Welcome to Science Visions, Vol. 3, No. 3. Hope to see you at the PSA conference in Baltimore next month!
Caucus Announcements: Women’s Caucus Meeting at the PSA Conference and Online; Co-editor Needed
Feature: EPSA Women’s Caucus Social
Highlighted Philosop-Her of Science: Sarah Wieten
What We Wish We’d Known: Mentorship Opportunities for Graduate Students
Teaching During the Pandemic: North American Indigenous Philosophy of Interconnectedness & Pandemic Ethics
Women’s Caucus Meeting Agendas Attached
The PSA Women’s Caucus will meet (in-person) on Saturday November 13th from 12:30-1:45pm during the PSA conference in Baltimore (meeting agenda attached at the end of the newsletter).
To meet the demands of our membership, we will be holding an additional virtual meetingon Saturday November 20th at 5pm EST via Zoom. During this meeting, we will discuss the possibility of broadening the PSA Women’s Caucus to create space for all academics from marginalized groups and issues that affect all academics from marginalized groups (meeting agenda attached at the end of the newsletter).
Following the virtual meeting of the PSA Women’s Caucus a virtual vote will be held regarding this broadening of purview. During that time, notes from both meetings will be distributed to membership for those who could not attend one or both of the meetings.
Cailin O'Connor won the PSA Women's Caucus Prize in Feminist Philosophy of Science for her recent book, The Origins of Unfairness: Social Categories and Cultural Evolution. This prize is awarded biennially for the best book, article, or chapter published in English in the area of feminist philosophy of science within the five years prior to each PSA meeting. The winner receives an award of $500, which is presented at the upcoming PSA meeting. It should be noted, Cailin’s book was nominated as part of the 2020 award cycle, prior to her becoming the PSA Women’s Caucus Senior Co-chair. The co-chairs, Anya and Sarah, would like to thank all committee members for their time and dedication to selecting this year’s winner. Congratulations Cailin!
The PSA Women’s Caucus is delighted to announce the third Women’s Caucus Prize Symposium, “Conceptual and Methodological Challenges in Algorithmic Fairness". The 2020 PSA Women’s Caucus Prize Symposium, organized by Sina Fazelpour and Daniel Malinsky, was selected from a very competitive pool of applicants for its exceptional quality and relevance to our membership. “Conceptual and Methodological Challenges in Algorithmic Fairness” addresses the broad question of how predictive models trained on imperfect data may amplify disparities, inequalities, and biases. The emerging field of algorithmic fairness aims to orient algorithm design towards respecting ideals of fairness and justice. This multidisciplinary symposium will bridge the technical literature on algorithmic fairness with philosophy of science by introducing philosophers of science to some of the main challenges faced by applied researchers and bringing to bear philosophical analysis on some of the contested ingredients of fair machine learning proposals. Participants come from backgrounds in philosophy, computer science, sociology, law, and the tech industry. Don’t forget to attend this important session on Saturday November 13th from 9-12:15pm (hybrid presentation format)! The co-chairs would like to thank all committee members who served. The committee read a number of submissions and had a very difficult time choosing a winner. Congratulations to Sina Fazelpour and Daniel Malinsky.
Co-editor Needed: We are currently looking for a new co-editor for Science Visions, the PSA Women’s Caucus quarterly newsletter. The new editor will help the current editor run the "Highlighted Philosop-Her of Science" section, where a woman philosopher of science is publicly recognized to the Caucus Membership once a quarter. The editor's duties include soliciting nominations for the section, contacting featured philosophers, and assembling contents. If you are interested in the position, please contact editor Haomiao Yu at <email@example.com>.
Feature: The First PSA/EPSA Women’s Caucus Social
On August 23rd, the PSA Women’s Caucus joined, for the first time, the EPSA Women’s Caucus for an informal gathering. Utilizing the platform Gather, members from both caucuses met virtually in a pixilated rooftop bar! As this was our first gathering, much of the informal discussion centered on the history and formation of the caucuses as well as current projects. As both caucuses’ leadership were present, lots of great ideas were noted and we hope even more of our members will be in attendance for the next PSA/EPSA Women’s Caucus Social (TBD). Perhaps more importantly during a pandemic, it was just good to see so many friends.
The PSA Women's Caucus was founded in November 2006 at the PSA meeting in Vancouver, BC. The goals of the Caucus are to informally mentor women entering the philosophy of science, to provide an opportunity for networking among the women of the PSA, to raise the visibility of women in the field, and to address any concerns about women and gender in the PSA.
The EPSA Women’s Caucus was founded on 6 October 2011 at the 3rd biennial conference of the EPSA in Athens, Greece. Its goals are to promote networking, research collaboration, and informal peer mentoring among women and other under-represented groups in philosophy of science, as well as to make the presence of women and other under-represented groups in the field more visible.
Sarah Wieten is currently a postdoctoral fellow at the Meta-Research Innovation Center at Stanford University (METRICS). And, starting in 2022, Sarah will be an Assistant Professor of Philosophy at Durham University. Sarah’s specialties are in the Philosophy of Medicine, Biomedical and Clinical Ethics, and Meta Research.
One of her earliest encounters with something like philosophy was for an English class, where she argued at length that the rating percentage index—which tracked data about how some wins are worth more than others depending on the team—was a flawed way of ranking basketball teams for the NCAA tournament. Later, she received her BA in Philosophy, Politics and the Public at Xavier University, which was followed by her pursuing a graduate degree in continental philosophy at the University of South Florida (USF). It was during her years at USF that she discovered her interests in medicine and bioethics. She took a philosophy of medicine course with Professor William Goodwin, who, at Sarah’s request, provided her a long list of philosophers of medicine and related philosophy of science papers for further research. Her newly found interest led her to apply to a graduate program that offered more resources on this topic, and so she ended-up pursuing and eventually finishing her PhD at Durham University, working with Professors Nancy Cartwright and Julian Reiss at the Centre for Humanity Engaging Science and Society (CHESS).
After completing her PhD at Durham, Sarah was briefly a visiting scholar at Dalhousie University, and a visiting assistant professor at Indiana University of Pennsylvania. She first worked at Stanford in the Center for Biomedical Ethics as the Clinical Ethics Fellow. Stanford Hospital has a very busy clinical ethics consultation service, taking over 400 cases per year. In this position, she responded to ethical concerns raised by patients, families, doctors, nurses and others in the hospital setting. Common issues at stake in these cases include appropriate surrogate decision making, the withdrawal of interventions at the end of life, mediating disputes between various stakeholders and eliciting and interpreting patient wishes for their treatment. She was a member of the Stanford Hospital Ethics Committee, the Pediatric Ethics Committee and involved in the Center’s research ethics consulting service.
Today, Sarah is a post-doctoral researcher at METRICS. More specifically, within her meta science unit, she works alongside MDs, epidemiologists, and others, all of whom discuss trial methodologies, attempts to improve the peer-review process, the impact of conflicts of interest, and more.
Sarah claims that while there’s a lot of philosophy happening in these non-philosophy department contexts, and while sometimes these interlocutors don’t recognize that the questions and concerns they are addressing are philosophical, philosophy has a lot to offer in these settings.
Professor Alison McConwell (U of Massachuttes-Lowell), who nominated Sarah and met her as a fellow post-doc at Stanford, writes the following about Sarah’s role and impact:
“[A]t the time Sarah was working in the Center for Biomedical Ethics. Introduced by a mentor we had in common, we began meeting for coffee in our roles as new postdoctoral scholars at the school. Sarah worked with an incredible network of interdisciplinary scholars and obtained hands-on experience advising doctors, nurses, patients, and patients’ families on complex issues as a Clinical Ethics Fellow in the Stanford Hospital, sometimes at the pediatrics hospital, and other clinics. To be clear, Sarah worked as a “philosopher on call” for two-week periods extending over two years, and even in the middle of the night (and often in the middle of coffee!!). Her dedication to this role was inspiring. She no doubt had a meaningful impact on the lives of patients, their families, and their medical teams. To me, Sarah’s work and experiences exemplify the meaning of socially-engaged philosophy and grounds a notion of philosophical practice closely tied to one’s area of study. Since our time as postdocs, we have written together, made presentation plans together, and have gone through both uncertain and exciting career changes alongside one another. I’m proud to be her colleague and to call her my friend as we venture down the winding path of academia…even though I never did get to see her wearing that white lab coat after all! Cheers to Sarah and all her hard work making a difference in people’s lives.”
Sarah’s academic research is guided by the following question: how does what we know impact what we should do? She is interested in how our normative claims are informed by our empirical knowledge. One example in which she tackles this question with this answer is in a forthcoming paper with Noah Haber and 40 other co-authors, titled “Causal and Associational Linking Language From Observational Research and Health Evaluation Literature in Practice: A systematic language evaluation.”
The question posed in this paper is “how do scientists use causal language in their papers?” Do scientists talk about “association” instead of “causation”? Under what circumstances? Are the current journal policies policing causal language appropriate and useful?
As for Sarah’s community goals, she hopes to improve peer-support groups for clinical ethics fellows/trainees from across the country and to focus on making scientifically accessible philosophical content. She wants philosophers and scientists to resist the idea that scientists don’t care about philosophy of science, and so a future career goal for her is to facilitate more engagement and acceptance between scientists (especially social scientists) and philosophers. And she's already taking a concrete step in this direction: when she begins her new role as Assistant Professor at Durham University, she plans to become very active at the Centre for Humanities Engaging Science and Society (CHESS).
Sarah wants the PSA Women’s Caucus to know that she feels very lucky and grateful to have had such a strong generation of feminist philosophers before her. She was excited to receive that list of work from William Goodwin that included names like Longino, Wylie, Lloyd, Douglas, Cartwright, Parker, and many others. Their mentorship and work made her want to stay in philosophy. She hopes to continue the tradition they started and to concretely support other women (including transwomen), persons of color, disabled people, and LGBTQ+ individuals in philosophy of science.
What We Wish We’d Known: Mentorship Opportunities for Graduate Students
What We Wish We’d Known is a short opinion column that features advice from female philosophers of science about a particular aspect of academic life. To suggest future topics or volunteer as a writer for a future column, please contact Jacob Neal at <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Mentorship Opportunities for Graduate Students
by Jacob Neal
Even in the best of times, being a graduate student in philosophy can be challenging. Most successful students develop a network of peers and faculty who offer guidance and support throughout the doctoral program and beyond. Ideally, such networks begin at a student’s home institution, with supportive colleagues and faculty mentors. However, additional mentorship opportunities exist in the broader philosophical community for graduate students at different stages in their careers. Below, Marcus Arvan and Jill North describe two formal mentorship programs for graduate students. Please follow the links below for more information on the programs and how to participate.
Athena in Action: A Networking and Mentoring Workshop for Graduate Student Women in Philosophy is a biennial workshop series that brings together a group of 40 graduate students and 14 women faculty mentors for three days of substantive philosophical discussion and professional advice sessions. It is organized by co-directors Elisabeth Camp (Rutgers University), Elizabeth Harman (Princeton University), and Jill North (Rutgers University). The next workshop will be held June 27-30, 2022 at Rutgers University, and the call for applications is available here.
The workshops have reached more than 160 students so far, with some participants commenting: "Attending the workshop was one of the most exciting experiences in my graduate school career”; “The workshop gave me the confidence to feel like I could make it in this profession”; and, “The discussions were simply the best time I've had doing philosophy, ever.” Participants benefit from getting to know the other talented graduate students and the faculty members, and from hearing mentors’ advice on topics of interest to women in the profession. Seven students have had their papers discussed at pre-read discussion sessions with student commentators. Advice sessions address topics such as getting the most out of graduate school; writing a dissertation; publishing; presenting and participating at conferences; preparing for and going on the job market; teaching; starting a tenure-track job; and balancing work with the rest of life.
Since 2016, in association with The Philosophers’ Cocoon: A Safe and Supportive Forum for Early Career Philosophers, Helen De Cruz (St. Louis University) and Marcus Arvan (University of Tampa) have co-organized this all-volunteer job market mentoring program for job candidates in philosophy, particularly candidates who may face special job market challenges on the basis of social identity (e.g., race, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, national origin, mental illness, etc.). The program pairs job candidates in need with experienced mentors of similar backgrounds and interests, who can provide their mentee with guidance on application materials, interviewing, and emotional support. Initially, the program focused on providing mentors for candidates seeking academic employment in the US and around the world. However, over the past couple of years, the program has expanded to include mentoring for non-academic jobs, pairing new and recent philosophy PhDs with mentors working in non-academic industries. To date, the program has served 164 mentees in need, thanks to the efforts of the program’s volunteer mentors. Applications for the mentoring program are currently closed, as the program is designed to coincide with the annual academic job cycle. Applications open on the program’s website each year in June, and are accepted via a link on the website usually through the beginning of August.
Teaching During the Pandemic: North American Indigenous Philosophy of Interconnectedness & Pandemic Ethicsby Janella Baxter
For the past few years, I’ve been teaching units on Native American philosophy in both biomedical and environmental ethics. The concept of interconnectedness arises in many of the readings I assign my biomedical and environmental ethics students. The concept itself is exquisitely rich – interconnected with numerous other concepts and principles that shape ideas of many North American tribes. Interconnectedness is a metaphysical view about how everything is causally connected to everything else. However, it also has profound ethical, social, and political consequences. In the crisis of the pandemic, I’ve heard concerns about the autonomy and freedom of individuals voiced powerfully from many areas of society – recently from a professor of ethics who has expressed dire distress at being mandated by her university to take a COVID-19 vaccine. It seems clear to me that a very different set of attitudes and concerns emerge from the readings I assign in biomedical and environmental authored by North American indigenous writers. The perspectives that arise from these readings are ones that rarely, if ever, get heard and amplified by mainstream media outlets. However, I think these perspectives are worth acknowledging, because they destabilize fundamental assumptions that shape mainstream narratives.
Before I begin, I want to address my authority – or rather lack of authority – with regards North American indigenous philosophies. My father is a member of the Choctaw Nation and spent much of his life in the Choctaw territory of Oklahoma. My father’s great grandfather, Henry Dukes, was the last elected chief of the Choctaw Nation. To be clear, I do not identify as Choctaw for a myriad of reasons. Perhaps the most serious of which is that I had never visited Choctaw territory until I was in my twenties and have never been an active member of their community. Nevertheless, my father is a wealth of knowledge about Choctaw history and his stories had a profound impact on me. For example, my formal education experiences from high school through graduate school were marked by repeated instances of institutions either whitewashing or grossly distorting the ongoing brutal history of American colonization. I remember vividly having to correct my freshman high school English teacher’s assertion that the Trail of Tears is not a rite of passage ritual for indigenous people. These experiences guided me to intensive study of indigenous history and philosophy as an undergraduate. I do not consider myself to be an expert on the experiences and ideas of Native people in North America. However, I often find myself to be more of an expert on these issues than many of my colleagues in professional philosophy. Incorporating works by Native authors into my course syllabuses is the least I can do. It’s the least I can do to honor my father’s life and the lives of Native peoples from whom this land was violently taken. And it’s the least I can do to give our students a genuine opportunity to appreciate viewpoints that are genuinely different from their own.
Each indigenous tribe has its own history and system of beliefs. This makes drawing generalizations across tribes particularly tricky. However, the indigenous scholar and activist (not to mention former teacher, mentor, and friend of mine), Jennifer Lisa Vest, argues that the concept of interconnectedness has a relatively common logic shared across a number of North American nations. Vest, drawing on the writings of a myriad of indigenous authors such as Vine Deloria Jr. Viola Cordova, Leslie Marmon Silko, and more, describes interconnectedness as a metaphysical view (Vest 2000).
For many indigenous communities, at least in the North Americas, the physical, mental, and spiritual world are all causally connected. What happens in one domain can influence what happens in another. Interconnectedness is often illustrated with examples of imbalance in an ecological system causing spiritual, psychological, and/or physical imbalance elsewhere. Dr. Lori Arviso Alvord, a Navajo surgeon, provides an illustrative example in chapter 8 of her memoir The Scalpel and the Silver Bear. According to Dr. Alvord’s retelling, an epidemic of hantavirus in the northwestern region of New Mexico was due to an excess of rainfall in the area, causing the piñon trees to overproduce nuts, spurring a rise in the deer mice population which are known to spread the virus through droppings and urine (Alvord and Van Pelt 2000). Interconnectedness is also illustrated vividly with numerous examples in Winona LaDuke’s important book All Our Relations. The book covers a history of environmental racism enacted against tribes in ten major regions of the United States and Canada. In case after case, LaDuke describes how ecological devastation to key ecosystems affects the physiological, psychological, and spiritual wellbeing of nearby humans and nonhumans populations (LaDuke 1999).
Interconnectedness has profound moral implications for many indigenous communities. The concept (at least partly) undergirds the sense of moral obligation that many indigenous communities have toward each other and nature. From this perspective, humanity is not superior or dominant over nature. Instead, nature consists of autonomous agents whose resources and knowledge are gifted to humanity. The notion of gift here is importantly distinct from more mainstream notions. On this view, the gift-receiver is bestowed with responsibility to maintain balance in the world. A balance between using the gift for the gift-receiver’s community and protecting and caring for the gift itself (Whyte 2019; Bowman 2017). Moral responsibility is about mutual giving and taking between all things. Dr. Lori Alvord discusses the Navajo notion of “Walking in Beauty” as a “worldview in which everything in life is connected and influences everything else. A stone thrown into a pond can influence the life of a deer in the forest, a human voice and a spoken word can influence events around the world, and all things possess spirit and power. So Navajos make every effort to life in harmony and balance with everyone and everything else” (Alvord and Van Pelt 2000, 14).
My students express immense excitement about the concept of interconnectedness. They see it as a rich source of valuable insights about how the world works and about how to live an ethical life. They often express dismay at how interconnectedness systematically goes unacknowledged by powerful entities. It seems to me – as well as many indigenous authors – the continuous discovery of complexity in the natural world converges on something that indigenous thinkers have known for some time (Indeed, Dr. Lori Alvord expresses this very thing about modern biochemistry and cosmology). Amid the ongoing COVID-19 crisis, we’ve heard strong rejections of pandemic policy – such as vaccine mandates – grounded by the starting assumption of an individualistic conception of autonomy. Individuals and individuals alone have the sole right to decide what happens to their bodies and their actions. Lately I have been struck with how an individualist conception of autonomy is accepted as the obvious starting point when thinking about pandemic policy. Like my students, I am eager to think through how the concept of interconnectedness might usher forth a new way of thinking about our moral responsibilities during the pandemic. The concept of interconnectedness invites us to think about these issues in a very different way. Perhaps we should ask what imbalances in the world might have contributed to the pandemic? I’m sure there are numerous. We might ask further: What imbalances do we perpetuate by continuing with modern life as usual? How might we better protect and care for each other?
Alvord, L.A., E.C. Van Pelt. 2000. The Scalpel and the Silver Bear: The First Navajo Woman Surgeon Combines Western Medicine and Traditional Healing. NY: Bantam Books.
Bowman M. 2017. “Institutions and Solidarity: Wild Rice Research, Relationships, and the Commodification of Knowledge.” In Food Justice in the US and Global Contexts, edited by I. Werkheiser and Z. Piso. Springer International Publishing.
LaDuke W. 1999. All Our Relations: Native Struggles for Land and Life. South End Press.
Vest, J.L. 2000. Critical Indigenous Philosophy: Disciplinary Challenges Posed by African and Native American Epistemologies. University of California, Berkeley, PhD Dissertation.
Whyte K.P. 2019. “The Dakota Access Pipeline, Environmental Injustice, and US Settler Colonialism.” In The Nature of Hope: Grassroots Organizing, Environmental Justice, and Political Change, edited by C. Miller and J. Crane. CO: University of Colorado Press.
PSA 2021 Women’s Caucus Agenda:
Baltimore Maryland, Saturday November 13 at 12:30-1:45pm
1. Other Leadership of the Caucus: Webmistress Areins Pelayo and Secretary/Treasurer Janet Stemwedel