Friday, July 07, 2006

Philosophy of Science Association - Is this any way to run an organization?

The Philosophy of Science Association meets every two years and is the main professional organization for philosophers of science. I'm not a member but I know people who are, and the more I hear about the Association the angrier I get.

The biennial meeting is taking place this fall and the submission and review process for papers has been a complete travesty:

1) People who submitted workshop and symposium proposals (which were due eleven months before the conference) were not given a decision by the promised date. But even when the promised date had passed, there was no communication with people who'd submitted proposals.

2) As a result, the program committee had to extend the deadline for contributed papers. They had to do this to give people time to revise rejected workshop and symposium proposals into contributed paper format.

3) The program committee promised to make a decision on contributed papers by "mid June". They blew that deadline, too, again without informing anyone what was up. You'd think that common courtesy would dictate an e-mail saying "we're going to miss our deadline, please bear with us."

4) After all, how hard is it to send an e-mail? (Well, harder than you might imagine: see below.)

5) Part of what galls me is that the requirements for submission are pretty strict. If you're late sending in your paper, tough luck. So if the organizers are holding people to a high standard, then they should hold themselves to a similar standard.

6) So, finally, as we enter the second week of July, an e-mail goes out informing people that their papers haven't been accepted. The e-mail goes out to about 160 people, and the list isn't suppressed! You can look at this list and see exactly whose paper got rejected.

7) That's bad because it is a breach of confidentiality: no one agreed to have their rejection letter made public. But it's also bad because a lot of people need acceptances for the job-market and for tenure and promotion, and the public nature of this rejection amounts to a kind of "bad press." There are lots of people in this profession who don't have secure positions, and the last thing they need is bad press and the possible shame that goes with it. Thanks, PSA.

8) 30 minutes after the mass rejection e-mail there's a follow-up from the "assistant" (a TA? an undergrad? the neighbor's kid?) who forgot to suppress the list of recipients. But why should the assistant apologize? Was it really her fault? Why was she put in the position of handling these communications? Why didn't the co-chair of the program committee (whose e-mail account was used) apologize for foisting this off on someone else? After all, that's where the real responsibility lies. The co-chair should apologize for not caring enough to send the e-mail herself.

9) Again, how difficult is it to use e-mail? Was the co-chair so busy that she couldn't press "send" and had her assistant do it instead?

10) All of this just stinks of laziness and disorganization. If there's an alternate explanation I'd love to hear it.

11) Finally, looking over the list of rejected people, I immediately thought: "you know, they would make a great conference." The PSA only meets every other year. I think it's time for an alternative that could meet during the PSA's off years. There's obviously a lot of good work out there, and I'd have no confidence that PSA is able to function as a fair judge of quality.

12) And last of all, this is just one more example of professional philosophers being their own worst enemies. What possible good does it do the profession when a major organization is so incompetent? And, again, it isn't just the organization that suffers, but everyone whose career depends on the organization and its meetings.

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