somewhat cautiously that "Contemporary discussions of this argument begin with Laudan." Juha Saatsi clears it up in his "On the Pessimistic Induction and Two Fallacies". I was going to just assert that I was straightened out by Juha, because I heard his paper first as a conference presentation, but I thought I should provide a reference in this of all posts!

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Remember that time I wrote that thing about that stuff 
When my first paper about distributed cognition was under review, one of the referees objected to my account on the grounds that it would count transactive memory as d-cog. Transactive memory is the phenomenon, familiar to couples and longtime friends, in which partners can cue each other to remember something which neither could remember on their own. I hadn't heard of it before, went and did some research, scratched my head as to how this was supposed to be an objection rather than just a natural consequence of my view, and added transactive memory as a further example of d-cog in my paper.

via a friend's link on Facebook and io9, I just stumbled across some recent work on transactive memory by Harris et al. They readily identify it as a kind of distributed cognition; not because of me, I'm sure, but still vindicating me. Their work suggests that (a) different content tends to be preserved in transactive memory than in individual memory and (b) the task of transactive memory is not straightforwardly to remember better than individual memory, but to maintain memories more reliably as resources fail.


Links:

Remembering together, a British Psychological Society Research Digest summary of Harris et al.

Couples as socially distributed cognitive systems (2014) Celia B Harris, Amanda J Barnier, John Sutton, Paul G Keil. Memory Studies. Behind a paywall.

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Mill still and again 
My second paper on JS Mill and natural kinds was written with the working title "Let a Millian flower bloom". Ultimately, I decided that it needed a more informative title. So it will be presented under another a title and published under a third.

I'll be giving a version as a talk at the PSA in November under the title "What the 19th century knew about natural kinds and the 20th forgot".

And the fully developed paper has been accepted for publication in HOPOS under the title "John Stuart Mill on taxonomy and natural kinds".

A late-stage draft is available on my website.

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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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