Featured Philosop-her: Carolyn Dicey Jennings

Carolyn Jennings


Carolyn Dicey Jennings is Half-British, Half-American and grew up in Texas, Louisiana, and Oklahoma. She went to the University of St Andrews in Scotland for her undergraduate degree in philosophy and Boston University for graduate degrees in philosophy (PhD) and psychology (MA). She worked with Takeo Watanabe’s Vision Lab as a Research Assistant while completing the MA at BU. She then worked with Bence Nanay as a postdoctoral researcher for a year on his Between Perception and Action project in Antwerp, Belgium before taking up an Assistant Professor position at the University of California, Merced. She works at the intersection of philosophy and cognitive science on the topic of attention, especially as it relates to perception, consciousness, action, and responsibility. She is researching issues of bias as part of her project on forms of responsibility outside of attention.


Mine the Gap

Carolyn Dicey Jennings

This is an important week for me. First, the situation in Ferguson and elsewhere has made the issue of bias a pressing one for me. Second, having my parents, all five of my sisters, and their partners (and dogs!) in Merced for Thanksgiving means that I am not getting much sleep. This has made me reflect a little on the attempt to fight harmful biases through self-control and vigilance—if this is our primary method of fighting our own biases, we had better have a strategy for avoiding ‘cognitive sleep’ on the job. But as much as we know about how to avoid sleeping in important meetings, we don’t know much about how to avoid slipping into harmful biases. All of us have oversights. We overlook those who are differently abled, more feminine, more foreign, shorter, less attractive, etc. We do not have the cognitive resources to account for all of these oversights on a regular basis. For those of us who make decisions under cognitive load, who may sometimes slip into something of a cognitive sleep, it might be useful to put aside time to “mine the gap.” That is, to actively explore the space that we may have overlooked for gems. Here are some methods that have worked for me. These methods do not require vigilance, which should be useful at Thanksgiving, or any time you are low on resources, sleep or otherwise.


  • The Take 5 Method

This and the next method come from a post that I originally put up at New APPS exactly two years ago today (November 28th, 2012). I removed that and other posts in December 2012 when I considered leaving the blog (ultimately changing my mind). I am adding the text from that original post here:

“Over at FeministPhilosophers, a post was made on a new call to action: the journal Nature has called for its editors to insert a step into their method of choosing authors, wherein they must try to think of 5 female scientists who could be asked before finalizing their choice. As they put it:

“We believe that in commissioning articles or in thinking about who is doing interesting or relevant work, for all of the social factors already mentioned, and possibly for psychological reasons too, men most readily come to editorial minds. The September paper speculated about an unconscious assumption that women are less competent than men. A moment’s reflection about past and present female colleagues should lead most researchers to correct any such assumption. We therefore believe that there is a need for every editor to work through a conscious loop before proceeding with commissioning: to ask themselves, ‘Who are the five women I could ask?’”

I was inspired by this bold proposal to think of how it might be adapted for use by academic philosophers. If one wanted to follow this proposal, a helpful memory aid could be the lists collected at the APA Status for Women in Philosophy Website, which I recommend using. One limitation of the proposal is that it focuses on biases that harm female scientists, without accounting for the biases that harm, for instance, racial minorities. And so I unveil…”


  • The Extended Mind Method

“Conference organizers, book editors, and award committees, instead of relying on your own memories to come up with the relevant names, why not rely on The Extended Mind? In this case, I am using “The Extended Mind” to refer to the aggregate of publicly available information on working philosophers and their research. One could start by choosing a specific topic and then look at all those papers published (in the last ten years?) on that topic and choose names based on the best of these.

For example, if I wanted to put together an invite-only conference on the topic of attention, I could go to PhilPapers and look at papers by searching for “attention.” Here are the steps I took as an exercise, with optional elements italicized (which I wrote out so that anyone can copy and use them):

Step 1: Search PhilPapers for “Attention” in Advanced Search with the years 2002 to 2012.

Step 2: Select “Published Only” and hit “Apply.”

Step 3: Sort by “Relevance.”

Step 4: Export this page as “Formatted Text” for 200 items.

Step 5: Open a new Excel Workbook.

Step 6: Copy and Paste all text from the formatted text to column A of the Excel spreadsheet.

Step 7: Sort A to Z.

Step 8: Insert a column to the left of A and insert a Find Function: type in A1 “=FIND(“(“, B1″)” and drag to fill all rows.

Step 9: Insert a column to the left of A and insert a Mid Function: type in A1 “=MID(C1, 1, B1-1)” and drag to fill all rows.

Step 10: Insert a column to the left of A and copy column B to A (paste “values only”) and then go to “Data” and “Remove Duplicates” for column A only.

Step 11: Insert a column to the left of A and insert a Count Function: type in A1 “=COUNTIF(C:C, B2)” and drag to fill all rows.

Step 12: Sort (Custom Sort) Column A and B largest to smallest by column A values.

This results in the following list of philosophers with 2 or more publications on the topic together with the number of publications to the left (I am not on this list because my married and maiden names differ, which could be a problem with the method, but let’s forge ahead!):

6 Christopher Mole

5 Sebastian Watzl

4 Wayne Wu

3 Austen Clark

3 Brian Bruya

3 Victor A. F. Lamme

2 A. Charles Catania

2 Axel Seemann

2 Daniel Collerton, Elaine Perry, and Ian McKeath

2 Ingar Brinck

2 J. Campbell

2 Jason Ford

2 John G. Taylor

2 Juan Pascual-Leone

2 Luis Jimenez

2 Naomi M. Eilan

2 Natalie Depraz

2 P. Sven Arvidson

Some of these names are not well known to me, which is why this method should be helpful to bring to mind authors that may otherwise suffer from bias. Of these authors there are 16 men and 4 women, which means that the method yielded, in this case, 20% female authors. This could be improved, but it is a good start.

This approach has the advantage of taking the emphasis off particular people and putting it onto their work. This should help with all kinds of bias, including name bias, racial bias, gender bias, etc.

This approach also has several problems. First, the best available database, PhilPapers, is not complete. Second, PhilPapers is gargantuan, which makes it less likely that the relevant parties will follow the steps I list above for search terms that yield very large numbers of names.”

In the original blog post, I then go on to discuss how one might develop graphics that would improve this method. Instead of discussing that proposal, I want to write about how an application of this method helped me in a recent project: a book review of Wayne Wu’s Attention.


  • The Mixed Method

In reading Wu’s book, I was struck by both the breadth of the literature he cites and the gaps in that literature. Coming from a graduate program with emphases in the history of philosophy and phenomenology, I found these absences most striking. I decided to run some tests to check for other absences. This is how I did it.

First, I went through the text and jotted down every name with multiple mentions. I created a list of these in Excel, tagging the names of women authors. Using a pdf copy of the book, I then used the “find” feature of Adobe Acrobat to determine the number of mentions per name. I found that 14% of the authors mentioned three or more times were women, but that 18% of these citations were of women authors (18%), roughly approximating the proportion of women in full-time positions in academic philosophy (16.6%).

Second, as with the Extended Mind Method, I did a PhilPapers search for “attention,” selecting the first 500 “most relevant” papers. I used the “Find” and “Mid” functions discussed above to isolate author names, and then used the “Consolidate” feature to sum up the number of publications per author. I selected all those authors with at least two such papers and then tagged the names of women authors. There were 16% women authors on this list of 45 authors. I compared this list to the list I created from Wu’s book, and found that roughly half–22 of the 45 authors–had not been mentioned in his book. I then explored the papers of these authors, finding some of them (8 of the 22) clearly relevant to the topics of the book. (I mentioned a few of these names in a footnote of the book review.)

Third, I used Google Scholar to perfom two searches: one for “attention” and “action” in the title and one for “attention” and “phenomenology” in the title. In this process, I discovered 7 highly cited articles clearly relevant to the themes of the book. (I mentioned a few of these names in the same footnote.)

What I noticed in this process is that Wu’s scholarship appears to be gender neutral: he cited women in approximately the same proportion that they publish on this topic. Nonetheless, as with any academic work, the scholarship has noteworthy gaps. Two of those gaps were apparent to me because of my educational background (historical philosophy and phenomenology), but these could have arisen for someone without such a background who used this procedure.

Each of us has our own such gaps. I hope that these and other methods will help to explore these gaps to expand the scope and quality of our research.

Thoughts on the Gender Ratios of Papers Published in Ethics and the Journal of Moral Philosophy

Before beginning, I would like to note that what I say here is more in the way of starting a discussion than it is a way of stating anything certain. I hope that people will read what I say in this vein.

* * *

As discussed in this very interesting post at New Apps, in the Journal of Moral Philosophy (JMP), male-coded authors account for 82.5% of authors of all articles inspected. In Ethics, authors coded as male account for 80% of all authors of inspected articles. These are interesting facts. First, conventional wisdom is that women are disproportionately likely to specialize in moral philosophy. So, if there were any area that women tended to publish in, then moral philosophy ought to be it. It is striking then that even in this area of philosophy, women are publishing significantly less than men. Second, both JMP and especially Ethics, which is triple blind, are thought to be top of the line in terms of their peer-review processes. These facts raise the question, what’s going on here?

There are a few things that likely work together:

(1) Implicit gender bias. Even with rigorous peer-review processes, there may be very little blind review anymore. Many of us present our in-progress work in talks and conferences or post it on our personal webpages. As a result, the gender of the author may be known and trigger implicit bias.

(2) Stereotype threat. Stereotype threat may lead women to be less confident about the quality of their work. Both JMP and Ethics have very good reputations in the field. Women may be more likely to think that their work isn’t good enough and fail to submit their papers to journals with high standing. I can say that, until recently, I have fallen prey to this phenomenon.

In response to these points, one might wonder whether women really are disproportionately publishing less than men in these journals. The answer will depend on how many women there are in philosophy and, more specifically, how many women specialize in moral philosophy. Recent data suggests that women represent 22% of philosophers at the faculty level (see here) in the United States. If this number translates to area of specialization – i.e., 22% of moral philosophers are women – then perhaps women are not publishing disproportionately less than men in JMP and Ethics. In fact, the numbers are what we should expect. However, if conventional wisdom is correct and women are more likely to specialize in moral philosophy, then we should expect more than 22% of the papers in JMP and Ethics to be authored by women. Even if the conventional view is right, I am not sure just how much more we should expect. Some beginning ideas can be derived from this discussion. However, in general, it seems to me that we need more data in order to determine how many women specialize in moral philosophy. And, without this information we are unable to determine whether women are genuinely being under represented in journals such as JMP and Ethics.

Imagine that women are proportionately represented in the journals we are discussing (e.g., imagine that 22% of women specialize in moral philosophy and 22% of papers in Ethics and JMP are by women). Could there be any reason for ensuring that more papers by women are published in these journals? Possibly, yes, for two reasons.

A.  It could be a partial solution to the alienation problem.

Molly Paxton, Carrie Figor, and Valerie Tiberius,[1] argue that “there is an overall decline in the proportion of women in philosophy as one travels up the academic hierarchy.” For example, women represent 30% of those who graduate with a Ph.D. in philosophy. Yet, only 22% of women are philosophy faculty.

I think that one explanation of the lack of women in philosophy (that relates to the “lack of role models” which is discussed in the Paxton et. al article) is, what I will call, the alienation hypothesis. Because of the small number of women in faculty positions, because of the small number of papers written by women in the most prominent journals, because of the general invisibility of women in philosophy, many women come to feel that there is no place for them in the discipline. This idea may become solidified with more exposure to the discipline as such beliefs are further confirmed. This may explain why the number of women in philosophy decreases stepwise.

Ensuring that there are more papers by women in journals such as Ethics and JMP could potentially be a way to reduce the alienation that women within the field often feel and, in turn, be a way to increase the number of women who graduate with Ph.D.s and eventually seek faculty positions in philosophy.

B. It could be a means of repair for implicit bias.

Furthermore, implicit bias is likely at least partially the cause of the exclusion of women in high standing journals. It is not certain that we are morally responsible for our implicit biases and, in turn, that we owe repair for the bad consequences that result from them. These are hotly contested issues, after all. But, may be we are responsible and may be we do owe repair. If we are and we do, then ensuring that papers by women (and other excluded minorities) have a greater presence in Ethics and JMP and other prominent journals could be a way of making repair for their exclusion.

If there are reasons for ensuring that more papers by women appear in journals of high standing, such as Ethics and JMP, how should we accomplish this? The gold standard of peer review, namely, triple blind, may not be enough for the reasons mentioned above. Some have suggested that, as a compliment to robust peer-review, we should institute a quota of some sort (requiring that a certain amount of published papers are by women in each issue). Would this be a good idea? What might be the drawbacks?

The most obvious objection to quotas is similar to one that arises with general discussions of affirmative action: namely, the quality objection. If it is required that, say, 35% of papers in Ethics and JMP are by women, wouldn’t this require Ethics and JMP to let in papers that wouldn’t normally meet their high standards? In other words, wouldn’t a quota diminish the quality of the work published in these journals? The answer is no, not necessarily. Women often author papers of high quality. This is evidenced in the women-authored papers that are published in Ethics and JMP. However, because of implicit bias, it is likely that high quality papers by women (and other minorities) that have been previously submitted to these journals but were unjustifiably excluded. A quota might give us the pause we need, as reviewers, to ensure that such papers are not excluded any longer.

This isn’t to say that quotas are ultimately the right solution.  There are likely many other objections to consider.  I hope that we will discuss them and the possibilities of other better solutions, if there are any.  I raise this suggestion as what I hope will segue into further discussion about the specific manifestations of the gender problem in philosophy and potential solutions.

Update: Since I wrote this post, a few different discussions about diversity and inclusiveness in publishing have popped up.   Sherry Irwin discusses gender ratios in Aesthetics journals at Aesthetics for Birds.  Helen DeCruz has written a follow up piece at New Apps about how implicit bias might slip in during reviewing processes, despite reviewers’ best efforts.







[1] Molly Paxton, Carrie Figdor, and Valerie Tiberius, “Quantifying the Gender Gap: An Empirical Study of the Underrepresentation of women in Philosophy,” Hypatia 27.4: 949-957.

More on the Philosopher’s Annual

Despite the fact that the Philosophers Annual (PA) is doing better on the political philosophy front, I have a few worries that were prompted by discussions on Facebook (thanks to J.D. and E.B. and others for bringing my attention to these issues). It seems that the PA has recognized papers in philosophy of race only twice since the year 2000: from the literature of 2001, Robert Bernasconi, “Who Invented the Concept of Race?”; and from the literature of 2000, Sally Haslanger, “Gender and Race: (What) Are They? (What) Do We Want Them To Be?” Something similar seems to be true of feminist philosophy as well. There have been three papers recognized in the area of feminist philosophy since 2000: from the literature of 2007, Sally Haslanger, “But Mom, Crop Tops are Cute! Social Knowledge, Social Structure and Ideology Critique”; from the literature of 2001, Karen Jones, “The Politics of Credibility”; from the literature of 2000, Sally Haslanger, “Gender and Race: (What) Are They? (What) Do We Want Them To Be?” Admittedly, I did a quick and incomplete survey (considering only up to the year 2000). If anyone has determined the exact numbers of entries in these two areas since the beginning of the PA, I would be grateful if you could share that information with me.

It cannot possibly be true that of the very best articles in philosophy since 2000 that only 5 of the best articles are in the area of race and gender. That we are led to this conclusion by the PA may suggest that there is something wrong with the methodology behind the PA.   So, what exactly is the methodology? Last year, in the comments on Eric Schliesser’s post about the exclusionary nature of the PA, David Chalmers very kindly shared the following:

i’ve been on the editorial board of the philosophers’ annual for years, but its inner workings are still somewhat obscure to me. i believe that the board members are selected by the overall editor, patrick grim, sometimes in response to suggestions from other board members. every year the board members are invited first to nominate articles and then to comment on and rate articles that have been nominated. then a group consisting of grim and three michigan graduate students (who change from year to year) choose the final selection of ten articles based on that information. i always supposed that board members’ comments were used as the main input into that process, but i’ve been told that in fact they’re only used to compile a list of 20 or so finalists — then all prior information is set aside while the four members of the core group read all the articles and compile a top ten. it’s not surprising that as a result, the selections in the annual in recent years show a heavy topical bias toward certain areas, correlating with topics of interest to the overall editors and to people at michigan (most striking in the case of formal philosophy, a specialty of both grim and the michigan program), and a corresponding bias away from certain other areas. of course grim deserves credit for getting the whole process started in the first place; and it’s not at all easy to figure out what a really good system for deciding the results would be.

I am not entirely sure who the “core group” consists of, but if the core group does not contain philosophers who specialize in philosophy of race or feminist philosophy this might explain why those areas are marginalized in the selection process. Similar things can be said about political philosophy and other typically excluded areas.

What should be done about this? As Chalmers suggests, it would be very difficult, if not almost impossible, to create a good selection system (though Alex Guerrero in the comments here suggests that something similar to the PGR might work). Perhaps we should simply eliminate the PA. Or, perhaps, rather than representing itself as choosing the very best articles in philosophy, the PA should represent itself as choosing the best articles from a certain perspective in philosophy. I don’t think that this would necessarily be a bad option. It would just be a matter of laying the cards on the table and we (the readers) would have a clearer idea of what the PA’s game is about.

Update: Brian Leiter thinks my criticism of the PA is unconvincing, noting that many areas outside of the ones I have mentioned have been under-represented or excluded such as the history of philosophy, philosophy of law, and aesthetics. I agree wholeheartedly with him about this and thank him for continuing the discussion. However, the fact that a number of areas have been excluded again and again (for well over a decade) only goes to my point. The PA does not necessarily represent the best articles in Philosophy (as a discipline), but the best articles from a particular perspective. I think this is fine. It just needs to be made clearer by those who run the PA.

Update:  phrynefisher at Feminist Philosophers  discusses some very important issues about which practitioners get represented in the PA, noting that “90% of this year’s best papers are by men. And this is not an unusual gender ratio for Annual volumes.”  This is well worth reading.