Tuesday, December 30, 2008

This blog doesn't look right!

That's because Blogger tricked me into updating the way it's designed. This may be for the best, though I'll have to more work to take it there. I'll be putting links back in pretty soon, probably after I get back from drinking with former Cogitamus blogmate Sir Charles.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Save Us, Government! Set The Journals Free!

(I'm crossposting this from my political blog, donkeylicious, because it deals with academic stuff)

Ezra Klein, the rare and wonderful non-academic who reads academic papers, asks:
why is so much content locked up in pricey journals? Much of this research is being conducted on the public dime, but is utterly inaccessible to the public. The journals might have made sense when you needed some sort of archiving and distribution model to store, categorize, and spread research, but with the advent of the internet, their existence serves to foil those efficient dissemination of relevant research. Do they simply survive because the prestige they confer as gatekeepers plays an important role in rankings and advancement? Or is there some crucial purpose I'm missing entirely?
Here's my understanding of the story: All these journals were originally things more or less like magazines. In fact, they still are. The library at your university (because of course you're an academic at a university, or you wouldn't be interested in this stuff) pays a subscription fee and gets mailed a booky-looking object four times a year with the latest research. Journals are pricey and have copyrighting because that's the business model that works for low-circulation high-interest publications being sold to rich institutional libraries.

But now, there's the internet! Instead of the expensive printing, binding, and mailing of booky-looking objects, you can transmit information for free through the magic tubes. Since the editors and reviewers are professors who do this without getting paid by the journal (they regard this as part of the job the university pays them for) the entire process could be done for free. There's sometimes a grad student making a little money as an editorial assistant, but that's about it. We academics would be happy enough to just put our content on the web for free. In fact, a cool new journal in my discipline, Philosophers' Imprint, does that.

But Philosophers' Imprint is a very new journal. The existing journals aren't doing this. The trouble is that a lot of these journals are now owned by big publishing companies that don't make any profit by giving away their stuff for free. So they're clinging to the magazine business model.

I'd love it if the government could buy the journals out of the publishers' hands and open them to the public. I hear that some of that has happened in the sciences. The money taxpayers pay out in doing that would soon be recouped, at least in part, by public university academic libraries not having to pay subscription fees. Bonus: Ezra and other ordinary folk get to read my stuff without paying.

But I'm going to keep sending most of my papers to old-line journals that Ezra can't read and hoping they get accepted. After I got a paper accepted in Philosophical Review two months ago (it's the top journal in the discipline), one of my colleagues told me that at some places, people can get tenure just for that! I'd love to have more people read my stuff, but if I just put it on the web for free hardly anybody would even know it was there, or that it was worth reading. Get it into Philosophical Review, and I'm assured that my colleagues will see it, my adversaries will respond to it, and people hiring or promoting me will be impressed. But Ezra won't be able to read it. 

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Changing the past

Something I've been wondering about lately -- what modality applies to the impossibility of changing the past? Is changing the past logically impossible, metaphysically impossible, or physically impossible? (If there's some weird physics thing that makes it possible to change the past, please tell me, but I'm not sure how that would work.)

I'm working on a paper that discusses how norms apply to impossible actions, so I'd like to get a better handle on what sort of impossibility would apply to preventing the Civil War or other past-changing actions.

Saturday, December 13, 2008


San Francisco: Now until December 26
DC: December 26 until January 5
Singapore: January 9-whenever

You who wish to hang out are encouraged to contact me!

Friday, December 05, 2008

Students write things

It's exam grading time! My favorite sentences from this batch included the Mount Everest theory of laws, which isn't much better when you take out the typo:
Law of nature is something that guides how the world or things will be in their upmost natural state.
This student had a talent for accurately translating the philosophers' views (Hume in this case) into ungrammatical mess:
Great evil or noble man (extraordinary) are but "freaks" which is similar to extraordinary weather phenomenas observed also in nature which is governed by laws.
I liked the question this student had for Kant:
Are all rational beings autonomous? Then, what about human beings who have been brought up with animals and have never interacted with humans -- do they then have this intrinsic quality of autonomy?

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Introducing Donkeylicious

Nicholas Beaudrot and I have started our own political blog, Donkeylicious. I hereby refer you there for all your werewolfish political commentary needs. As of today, War or Car is complete. It will stay up as long as the internet permits, a monument to three trillion dollars wasted on killing people for no good reason.

I only met Nicholas this summer, but he and I were blogging together during the weekends on Ezra Klein's site for two years, and then for the last year on Cogitamus after Ezra got fully absorbed into the American Prospect. He's excellent with numbers, and he was putting up some awesome county-by-county maps during the primaries to understand what was happening. This was the secret to his super powers. Here he is on February 11, 2008 -- almost four months before Hillary Clinton ended her campaign:

It's over. I'm calling it. When all is said and done, Barack Obama will have a Florida-and-Michigan-proof lead among pledged delegates (68 or more) to convince enough superdelegates to earn the nomination.

Even if Clinton manages a narrow loss, tie, or narrow win in Virginia, Barack Obama should win Maryland and DC handily. Combined with a likely big win in one of his home states (Hawaii), he'll have roughly a 100 delegate lead going into the Wisconsin primary. Let's be pessimistic and assume Obama loses by 15%. With 75 pledged delegates, that means his lead will drop to the high 80s.

We're now all the way to the Ohio and Texas primaries, with a total of 334 pledged delegates at stake. To claw back to a draw, Hillary Clinton will have to win a whopping 61% of them. There's no way that can happen; the only state where Clinton has managed a margin that large is Oklahoma. And remember, this is the pessimistic scenario; if Obama wins Virginia by 15% as polls indicate, and can play two out of three between Wisconsin, Ohio, and Pennsylvania to virtual draws, he'll have lead large enough that Clinton will have to pack it in.

So, yeah, he's good! As for me, I'm basically going to be doing the kind of political blogging there that you might remember from the halcyon days of this blog. With the election behind us, I'll be free to spend more time on more technical philosophy-blogging here.