Friday, April 06, 2007

At the APA

I'm up in San Francisco for the Pacific Division meeting of the American Philosophical Association. The APA has generously permitted me to set up a table outside the book display, where I'm offering people chocolate in exchange for filling out a questionnaire.

The 5-minute questionnaire solicits opinions about the moral behavior of ethics professors. I'll post preliminary results here at The Splintered Mind within the next couple of weeks.

Respondents and passersby have largely been neutral or kind, but -- to me a bit surprisingly -- very few eminent professors I know (even those who know me fairly well) have stopped to complete the questionnaire. In striking contrast, nearly everyone I know personally who is a peer or lower in professional status has completed a questionnaire or promised to.

Now maybe the eminent professors are just busier and more besieged by people competing for their attention than are the others, or maybe their high salaries give them less incentive to earn chocolate, but also it seems to me that several were somewhat uncomfortable seeing me at a table distributing questionnaires. (This is without even knowing the content of the questionnaire.) One shook his head and smiled disapprovingly. I said, "It's even worse than you think." When he turned to walk away, I asked him if I didn't at least pique his curiosity. He said I only tweaked his aversion.

What am I doing to their APA...?

Update, 11:08 p.m.:
I should partly take these observations back. A couple very eminent professors completed the questionnaire today; and I'm feeling a bit more sympathetic right now with the extent to which the ones who did not may generally feel pressed from many directions for their time and attention at meetings of this sort.

Update, 4:23 p.m., April 11:
Maybe I should largely take back the post above. I seemed to get better reactions from eminent philosophers as the meeting went on -- whether by chance or for some other reason, I don't know. In the end, 16 of the 277 respondents indicated (hopefully honestly!) that their highest level of academic achievement was "distinguished professor" (which is the highest academic rank and generally indicates eminence in the field). And 1:16 sounds like a roughly plausible ratio of distinguished professors to others of lower rank among meeting attendees.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The politicians and priests during Socrates' time at least disapproved of the content of the questions.