Archive for the 'Disciplinary boundaries' category

Ponderable: disciplinary specific data about questions at professional conferences.

This week I'm attending the annual meeting of the Pacific Division of the American Philosophical Association in San Francisco. There are lots of interesting talks on the program, but I find myself noticing some of the habits of philosophers that are on display in the question-and-answer periods at the end of the talks.

For example, philosophers seem to have a hard time asking a concise question. It's not obvious that this is always a problem -- providing a bit of context with the question can make it easier to get an answer to the question one is trying to ask -- but sometimes the queries come with so much background that it's hard to identify the actual question. And sometimes it's just that the questioners are just trying to ask too many things at once. (To be fair, some philosophers recognize this, including one this morning who started, "I have two questions, but I'll try to reduce them to a single one ...") Then too there are the questioners disinclined to yield the floor, persisting with follow-up queries even as the session chair is indicating that they should shut up so other people can get their questions answered.

My impression is that some of these behaviors are generational (or maybe related to status within the professional community), but others strike me as behaviors characteristic of philosophers.

Are there patterns of engagement in professional meeting Q&A that you take to be distinctive of your discipline? Any behaviors you think are dying out, or surging forth? And, if you're one of those interdisciplinary creatures, are there exotic Q&A behaviors you notice when you go to professional meetings with folks from the other side of a disciplinary fence?

(I'm now thinking I might start collecting some more precise data on questions for the remainder of the meeting, to see how measurements square with my impressions.)

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IGERT meeting: what do grown-up interdisciplinary scientists do for a living?

One of the most interesting sessions at the NSF IGERT 2010 Project Meeting was a panel of men and women who participated in the IGERT program as students and are now working in a variety of different careers. The point of the panel was to hear about the ways that they felt their experiences as IGERT trainees prepared them for their current positions, as well as to identify aspects of their current jobs where more preparation might have been helpful.
The session was moderated by Judy Giordan (President and Co-Founder, Visions in Education, Inc.). The IGERT alums who participated in the panel were:
Fabrisia Ambrosio (University of Pittsburgh)
Abigail Anthony (Environment Northeast, a non-profit)
Edward Hederick (Congressional Fellow)
Lisa Kemp (Co-founder, Ablitech, Inc.)
Henry Lin (Amgen, Inc.)
Yaniria Sanchez de Leon (University of Puerto Rico)
Andrew Todd (U.S. Geological Survey)
Marie Tripp (Intel)
What helped you prepare for your current role?

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IGERT meeting: some general thoughts.

About three weeks ago, I was in Washington, D.C. for the NSF IGERT 2010 Project Meeting. I was invited to speak on a panel on Digital Science (with co-panelists Chris Impey, Moshe Pritzker, and Jean-Claude Bradley, who blogged about it), and later in the meeting I helped to facilitate some discussions of ethics case studies.
I'll have more to say about our panel in the next post, but first I wanted to share some broad observations about the meeting.
IGERT stands for "Integrative Graduate Education and Research Traineeship", and the program is described thusly:

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Dismal, yes, but is it science?

As I was driving home from work today, I was listening to Marketplace on public radio. In the middle of a story, reported by Nancy Marshall Genzer, about opponents of health care reform, there was an interesting comment that bears on the nature of economics as a scientific discipline. From the transcript of the story:

The Chamber of Commerce is taking a bulldozer to the [health care reform] bill. Yesterday, the Washington Post reported the Chamber is hiring an economist to study the legislation. The goal: more ammunition to sink the bill.
Ewe Reinhardt teaches economics at Princeton. He says, if the Chamber does its study, it will probably get the result it wants.
EWE REINHARDT: You can always get an economist with a PhD from a reputable university to give a scientific report that makes your case. So, yes, there will be such a study.

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Against over-specialization.

In the 12 September, 2008 issue of Science, there is a brief article titled "Do We Need 'Synthetic Bioethics'?" [1]. The authors, Hastings Center ethicists Erik Parens, Josephine Johnston, and Jacob Moses, answer: no.

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Assorted hypotheses on the science-humanities divide.

Reading the comments on my post and Chad's post about the different societal attitudes towards humanities and arts and math and science (especially in terms of what "basic" knowledge a well-educated person ought to have), I get the feeling that some interesting assumptions are at play. Since I don't want to put words in anyone's mouth, I'm just going to lay out some of the hypotheses that have occurred to me as I've read through these discussions:

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Why philosophy of chemistry?

Over at Philosopher's Playground, Steve Gimbel asks why the philosophy of chemistry is such a recent discipline given how long there has been serious activity in the philosophy of biology and the philosophy of physics.

He floats a few possible answers -- as it happens, the same options those of us who actually do philosophy of chemistry encounter fairly regularly. After responding briefly to these possible reasons for thinking that there shouldn't be a distinct philosophy of chemistry, I'll offer a brief sketch of what a philosophy of chemistry might be about.

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Simon Blackburn on 'the myth of the scientist'.

Via Crooked Timber, I see that philosopher Simon Blackburn would like to dispel some myths. (He does this in the inaugural article of a Times Higher Education series "in which academics range beyond their area of expertise".) Of the ten myths Blackburn identifies for busting, the one that caught my attention was "the myth of the scientist":

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Who has the biggest snakepit?

As I was weighing in on aetosaurs and scientist on scientist nastiness, one of the people I was talking to raised the question of whether careerist theft and backstabbing of professional colleagues was especially bad in paleontology. (Meanwhile, a commenter expressed surprise that it wasn't just biomedical researchers who felt driven to cheat.)
I don't know. So I figured I'd put it to my readers:

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A few thoughs on conferences.

It's been pretty quiet here. Not only have I been engrossed in preparations for the Spring semester (classes start today), but I also went to the 2008 NC Science Blogging Conference. So it seems like a good time to ruminate a bit on how conferences fit into the patterns of (my) academic life.

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