Archive for December, 2009

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Fresh Meat

December 27, 2009

I’ve just finished the first evening of the APA. So far it’s been a fun little venture, hanging out with friends from years past. As an exercise in commisery, I’ve been conducting an informal poll of those on the market. Given my deeply scientific sample, I think that I can finally lay the “fresh meat” hypothesis to rest.

The “fresh meat” hypothesis, as I understand it, is that newbies on the philosophy job market have a leg up on the dried and stagnant meat on the market. The governing thought is that being mysterious works in one’s favor, where having a tried and tested track record can actually count against a candidate. Most philosophers like a healthy enigma or two, so I suppose that such a hypothesis may actually carry some weight in a less anomalous market than this one.

Having spoken now to twenty some odd job candidates, it appears that those with the most publications and those who are the furthest away from the PhD are faring far better than those who are either newly minted or are still ABD.

Again, this is hardly a scientific sample, and maybe the dynamics work differently for those in different areas of specializations, or for those with maybe a different pedigree, but the hypothesis that I think is governing this market is the “shark hypothesis.”

These are nasty employment waters, by every account, so it makes sense for all comers to hire those who might be snatched up in an otherwise more robust market. I suspect that search committees are instead seeking out well-established academics, looking to purchase those who might not be available in less competitive years. Not that other years are all that much less competitive, mind you, just that in a “normal” year, there are reasons for search committees to hire according to fit.

At any rate, take heart newbies. It’s a bad year for you. I think market dynamics are pushing search committees to act opportunistically and to take advantage of those with extremely long CVs.

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Riling Up the Luxury Class

December 25, 2009

If concern over the embattled nation of Tuvalu, or over the anticipated inequities of projected droughts in some of the world’s most impoverished countries, doesn’t get your rankles up, maybe this video will. Certainly seems to be the objective of a local Boulder group. Merry Christmas and Happy Hanukkah to all!

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AMS on Geoengineering

December 23, 2009

The American Meteorological Society has just adopted a policy on geoengineering. According to a little mousey, the AGU also adopted it, though I can’t find confirmation of that. Coupla quick thoughts:

Three proactive strategies could reduce the risks of climate change: 1) mitigation: reducing emissions; 2) adaptation: moderating climate impacts by increasing our capacity to cope with them; and 3) geoengineering: deliberately manipulating physical, chemical, or biological aspects of the Earth system2. This policy statement focuses on large-scale efforts to geoengineer the climate system to counteract the consequences of increasing greenhouse gas emissions.

I think this is a sloppy use of the term ‘geoengineering’. It’s way too wide. I prefer ‘remediation’, of which geoengineering is only one tool in the arsenal. If I remediate GHG emissions, I don’t necessarily geoengineer the earth.

The American Meteorological Society recommends:

1. Enhanced research on the scientific and technological potential for geoengineering the climate system, including research on intended and unintended environmental responses.

2. Coordinated study of historical, ethical, legal, and social implications of geoengineering that integrates international, interdisciplinary, and intergenerational issues and perspectives and includes lessons from past efforts to modify weather and climate.

3. Development and analysis of policy options to promote transparency and international cooperation in exploring geoengineering options along with restrictions on reckless efforts to manipulate the climate system.

Basically, they just want to do more research. At least they’re interested in addressing the “historical, ethical, legal, and social implications.” I’ll be curious as to how that works out. In my experience, such statements are mostly lip-service. Maybe I’ll try to pull together a panel or something and see how it flies.

Sorry for the slow posting season. I am frantically — frantically! — shoring up an argument for presentation at the APA next week (Wednesday, ISEE Group Session 9:00-11:00) and also juggling family stuff. Happy holidays!

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Intentionally Empty

December 22, 2009

How do you say “this article is insanely fracking stupid” in journalese? Sometimes I just have to blog about the stupidity of assertions. I mean, seriously:

But before we cede the entire moral penthouse to “committed vegetarians” and “strong ethical vegans,” we might consider that plants no more aspire to being stir-fried in a wok than a hog aspires to being peppercorn-studded in my Christmas clay pot. This is not meant as a trite argument or a chuckled aside. Plants are lively and seek to keep it that way.

Yes, my plants have depressingly unrealistic aspirations. I was just chatting with my arborvitae the other day about his hopes of becoming an investment banker. Money doesn’t grow on trees, he (she? it?) kept telling me, insisting that it must instead grow on hedges.

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Snowed Under

December 21, 2009

Given the recent snowstorms on the east coast, I’m reasonably comfortable living vicariously through my homies and taking a few days off from blogging. Even still, I probably shouldn’t let it be known that I have no idea what to make of the Copenhagen Accord. Looks like a mixed bag. Probably good for domestic policy, possibly a good sign for Boxer-Kerry (though that will depend, in part, on what happens with health care legislation), and possibly a bad sign for relations with the rest of the world. Hard to say. I’m waiting for the dust to settle before I lay out a position on this. Honestly, it’s a sort of WTF accord.

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Killing Aspiration on Future Prospects

December 19, 2009

There’s an interesting discussion going on over at Leiter’s place on the question of whether philosophy PhD programs should cut back on admissions given the increasingly dim job market. Personally, I think it’s up to grad programs simply to level with grad students about their grim employment prospects, but to allow that some people may want to continue their studies because philosophy is redeeming in itself.

When I went off to get my PhD in philosophy, I certainly didn’t know if I’d eventually get a job. This was deeply aware of the possibility that I wouldn’t get a job. Nevertheless, I went…but for different reasons. Sure, I wanted a job in philosophy, but more than anything, I wanted to read philosophy with other people who understood and gave a shit about philosophy too. I felt that I hadn’t explored enough philosophy with my simple BA (even though, by that point, I’d taken 13 classes in philosophy). I thus went into my graduate studies knowing that I may well be spending ten years of my life exploring the ideas of dead people and that I possibly could be unemployable. I did this during the nineties, during the salad days of the Clinton years and the dot.com boom, when every other friend of mine was living the high-life.

Though it was hard to watch my peers advancing their careers and jet-setting around the world, I was sure then, and I’m even more sure now, that I made the right decision. I think there’s a lot to be said for simply pursuing a field because it’s redeeming.  What’s important in making your decision, then, is knowing that you’re stepping into a reasonably depressed job market.

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Need Brakes

December 19, 2009

Frankly, there’s waaay too much going on right now to blog intelligently about it all. Between the COP outcomes, the health care shenanigans, the end of the semester, a looming deadline for a paper I’m slated to deliver at the Eastern Division APA, and the family holiday-wind-up, my head is spinning. I sit down for minutes at my computer and don’t know where to begin.

For the time being, I thought I’d note a nice commentary on noting, written by CU-Boulder’s Kevin Doran over at CEES (Center for Energy and Environmental Security) in our law school. Kevin is one of several of CU jurists at COP, and I think his legal background offers some nice clarity to the “taking note” language.

Also worth exploring is Tom Yulsman’s schtick on REDD. More in a bit.

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Light on Progress

December 17, 2009

It’s hard to sift through the cacophony of voices chiming in on the Copenhagen process, but fortunately, we have Andrew Light, heavy-hitter in the environmental philosophy community and senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, to offer some clarity. I’ve known Andrew for many years now, and I have always felt that his grasp of and his breadth in the scholarly literature in philosophy was top-notch, but watching him navigate the confusion and noise in Copenhagen is really a sight to behold. Do yourselves a favor and spend the next six minutes watching this video.

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What Works?

December 17, 2009

My buddy Tom Yulsman got me thinking this morning about what “works.” He offers this post, in part a response to my earlier Gaia’s Fever post, querying whether the “framing” of the offending video does the trick. (Hah! There’s that word again.)

The language of “working” is funny, but I think that it deserves a bit of exploration here, as Colorado houses a fair number of pragmatists (me, Roger Pielke Jr., Dave Cherney, and so it seems, Tom). There are others too, sometimes appearing in the garb of the policy sciences, but alas, they don’t have blogs.

One of the distinguishing characteristics of pragmatism is its emphasis on “what works,” so it might be helpful to lay out what we mean by it. I suspect we differ slightly. I’d be curious also to hear from Tom and Roger on their own views. My view, effectively, is influenced heavily by people like Jürgen Habermas and those who have influenced him, so it’s a somewhat neo-Kantian, post-Hegelian, Dewey-cum-Mead-cum-Rawls sort of pragmatism. In other words, I think not that the “truth is what works,” as William James liked to say, but that we are, at best, always on a path that is “truth-, right-, and rightness-seeking” and that our unique burden is to try to sort and hash this stuff out amongst ourselves.

Lots of people find pragmatism threatening because it appears to untie truth-claims from their moorings, but I don’t think it needs to go that far. It may be best to think of truth claims as claims that help explain the world, though they can never quite get there. The view I endorse is therefore a variation on realism, though of an internal sort.

One confusion that often emerges in discussion of pragmatic theories of truth, rightness or truthfulness — validity claims, if you will — is a presumption that the claims in question are best understood in terms of their framing and not in terms of their substance. It seems to me that slipping over into framing language undermines the true insight and force of a pragmatic theory that aims at clarity and understanding.  It’s not that validity claims are in place to “work,” in the sense that they trick (tee hee!) people into believing something that they otherwise ought not to believe, but that they are they are in place to “work,” in the sense that they adequately or accurately describe the world to a reciprocally-engaged set of speakers and hearers, given a somewhat amorphous set of external factors that impact the way in which those claims contextually fit.

All of that encourages me to respond to Tom’s query with this comment to Tom:

It’s interesting that you approach this from the standpoint of framing. Disciplinary differences between us, I suppose, but I don’t see why we should focus too much on the framing question. It is true, probably, that some (maybe many) people may be more moved to act by the prospect of innovation and progress in energy technology… but that’s certainly not true for all people. Lots of people are moved to act because they are scared limp, or because they anthropomorphize the earth and don’t want to hurt their mother. It’s probably fair to say that the people who made this video think that. Some people are also motivated to move because they think that God has told them that the earth needs to be stewarded. Maybe that works too.

So one question for me, I guess, is not whether this “works” — as it probably works in some contexts — but whether or not it is apt, whether or not it really tells us something that is (near to) accurate and also helpful. Maybe the God trope works very well, but I wouldn’t want to endorse it. I find it extremely problematic.

Those are my words. It’s a little strange to quote myself… but so it is.

The question, then, is how others understand “what works.” Are we bound to understand what works strictly in terms of framing, or is it plausible to be a realist and nevertheless accept that truth, rightness, or truthfulness claims are always open for revision, always a part of a larger discussion which situates and underwrites those claims.

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Access to Data

December 16, 2009

NewScientist offers what I consider a completely plausible explanation as to why CRU has not been more forthcoming with some of the data. I’ve mentioned this before, in earlier threads, speaking only hypothetically, but here it is, straight from the horse’s pie hole. (What the hell is a pie hole, after all? And if it is what I think it is, it seems strange to consider a pie hole working in reverse, as when talking. Pies go into holes, they don’t come out of them.)

Much data remains under lock and key. It is tied up in confidentiality agreements with the governments that provided it. The Met Office and the UK government say they are now seeking permission to publish it. What they have not yet publicly revealed is that under a confidentiality agreement between the Met Office and the UK’s Natural Environment Research Council, a portion of the UK’s own temperature measurements is only made available to “bona fide academic researchers working on agreed NERC-endorsed scientific programmes”. Why? So that the data can be sold privately. “We have to offset our costs for the benefit of the taxpayer, so we balance that against freedom of access,” says David Britton, a spokesman for the Met Office.

Yes. Exactly.

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