Monday, August 19, 2013

Does philosophy have a sexual harassment problem?

by Massimo Pigliucci

Last week Jennifer Saul, a philosopher at the University of Sheffield, published an article in Salon entitled: “Philosophy has a sexual harassment problem.” While there is much substance and nuance in the body of the article, I sincerely hope that Prof. Saul did not actually choose the title herself (editors often do that sort of thing), because the message it sends is anything but nuanced, and if taken at face value also not particularly constructive.

Naturally, I need to be careful about writing on sexual harassment, for a variety of reasons. Well, two, actually. First, of course, I’m a white male, belonging to the group that is likely responsible for the largest percentage of reported sexual harassment cases, certainly within academia. Second, I am the Chair of a Department of Philosophy, and hence in a position of power. (The fact that I just hired a woman as our newest faculty, which resulted in my Department having a majority of women in its ranks should count, but only a little.) But if we want to have a reasoned discourse about this delicate matter, inside academia or in our society more broadly, it seems to me that even a (increasingly older!) white male in a position of power has a right to be at the discussion table.

Nonetheless, before I proceed with an analysis of Saul’s article, let me state it as clearly as I can: sexual harassment is wrong, regardless of circumstances, who the perpetrator is, or who the victim is. It is a pernicious societal problem both within and outside the academy, and it needs to be fought vigorously. In my decades as a faculty at various universities — both as a biologist and as a philosopher — I have seen it happen, and seen people dealing with it badly or rightly, depending on their moral fiber and of the institutional environment. So, nothing you are about to read should even remotely be construed as suggesting that I don’t take the problem seriously, or that I somehow feel it has been addressed to anywhere near satisfaction. Can we proceed now? Thanks.

The occasion for Saul’s piece in Salon was the recent debacle at the University of Miami, involving famous “mysterian” philosopher Colin McGinn, who has resigned after been accused of sexually harassing a graduate student, and who made things even worse — if possible — by going on a blog campaign where he tried to excuse his despicable behavior on grounds of his intellectual superiority (gasp!), misunderstandings triggered by cultural differences, and just simple lack of sense of humor on the part of the student. Yuck.

Saul goes on to point out that since she started a blog devoted to women in philosophy she began receiving an alarming number of anonymous testimonials of sexual harassment in the workplace, with heart wrenching stories concerning undergraduate students, graduate students, and young faculty. These stories are aggravated by the fact that often nothing was done about the incidents in question, sometimes discouragingly pointing to a failure of the people involved, as well as of their institutions, in even understanding that there was a problem. It makes for sober reading for anyone who still doesn’t take this issue seriously.

But none of this amounts to the conclusion stated in the title of Saul’s essay: we simply do not know whether philosophy as a field is particularly vexed by sexual harassment, or whether philosophy is simply a microcosm of the still largely misogynistic society in which we live. Indeed, in the body of the article Saul herself clearly states: “When I talk to people about this, I am invariably asked whether sexual harassment is worse in philosophy than in other fields. The short answer is that we don’t really know: it’s very difficult to get good data on something that is drastically underreported and often kept confidential even once reported.” Good, then I hope that Saul protested vehemently with the Salon editor when she saw the title under which her article appeared, because it literally indicts an entire fields of professionals — most of whom do not engage in sexual harassment — with a broad brush that is as offensive as it is unsubstantiated.

Unfortunately, Saul immediately continues the same paragraph with a non sequitur: “But to me, the most important thing is this: sexual harassment harms its victims greatly. It’s wrong, and we need to get rid of it. We don’t need to know about relative frequency to see this.” All true, except that now we are talking about sexual harassment in general, not as a specific problem endemic to philosophy departments. In order to make the latter case, thus justifying not just the title, but the main thrust of the article, one does need to know about relative frequencies, and as we’ve seen, Saul acknowledges that we don’t.

Indeed, Saul attempts to get relative frequencies nonetheless, using a different, somewhat more accessible measure: “Philosophy, the oldest of the humanities, is also the malest (and the whitest). While other areas of the humanities are at or near gender parity, philosophy is actually more overwhelmingly male than even mathematics. In the US, only 17 percent of philosophers employed full-time are women.”

This is essentially true, though if one looks at the next generation — people who have been recently awarded a PhD — the difference with mathematics is tiny, religious studies is doing just as badly, and engineering, computer science and physics are far worse off. But there are two points to make about switching from (non existing) stats on sexual harassment to (available) stats on graduation, hiring, and tenure frequencies: i) the connection between the two is difficult to establish; ii) the second set of stats are not easy to interpret causally, despite deceptively straightforward appearances.

Let me start with the connection between the frequency of sexual harassment and the fact that certain academic disciplines, including philosophy, unfortunately still have a minority of women within their ranks. Although she doesn’t link the two explicitly, I assume that the reason Saul segues from one to the other is because she thinks there is a connection: fewer women => more sexual harassment. There may indeed be a connection here, but it is certainly not established by those two facts in and of themselves. At the very least one would need a cross-field correlation analysis (i.e., data) showing a robust relationship between the two variables. And even that, of course, would establish only a correlation, not causal dependency.

But more clearly, the fact that there are fewer women than men in a given field is likely the result of a large number of cultural factors (no, I don’t think it has anything at all to do with “native” intelligence, Larry Summers be damned). Indeed, as John Tierney pointed out in a similar context a few years ago in the New York Times, it is often tricky to go from the straightforward observation of uneven ratios to the inference of bias (i.e., positive, conscious or unconscious, discrimination).

For instance, Tierney pointed out a nuanced analysis of the issue of gender ratios in the sciences conducted by the National Academy of Science. What the researchers did was to look at those ratios at various stages of a typical academic career (postdocs, assistant professor, tenured associate professor) while simultaneously accounting for the relevant pool from which those people were drawn (respectively: PhD students, postdocs, and assistant professors). The results were subtle: for instance, in some fields (e.g., economics) there are far fewer women postdocs than PhD candidates, strengthening the hypothesis of bias. But even within the same field things sometimes reverse later on: there are proportionately more women assistant professors in economics than expected when one examines the postdoc pool (which probably means that a number of them are hired straight from the PhD pool, not unusual in fields outside the natural sciences). In the life sciences, more women than expected make the transition from PhD candidate to postdoc, though proportionately less move on to assistant professor.

The reasons for all this are likely complex. Yes, some of the patterns in these results are likely explained by sexual bias (which, again, doesn’t equate with sexual harassment), but there is also the fact that academic jobs have a low turnover rate (when you have tenure, you usually stay in the field for life), which means that we should expect progress to take generations. And of course we live in a broader culture where young girls are still discouraged — by their elementary teachers and often their own parents — to get into technical or intellectually esoteric fields, such as physics, mathematics and philosophy, the very same ones that sport the worse gender ratios of all.

None of the above — again — excuses either sexual harassment or the existence of skewed gender ratios in the academy (though if you really want to get your blood to boil about sexual harassment, consider the US Military!). But it does point out that it is a complex issue, where reliable data is scarce and causal connections difficult to make. And, where one ought to be exceedingly careful before indicting a whole field on the basis of self-selected anecdotes — no matter how poignant and upsetting those anecdotes are.

Saul herself, however, ends her piece on a positive note, and I wish to do the same. I can do no better than to quote her again: “I am actually very hopeful about the future of gender issues in philosophy. ... Just in the last few years, two major philosophy journals have increased the anonymity of their review process to combat implicit bias; the prestigious Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy has instructed authors and editors to ensure that women and members of other unrepresented groups are cited; thousands of philosophers have signed petitions in support of the Gendered Conference Campaign; over a hundred distinguished signatories have expressed concern about the retaliatory effects of some of McGinn’s blog postings; the American Philosophical Association has established a mentoring program, a task force on sexual harassment, and a site visit program to help departments improve their climates for women. More and more philosophers are coming out strongly and publicly in support of a more inclusive profession. There have even been songs written about the problem.” Now, I call that progress (well, not sure about the songs part...), though not yet victory, and certainly a reason to celebrate.

84 comments:

  1. It always bothered me how people would cite the fact that I'm a white male as an argument against my contributions to the discussion. I'm aware that it's a biased or privileged position to be in, but I don't know why people don't acknowledge that the minority position is also biased. I'm not saying they're equal; I've no way of knowing, but I've certainly experienced much hatred for having the sheer hubris to chime in. I think it's great that people focus on the suppression of women in academic circles, because it's a problem worth addressing. I really wish that people would also start paying attention to men who are subjected to violence around the world, or societal constructs in which men are STILL expected to go last or sacrifice themselves in situations like fires or sinking ships. Again, I'm not saying one is more important than the other OR that they're equally important. I'm just saying that the focus is disproportionate to the severity of the situations.

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    1. >I'm just saying that the focus is disproportionate to the severity of the situations.<

      I'm not sure that's the case, Evhan. I think women have more problems, and the focus is on where it needs to be.

      I have no problem with the raising of men's issues, and don't deny that men have problems too, but it is exasperating to feminists when people feel the need to bring up men's issues whenever women raise a legitimate complaint.

      Personally, I think we should limit the discussion to women's issues when that's the topic at hand and save the men's issues for another time.

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    3. Disagreeable Me

      >I think women have more problems, and the focus is on where it needs to be.<

      Saying women have more problems isn't the same as saying that men don't have problems, as you've said. However, there's almost no focus on this. Upon further reflection, I'm not even sure that it's accurate to say that women have more problems. Around the world there are dozens of organizations dedicated to women's problems, but those to helping men or who would treat men's injuries as quickly as women's if there was a choice number few, if any. Men are subjected to more violence period than women around the world, as well, but there doesn't seem to be a societal focus on that.

      >but it is exasperating to feminists when people feel the need to bring up men's issues whenever women raise a legitimate complaint.<

      Why? It seems that that would help relations, if anything. If your point is that it shouldn't be a competition, I agree. Other than that, if people don't want men's issues to be brought up when others are, I think they should stop raising issues in groups altogether. Otherwise, there's a problem.

      Peter DO Smith

      >With respect, I would like to suggest that is because it is difficult for men to imagine the experience.<

      That may be the case, but it's not been my experience (statistics lacking). I think it may be more the fact that men are either expected to deal with it, or think that they are.

      >most men do not have to endure<

      Again, I don't think that this is true. It certainly isn't true around the world, but in the west, you may have a point.

      >protect women from bias<

      And men. I totally agree that women are subjected to more sexual abuse in the workplace and such, but men are subjected to more violence period, even in the west. Violence is bad whether it is sexual or not.

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  2. Hi Massimo,

    A fine article.

    >In order to make the latter case, thus justifying not just the title, but the main thrust of the article, one does need to know about relative frequencies, and as we’ve seen, Saul acknowledges that we don’t.<

    >we simply do not know whether philosophy as a field is particularly vexed by sexual harassment, or whether philosophy is simply a microcosm of the still largely misogynistic society in <

    I'm not sure that the relative frequency is important if all that Saul wants to establish is that "philosophy has a sexual harrassment problem". That simple statement does not preclude the idea that many or even most fields have sexual harrassment problems. As long as she's not explicitly saying that philosophy is particularly bad (and from your description and quotations she seems not to be) then she's entitled to write about what she knows and cares about, and that's the field of philosophy.

    By focusing so much on how philosophy is not necessarily worse than other fields, you are unintentionally implying to the casual reader that there's no need to fix the problem since it's just as bad elsewhere. This is clearly not your intention, so I think it would be more productive if you didn't take this approach.

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  4. Is it really 'dangerous' to indict/smear the whole field as having a sexual harassment problem if it 'only' is as bad as the rest of society?

    If academic/institutional Philosophy is 'only as bad as the rest of society', then it's pretty bad and requires adjustment. If it's actually /worse/ than society at large, then that means there's some sort of weird effect within it that promotes/encourages/protects sexual harassment. In that case then the response should be different than in the former case, but there's still a 'sexual harassment problem within philosophy' in either case no?

    Anyway I'm glad that GC students in the philosophy dept have Prof. Pigliucci batting for them on this issue.

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  5. Disagreeable,

    > I'm not sure that the relative frequency is important if all that Saul wants to establish is that "philosophy has a sexual harrassment problem". That simple statement does not preclude the idea that many or even most fields have sexual harrassment problems. <

    True, but the tone of the article is more consistent with philosophy having a *particularly bad* problem, for which I don’t think she has any convincing evidence. This is clear also if you check some of the quotes to be found in recent interviews she has published with several media outlets.

    > you are unintentionally implying to the casual reader that there's no need to fix the problem since it's just as bad elsewhere. This is clearly not your intention, so I think it would be more productive if you didn't take this approach. <

    If it’s clearly not my intention I don’t see why I shouldn’t take this approach. I am concerned with smearing an entire field on the basis of anecdotal evidence — let’s say as opposed to the very real and very well documented problem with rape in the US Military.

    Robert,

    > Is it really 'dangerous' to indict/smear the whole field as having a sexual harassment problem if it 'only' is as bad as the rest of society? <

    I hope it’s clear from my post that I don’t take *any* sexual harassment lightly. But, yes, it is dangerous to indicting an entire field without compelling evidence (see above). It is also, quite frankly, insulting to the majority of practicing philosophers, who I don’t think engage in this sort of behavior.

    > Anyway I'm glad that GC students in the philosophy dept have Prof. Pigliucci batting for them on this issue. <

    Thanks, much appreciated.

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    1. All good points Massimo.

      >If it’s clearly not my intention I don’t see why I shouldn’t take this approach.<

      I'm familiar with your views on a range of topics so I have a good idea that you're not a sexist pig :) Also, I said "casual" readers might take what you've said the wrong way.

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    3. Denial of what? The point of Massimo's post is that no reliable evidence exists to suggest that philosophy has a sexual harassment problem. And where's the evidence indicting philosophy as "being the same as the rest"? Who are the "rest" and on what basis are you claiming a similarity?

      Asking for evidence to support a claim that a systemic set of behaviors exists does not in any way suggest a general denial of or an implicit support for those behaviors. I find your assumptions on almost every point offensive. There is no challenge on this front because no documented systemic failure has yet been demonstrated. And since we're in the assumptive mood here, let me offer my own:

      No, the default position should not be that a problem exists simply because it exists in other disciplines or social arenas. Until you or anyone else can sufficiently demonstrate that sexual harassment is a systemic problem in every corner of society, I'm not obliged to make that assumption about my corner.

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  6. It may be my anecdotal experiences, but as a sensitive white male, it seems that 'Men, regardless if they are philosophically inclined or not' have a more broad male-to-male harassment problem which might be the symptom or more likely a causal factor of the 'sexual harassment' issue, which would be especially pervasive in pro-harassment cultures like the military. When Saul said that there was an attempt to improve department's climate for women, I can only assume that means toning down the overall manipulative bullshit exhibited by males generally, not just sexual abuse (obviously women can be abusive in the same way, but men are miles ahead).

    That link to the 2003 study of what fields women primarily graduated in didn't also list the proportional number of men in those same fields. Do you know where I would be able to find more detailed statistics for individual fields in psychology (or maybe social sciences or life sciences) that gives the number of men vs women in those areas? Deciding to go into a field primarily dominated by men vs a field primarily dominated by women will probably have the biggest effect on my overall happiness.

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    2. @Peter DO Smith

      "The male-to-male problem you talk about is just the normal, every day darwinian struggle for dominance and power that we see everywhere. Get used to it."

      I really disagree. Because someone has proposed an evolutionary theory or hypothesis for a behavior doesn't imply we should "get used to" the behavior.

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    4. Peter Do Smith

      >I advise others to do the same because there is no alternative<

      Lol, care to prove that negative?

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    5. Peter Do Smith

      >Please let's take what Jennifer Saul says seriously, recognise the severe sexual harassment problem and resolve to do something about it.<

      How on earth did you take my comment to mean I was not serious about the problem and showing resolve to do something about it? IF my theory is correct that these two problems aren't isolated from each other and in fact treating one would be addressing the root problem as opposed to constantly ironing out the side effects of the other, then I could say that you aren't the one who is serious about addressing the problem.

      >The male-to-male problem you talk about is just the normal, every day darwinian struggle for dominance and power that we see everywhere. Get used to it. Don't confuse the two, they are not the same and it diverts attention from the real problem, which is the sexual bias/discrimination/harassment that Jennifer Saul reports.<

      Sexual harassment isn't in the same category of 'struggle for power and dominance'?

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    6. Peter,

      Moreover, I read your previous comment as being an uncharitable interpretation of Jacob Edward's comment.

      It also hit me that the same kind of (bad) evolutionary arguments you used to justify your point have been proposed to explain the sexual harassment and rape of women, though I'm sure you did not mean to imply these parallel, expressions like "get used to it" and "harsh reality" are also often used against women who speak out against harassment.

      Overall, I find your reaction to Jacob's comment out of place.

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    10. Peter,

      I think we may have to agree to disagree.

      I found Jacod's comment relevant, and your suspicions about what he could have meant wholly unjustified, and I find your position that the general topic of harassment cannot help inform our understanding and aid in the reduction of sexual harassment counter productive and completely unsupported.

      "I am beginning to think you are indifferent to the suffering of women at the hands of men."

      And in my opinion, aiming a wholly unsupported claim like that at me is bullying, and disrespectful, no matter your suspicions.

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  7. "I don’t think it has anything at all to do with “native” intelligence, Larry Summers be damned"

    The greater variance of male intelligence is well established, but you probably should continue pretending it's not.

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    1. Yes, I wondered at that too. Taking him charitably, perhaps Massimo wants to criticize Summers for asserting or implying that the variance differences are genetic in origin?

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  8. Massimo,

    As someone who reads your blog regularly and recommends it often, thank you for discussing this topic. I agree with your point that the sexual harassment issues discussed in Saul's article are hardly specific to philosophy as a discipline, and are in fact endemic to many intellectual communities within and outside of academia. As someone who makes a point to keep an eye out for these issues, I have seen them crop up everywhere lately. For some evidence in neighboring academic fields, Dr. Kate Clancy is conducting research on the prevalence of sexual harassment in anthropological field sites (http://blogs.scientificamerican.com/context-and-variation/2013/04/13/safe13-field-site-chilly-climate-and-abuse/). Outside academia, there is great deal of discussion in the skeptic/atheist and science fiction communities around these issues as well.

    One thing that I've found interesting is that while many people in intellectual circles acknowledge the existence of sexual harassment in society at large, with the military as an oft-cited example, there is a large amount of pushback and, in some cases, outright denialism (often, but not always, by straight, white males) of sexual harassment as a serious problem within *their specific communities*. It's almost as if some sort of moralistic fallacy is at play, where people who view themselves as educated and critical thinkers refuse to acknowledge that they might have internalized behaviors or attitudes that are demeaning or hostile to women. Because their intent is never to consciously marginalize or harass, their behavior cannot actually be marginalizing or harassing. Far too often, claims of harassment in their circles are rationalized away (nearly always to the harasser's benefit), or dismissed as aberrations that hardly warrant further investigation. Meanwhile, women in these communities endure daily microagressions and comments that, when looked at in their entirety, result in an environment that is unwelcoming at best, and downright hostile and dangerous at worst. I find this to be a serious problem, primarily because I've seen ostensibly rational people avoiding the acknowledgment of sexual harassment among their own ranks by committing the sorts of fallacious thinking and cognitive gymnastics they condemn others for. (For example, no one would ever accuse people who admit to being molested by members of the Catholic Church decades ago as "professional victims" who are only discussing it now "for the attention," yet when prominent atheist women come forward with claims of harassment, they are subjected to the worst kinds of ostracism and denialism by their peers.)

    Sexual harassment is most definitely a societal problem, but I think a key issue being worked out currently is that many communities who viewed themselves as "enlightened" and "egalitarian" are not nearly as immune as they'd like to believe. Whether or not this conversation leads to the introspection and progress needed is another matter entirely...

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  9. Peter,

    > Like you I think it is unlikely one particular discipline is especially guilty, but, who knows. <

    Well, precisely, I entirely support Saul’s concern in general, but I get worried when she makes claims that seem to be unsupported by the evidence.

    > Philosophy though carries the burden of a higher responsibility. <

    Well, ethicists surely ought to. But why expect higher ethical standards from, say, philosophers of mind? Or metaphysicians? At any rate, *all* men should maintain high standards when it comes to these issues.

    > Jennifer Saul seems to have documented that failure. <

    I don’t think she has. She has impressive, and disturbing, anecdotal evidence. But anecdotes don’t constitute convincing documentation of patterns, and she ought to know that, as a careful thinker.

    Britney,

    > Because their intent is never to consciously marginalize or harass, their behavior cannot actually be marginalizing or harassing <

    Agreed, this is an empirically substantiated problem. Which is why education and discussion are absolutely necessary, for everyone, regardless of discipline.

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  11. But does it not say something in itself that a male did not take the lead this discussion for a change? I understand your points about the weaknesses you find in the Saul's article. Still, I can appreciate vulnerability felt and perhaps hesitance and ambivalence on her part. Nevertheless, she made a start as is evidenced by your article.

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  12. Massimo,

    As Britney notes there is a lot of discussion about this in the atheism/skeptics community at the moment. Professionally you are a philosopher, but you are also a prominent member in the that community. So I would be interested in hearing your take on that as well.

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  13. Ian,

    > Taking him charitably, perhaps Massimo wants to criticize Summers for asserting or implying that the variance differences are genetic in origin? <

    That’s right, there are very good reasons to think that the difference in variance is environmental, and certainly no positive reason to think it’s genetic, other than Summers’ own prejudice. You may have noticed, I simply can’t stand the bastard.

    Paul,

    > I suspect that if you define 'philosophy' in a slightly broader sense that includes de facto women philosophers in departments other than "philosophy," such as literature, English, history, various studies departments, and so on, you'll find that there are more, perhaps far more, women philosophers in the humanities than men philosophers. <

    Interesting point, though I am weary of expanding what counts as a philosopher too easily.

    > If it is really just a cult of logocentrism that enshrines the male outlook and perpetuates the patriarchy and rape culture, then it should be dissolved rather than gender-balanced. <

    There is no reason to think that analytic philosophy has a culture of rape. As for logocentrism, what’s wrong with that? ;-)

    Jerry,

    > As Britney notes there is a lot of discussion about this in the atheism/skeptics community at the moment. ... So I would be interested in hearing your take on that as well. <

    I have commented on this: http://goo.gl/niYx15 and I may return to the subject again, though frankly I see many irrational pronouncements concerning misogyny within the skeptic / atheism movement, and I think I’m guaranteed to be misunderstood or worse regardless of what I may write.

    Peter,

    > How can you use the term 'Christians' in such a sloppy way? As a professional philosopher you should know better than that. <

    I think you missed the point, which was that one cannot rely on such raw, indiscriminate stats. The numbers game can be played to demonstrate pretty much whatever one wants to demonstrate, in this case, precisely by playing fast and loose with definitions and categories.

    Peter,

    > All philosophers study ethics, even if it is not their speciality. And they are all highly trained thinkers. <

    Indeed, but I think your expectations are a bit naive on this count. There is already (tentative, limited) evidence from experimental philosophical studies that even ethicists are not particularly ethical. I wouldn’t raise the bar for a metaphysician too high. Regardless, this is a red herring: all thinking human beings ought to take sexual harassment seriously, regardless of whether they are trained philosophers or not.

    > What would Aristotle think? I think he would expect that philosophy lives out their beliefs in their ethical behaviour by virtue of their beliefs. <

    He would. But he was also an excellent psychologist, so he would probably make a sobering distinction between the goal and the reality of the situation.

    > That impressive, and disturbing evidence, even if anecdotal, should be good enough to force us to act with determination to end sexual bias/dicrimination/harassment. <

    You are missing my point. As it should be clear, I don’t disagree with you. But I chided Saul for sloppy reasoning, including using anecdotal evidence to make sweeping claims about an entire field, and non sequitur connecting skewed gender ratios with sexual harassment. That sort of confusion doesn’t help, and indeed provides ammunition to people who don’t want to take the problem seriously.

    > Come now, casting doubt on Jennifer Saul is not the way to deal with an evident problem. <

    It’s not a question of casting doubt, she has produced a heartfelt but sloppy piece. See above.

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    2. "and certainly no positive reason to think it’s genetic"

      You might want to think harder.

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    1. I don't think you are picking on the guys, Peter. In fact, I think you have made some good points. I have a problem with what I perceive is Massimo's discussion of Saul's use of anecdote in what should be recognized after as pop-op piece. Yes, nuance matters, and so does context. So why seize on Saul's use of anecdote when it is to my mind clear what she is using it for. (I have already commented on his opening remarks about the title of the piece and have some difficulty taking these remarks as "serious criticism" when these sorts of titles appear regularly in the popular media. I gave an example of what I thought was a particularly bad one that appeared recently in the Huffington Post. Of course, the editors made up the title for it and for Saul's piece.) Here's another piece on the same subject as Saul's, that quotes her, and title is somewhat less sensationalized: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/08/03/arts/colin-mcginn-philosopher-to-leave-his-post.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0

      So why all the anecdote in Saul's piece? I believe her point is to convey her growing dismay about sexism in academia. In other words, upon blogging on the subject the prevalence of anecdote was overwhelming both in emotional and intellectual terms for her. No where in her article does she suggest that it is more than it is. Context, Massimo, context. In fact, she wants to call attention to more than sexual harassment: "They also lead us to take women’s comments less seriously, to have more difficulty recognizing them as leaders, and to be less likely to think of them when considering who to invite to a conference." If one wants to hold Saul to some higher standard while ignoring the context of her remarks or where they appeared, what can one say?

      As Peter points out this problem is universal. It is cross-cultural and is even more evident in Eastern cultures than Western. The use of anecdote in this case is understandable to me, given the context. I do not see it as "sloppy" thinking. She wants us to understand that such stories are more than trivial occurrences, that they are observable and persistent. If you smell smoke but can't find the fire, that is hardly Saul's fault.

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  15. Peter,

    > Jennifer Saul has already cast doubt on the ethics of philosophers. <

    No, she has cast (serious) doubt on the ethics of *some* philosophers. Imagine the uproar if she had said: here, I have a number of anecdotal reports of black violence. Therefore, blacks have a problem with violence. You see what I mean?

    > Personally I think there should be a revival in the concepts of gentlemanly behaviour and chivalry <

    Depending on what you mean by that, I may agree. Though notice that those terms aren't exactly popular in feminist circles, and for good reasons (they imply condescension towards women).

    > The recurrent debates about sexual harassment show that the protections offered by the rule of law are not sufficient. We also need to alter our values and adopt new codes of behaviour. Philosophers can lead the charge. <

    No objection, trying to do my part.

    > But in that case why did you make that link to that dishonest article? And why on earth did you make this approving comment when it was so painfully wrong? <

    I think you misunderstood. Those were neither my link nor my comments. I simply copy/pasted comments someone posted on my G+ stream, since he asked me to. And by the way, that comment is on a different post...

    Van Carter,

    > You might want to think harder. <

    And you may want to try to understand the science better. I spent decades doing that, you?

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    1. Decades of science, yet you've never heard of sex chromosomes.

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    2. I'm afraid that comment simply shows that you have no idea what you are talking about.

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    3. Van Carter, not every gender difference in outcomes is caused by genetic differences. The last I checked on this question of variance the jury was still out. There was a study by Deary that provided some evidence for a genetic origin (they controlled for environment by comparing brothers and sisters and still got a pretty robust result).

      On the other hand I believe the variance is at least somewhat culturally dependent, which is suggestive. Above all I do not think it's wise to make very confident pronouncements about the causes of group IQ differences without a solid idea of what's causing the Flynn effect.

      For what it's worth, I think Massimo is overly censorious of Summers, but for your part you appear to be overly confident about the causes of the male-female variance difference, as though an environmental explanation were unthinkable.

      I would suggest a bet but I can't think of a mutually agreeable, decisive outcome we could bet on.

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    4. As soon as you guys decide, may I lay odds?

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    5. Maybe "environment" causes men to be both geniuses and morons at higher rates than women, but there's no evidence for it. Far more plausible is genes on the X chromosome coding for intelligence.

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    7. CVC, "Far more plausible is genes..."
      Why is far more plausible?

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  17. "But none of this amounts to the conclusion stated in the title of Saul’s essay: we simply do not know whether philosophy as a field is particularly vexed by sexual harassment, or whether philosophy is simply a microcosm of the still largely misogynistic society in which we live."

    If it is the former, then Philosophy has a sexual harassment problem. If it is the latter, then Philosophy has a sexual harassment problem.

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  18. Yes, it would be good to quantify how much of a sexual harassment problem philosophy has, and whether it's worse than the problem in other fields. It's great that there's now a place to go if you've been harassed, but there's no place to testify that you haven't (personally, I haven't). So there's no way to get a sense of the prevalence of the problem.

    I should add--though never harassed, I've certainly known harassers in philosophy. I studiously avoided them as a graduate student. That meant having to give up certain opportunities I otherwise would have had. So I don't mean to say I was never harmed by sexual harassment--just that I have not myself been a direct victim.

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  19. Jennifer Saul hasn't made the claim's you imply she has - The title of the article isn't Philosophy has an especially bad sexual harassment problem. She's making two claims
    a. Philosophy has a sexual harassment problem. She has enough reports to back that up.
    b. Women are under-represented in Philosophy(fact). Clearly there is a causal relationship for *some* of the cases since some of her examples talk about women leaving the field.

    because it literally indicts an entire fields of professionals
    Hyperbole. Saying the RCC has a child abuse problem does not mean every priest is a pedophile. Saying Religion has a fundamentalist problem does not mean every religious person is a fundamentalist.
    Which makes some of your comment even more ironic
    and she ought to know that, as a careful thinker.
    She hasn't made any inaccurate statements - if you have inferred incorrectly that's your problem and you ought to know that, you know, as a careful thinker.


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  20. >Let me start with the connection between the frequency of sexual harassment and the fact that certain academic disciplines, including philosophy, unfortunately still have a minority of women within their ranks.<

    If you take the time to read through a handful of the stories being told on Saul's blog (or even the commment directly before this one) a pattern quickly emerges. Women who have rejected the advances of the harasser often find their careers blocked; they may leave the field out of frustration; their access to advisors is limited; their contributions are minimized, or perhaps stolen.

    These are, of course, the stories of women who have been harassed. We do not know how those who have not been harassed have fared, but the lack of women getting appointments speaks to a global environment that impedes women's advancement in Philosophy. Whether or not this problem is worse/same as/or better than in other fields is really not the point.

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  21. Dave,

    > If it is the former, then Philosophy has a sexual harassment problem. If it is the latter, then Philosophy has a sexual harassment problem. <

    Cute, but the issue is whether philosophy has a special problem, or just the same problem that society at large has. If the latter, then it is unfair to single out the profession. Either way, obviously, we need to work on the problem.

    Deepak,

    > Jennifer Saul hasn't made the claim's you imply she has - The title of the article isn't Philosophy has an especially bad sexual harassment problem. <

    I disagree. Not just the title (and subtitle) seem to single out the field in particular, but also the content. Moreover, if you do a quick google search on interviews with Saul you can easily find quotes in which she explicitly says so.

    > Philosophy has a sexual harassment problem. She has enough reports to back that up. <

    That's debatable. How many anecdotes are "enough"? Again, nobody denies that there is a problem, but without quantification it is perfectly possible that the field has more than the military, or in fact far less than other academic fields. We just don't know.

    > Women are under-represented in Philosophy(fact). Clearly there is a causal relationship for *some* of the cases since some of her examples talk about women leaving the field. <

    Again, no. There are clearly instances of a linkage between the two, but we don't know how much of one problem is caused by the other. It could be a lot, or it could be a negligible fraction. We don't know.

    > Saying the RCC has a child abuse problem does not mean every priest is a pedophile <

    Good example, but you are the one using hyperbole. I never said that Saul implies that *every* philosopher is a sexual harasser. But the RCC example actually refers to a well documented systemic problem, and sure enough it is the Church as an institution that has been - correctly - under criticism.

    Erratic,

    > If you take the time to read through a handful of the stories being told on Saul's blog (or even the comment directly before this one) a pattern quickly emerges <

    I have, and *in those cases* there clearly was a problem, which clearly needs to be corrected. But do not forget that those stories are a self-selected sample of a large universe. We just don't know how representative they are, which means one ought to thread carefully before generalizing (as in "this is just the tip of the iceberg" subtitle of Saul's article).

    > the lack of women getting appointments speaks to a global environment that impedes women's advancement in Philosophy. <

    Actually, no. The kind of study linked to Tierney's blog point out that such conclusions may be hasty and unwarranted. To show actual bias (as opposed to simple skewed ratio) one has to take into account the proper pool: graduate students, if we are talking about assistant professors; the latter, if we are talking associate professors; and so on. The data in other disciplines - including those with a worse ratio than philosophy - do not support the hypothesis of widespread bias, and instead point to a multiple of causal factors for why fewer women go into math, physics, etc.

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    2. Not just the title (and subtitle) seem to single out the field in particular
      Obviously because she is a philosopher and the people who have detailed instances to her are also related to that field. When I read her article it was more of she expected philosophers to be better (trained in critical thinking etc).
      How many anecdotes are "enough"?
      For me? one. How many reports of child abuse coverup by the RCC are "enough"?
      but who cares about the exact quantified number? What number would you put, when time and time again you can read reports that cases of harassment are under-reported? Lets say you find out that 0.01% of philosophers harass women and then these cases are usually ignored v/s say 51% of philosophers harass women. Would there be any difference in approach?
      There are clearly instances of a linkage between the two
      http://beingawomaninphilosophy.wordpress.com/2013/08/13/sometimes-even-an-ally-is-a-sexual-harasser/
      I left the program after a few weeks for good and never returned to philosophy studies again.
      So *some* instances do have a causal relationship.

      What annoyed me enough to respond to this post is you could have instead focused on What you as head of your department have done/are doing because apparently you are having some success. You could have identified why you have a majority of women whereas overall the numbers are 17%? Instead you wrote a post about how the reputation of philosophers was tarnished (including yours I suppose).

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    3. Peter and Deerpak,
      It may be that the more an individual considers himself to be part of a community of rational thinkers, the more difficult it is for him to accept that a.)his perception of the level of threat within that community against women may be mistaken, and b.) his own socialization may blind him to bias. In other words, the more you trust your own opinion, the more likely you are to dismiss data that contradicts your opinion.

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  22. The pattern that I was speaking of was not the abuse per se, but the results of the harassment. I think I made that clear in my comment, but I will try again. Many women who have posted on her blog have had their careers impeded. This may take the form of the woman in question leaving the field, being the target of retaliation from a person in position of power having their advances spurned, having their work sidelined, having less access to network. And so on.

    Clearly, even women who are not harassed (see Jean Kazez's comment, above) suffer from the presence of harassment in a department by passing up opportunities to advance in order to avoid a potential harasser. These common behaviors will never show up in studies - the woman who has not applied for a postdoc is not counted as one who has been discriminated against. And yet, somehow, Philosophy department ratios (and those of other departments) remain skewed.

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    1. Okay, so how are such environments of harassment determined? How many people (reports) does it take to establish that department X fosters an environment of harassment? Must those reports be taken at face value and why? What counts as evidence that an individual or individuals in a department have created or contributed to an environment of harassment?

      I'm sympathetic to such claims. I was in a department where a faculty member (who is now chair of the department) was accused of sexual harassment by several female students. Those allegations were never formally reported to the university and dismissed out of hand by several faculty, who also warned others not to pursue it. The phrase used was – "Don't even go there." Would it surprise you to know that the faculty in question here were all women?

      And why exactly don't you believe me?

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    2. Randall, I'm not clear on what your point is.
      Do you think there was harassment going on in your department, or that the claims were false? Do you think there was an environment of harassment in that department? Do you think that the fact that all of the faculty involved were women is germane to the question of harassment?

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    3. >>"Do you think there was harassment going on in your department?"

      Yes - not the first time such allegations by this faculty member were made.

      >>"...or that the claims were false?"

      I can't say for certain. The allegations were made. The point was how the allegations were handled given the gender composition of the department compared to 10 years prior. These type of allegations were handled exactly the same regardless of with whom the power resided. That says something.

      >>"Do you think there was an environment of harassment in that department?"

      Good question. The vast majority of faculty neither engaged in such behavior nor condoned it. It only took a few faculty to covered up these particular incidents to maintain the sense of health. So does that constitute an environment?

      >>"Do you think that the fact that all of the faculty involved were women is germane to the question of harassment?"

      Why do you ask? Is the fact that most reported cases of sexual harassment in the academy involve men germane to questions of harassment?

      And to be perfectly clear, I believe we should pursue perpetrators of sexual harassment to the fullest, do everything we can to establish and ensure safe working environments that eliminate the possibility of sexual harassment in any form, and educate our students, our colleagues, and the public on how demeaning, costly and devastating sexual harassment is.

      What I find troubling is the means by which these goals are currently being pursued. It seems odd to me that the standards by which we aspire in our professional work as philosophers, physicists, biologists, sociologists, economists, chemists, etc., are so quickly abandoned when the phenomenon in question has such a personal reach. I get the distinction, I really do, but I also trust the rational, critical, and evidentiary pillars that define me both professionally and personally. They work. If they didn't, I wouldn't be doing what I do.

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    4. Randall, when you specifically mention that the individuals in question were all female I am led to believe that you think this is a relevant detail. I mean, you did not give any other details in your anecdote. So, is it important, or was that some sort of Freudian slip?

      >What I find troubling is the means by which these goals are currently being pursued.<
      Care to elaborate?

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    5. It's interesting how the line of questioning works now that the shoe is on the other foot, doesn't it?

      So what is it about my "anecdote" that draws the 20 questions that didn't peak the curiosity with Saul's anecdotes? Note: you still haven't answered any of my questions.

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    6. Sorry, 'pique' not 'peak'

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    7. Very quickly:
      1.Yes, there can be sexual harassment by women towards women. As this type of behavior is mostly about domination it can happen in any hierarchy where it is not patrolled.

      2. I can't tell from your anecdotes whether there was an "environment of harassment" in your department. It does seem as though this was a topic of conversation among the faculty and as such should have been dealt with in an official manner.

      3. Still wondering which means are troubling to you. I'm not that good at guessing games.

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    8. The problem is the lack of parity in applying critical thinking when the accused (or accuser) is a member of a particular demographic group to which one belongs; in simple terms, employing a double standard. Understandable sociological reasons exist for this type of group devotion, but those who ought to recognize those reasons and know better are either incapable of doing so or choose not to. I honestly don't know which it is. It's something that happens across the board in every demographic category.

      People who would never make such hasty generalizations from just a handful of anecdotal accounts in other respects, all of a sudden abandon the clear thinking that serves them so well in guarding against such fallacious reasoning when it comes to hot button issues like sexual harassment, discrimination, ethnocentrism, and a myriad of other isms.

      All of these social problems exist, they are far too prevalent, and not enough is being done to prevent them. But the path to eliminating these problems is not by adhering to a set of orthodox tenets derived from a particular ideological wing of a movement, tenets that could never pass a skeptical challenge on even the most basic level.

      And anyone who would argue against the normative grounds of rational, critical discourse (in the so-called Western tradition), I can only respond by pointing out that you're engaged in a performative contradiction in the very act of making your case.

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  23. Well, I don't see anyone giving up much ground on this one. But here's a link to more discussion on this subject along with comments similar to those found here: http://www.newappsblog.com/2013/06/is-philosophy-especially-plagued-by-sexual-harassment.html

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  24. Peter,

    > You are our best thinkers. If you cannot get your house in order then who can? <

    If only just thinking could solve human problems. As you know, philosophy has become just as much of a specialized academic field as any other, and professional philosophers often scoff at talk of virtue, meaning of life, etc. To their peril and the detriment of what they are trying to do, I think.

    Deepak,

    > [n anecdotes] For me? one. How many reports of child abuse coverup by the RCC are "enough"? <

    Sorry, no. If there were only occasional instances of priests engaging in pedophily in the Church it would be bad, but it wouldn't call for a systemic re-analysis of the organization's culture and methods. It's precisely because pedophily among priests has been documented to be widespread (and covered up) that we can talk about "the Church" (as opposed to scattered individuals) having a problem.

    > some* instances do have a causal relationship. <

    Yes, but Saul implicitly used the skewed sex ratio among philosophy faculty as a proxy to estimate how widespread sexual harassment. That is not warranted, on simple inferential grounds.

    > What annoyed me enough to respond to this post is you could have instead focused on What you as head of your department have done/are doing because apparently you are having some success. You could have identified why you have a majority of women whereas overall the numbers are 17%? Instead you wrote a post about how the reputation of philosophers was tarnished. <

    Well, I'm sorry I have annoyed you, but the Saul piece annoyed me, so that's what I was responding to. Which is - once again - no negation at all that there is a problem and that it needs to be addressed (indeed, as Saul herself points out, it has began to be addressed). And I am worried about the reputation of philosophy as a field (which would mean even fewer women would be attracted to it), not of any specific philosopher in particular.

    If you want to know, I haven't had a single reported instance of sexual harassment during my four years as a Chair, and I attribute that to the very clear, zero tolerance policies adopted by CUNY and enforced by my Dean and Provost. As for having a majority of women, it was a combination of luck (we got good candidates in the most recent hiring poll) and of other-things-beng-equal affirmative action policy endorsed by Lehman College and enforced by yours truly. By the way, we are about to hire two more people, if anyone is interested...

    Erratic,

    > These common behaviors will never show up in studies - the woman who has not applied for a postdoc is not counted as one who has been discriminated against. And yet, somehow, Philosophy department ratios (and those of other departments) remain skewed. <

    That studies will always likely undercount is a given, but it doesn't license the conclusion that studies wouldn't be (much) more meaningful than anecdotal evidence. See the case of the US Military for an obvious example. I already commented on the skewed ratio, and as I said in that case the burden of proof to demonstrate bias is even higher, as shown by Tierney in other fields.

    I enjoyed the discussion, people, even the sometimes harsh criticisms. Tomorrow there will be a new RS post coming out, so I'm bowing out of this particular thread.

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    1. Peter, many years ago, I received an advanced degree in English Literature and promptly abandoned any desire to pursue an academic career. There were many factors involved in making this decision. I spent nearly 10 years in the Federal Government where I spent many frustrating years in the design and analysis of special studies until I returned to the family business where I wrote program code for our manufacturing and inventory operations. I am now approaching the second year of my retirement. I enjoy reading Rationally Speaking and think Massimo is very tolerant in his approach to reader commentary.

      Now, much of what is said and written here goes over my head. (I am constantly googling SEP, Wikipedia, and a couple of dictionaries of philosophy I keep nearby.) But, when I consider this blog and the one about Islamophobia, I am disappointed because the comments seem to part pretty much along particular biases, and many words are seemingly expended a la carte in support of same. Back and for and back and forth, as if one or two long comments would suffice to support what one has already concluded but cannot clearly articulate because one really never gave much thought to *how* one arrived at a position. Rather it was more about which authority figure or methodology confirmed one's particular bias. This business about Dawkins's tweets, for example. One wonders whether if same were unidentified and randomly mixed with other such tweets, say, something on the same subject from Limbaugh, embarrassment might be the prevailing response.

      Whether or not sexual harassment or sexism is more common in philosophy departments is not of paramount importance to me. This is housekeeping. How one attacks or embraces a viewpoint expressed in popular media is of greater interest to me since this is really what is apparently controversial to Massimo. No, this doesn't work for me. If you're going to use a particularly outrageous title for a point of attack, then at least acknowledge that such things appear all the time in popular media, even if the acknowledgement is one in passing. (Perhaps, the subject for another post.) If you're going to expend energy repeatedly insisting that anecdote is an informal fallacy, at least acknowledge that anecdote can also be evaluative, a pointer in the direction of hypothesis. The anecdote that the emperor wears no clothes is perhaps the impetus for discreet hypothesis, lest one have one's head loped off. To say it doesn't constitute proof is perhaps to ask why did I chose to write a blog about this rather than something else.

      I would rather get back to what was proposed as the raison d'etre for this blog: "the tracking down of prejudices in the hiding places where priests, the schools, the government, and all long-established institutions had gathered and protected them."

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    3. None of us is above criticism and it is easy to project our faults onto others.
      Yours Peter is trying to contrast Dawkins with Bergoglio or others who claim they want to make nice. Do you really believe that he respects Islam enough to not proselytize Muslim communities when the opportunity arises? Do you really believe he respects atheists enough to disavow Ratzinger's rhetoric? Ratzinger, in the mist of a worldwide sexual abuse scandal among other things, claimed that no one can be good with his god and religion. Matthew 7:3 is appropriate, I think, but Catholics aren't encouraged to read the Bible so perhaps he is unaware.

      Nick Cohen has an interesting take on Dawkins' tweets.
      http://www.spectator.co.uk/features/9000431/forget-about-richard-dawkins-fight-the-real-fanatics/
      Speaking out against Islam should not make one a subject of threats - so why aren't more religious and government leaders speaking out against it.

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    5. Why is it pettiness to refer to someone by their first or last name? You did it with me, you did it with Dawkins. Why isn't he Professor Dawkins? Can I call him Francis - is that ok? Respect is earned and we will see what the current leader of the RCC actually does. He has his work cut out for him in light of the moral wasteland created by his predecessors.

      Are looking for common ground with Dawkins? And is calling him names the way to do it?

      I can and have found common ground on poverty, death penalty and some education issues with RCC groups, but there is much with which I disagree. I am not sure how preventing gay marriage or condom use makes the world a better place. I am not sure how the USCCB opposition to the new US health care law is making the world a better place. I guess I just don't see the RCC as any more respectful than the new atheists.

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    7. You can't admit you are hypocritical, can you? That you are just one empty platitude after another. You did exactly what you excused Dawkins of doing. This is about your behavior, not Dawkins'. I don't think tweets by anyone are a useful means of making arguments and Dawkins should stay away from them. A blanket condemnation of any group is silly - more so in 140 characters. But then, what have you done to reach out to the atheist community to offer friendship and respect?

      And yet you refuse to address what the Catholic church has done very recently to raise the emotional temperature, increase resentment and make conflict more likely. Why can't you admit this? The previous pope poached priests from the Anglican community by playing to their homophobia and misogyny. He tried to blame WWII on atheists, when his church has supported fascist regimes in Europe and South America throughout the 20th c. Cliches from the current pope are just empty words unless he does something about the recent injustices committed in the church's name. Will he defrock priests who abused children and turn them over to the criminal courts? Will he compensate the victims of these crimes? Will he compensate all of the women denied freedom, educations and wages enslaved in Ireland's Catholic workhouses? Can't you see why people might be pissed at religious leaders? And might not want to make nice?

      Did you read the Cohen article and are you willing to condemn Islam-inspired violence against apostates and others accused of slandering the prophet? Or do you think they get what they deserve because for criticizing religion? Can you admit in print - right here and right now - that the Catholic church has sanctioned and covered up morally reprehensible acts in the past decades and the victims of these acts need to compensated? I bet you can't. I would bet that any condemnation you have is only reserved for criticizing religion.

      What solution have you or the pope proposed? That we just smile and say nice things about everyone? This is going to make the world all fuzzy bunnies and flowers? You can't be that naive, can you? People are going to need to compromise and this means religions too. The USCCB would rather that no one should have health care in the US than allow access to birth control. This is a sign of idiocy. They will deny communion to politicians for voting for abortion, but not for cutting food stamps, or voting for the death penalty, or the invasion of Iraq. I would almost consider congressional republicans to be a saner lot. This is not just Christians - look at the craziness coming from Orthodox Jewish communities in the US and Israel. The hatred of women just oozed out of these people.

      It is going to take giving up the selfishness of religious privilege and nationalism to get us out of this mess. We must give up the idea that our group has a stranglehold on the truth and that we get to impose that on others. Can religions do this without losing their core followers? Liberal religions have died a slow painful death in the 20th c. because doubt doesn't fill the pews.

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    8. Peter,
      My intention was not to chase you away. I didn't realize that the pope and Catholic chrurch were not topics for criticism, but only praise - I guess I should have looked at your blog first.

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  27. Jennifer Saul, while speculating about the relative frequency of misogyny and sexual harassment in philosophy departments, makes no direct calim. Nor can she. She admits that she cannot know if sexual harassment is worse in philosophy than in other fields since it is "very difficult to get good data on something that is drastically underreported". How, in the first place, does she know that it is "drastically underreported"? It may be, as people of both genders suspect, drastically over-magnified and its significance over-promoted. As a woman I am not impressed by the monopolising of philosophy blogs by female academics forefronting feminist issues rather than important humanitarian ones.

    In the second place it is obviously - currently - impossible for Saul's opinions to be more than hypothesis. Consider for example the concerns of religious authorities re paedophilia. Would we really expect their internal ecclesiastical investigations to come up with comparative data on instances of paedophilia in other social or professional groups? How would they come by such data? Relative frequencies are exposed through empirical research, not 'rationally speaking'.

    Massimo Pigliucci is rightly concerned that philosophers are, without evidence, being indicted by Saul as exceptionally misogynistic and/or prone to sexual harassment. Saul further weakens her case by presenting philosophy departments as traditionally and predominantly the reserve of white males, who may be misogynistic enough to exclude women from academic posts. These speculations are invalid without empirical evidence of the incidence of misogyny and sexual harassment in other academic fields, most of which are traditionally male dominated.

    Female philosophers with outstanding ability will always find ways of defeating misogyny and sexual harassment (if they notice it) and earning the respect of their peers. Unjustified slurs are just a means of handing men ammunition for sexist contempt.

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