Monday, August 26, 2019

Some Demographic Features of the Most-Cited Contemporary Authors in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy

Last week, I published a list of the 295 most-cited contemporary authors in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Citation in the SEP is a plausible approximate measure of prominence in mainstream Anglophone philosophy (though see last week's post for several caveats). Let's look at some demographic features of the list.

Note: A few people on this list, such as Daniel Kahneman and John Maynard Smith, would not normally be classified as philosophers, but this is a small percentage and I won't exclude them from the analysis.

Women or Transgender Philosophers

If any of the philosophers on this list are transgender, I am unaware of it. Among the 295, 33 (11%) present as women. This percentage is substantially lower than the percentage of philosophy professors who are women in the U.S. and Britain (where most of the professors on this list are or were employed), which is variously estimated at about 20-30%. Near the top of the list, women are even sparser: Only two in the top 50 (Martha Nussbaum at #9 and G.E.M. Anscombe at #48) and seven in the top 100.

You might think that even if the most prominent philosophers born in the early 20th century were men, the younger generation is closer to gender parity? I have birthyear information on most of the philosophers and estimates for the remainder (later I'll do a fuller analysis of this information), so I looked for a relationship between gender and birthyear. There does appear to be a small cohort effect in the expected direction, revealed by a small correlation between birthyear and being female (r = .12, p = .04; female = 1, male = 0).

To further examine the relationship, I partitioned the data into four demographic groups, based on (estimated) birthyear (chi-square = 8.0, p = .047):

1900-1929: 8% women (5/60)

1930-1945: 6% women (6/101)

1946-1959: 18% women (18/100)

1960+: 12% women (4/34)

At the highest levels of visibility, mainstream Anglophone philosophy remains very far from gender parity.

Philosophers of Color and Latinx Philosophers

Racial and ethnic judgments are difficult to make, so I definitely welcome corrections on this point! However, based on a combination of personal knowledge, professional knowledge, physical appearance, name, and country of origin, I estimate that this list contains two Latinx philosophers (Ernest Sosa and Linda Martín Alcoff) and four non-Latinx philosophers of color (Jaegwon Kim, Amartya Sen, Richard Sorabji, and Kwame Anthony Appiah).

If this is correct, the list is 98% (289/295) non-Latinx white.

Disabled Philosophers

I know of only one philosopher on this list who has an obvious major physical disability (excepting those who acquired disability later in life, often connected with ageing, after their reputation was established) -- though we might also include Paul Feyerabend, who walked heavily on a cane due to a war injury. Please correct me (privately) if I am mistaken!

Less visually obvious disabilities are of course more difficult to identify, and it's not clear exactly how to categorize disability. I am aware of a couple philosophers on this list who have disvalued speech patterns such as stuttering. Certainly, too, there are at least a few philosophers on this list with histories of depression, severe anxiety, and/or alcoholism, as well as serious chronic physical diseases, though my information here is too sketchy to warrant quantitative analysis. I hesitate to spotlight individual living or recently deceased people in this category unless they put themselves forward. For one example, however, see Peter Railton's Dewey Lecture, where he discusses his history of depression.

Shelley Tremain has presented data suggesting that in North America the percentage of employable disabled people in philosophy departments is very much less than the percentage in the general population.

Non-Anglophone Philosophers

Linus Ta-Lun Huang, Andrew Higgins, and Ivan Gonzalez-Cabrera and I studied citation patterns in elite Anglophone philosophy journals in 2016. In one analysis, we found that, excluding citations of historical work before 1946, 99.7% of citations were of work originally written in English.

In this context, it is almost surprising that any philosophers who published post-WWII work in a language other than English are among the 295 at all. However, we do find two: Jürgen Habermas (#120) and Michel Foucault (#271) -- though obviously their rankings are far below what one would expect based on their global academic importance. (Sartre [#162] has influential work on both sides of World War II, but his most cited work is his 1943 Being and Nothingness.)

In the oldest cohort, there are a few philosophers who did influential work in languages other than English before World War II, then shifted to writing primarily in English (e.g., Karl Popper).

[image: philosophy academic family tree (image source, family tree project)]


  1. IEP articles beginning with "A": 157 of 1989 unique cited authors (7.9%)

  2. Interesting to analyze the IEP! What do you make of these results so far?

  3. That was 157/1989 women, as I hope you guessed. The reference styles vary greatly from IEP article to article, so requires a certain amount of manual intervention (or better code, why I have stopped at A!). Since there are 7 eponymous articles about women, Jane Addams is as big as Aristotle, and Arendt as big as Moore.

  4. Thanks -- interesting confirmation! That's similar to other ratios I've seen at this very high level of visibility.

  5. For what it's worth, Steve Yablo (MIT) is disabled - he discusses it in an interview with Tremain.