For many years, Leiter Reports served as the primary philosophy blog for professional philosophy. Many have criticized Leiter for his handling of squabbles with other philosophers, which seemingly led to many wanting an alternative. Into this vacuum Justin Weinberg stepped, creating Daily Nous. Daily Nous seemed like an improvement at first. Leiter’s polemical, ad hominem approach was replaced with the measured and thoughtful attitude of Weinberg. But, over time, it became clear that Weinberg was an agent of the PC-police. Behind the veil of thoughtfulness was a political player who frequently censored and deleted comments and was never truly interested in diversity of thought. It’s become clear to me that these two blogs do more harm than good. In light of this fact, they should either shut down, or do serious reformation.
How, specifically do they harm the profession? First, they contribute to the overprofessionalization of the discipline by engaging in incessant rankings. This is mostly done by Leiter’s blog. His ongoing posts about which departments are moving up or down, along with the Philosophical Gourmet Report creates an environment in which a hiring department is more likely to inflate the value of a degree from a top-flight Philosohical Gourmet school. This, along with a tight job market, makes prospective graduate students feel like they must get into one of these programs if they are to get a job. Thus, these departments are flooded with applications from capable young students who need to distinguish themselves. The primary way for them to distinguish themselves is to further professionalize rather than further distinguish themselves as excellent philosophers and teachers.
The trend toward overprofessionalization is perhaps seen even more clearly in current publishing practices. Combined again with the tight job market and pressures to achieve tenure, young philosophers feel pressured to build up their dossiers by publishing. And for years now, Leiter periodically runs a survey of which journals are the best. These rankings, at least to some degree, have contributed to journals’ reputations in the profession, along with the notion that young philosophers need to publish in these venues if they are to advance their careers. But they are highly flawed, given that they are reflective only of the opinions of philosophers who read and bother to fill out the surveys, which leaves out a significant number of philosophers. Moreover, these opinions tend to reflect views on who are the best publishers in philosophy rather than who are the best at teaching students to be excellent teachers and philosophers. Yet, people treat them as solid indicators of which journals are best, as if Philosophical Review really is clearly better than Philosophical Quarterly. This is palpably absurd and tends to over-inflate the value of publishing in these journals, while undermining the value in publishing elsewhere, causing these journals to be flooded with submissions, most of which will be rejected.
Worse than the overprofessionalization of the discipline is the engagement in vicious gossip. Both Leiter Reports and Daily Nous are guilty of this. A reoccurring topic for both blogs is who recently moved where. The truth is, one philosopher moving to another department does not affect me one iota, unless this person is moving from or to my department. That these blogs tally such things is nothing more than gossip–a TMZ report of who is hot and who is not–“Plato is leaving UT Austin for NYU! What a blow to UT and power move from NYU! This cements their place as the top ranked school.” Stupid.
Keeping track of who moves where is not the worst of the gossip though. The reporting on drama internal to a department or school is often shallow, lacking in the crucial perspective that can only come by being inside the community where the drama is happening. This leads to the vilification of certain departments, schools, or individuals, when their vilification is not justified.
Finally, both blogs contribute to censorship, both actively and passively. We have had reports in our own comment threads about Daily Nous blocking or deleting respectful, but sharply critical comments on that blog. This is clearly out of bounds for a philosophy blog, which should allow all criticism, so long as it is philosophical–unless, of course, the purpose is to be something other than a philosophy blog.
The truth of the matter is that neither blog deserves the dignity of being called a philosophy blog, so much as a political, gossip, opinion blog about philosophers. Of course, they note that they are news blogs, but they also represent themselves as philosophy blogs. That they do so misrepresents to undergraduate students and graduate students what the nature of philosophy is and encourages the notion that such political and philosophical narrowness is how philosophy is or should be. If you actually think these are philosophy blogs, I would encourage you to go look at the first ten posts of either. At the time that this was written, for instance, none of Leiter’s top 10 posts contained an argument in the main post. There was, for example, encouragement for people to call their Republican representatives to urge them to support the Affordable Care Act.
The positives that these blogs contribute do not offset the negatives. Some argue that these blogs give philosophers important news about the profession. Fair enough. But is this important news that can’t be gotten elsewhere? As I’ve already noted, that who moved there, and the internal drama at University X is rarely relevant to me, unless I’m at University X. Whatever the important news is, it can almost always be gotten elsewhere. At the very least, describe the blogs as philosophy news and gossip sites so that they are not misleading.
Another argument given in support of these blogs is that they serve as a catalogue of information for professional development. There is some useful information that can be gleaned from Leiter Reports and Daily Nous on these topics, but again, most of this information can be found at other blogs, such as The Philosophers’ Cocoon. In fact, The Philosophers’ Coccon is better for such information, since one of its primary purposes is to serve as a catalogue of information on professional development. It does so with less of the baggage of Leiter Reports and Daily Nous. And the notion that the rankings are helpful to prospective graduate students is overblown. Undergraduates take them far more seriously than they should, and they encourage ladder climbing, career driven philosophy, instead of philosophy for the sake of wisdom or philosophical truth.
A final argument given in favor of these blogs is that they serve as platforms for discussions of professional climate. While they do indeed do this, they do so in a seriously flawed way, given the censorship problem that I’ve already highlighted. Those of us in the discipline cannot have comprehensive and complete assessments of the current climate of the profession without the full inclusion of all perspectives on issues. To have these discussions without welcoming all perspectives makes it highly likely that flawed and highly biased solutions will be adopted, furthering certain climate issues that are really there and clouding our ability to understand what is causing the problems.
In light of these serious problems, I call for the serious reform, or outright elimination, of Leiter Reports and Daily Nous.
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