Monthly Archives: October 2013

Wednesday October 30, 2013

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Thanks to Vicki Brett for this wonderfully autumnal photo of a crow in a tree on campus.

Hi everyone, as Vicki’s picture attests, we are in full autumn-mode here in the Waterloo area. It’s incredible that there are only four more weeks of classes!

First up in graduate student news, Jim Jordan writes, “I presented a paper called “Closing a Route to Logical Pluralism” at the 50th Western Canadian Philosophical Association conference held from October 18th to 20th in Winnipeg. My paper looks at Gillian Russell’s presentation of two arguments that appear to be valid or invalid depending on whether their premises and conclusions are understood as natural language sentences or formalizable propositions. She suggests that this might be a route to some kind of logical pluralism; I argue that the difference is already made before the logical judgement of validity comes into play. This isn’t enough to settle the question of logical pluralism–we need to figure out what we want and are willing to accept as “logical” before we can answer the question of a plurality of logics.

Incidentally, in the conversation after one of the sessions, I found out that professor emeritus Rolf George and alumnus Paul Rusnock have finished translating over 3000 pages Bolzano’s writings into English. (Rolf, if you’re reading this, can you tell me where can I get a copy, and will you autograph it?)  The conference was also an opportunity to talk a bit about the two positions we have open here, meet a couple of people from Calgary where I got my start into philosophy, and make a few other introductions. There are a few other informal reflections on the conference over on the department friends’ Facebook group.” Very nice work, Jim!

Graduate student Cathy Gee has also been traveling. Cathy says, “I went to the Center for Cognition and Neuroethics conference on “Reason, Reasons, and Reasoning” in Flint, MI. I had an amazing time full of great people, great papers, and great food!” I’ll add that Cathy presented a new version of a paper she wrote for a seminar she took with me a couple of years ago! Great news, Cathy.

Graduate student Rosalind Abdool recently co-presented with colleagues at both Providence Health Care and St. Joseph’s Health Centre in Toronto for the Centre for Clinical Ethics’ monthly Ethics Grand Rounds. The topic was on the ethics of a mandatory flu vaccination and the presentation explored commonly held philosophical reasons against and reasons in favor of a mandatory flu shot. The presentation also aimed at encouraging deeper reflection on the value of getting the flu shot in light of scientific evidence. Rosalind remarks: “Staff were highly engaged in this topic and appreciated an in-depth analysis of the ethics of a mandatory flu shot. There continues to be much debate surrounding this issue, and this was a wonderful opportunity to provide an overview of the arguments on both sides and to facilitate a fascinating discussion.” Very nice job, Rosalind!

Over at his blog at Psychology Today, Paul Thagard wrote a parody of the extended mind hypothesis. “The extended mind hypothesis claims that it is a mistake to identify thinking with brain processes. Analogously, we argue that breathing should not be identified with lung processes…” check it out here!

Shannon Dea writes, “I’m really fortunate that my sabbatical year at the University of Sheffield coincides with the first year of a three year Leverhulme Trust funded project on Idealism and Pragmatism (http://idealismandpragmatism.org/) headed by Bob Stern and Chris Hookway. They’ve both been really supportive of my research and have welcomed me to all of the Idealism and Pragmatism activities. We’ve had a great reading group, and a visiting post-doc, and we’ve got a new blog and a Twitter feed (I even got to invent the hashtag for the first workshop in the project). And, this past weekend saw the first of three international workshops Bob and Chris are hosting under the umbrella of the project. The workshop focused on historical connections between idealism and pragmatism — an oddball topic for many scholars but one squarely at the centre of my research. I was one of seven speakers at the workshop — the only one from Canada. My talk was entitled “Peirce, Spinoza and Absolute Idealism.” The other talks variously considered aspects of Kant’s, Hegel’s, James’s and Brandom’s (inter alia) thought. The talks were all well-attended and the discussions were both lively and productive.In a couple of days, I head to Sao Paulo to give a keynote address at the 15th International Meeting on Pragmatism hosted by the Pontifical Catholic University of Sao Paulo under the umbrella of the Centre For Pragmatism Studies. It’s a huge treat to get to share my research with so many pragmatists and historians of philosophy! (And it’s a great help to get to do so now whilst writing my monograph Peirce and Spinoza.)”

Heather Douglas has lots of different kinds of news. Heather says, “First, Alan Richardson came for a great visit! He met with lots of graduate students, including my PHIL 674 seminar students (who are reading some of Alan’s work), as well as faculty. His talk was very well attended– standing room only– and presented an interesting picture of what drove concerns over objectivity (and against what kind of subjectivity the objectivity was to defend) among the logical empiricists. His talk emphasized the role of the will in establishing a responsible epistemic attitude and the need for conventions in knowledge creation for which the epistemic subject must be responsible. Thanks to Alan for visiting!”

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Alan Richardson at Heather’s house, after his talk.

Heather also says, “I had a very interesting trip to Ottawa this past week, which involved both a day-long meeting on the continuation of the Situating Science cluster grant, which has fostered efforts in Canadian science studies for the past seven year. (For more info on that project, see: http://www.situsci.ca) Then, the Science and Society 2013 conference began, where I spoke on “Science, Expertise, and Democracy.” I described both how science is valuable to democratic societies and how the public can legitimately critique specific scientific studies, either because of concerns over how a study was framed (which questions did it ask? Which did it not?) and over whether the assessment of evidential sufficiency is acceptable. My session included talks by Frederic Bouchard (Universite de Montreal) and Patrick Feng (University of Calgary), which I later tried to amalgamate into a summary given at the lunch plenary (with our own Carla Fehr). The meeting was a wide-ranging interdisciplinary effort to grapple with the complex issues of science and society, and lots of good connections were made. There was also a stunning reading of excerpts from Michael Frayn’s play Copenhagen.

“Also, a paper on “The Moral Terrain of Science” has been published online in Erkenntnis. The paper describes how to think about all the moral considerations that arise in the practice of science, and considers the case of H5N1 as an illustrative example. The paper is part of a collection of papers on socially engaged philosophy of science arising from an October 2012 conference organized by Angela Potochnik at the University of Cincinnati. The entire collection can be viewed here.

“Finally, late last week, I spoke at the Canadian Association for American Studies Conference in Kitchener on the problem of loyalty among science advisors in the Nixon administration. This is the story of how Nixon disbanded his presidential science advising system and how Congress passed the Federal Advisory Committee Act, which requires science advising bodies and their conclusions be a matter of public record. Although the US political system is quite different than the Canadian, there are important lessons concerning the need for openness with technical advice in a democracy for both countries.”

I (Patricia Marino) also spoke at the Canadian Association for American Studies Conference. Their theme was the “Economization of Everything,” and I wrote about the way economic methodology, because it collapses the distinction between wanting and valuing, is ill-suited for public reasoning processes. It’s become common to hear that the methods of economics, because they are “cold-blooded,” are superior to those of “warm-hearted” humanism; my talk, “The Cold-Blooded Economist is a Dangerous Figure,” drew on philosophical theories about valuing and liberal neutrality to argue that this is not so.

Maybe you remember that several of our MA students, Teresa Branch, Sandie DeVries, Marian Davies, and Jamie Sewell presented a poster at the 2013 Science and Society Conference in Ottawa? It was on “Scientific information, misinformation and disinformation: The perils of open access and trust,” and I’m so glad they’ve given me permission to post it here. Download the pdf by clicking: SituatingSciencePoster-UOttawa2013. Great job, all!

Recent faculty publications:

Terrence C. Stewart & Chris Eliasmith (2013). Realistic Neurons Can Compute the Operations Needed by Quantum Probability Theory and Other Vector Symbolic Architectures. Behavioral and Brain Sciences 36 (3):307 – 308.

Upcoming items:

Chris Eliasmith will be a panel participant at this event on What Matters Now, in Hamilton November 4.

And graduate student Ramesh Prasad will be chairing a session at the upcoming International Philosophy of Medicine Roundtable in New York, NY on November 20, 2013.

Don’t forget you can see more news and check out upcoming events at our Department website. Also, follow us on Twitter.

As always, I hope everyone is doing well, and thanks for reading!

— Patricia Marino

 

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Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Beautiful fall foliage campus photo by Vicki Brett.

Big news people: we are on Twitter.  We are @WaterlooPhilosFollow us!

 We were very pleased to usher in our colloquium series with a talk by Rob Stainton, Distinguished University Professor, University of Western Ontario. Series organizer John Turri says, “Robert talked to the department about natural language and logical form. He argued that some items have logical form that doesn’t derive from the logical form of expressions in natural language. As an added bonus, in the question and answer period, it was inadvertently revealed that Paul Grice once wrote a letter of recommendation for a member of our department, in which that department member was praised for his punctuality and unrivaled fluency in the English language. This prompted deep reflection on the richness of conversational implicature.”
Here’s an update from our colleague Shannon Dea who is on leave. Shannon says, “I have a small bit of news. On Friday, I gave a talk on “Peirce and Spinoza’s Pragmaticist Metaphysics” in the departmental seminar series at the University of Sheffield, where I’m spending my sabbatical. It’s a great department and the discussion was long and lively — a real treat.” We’re glad you’re having a nice time away, Shannon!
Heather Douglas says the video of the talk she gave at SUNY-Oswego on the role of science in a democratic society is up. You can check it out here or at theyoutube link.

Another lovely campus photo by Vicki Brett.

That’s all for past and recent news. We have a few interesting upcoming events.

Heather Douglas and I will both be participating at the upcoming Canadian Association for American Studies conference here in Kitchener-Waterloo. The conference them is “Total Money Makeover”$: Culture and the Economization of Everything.” My talk is “The Cold-Blooded Economist is a Dangerous Figure”; the talk will touch on the way rational choice theory elides the distinctions we draw i in the way we regard our preferences. Heather will be speaking on “Science Advisors and the Problem of Loyalty during the Nixon Administration.”

Heather is also presenting next week at the Science and Society Conference at the University of Ottawa.

Nick Ray says, “I am giving a talk as part of the PHYS 10 Colloquium. “Mach, Newton, Empiricism and Spacetime”: Here’s the abstract: “There is a received view of Ernst Mach’s contributions to physics, and it is a tale of two cities. In the first city, the City of Theory, Mach was cited as one of the main intellectual influences for Einstein’s discovery of both special and general relativity. In the second city, the City of Method, Mach has been much maligned for arguing vigorously against fairly common (and arguably necessary) modes of scientific theorizing—especially regarding the development of concepts not reducible to experience and the search for deep, Planck-like explanations of nature.I think both cities (and the received view they comprise) are on shaky foundations. I will argue that the development of special relativity would have been hampered had Einstein actually applied Machian principles of conceptual analysis, and that Mach’s significance for modern physics comes rather from his critique of classical mechanics—one that applies Newton’s own empirical standard for physical theorizing, not some “abusive”, anti-theoretical, and overly reductive notion of empirical adequacy. We have much to learn about how to argue against entire theoretical frameworks in physics if we closely examine Mach’s mature criticism of Newtonian Absolute Space.” Details: Tuesday October 22, 2013, 11:30-12:30, Physics 145.

Don’t forget you can see more news and check out upcoming events at our Department website. And did I mention we’re on Twitter?

As always, I hope everyone is doing well, and thanks for reading!

— Patricia

Wednesday October 2, 2013

Hi everyone,

It is with great pleasure that we would like to congratulate our Department Administrative Assistant and Grad Coordinator Debbie Dietrich on her 25th anniversary at Waterloo! Some of my colleagues who’ve worked closely with Debbie over the years wanted to share their thoughts on this happy occasion. Our chair Dave DeVidi writes, “It’s hard to believe that it has reached the stage where Debbie is one of only two people in the department who have been here longer than me. While she’s important in the work life of everyone in the department, I’ve probably had as much chance to work with her as anyone: she’s been a key administrator for 15 of my 17 years here, and I worked closely with her for the six years I’ve spent as graduate officer and the past 15 months as Chair. There are lots of good things to be said, but maybe it is appropriate to say again what I said to the Dean about her 25th Anniversary at Waterloo:

What makes Debbie so valuable to the department is the personal touch she brings to all aspects of her work, and the personal connections this has allowed her to make all over campus. Has some unusual situation come up? Debbie will know exactly who to call to help solve it, and will know the person on the other end of the line. Is a visitor coming to the department? That person will already like the place when they arrive, because they’ll have been dealing with Debbie to make arrangements. Generations of grad students have known just where to go for a problem solver and a sympathetic ear—not to mention generations of department chairs. We’re lucky to have her.

Our recent chair Tim Kenyon seconds this: “Debbie has adapted to many changes in personnel, policies, processes and technologies during that time; but her collegiality and warm professionalism have been constants. She was an invaluable supportive colleague to me during my time as Chair.”

Brian Orend also described Debbie as “invaluable” to him during his tenure as Grad Officer: “She helped bring me up to speed on a whole range of rules and processes, even in the face of a sea-change in procedures about grad funding. Together with the Committee, Debbie was instrumental in helping bring together the biggest incoming grad student cohort in memory. I feel that Debbie combines polished professional discretion with useful frank advice. She has always been a total pro: always getting the job done yet ever with a fun attitude and an approachable demeanour that makes everyone’s job easier. She has also, of her own generous accord, provided me with additional help in connection with International Studies over the years.”

Doreen Fraser, current Grad Officer, says “Debbie is not only the one who helps faculty and graduate students navigate paperwork and University regulations, but also someone who keeps on top of what people are doing outside of the University (with extracurricular activities, partners, and children) and who offers support which goes well beyond help with administration. Thank you and congratulations, Debbie!” I know from years working with Debbie that she brings to our Department an extraordinary ability — to combine the formal and administrative aspects of her job with a kindness and friendliness that makes our Department a warm and connected place. It wouldn’t be the same without you, Debbie. Thank you so much, and congratulations on your 25th!

In graduate student news, some of our MA students, Teresa Branch, Sandie DeVries, Marian Davies, and Jamie Sewell, have had a poster accepted for the 2013 Science and Society Conference in Ottawa. The title is “Scientific information, misinformation and disinformation: The perils of open access and trust.” They write in the abstract, “The aim of this research is to explore the relationship between how information is presented by ‘science authorities’ and the public. This relationship is fraught with concern from science communicators as to the best means to convey the information, the public and their ability to understand the concepts, and the social position afforded to science as the sole authority with which to accurately measure the world. With the exponential increase in available sources of information via the internet, it is becoming increasingly necessary for the public to be able to critically analyze these sources and discern what science is reliable in order to make informed decisions about science policy. By looking at the recent controversy surrounding the exhibition, Sex: A Tell-all Exhibition at the Canada Science and Technology Museum in Ottawa, we will explore 3 facets of science communication and the dissemination of knowledge. We will analyze the means with which the exhibit attempted to reach the audience, the inherent concerns regarding the authority of science on the topic, and public discussion surrounding the exhibit via the internet. This example, serves as a means of showcasing the challenges of publicizing science as well as ways to harness this intersection of ideas to acknowledge biases and create a more balanced and better informed public.” Congrats to all!

Heather Douglas writes, “This past Saturday (Sep. 28), I gave the Warren Steinkraus Lecture on Human Ideals at SUNY Oswego. I spoke about “Ideals for Responsible Science in Democratic Societies” and we had a wide-ranging discussion about the role of scientists, collective responsibility, dual-use research, and public interest science, among other things. I also got to enjoy lovely Oswego, situated on Lake Ontario, on a spectacular day, with my host and tour guide, Brad Wray.” Heather also passed along some great pictures:

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Joe Novak presented a paper (“Sawyer and Consciousness”) at a conference entitled Science Fiction: The Interdisciplinary Genre. Joe says, “The conference was held at McMaster University September 13-15 2013 and it celebrated the donation of the papers of Robert Sawyer to the Library at McMaster which also houses the Bertrand Russell Archives. Robert Sawyer is probably the most significant SF writer in Canada; more information on him can be found at http://www.sfwriter.com/. More information on the conference can be found at: http://sfwriter.com/mcmaster.htm. I also attended the annual Medieval Philosophy Conference at U of T, held on September 20-21. This is an international conference featuring presentations by established scholars as well as some very talented doctoral students.”

Graduate student Rosalind Abdool and I together presented a paper we co-authored at The Pittsburgh Area Philosophy Colloquium. Our paper, “Utilitarianism, Intuitions, Rationality and Neuroscience,” challenged Peter Singer’s claims that neuro-scientific results were evidence for the rationality of utilitarianism over alternatives and argued on behalf of a pluralist approach. We had a great time meeting and talking with other Pittsburg area philosophers. Here’s a photo of us just after our talk:

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Dave DeVidi has some serious thoughts about science and academic freedom. “On September 17,” he says, “I took part in a public town hall in uptown Waterloo that is the first public event in Get Science Right, an initiative by the Canadian Association of University Teachers to raise public awareness and discussion of “the public impact of the crisis in science and research policy in Canada.” About 50 people attended, and the event was filmed by one of the national current affairs program as part of an investigation they are doing of the issues we were discussing.

“The other panelists (Melanie Campbell, a physicist from Waterloo and Jeffrey Jones, a neuroscientist from Wilfrid Laurier University) spoke passionately about the harmful implications of the defunding of basic, curiosity-driven research for the long term interests of the country. Since they are both from STEM backgrounds, I raised issues of particular concern to the humanities and social sciences—such as the ill-conceived changes to Library and Archives Canada and the killing of the long form census, both of which will prevent Arts researchers from effectively doing the research that a democratic society will want to see done if its interested in intelligently governing itself.

“A major topic of discussion was the harmful effects of all the gag orders imposed at the federal level on government scientists, librarians and archivists, and others. Their harm to good democratic decision-making is obvious. But the climate of silencing and retribution has other side effects. It’s an alarming trend among university administrators to see their role in terms of “keeping the university’s message focused and positive,” including keeping research that runs contrary to government policy from gaining much publicity—which, to my mind, is a rather grave failure to understand what universities are actually for. Which will be the first university administration to try to put gag orders on their faculty of the sort government departments have put on their scientists? It may happen sooner than we think, so faculty should be on their toes and be willing to put a stop to it when someone tries.”

Upcoming activities:

Tim Kenyon says, “On Thursday I will be giving a presentation to uW Library staff outlining some of the common uses and abuses of research output impact measures. The title is ‘Research measures and rankings.'”

Don’t forget you can see more news and check out upcoming events at our Department website. Our Facebook group is now for anyone who wants to keep in touch — just send a request to join. And why not follow this blog by email? Just use the gadget on the right hand side!

As always, thanks for reading!

— Patricia Marino