Thursday, July 09, 2020

The Peak-End Theory of Dessert: A New Philosophy of Wolfing

My daughter Kate eats desserts slowly -- has done so as long as I can remember. She is what I'll call an extreme savorer. In other words, she is a completely irrational moral monster, as I will now endeavor to show.

I'll admit that on a superficial analysis, Kate's approach to dessert appears wise. Someone bakes brownies. Everyone in the family receives a brownie of equal size. My son's is gone in a flash. My wife and I eat ours moderately quickly. Kate delicately saws off an edge and puts it on her tongue, waits a while, saws off another edge. Ten, fifteen minutes later, Kate is still enjoying her brownie while the rest of the family watches enviously.

At such moments I think, "Why don't I slow down and savor my dessert like Kate does? She obviously derives much more sweet pleasure from her slow ways!" Several days later, of course, it's "Yum, ice cream sandwiches!" munch munch munch and once again after my share is gone I find myself envying Kate's slower pace.

[Kate at work on a Trader Joe's dark chocolate peanut butter cup]

Now I'd rather not see myself as quite as terribly irrational as this pattern suggests. Fortunately, being well-trained in both philosophy and psychology, I have a wealth of theoretical resources from which to concoct a plausible justification of pretty much anything. Our task for today, then, is to demonstrate that I am right and Kate is wrong.

We need a philosophy of wolfing.


The Peak-End Rule

In a classic series of studies, Daniel Kahneman, Donald Redelmeier, and collaborators found that in retrospectively evaluating negative or painful experiences, people tend to disregard the duration of the experience. Instead, people evaluate their experiences mostly based on how the experiences felt at their peak and how they felt at the end.

Some of the results are startling: For example, in one experiment, ordinary colonoscopy patients were either given standard painful colonoscopy procedures or instead the same standard painful procedures plus the extra (but less severe) discomfort have having the colonoscope rest in their rectum unmoving for an additional three minutes at the end. Patients reported their pain levels in real time throughout the procedure. The peak level of pain was the same in the two groups, as was the overall pain during the main part of the procedure. Consequently, patients in the second group had more total pain: the pain of the main procedure plus an extra three minutes of discomfort. Nonetheless, patients in the second group retrospectively reported having experienced less pain, and they reported a less negative overall attitude toward the procedure.

What's more, the patients acted accordingly: Over the next five years, patients who otherwise were predicted to have a low propensity to return for another colonoscopy (patients with less past history of colonoscopies and no detection of abnormalities) were more likely to return for another colonoscopy if they were in the experimental group who had received the extended procedure than if they were in the control group who had received the standard procedure.

Kahneman and colleagues found similar results with participants asked to hold their hands in painfully cold water. Participants held one hand for 60 seconds in water that was 14.1 degrees Celsius (painfully cold but not damaging) (Procedure A) and also, either before or after, held their other hand for 60 seconds in water that was the same 14.1 degrees C and then kept it in the water for an additional 30 seconds while the temperature was slowly raised to 15.2 degrees (still uncomfortably cold) (Procedure B). When told that they could choose either Procedure A or Procedure B for the third trial, most chose Procedure B. They chose more pain over less.

According to the "peak-end rule", the retrospective evaluation of either a positive or a negative experience is an average of the quality of the experience at its positive or negative peak and the quality of the experience at its end, with little regard for duration. Despite the fame of this rule (including in guides to managing one's business, etc.), it isn't as thoroughly studied as one might expect, and findings remain mixed.

Still, let's assume that something close to the peak-end rule is true about the enjoyment of desserts: How fondly you remember your dessert is a function mostly of the average of your most pleasant bite and your last bite.


Wolves Will Remember Dessert More Fondly

It should now seem plausible that if you wolf down your dessert, you will remember it more fondly.

The peak will be better: Instead of modest bite after modest bite of moderate pleasure, you will experience the unrestrained joy of a giant bite of popping deliciousness all at once. Maybe the best part is the cherry atop the icing. The wolf will get that great mouthful of cherry, icing, and cake all at once, while the savorer will have no such moment of sudden decadent indulgence.

The end will also be better: We grow weary of even the best things over time. Although the twentieth bite of chocolate is still good, it's never as wonderful as the first few bites. By bite twenty your mouth is accommodated to the sweetness, and the pleasure is only a temperate, lingering continuation. The last bite will be more flavorful if you don't take too long in getting around to it.

Furthermore, there is a joy in not holding back. What could be more childish fun than just diving in, biting the whole head off the Easter bunny or shoving a great spoonful of cherry, whip cream, and cake right into your mouth? The savorer's experience will always be tainted with the slightly unpleasant feeling of self-restraint.

This figure compares the Wolf's and the Savorer's dessert experiences over time:

[click to enlarge and clarify]

Although the savorer enjoys dessert longer and the total sum pleasure (represented by the total area between the line and the x axis) might be larger, both the peak and the end are higher for the wolf. If peak-end theory is correct and duration is mostly ignored, then looking back on the dessert, the wolf will think, "wow, that was great!" while the savorer will think "okay, that was pretty good".


"But Peak-End Reasoning Is Irrational!"

Look, I know what you savorers are thinking. It's irrational to choose according to the peak-end rule. It doesn't make sense to tack some extra pain at the end of a colonoscopy just so that it doesn't conclude on quite so vividly painful a note. You should want to immediately withdraw your hand from the cold water rather than keeping it immersed longer while the water warms slightly. We should want less total pain, not more. It's a mistake to disregard duration as much as we do. And the wolfer, you think, is making exactly that mistake, while the savorer rationally sacrifices peak pleasure for enduring pleasure. If she does it rightly, the savorer derives more total joy from her dessert, wisely shaping her behavior to maximize not the peak or the end but instead the entire integral under the line.

This argument errs in two ways.

First, part of the pleasure of dessert is remembering it fondly and anticipating the next one. (Colonoscopies might differ in this respect.) If the wolfer sustains a more positive attitude toward dessert due to his memory of a great peak and a good end, the wolfer multiplies that pleasure in recollection and planning. "Wow, do you remember how great those brownies were? Let's make more next week!" Smelling the next batch in the oven, or putting the Swiss chocolate in his shopping cart, the wolf rekindles his greater bliss.

Second, a life with peaks and valleys is overall better and more choiceworthy than a life at steady medium good. Here I side with Nietzsche against the Stoics. This is, I think, especially true on the positive side, when the valleys are not too low. (I would not wish suicidal depression on anyone.) Given a choice between 2 2 2 2 2 and 1 0 10 -1 0 -- both summing to ten units of pleasure -- give me the second every time. Give me the wolf's sloppy peak bite off the top of the sundae, even if it's finished soon, over the savorer's monotonous, slow licking.


Envy Becomes Pity and Maybe Forgiveness

Now that I am thinking about these matters clearly, I see that our envy of Kate's slow ways is misplaced. As we sit there watching her still eating her brownie, we envy her because we imagine the pleasure of wolfing down the brownie that remains before her. But we should pity Kate instead: In her faux wisdom she will never know that wolfish pleasure. Not only does she deprive herself, but she negligently or recklessly or even intentionally (as part of her pleasure?) teases and torments us wolves, which makes her choice not only prudentially but morally wrong.

But Kate, I promise not to judge you too harshly -- I will forgive you, even! -- if you will share that last bit of the peach cobbler with me. Pretty please?

-------------------------------------

If you enjoy my blog, check out my recent book: A Theory of Jerks and Other Philosophical Misadventures.

Monday, July 06, 2020

A Broad Ranging Interview at Scientific American

John Horgan and I discuss doubt and wonder, philosophical fiction, jerkitude, the moral mediocrity of ethicists, and the nature and value of the nerd, among other things.

Horgan: Why philosophy? Any regrets?

Schwitzgebel: No regrets yet!

Here’s why I love philosophy: For all X, you can do philosophy of X, just by diving down deep and long into the most fundamental questions about that topic. That’s what I enjoy, and I’ll do it for any topic that catches my attention—whether it’s the nature of jerkitude, garden snail cognition, robot rights or the moral behavior of ethics professors. What could be more fun?

Horgan: Why do you write fiction? Doesn't that mean philosophy isn't really that fulfilling for you?

Schwitzgebel: Wait, writing fiction can’t be a way of doing philosophy? Sartre, Rousseau, Zhuangzi, Voltaire, Nietzsche and Borges might disagree! Is anyone currently doing better work on the ethics of technology than the TV series Black Mirror?

For instance, weirdly implemented group minds feature both in my science fiction stories and in my expository philosophy. Under what conditions could there be real thought and consciousness at a group level?

[continued here]

Wednesday, July 01, 2020

Demographic Trends in the Philosophy Major Might Be Mostly Due to Pre-College Factors

by Eric Schwitzgebel, Morgan Thompson, and Eric Winsberg

As we mentioned last month, we recently obtained data from the Higher Education Research Institute (HERI) on intention to major in philosophy among first-year students in the U.S.

Today we will explore two questions.

First, it's well known that undergraduate philosophy majors in the U.S. are disproportionately men. For example, recent data from the National Center for Education Statistics show 36% of graduating Philosophy majors in the U.S. to be women, compared to 57% of graduating majors overall. Our first question is this: Are women also disproportionately less interested in the Philosophy major at the beginning of their first year of study?

The answer to this question is crucial to understanding the causes of the low proportion of women among graduating philosophy majors. If women begin their studies with less interest in philosophy than undergraduates as a whole, then the causes of disproportion trace back to something prior to college enrollment. In contrast, if women begin their studies with approximately proportionate interest in the Philosophy major, then their underrepresentation among Bachelor's recipients in Philosophy suggests that something in students' college experience is driving the disproportion.

Second, as Eric Schwitzgebel noticed last fall, the Philosophy major seems to be back on the rise in popularity while other humanities majors continue to fall. We wanted to see if the recent apparent increase in interest in Philosophy was also reflected in first-year intention to major. This is relevant to evaluating both the causes of and the likely persistence of the trend that Eric S. noticed last year.


First-Year Intention to Major by Sex, 2000-2016

Every fall, HERI gathers information from first-year undergraduates at a sample of U.S. colleges and universities, with about 200,000-400,000 respondents per year. One question asks respondents' sex, with response categories "male" and "female". About half of one percent of respondents decline to state. Another question asks for intended major, with "Philosophy" as one among dozens of choices.

This graph shows the percentage answering "female" among first-year students, both overall and in Philosophy, excluding students who declined to state.

[click to enlarge and clarify]

As the figure shows, first-year student respondents were about 56%-59% female across all majors throughout the period (54%-55% if nonresponse bias is taken into account; see below). From 2000-2012, 32% to 36% of first-year student respondents intending to major in philosophy were female. This compares with about 30-34% of women among graduating majors in Philosophy in the same period. Thus, female students appear to be disproportionately less interested in the Philosophy major from the beginning of their undergraduate studies. These results match with some earlier analyses of the HERI database by Christopher Dobbs and Philippe Lemoine.

There may be some further loss of interest among women -- about 2% in absolute percentage terms (32-36% vs 30-34%) -- between first year intention to major and completion of the major, but due to differences in methodology between HERI and NCES it's difficult to be confident about effects of this size, and we note that "female" and "woman", though approximately comparable, are not identical categories.[1]

The second striking feature of this graph is the recent increase in percentage of respondents intending to major in Philosophy who reported being female: 40%-43% in 2013-2016. This suggests that the increased percentage of women among Philosophy BA recipients that appeared in the NCES data from 2018, which we noticed last fall, may not be a blip but might be the beginning of a trend that showed up in first-year students in 2013. In fact, the timing is perfect. With a national average of five years to Bachelor's degree, a change in first-year students in the 2013-2014 academic year should be reflected in a change in graduating majors in the 2017-2018 academic year.

The change could be explained either by an increase in female students' interest in the Philosophy major or a decrease in male students' interest or both. This is a slightly complicated question which will first require us to address changes over time in the Philosophy major in general.

One big methodological caveat here is that the HERI data have some nonresponse and sampling problems: Not all colleges are included, with lower prestige public colleges especially undersampled, and not all students respond, and this skews the HERI demographic data.[2] Furthermore, the number of participating colleges declined substantially over the period in question. Some preliminary analyses we've tried suggest that nonresponse and over/undersampling might be an especially big issue with student race (which we hope to analyze in a future post), but only a minor issue with sex.

HERI provides researchers with a calculated variable "Student Weight", which represents their best attempt to overweight the responses of students from underrepresented portions of the sample and underweight the responses of students from overrepresented portions of the sample, with the hope that the weighted responses are representative of first-year students in the U.S. as a whole. (The NCES data, in contrast, are reported by administrators and are approximately complete.)

The results above are based on raw responses. We attempted to correct for sampling and nonresponse bias by multiplying all responses by HERI's Student Weight variable, but statistical noise became a problem. For example, using this method, estimates of the percentage of philosophy majors who were female jumped implausibly from 27% to 37% from 2013 to 2014. Since the Student Weight variable weights some students' responses several times more than others, it should be expected to amplify noise, and given the small numbers of female philosophy major respondents (207 in 2013), it's unsurprising that noise might be a limiting factor.

Overall, all trends reported in this post are confirmed when data are weighted by HERI's Student Weight variable. However, the percentage of philosophy majors overall might actually be somewhat lower than reported (due to disproportionate representation of elite schools, where Philosophy is more commonly chosen as a major) and the percentage of female students might be slightly lower (due to slightly higher response rates among female students at the included schools).


While History and English Continue to Fall, Philosophy Has Partly Recovered

In 2017, Eric S. noted sharp declines in completed Philosophy, History, and Language majors in the NCES database, followed the next year by a slight recovery or stabilization in Philosophy, while the other big humanities majors continued to decline.

We were curious to see if this would also reflected in the HERI data on first year intention to major. As with the data on sex, examination of the HERI patterns could give us insight into mechanisms (are these changes due to something happening before college or in college?) and also perhaps some basis for projection into the future.

This chart shows rise and decline in intention to major, normed to the year 2000.

[click to enlarge and clarify]

As the figure shows, the percentage of students majoring in History and English is about 2/3 of what it was in 2000. Philosophy showed an equally sharp decline in the early 2010s but seems to have partly recovered and is now at 86% of 2000 levels, while History and English continue to fall. As with gender, the timing shows a nice offset between HERI and NCES: The decline in first-year intention to major started in about 2010, while in the decline in completed Bachelor's degrees started in about 2014 or 2015.

As with sex, the timing offset and similar pattern in the HERI and NCES data suggest that the primary factors behind these demographic trends are pre-college.

The decline and partial recovery of interest in the philosophy major interacts with sex, as shown in this figure:

[click to enlarge and clarify]

As the figure shows, the percentage of female first-year students' intending to major in Philosophy has recovered fully to 2000 levels, but not so for male first-year students.

We conclude that those of us who are interested in exploring the causes of demographic trends in the philosophy major should look more carefully than is usually done at factors that might be influencing students' perceptions and intentions even before they enroll in college.

----------------------------------------------------------

[1] Most non-women in the undergraduate population are men, but a small percentage will be non-binary. We are unaware of any good data source on the rates at which non-binary students choose to major in philosophy. This dataset from HERI does not ask for gender, so it is possible that many respondents are answering with gender rather than sex. HERI's Freshman Survey did not revise the question to be about one's gender identity until 2018 and did not add a question about whether the student is trans or cis until 2019. Unfortunately, we were unable to access those data due to temporary embargoes on more recent years' data.

[2] Unlike the NCES data, which is reported to the U.S. government by adminstrators at each institution, HERI collects data by selling U.S. universities and colleges the results of their survey for that particular institution. Wealthier institutions appear to be more likely to pay for this data collection and thus more likely to be represented in the HERI Freshman survey dataset than lower prestige colleges. The "Student Weight" variable discussed below is partly intended to help correct for demographic differences between wealthier, higher-prestige institutions and lower prestige public colleges.

Tuesday, June 23, 2020

Contest Winner! A Philosophical Argument That Effectively Convinces Research Participants to Donate to Charity

Last fall, Fiery Cushman and I announced a contest: We would award $1000 ($500 to the author and $500 to the author's choice of charity) to the author of an argument that effectively convinces research participants to donate a surprise bonus payment to charity at rates statistically higher than a control group.

The context was this: Chris McVey, Josh May, and I had several times tried and failed to write arguments that would be effective in increasing participants' donation rates. When we presented participants emotionally moving narratives about children who had been rescued by charitable donations, charitable donations were higher than in a control condition -- but never when we presented ordinary philosophical arguments that donation is good or is your duty. See here for a brief write-up of one version of this paradigm. We wondered whether the failure might just be the result of our inability to write convincing arguments. Therefore, Fiery and I decided to put out the call.

The rules governing entries were somewhat complicated -- see the original contest announcement for details -- but mainly we wanted to see if an argument in favor of donation could be effective without using narrative elements, or mentioning specific individuals, or having vivid emotional content. We couldn't completely forbid emotional content, since even straightforward factual presentation of the facts of human suffering isn't emotionally neutral. But the main idea was just to have ordinary, dry philosophy of the sort ordinarily done by ordinary, dry analytic philosophers.

Our plan was to issue the call, select at most 20 arguments among those submitted, and see if any of those arguments could beat a control condition in which participants read part of a middle school physics text. If more than one argument beat control, the award would go to the author of the argument with the highest mean donation.

After some delay due to the pandemic... we now have a winner!

The winner was a submission cowritten by Peter Singer and Matthew Lindauer, which we will share in its entirety below.

Gathering Submissions and Phase 1 Testing

We were delighted by the community's response to our contest call. We received about 100 submissions, about half from professional philosophers, psychologists, and experimental economists and about half from others who had heard about the contest through social media or otherwise.

We only had the resources to test twenty arguments, so in accordance with our plan, we had to cull the 100 down to 20. In selecting arguments, we considered several factors, including the extent to which the argument was in the spirit of the contest (i.e., a relatively dry philosophical argument) and the extent to which the argument seemed to us well-written and likely to be convincing. We also wanted the arguments to manifest a diverse range of approaches.

So many of the arguments seemed promising that agreeing among ourselves on a balanced set of 20 proved to be a challenge. By the time we had selected our 20 and written and tested the software for administrating the study, the U.S. was shutting down due to the pandemic. We then faced the question of whether we should suspend the study because of the pandemic, out of concerns that responses during the pandemic might not be representative of responses during more ordinary times. We were concerned, for example, that online workers in the U.S. might be facing unusual financial hardship which would lead to lower rates of donation.

We went ahead with the first phase of testing in late April. In this phase, about 2500 participants randomly read one of the 20 selected arguments. After reading the argument, participants clicked to a new page on which they read the following:

Upon completion of this study, 10% of participants will receive an additional $10. You have the option to donate some portion of this $10 to your choice among six well-known, effective charities. If you are one of the recipients of the additional $10, the portion you decide to keep will appear as a bonus credited to your Mechanical Turk worker account, and the portion you decide to donate will be given to the charity you pick from the list below.

Note: You must pass the comprehension question and show no signs of suspicious responding to receive the $10. Receipt of the $10 is NOT conditional, however, on how much you choose to donate if you receive the $10.

If you are one of the recipients of the additional $10, how much of your additional $10 would you like to donate?

[response scale $0 to $10 in $1 increments]

Which charity would you like your chosen donation amount to go to? For more information, or to donate directly, please follow the highlighted links to each charity.

  • Against Malaria Foundation: "To provide funding for long-lasting insecticide-treated net (LLIN) distribution (for protection against malaria) in developing countries."
  • Doctors Without Borders / Médecins Sans Frontières: "Medical care where it is needed most."
  • Give Directly: "Distributing cash to very poor individuals in Kenya and Uganda."
  • Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition: "To tackle the human suffering caused by malnutrition around the world."
  • Helen Keller International: "Save the sight and lives of the world's most vulnerable and disadvantaged."
  • Multiple Myeloma Research Foundation: "We collect, interpret and activate the largest collection of quality information and put it to work for every person with multiple myeloma."
  • [These charities were listed in randomized order.]

    After this question we asked some other questions aimed at exploring the psychological basis of any differences in response. For example, in follow up questions, participants were asked questions about their attitudes and reactions to the text, e.g., how convincing they found the text, whether their attitude changed, and whether they donated more than they otherwise would have.

    We also asked some demographic questions, and we asked participants whether they were experiencing unusual financial hardship due to the pandemic and whether concerns about the pandemic had influenced their answers.

    Participants who failed a comprehension check (about 4% of participants) were excluded.

    In the first round of testing, we had about 120 included participants per argument, across the 20 arguments. The mean donation rate was $2.88 out of $10, which was substantially lower than the mean donation rate of about $3.50 that we have seen in other versions of the experiment. This may have been due to the pandemic: The majority of participants reported at least "slight hardship" due to the pandemic, and 26% reported moderate or significant hardship.

    The mean donation by argument varied from $2.22 for the apparently least effective argument to $3.54 for the apparently most effective argument. However, it was not clear whether the arguments actually differed in their effectiveness: A statistical test for difference in means was only marginally significant (ANOVA [19, 2406], F = 1.58, p = .054).

    However, our aim in phase 1 was not to reach any definitive conclusions but rather to select the five best performing arguments for further testing. (Preliminary Monte Carlo modeling had suggested that the ultimately best performing argument would likely already be among the top five after 2000 trials.) The best performing five arguments had mean donation rates from $3.10 to $3.54.

    Phase 2 Testing: The Winner

    In Phase 2, each of the five selected arguments was viewed by about 335 participants, while 471 participants viewed the middle school science text. The results were clear: All five of the arguments substantially outperformed the control condition. Thus, the null results of our earlier research failed to replicate with these new and presumably more effective arguments.

    Mean donation ranged from $3.32 to $3.98 for the five arguments, compared to only $2.58 in the control condition. An overall analysis of variance was highly statistically significant (ANOVA [5, 2148], F = 11.8, p < .001). In t-tests at an alpha level of .01 (to correct for multiple comparisons), each argument individually significantly outperformed the control condition (all t > 3.5, all p < .001). However, no difference was statistically detectable among the arguments (in Tukey post-hoc comparisons on the ANOVA).

    Here are the results in a bar chart, with error bars representing 95% confidence intervals.


    [bar chart shows means with 95% CIs of about +/- .35 for the 5 arguments and control: click to clarify and enlarge]

    As you can see, the winner in Phase 2 was Argument 9 by a nose. Argument 9 was also the winner by a nose in Phase 1, and thus the winner overall.

    Here is the text of Argument 9, which was submitted by Peter Singer and Matthew Lindauer:

    Many people in poor countries suffer from a condition called trachoma. Trachoma is the major cause of preventable blindness in the world. Trachoma starts with bacteria that get in the eyes of children, especially children living in hot and dusty conditions where hygiene is poor. If not treated, a child with trachoma bacteria will begin to suffer from blurred vision and will gradually go blind, though this process may take many years. A very cheap treatment is available that cures the condition before blindness develops. As little as $25, donated to an effective agency, can prevent someone going blind later in life.

    How much would you pay to prevent your own child becoming blind? Most of us would pay $25,000, $250,000, or even more, if we could afford it. The suffering of children in poor countries must matter more than one-thousandth as much as the suffering of our own child. That’s why it is good to support one of the effective agencies that are preventing blindness from trachoma, and need more donations to reach more people.

    When we asked Singer and Lindauer to verify their claim about the cost of treating trachoma, they referred us to Cook et al. 2006, which estimates a cost of $7.14 in 2004 U.S. dollars for a treatment with a 77% cure rate. Singer and Lindauer raised the estimate to $25 to err on the conservative side and account for inflation.

    At the end of this post is an appendix containing the other four finalist arguments. We caution against inferences based on specific features of the trachoma argument that are not also shared by these other arguments which performed similarly.

    Now although the trachoma argument only won by a nose, in our follow-up questions about participants' attitudes toward the text, it won handily, with a mean attitude of 8.4 on a scale from -21 to +21, compared to means of 3.2 to 6.3 for the other texts and 4.7 for the control text. In other words, participants not only actually donated at rates substantially above the rates in the control condition, but also they said they donated more than they would otherwise have donated and that the text was persuasive. This was not as true for the other texts, none of which were significantly different from control on this measure (ANOVA [5, 2148], F = 16.2, p < .001; in Tukey pairwise comparisons argument 9 beats all others and no other argument beats control).

    Conclusion

    Hopefully, we can replicate these results after the pandemic is over. In the meantime, I draw the tentative conclusion that the presentation of texts like Singer and Lindauer's can indeed lead people to donate more to charity than they otherwise would have, contrary to what was suggested by some of my earlier null results. Singer and Lindauer's text not only won the contest but stood out in tending to produce positive reactions from its readers, compared to the other arguments we tested.

    We will share more data and thoughts later, as well as the texts and results of all tested arguments, but this is enough for today.

    Congratulations to Peter and Matt!

    ------------------------------------------------

    APPENDIX

    Argument #3, by Julius Hege (mean donation $3.32):

    There are few things that pretty much everyone agrees on. The value of charity is one of those few things. Philosophers are famous for being quarrelsome and agreeing on very little. But in a poll of professional ethicists, 91% responded that a typical person in their position should give to charity. A full 96% report donating themselves last year.[1]

    Almost all religious traditions agree as well. For Christians, charity is one the seven virtues. John 3:17 states: “But if anyone has the world's goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God's love abide in him?”

    For Muslims, almsgiving (Zakat) is one of the five pillars of Islam. There is also voluntary charity (Sadaqah) going beyond that, which is also widely praised. In Judaism as well there is the concept of Tzedakah, which literally translates to “righteousness”, but often refers to charity. It sees giving not just as an act of benevolence, but as a duty one has to fulfil.

    The public also agrees: According to the Charities Aid Foundation, about 88% of people in the UK engaged in at least one charitable action last year.[2] In the US, 86% of respondents believe it’s important for them to continue to give time and money to charity.[3]

    Not only is there a wide agreement that charity is good, many people even agree that we should give large amounts. For example, Matthew 19:24 states: “Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God."

    This unanimity is not surprising given the tremendous achievements of international development. Extreme poverty is often defined as living on less than what $1.90 a day can purchase in the developed world. It is often marked by lack of adequate food, drinking water, and basic medicine. In 1980, over 40% of the world population lived in this extreme poverty. Today, only 10% do.[4] In the same time, global life expectancy has increased by more than 10 years.[5] And because this poverty is so extreme, it is also very cheap to fix: An extra $10 for a person in the developed world is nice, but often wouldn’t even pay for a single meal at a restaurant. But it could also buy 5 long-lasting bednets preventing malaria, or deworm 20 children, or stave off malnutrition by distributing iodized salt to 50 people in need.[6]

    In conclusion, given how charity is seen as nearly unanimously good and that it can make a larger difference to the world’s poorest, it seems like the case for charity is as strong as it could be.

    [1] https://doi.org/10.1080/09515089.2012.727135
    [2] https://www.cafonline.org/docs/default-source/about-us-publications/caf-uk-giving-2018-report.pdf,
    [3] https://www.philanthropyroundtable.org/almanac/statistics/national-poll
    [4] https://ourworldindata.org/extreme-poverty#the-evolution-of-poverty-by-world-regions
    [5] https://ourworldindata.org/life-expectancy#life-expectancy-has-improved-globally
    [6] https://www.thelifeyoucansave.org/impact-calculator

    [Note: Participants saw the footnotes, but the links were not clickable, in accord with the rules of the contest.]


    Argument #5, by Adriano Mannino (mean donation $3.84):

    Imagine a red button. If you push it, two things will happen. First, you will receive $10. Second, a serious risk of contracting malaria will be inflicted on four children. They might contract the disease, might suffer terribly and might die from it. Would you push the red button?

    It seems that pushing this button would be excessively selfish and cruel. By pushing it, you would put your own interest in receiving $10 above the interests of four children in avoiding the malaria risk.

    Now, imagine someone randomly puts $10 in front of you. You could take and keep the money, but you’re also offered the opportunity to push a green button for $10 instead. If you push it, four children will be saved from the risk of contracting malaria. Mosquito bed nets will be distributed to them, for a total cost of $10. Sleeping under mosquito nets is a highly effective way to prevent infections in regions where malaria is rife. Two children can sleep under one bed net, and two nets will be distributed for $10. So, instead of keeping the $10, you can use them to save four children from the malaria risk, by pushing the green button. Would you push it?

    Failing to push the green button is very similar to pushing the red button. If you push the red button, you receive $10, while four children are exposed to the deadly malaria risk. Similarly, if you fail to push the green button, you receive $10, while four children are exposed to the deadly malaria risk. This trade-off – putting $10 above the interests of four children in avoiding malaria – is precisely why pushing the red button seemed so problematic. Therefore, if you would not push the red button, pushing the green button should be a logical choice. By pushing the green button, you forego $10 but save four children from the deadly malaria risk. This should be a great deal, particularly if you wouldn't push the red button.


    Argument #12, by Erik Nook (mean donation $3.86):

    One's life is the product of one's choices. Soon you will have a choice to make: Do I take $10 or do I give it to charity? Philosophers have thought of several reasons why donating is the right choice to make today, so I'll tell you about them. But ultimately, the choice is yours. You should feel good about whatever choice you make, but first, take some time to think about why donating might be the better option.

    Donating to charity does more "good" than taking money for oneself. Some philosophers think that we should aim to maximize good outcomes in the world, even if sometimes this means that individual people don't get what they would like. This is called utilitarianism. An example of this approach is that it is a good idea to make a medicine that can save 1 million people rather than one that could only save 1 person. Soon you will have the opportunity to give money to a charity that helps a large number of people. These philosophers would say that this should be prioritized over what the $10 could do for yourself. Even though it might be painful to not have $10 in your own life, giving up this money is just the right thing to do "for the greater good".

    Selflessness is in itself a "good". Philosophers also think that we should make choices that in themselves are moral. This is the basis of many religious and non-religious codes of ethics. One thing that all religions and codes of ethics agree upon is that giving to other people is a good thing to do. Choosing to give today means that you are making a choice that aligns with what human beings have thought for centuries is a good thing for people to do.

    Selflessness can create a culture that encourages other people to do good things. Both psychologists and philosophers have shown that giving is contagious. People who think that other people donate lots of money are also more likely to donate. This creates a culture, a ripple-effect, in which donating leads to more donating. So if you donate today and tell other people about it, you are creating a culture that not only achieves a good thing in your donation but also increases good things happening in the world. You can do a lot of good by donating today.

    Selflessness feels good. Lastly, philosophers and psychologists have shown that donating feels good, meaning that you can feel pride, relief, and joy from donating today. Psychologists know that these feelings can improve your well-being and some philosophers would say that these feelings bring meaning to your life and are important to pursue. As such, donating today not only does good things for other people, it also does good things for you.

    I hope these ideas get you thinking about the powerful and positive consequences of choosing to donate today. Thank you for your time.


    Argument #14, by Jesse Blackburn (mean donation $3.52):

    Think about this for a moment: someone you know is suddenly to swap places with one of the 2 billion human beings alive right now who do not have access to clean, uncontaminated drinking water. Or perhaps with one of the 821 million people who suffered from hunger in 2018. What lengths would you go to help the person you know? You might be motivated to stop all you were doing and not rest until you had helped them. Now consider for a moment that you are unable to help. Would you expect others to help? What if someone was able to help, merely by contributing a few dollars, but did not do so. If you think that such a failure is a moral abhorrence, then I ask you to reflect on your own behavior. Would you allow someone else to endure these conditions simply because you do not care to bother yourself with the cost of helping them? I suspect that you have answered no this question, and yet, I put it to you that you do allow this happen. Every single day you have the opportunity to spare a small amount of money to provide a fellow human with the same basic access to food or drinking water – how often have you done this? For most people, our privileged access to clean water and food was not our choice, we were merely fortunate to be born in the right country at the right time, but we can choose to extend that privilege. I am trying to convince you that it is in our power to help and that, if the positions were reversed, if you (or someone you know) needed help and other chose not to help, you would consider them immoral. You are, right now, able to very easily help another human being, consider what you would expect of other people when you make this decision.

    Monday, June 15, 2020

    How to Publish a Book in Philosophy: A Guide for the Perplexed (Part II)

    It's hard to get good advice about book contracts. Here's why.

    (1.) Publishers don't want to be too open with advice. They'd understandably prefer not to publicize details about their contracts. Authors might compare notes, and then the author with the worse deal might feel offended. Other publishers might gain some competitive advantage through asymmetric knowledge of the details of their competitors' contracts. And a certain amount of ignorance among authors presumably gives at least the less scrupulous publishers an edge in negotiations.

    (2.) Agents don't want to be too open with advice. That would be to reveal their secrets. Besides, agents aren't interested in the small-run academic books most of us publish, which have different (less advantageous) contracts than more popular agented books.

    (3.) Your mentors would love to give you advice. But they've probably only published a couple of books themselves and so have limited personal experience -- or if your mentor is a big shot with ten books from major publishers, their experience might be too unlike your own.

    (4.) General books of publishing advice might be helpful, but they won't be well tailored to the current situation in philosophy. Based on my publishing in science fiction as well as philosophy, and based on my experience with how book contracts have evolved since 2007, I can say that standards can vary considerably between fields and over time.

    I too won't give you good advice! The best I hope for is to give you slightly flawed, medium grade advice, based on my own limited experience.

    My experience runs the range from my first book (co-authored with Russ Hurlburt), which did not get an advance contract and received its one and only contract offer after an extensive review process, through my most recent arrangement (The Weirdness of the World, forthcoming with Princeton), which involved three leading academic publishers competing to give me a good but not superstar-level advance contract. I've also edited a couple of anthologies, which has provided more experience with academic book contracts, though anthologies won't be my focus today.

    So apply a big dollop of doubt to everything I say here. It would be terrific if some others could share their experiences in the comments section, so that readers of this post can get a sense of what I might be overlooking.


    General Thoughts about Negotiating a Book Contract

    Based either on a book proposal or on a full manuscript, an academic press has now sent you a contract. That is so amazingly awesome! Savor it. Not many people in the world have the chance to publish a book with a serious academic press. I remember gliding high all day when I received my first book contract. However, despite your delight and desire for closure, you must resist signing the contract immediately. As I mentioned in Part I, you should...

    First, wait a bit.

    There are two reasons to wait. One is that you might have your proposal or manuscript also under consideration with another publisher or two. If so, give those other publishers time to let their process play out. Tell them that you received a contract offer from Press X (ideally a competitor they respect) and say that you're hoping to decide by such-and-such a date. Also inform Press X that you are still waiting to hear back from another publisher or two and by when you expect to be able to decide.

    Even if no other publishers are still evaluating your proposal or manuscript, there's reason to wait: You should take some time to evaluate and discuss the details of the contract. Book contracts are not all boilerplate that you must sign as is. Perhaps surprisingly, they have many negotiable features, which I'll discuss shortly. The initial contract is an opening offer.

    In my view, it's reasonable to ask publishers to wait a few weeks for you to decide on an offer based on a book proposal, and it's reasonable to ask them for up to a couple of months if your full manuscript is currently being reviewed elsewhere. If they want you to decide in a snap, they're either playing ugly hardball or there's some unusual situation which you should ask them to explain.

    Second, be honest, friendly, and collaborative.

    Acquisition editors for academic presses are generally lovely people who are deeply committed to their subjects. If they've offered you a contract, they like your book project and they want you to succeed, and you are now considering a collaborative multi-year partnership with them. Be nice. This isn't some zero-sum car deal where their loss is your gain and you win if you pressure them into loathsome capitulation.

    Let the editor walk you through the contract, and ask questions about the details, including what it might or might not be possible to change. If you have good reason to want to change some aspect, discuss it openly. If you're fortunate enough to have a competing offer that is better in some respects than their offer, tell them about it -- though probably it's best to be vague about exact wording and dollar values, due to the confidentiality of contract details.

    Your acquisition editor works with a larger editorial board and an editor in chief. In that context, they are the advocate for your book. Give your editor the tools to help them help you get a better deal. Maybe they can say to their editor in chief, "our author would really like X, so if we can give them that, I think it will close the deal" or "Press Y is offering our author such-and-such -- do you think we could match that?"

    At least one video call is probably a good idea. It is more relaxed and personable than an email exchange, allowing discussion to open up in unexpected directions, and it gives you a chance to notice paralinguistic cues.

    Don't lie or exaggerate. Ugh. If you get caught, you'll have ruined the trust on which a good partnership depends.

    Third, ask for a few things.

    This advice consists of two parts. Ask. Requests are generally better than demands in a collaborative relationship of this sort. And you can make requests. Even if you have close to zero leverage -- no status in the field, no competing offers -- you can still gently wonder aloud if it's possible to change such-and-such. Some asks are pretty small and straightforwardly given if asked for. In fact, the editors are sometimes themselves ambivalent about one or two of the clauses in their contracts and are happy enough to strike or modify those clauses if the author asks. Other times, delighting you, bringing discussion to a close, and securing your final commitment are motivation enough to make some adjustments.

    For a few things. I'm about to list 15 things that I know you can ask for. Don't ask for all of them! Figure out the two or three or four that are most important to you and ask for those, expecting to get one or two or maybe three of them. If you've got a potential bestseller, then hopefully you have an agent who can demand all sorts of changes to the contract. But if you're an ordinary philosophy professor, the press isn't expecting to make forkfuls on your book and most of their authors will need to stay pretty close to the standard contract. Being too pushy can backfire -- in the extreme, even leading to a withdrawal of the contract offer. Unless you really are the prima donna, don't be a prima donna.


    Negotiable Contract Details

    Instead of going through any sample contracts clause by clause, what I'll do is list 15 things that I have either successfully asked for in a book contract or that an editor mentioned to me as a possible contract change during the course of negotiations.

    (1.) An advance. An advance is pre-payment of royalties. The advance might be paid either when you sign the contract, when you deliver the final manuscript, or when the book is published, or some combination. People tend to be cagey about numbers here, but my guess is that for a book they think will have a big popular audience maybe you can get $50,000 plus, and for a book that will sell mainly to specialists (i.e., most academic books), you probably shouldn't expect an advance at all. For a "crossover" book that the press thinks will have some popular sales, you might think in the ballpark of $5,000-$15,000. (These are just my impressions from my own experience and talking with a few colleagues.)

    You won't get paid any further royalties until you "earn out" your advance, that is, until the amount you would have received in royalties had you not been given an advance exceeds the amount of the advance you were given. If your book doesn't sell well enough to earn out, you won't see any more royalties, but the publisher won't ask for a refund.

    You might not think an advance matters much. Compared to the amount of time you spend writing a book and compared to an academic salary, what difference does it make whether you receive a few thousand now or that same few thousand later, hopefully, in royalty checks? But it does matter. If a press offers you an advance, that constitutes a commitment by them to market your book in a particular way. The more they offer you up front, the more they will have to make in sales to make the up-front offer look like a good decision. A book with a good advance will be priced reasonably and marketed well, rather than being priced at $85 and put in the back of the catalog, targeted mostly for sales to university libraries.

    All of this said, you probably shouldn't expect an advance unless you can make a plausible case that your book will have substantial popular or classroom sales in addition to academic sales.

    (2.) A maximum price. I don't know how common it is to ask for a maximum price, but I successfully asked for a $30 maximum price with my first book (about $38 in today's dollars). It can be disappointing to have your book priced at $85, out of the price range of many students and causal readers and an uncomfortable price even for dedicated colleagues. Some editors have expressed surprise that Russ and I were able to include a maximum price in our contract, partly due to uncertainty about inflation. It would of course be reasonable to have a sunset clause on a maximum price.

    (3.) Royalty rates. I've seen everything from 2% to 20%. Often royalty rates are higher on paperback editions and electronic editions. Often royalty rates scale up if sales break some target number of copies, such as 1000. There might be some language about royalties being based on "net receipts" excluding returned books and such, which is normal. I can imagine a publisher trying to weasel in some complicated language to reduce your royalty payments in some non-standard way, but I haven't noticed such problems with any of my publishers.

    (4.) Commitment to market the book in a particular way. "Trade" books are aimed at popular markets. "Crossover" books are scholarly books that are expected to have substantial popular sales. If your editor thinks your book might have popular sales, you can ask them to commit to marketing it as a crossover book. In discussion, you can ask about other marketing details, which vary by press. Usually such agreements are oral instead of written.

    (5.) International rights and translations. A publisher might commit to commissioning a translation. You might ask to reserve some of the international rights if you have connections in a foreign country and aim to pitch your book to a publisher there (perhaps already with a translator in mind).

    (6.) Paperback guarantee. A publisher can commit to releasing the book in paperback as well as hardback, or even possibly just go straight to paperback (though I'm not sure that's preferable if the hardback is well priced), possibly after specifying a sales threshold. I've generally found that editors are more comfortable with oral assurances about a paperback release or with saying what their usual conditions are for paperback release (e.g., XXXX copies sold in the first two years) than with putting this language explicitly in the contract, though it can be done. A paperback release after a couple of years is terrific, since it gives your book a new marketing push at a lower price, and some of your colleagues will see it as an indicator of prestige and impact.

    (7.) Option on the next book. Some publishers include clauses stating that you must give them the option to consider your next book, negotiating with them first about the book contract and only seeking another publisher if that negotiation fails. I find this somewhat obnoxious, and if you want you can ask for this clause to be struck. However, I haven't heard of publishers really holding authors to this in any strict way.

    (8.) Index. Usually it's up to the publisher whether your book will have an index, and then if they want an index it's up to you to prepare it. It is possible to insist on an index, and it is possible to have the publisher commit to preparing it or to paying you to have an assistant prepare it.

    (9.) Audiobook. Audiobooks are increasingly popular, and you can ask for a commitment to produce an audiobook version -- though I suspect that this would usually be only for trade books or books that the publisher expects would have a substantial audio audience.

    (10.) Cover and title. Usually presses want to have control over the cover and title, since those are crucial to marketing the book. But if you want to insist on a particular cover or title, this is negotiable. If you don't insist on a title now, you should consider your current title to be your working title only, up for discussion later.

    (11.) Figures and rights. Often, it is expensive to have figures in a book, especially color figures, and it can cost some money to buy rights to figures produced by professional artists, or to have figures custom made. The default seems to be no figures or few figures, black and white only, and the rights purchased at your expense; but this can also be negotiated.

    (12.) Authors' free copies. Often it's ten, but if there's a good reason to want more, you can ask.

    (13.) Submission and publication dates. The contract will probably specify delivery of the manuscript by a certain date. This is of course negotiable. I've rarely seen a deadline of this sort enforced -- manuscripts are often months late or even years late. Likewise, the publisher will commit to publishing within a time frame after acceptance of the manuscript.

    (14.) Reversion of rights. In a worst-case scenario, the press doesn't publish your book, or the press publishes your book but goes out of business. Also, of course, after years pass, the book will probably go out of print. You can ask for the rights to the book to revert to you if the book isn't published in a timely way or after three or five consecutive years of being out of print. (Being available electronically normally counts as being "in print" for these purposes.)

    (15.) Teaching buy out. My university, U.C. Riverside, allows faculty to occasionally "buy out" of teaching a class (with the dean's and department chair's permission) if they have an outside research grant that supplies money for a replacement lecturer. I was able to have a teaching buy-out clause added to my most recent contract. I asked for this money not on top of an advance but rather instead of (most of) the advance I would otherwise have received. However, I sense that this request was highly unusual.

    Usually the press will reserve the right to reject the book or insist on changes, even if you've signed a contract in advance. I can understand why they would want to reserve this right. What if you have a mental collapse and produce a deranged screed? I have never tried to push on this clause, instead having confidence in the good faith of the press upon signing the contract and in my ability to produce a book of good quality.


    Choosing Among Offers

    Suppose you have more than one contract offer. Yay! I've been in that position exactly once in my career -- a month ago. I don't have a lot to say here, but I will point out that it's not all about which press gave you the better formal contract. You should also consider your rapport with the editor and whether you share a vision of the book. For example, did the editor give you feedback on the book that you found valuable? If so, not only is that a good sign, but also the editor has already contributed some of their intellectual labor to your project.

    You should also consider whether the press will be out there marketing the book for you in a way that you like. Will they put it on their table at APA meetings? Will it appear near the front of their catalog? How have they treated previous authors you know? You probably can't get formal commitments about such details at this point, but in some cases a smaller press can be better than a large press where your book might be lost amid the crowd -- if the press has the resources to make your book visible in the right places.


    Part III?

    I'm considering whether to write a third part about manuscript revisions, page proofs, title and cover, and marketing. However, I'm not sure I have enough of interest to say about these things to be worth a post, so no promises.

    Thursday, June 11, 2020

    Diversity in Philosophy Departments: Introduction

    [Cross-posted from The Blog of the APA]

    This is the first in a several part series discussing ways to improve diversity in philosophy departments.

    At least with respect to gender and race, philosophy departments in the United States are less diverse than most other departments in the university, both in their faculty and in their student bodies. In series of blog posts to follow, several philosophers will discuss what can and should be done about this issue. This post will present some statistics and general reflections.

    I begin with gender and race because they are the most frequently studied and the easiest to find data on. In its 2018 membership data, the American Philosophical Association reports 26% women among members responding to a demographic survey, 74% men, and 0.2% “something else”. Similarly, in 2017, Schwitzgebel and Jennings found that 25% of faculty in U.S. departments rated in the Philosophical Gourmet Report were women and that 29% of philosophy PhD recipients placed in academic jobs were women. Data from the Survey of Earned Doctorates (SED) shows that women have earned approximately 29% of philosophy PhDs since the early 2000s. Data from the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) shows that women have received approximately 32% of philosophy Bachelor’s degrees since the 1980s.

    The decades-long flat trend lines among students give little reason to think that gender proportions in philosophy will dramatically change anytime soon, absent more assertive action or cultural change in the discipline. Despite earning 57% of Bachelor’s degrees in the U.S., women constitute a minority of the “pipeline” into philosophy and may also disproportionately leak out of the pipeline, with progressively smaller proportions at more advanced stages of study and career. The Data on Women in Philosophy group website contains detailed department-by-department data on faculty.

    Data on race are more mixed. In its membership data from 2018, the APA finds 80% of respondents identifying as White/Caucasian, compared to 60% in the general U.S. population. Also in 2018, White students received 84% of PhDs in philosophy, compared to 70% of PhDs overall (excluding temporary visa holders). However, the racial composition of philosophy undergraduates was close to representative of undergraduate degree recipients overall: White students received 60% of Bachelor’s degrees in philosophy and 57% of Bachelor’s degrees overall, across all majors. NCES and SED data show that racial diversity among philosophy students has been increasing for decades at both the graduate and undergraduate level.

    A closer look at these data, however, reveals that most of the growth has been among Hispanic/Latinx and Asian/Pacific Islander students. Black or African American students remain sharply underrepresented in philosophy, with approximately flat trendlines over several decades. Currently, Blacks or African Americans constitute 13% of the general population, 10% of Bachelor’s degree recipients overall, 5% of Philosophy Bachelor’s degree recipients, 3% of Philosophy PhD recipients (only 10 total recorded by the Survey of Earned Doctorates in 2018) and also only 3% of respondents to the APA’s demographic survey. American Indians / Alaska Natives are also underrepresented, constituting about 1.3% of the U.S. population, 0.4% of Bachelor’s degree recipients, 0.3% of Bachelor’s recipients in Philosophy, and 1.1% of APA members who reported their race. In 2018, the SED recorded no American Indian or Alaska Native philosophy PhD recipients.

    Other dimensions of diversity are less commonly measured, but data from Shelley Tremain suggest that people with disabilities are substantially underrepresented. Anecdotal evidence and some mixed evidence from the SED suggest that philosophers might hail disproportionately from higher socio-economic status backgrounds. As Bryan Van Norden has extensively documented, non-“Western” philosophical traditions tend to receive little attention in the philosophy curriculum in most departments. Uwe Peters has recently argued that philosophy lacks political diversity.

    One might think that these facts simply reflect a natural sorting by interest in a diverse but egalitarian society – that men are, for some innocuous reason, more likely to be drawn to philosophy and Black people less likely to be drawn to philosophy. We ought not expect a perfectly even sorting of all social groups into all disciplines, even if no group faces disadvantages.

    We should reject that perspective. There is nothing about philosophy, as a type of inquiry into fundamental facts about our world, that should make it more attractive to White men than to Black women. Philosophical reflection is an essential part of the human condition, of interest to people of all cultures, races, classes, and social groups. If our discipline and society were in a healthy, egalitarian condition, we should, in fact, expect people from minority groups to be overrepresented in academic philosophy, rather than underrepresented. Academic philosophy should celebrate diversity of opinion, encourage challenges to orthodoxy, and reward fresh perspectives that come from inhabiting cultures and having life experiences different from the mainstream. We should be eager, not reluctant, to hear from a wide range of voices. We should especially welcome, rather than create an inhospitable or cool environment for, people with unusual or minority or culturally atypical or historically underrepresented experiences and worldviews. The productive engine of philosophy depends on novelty and difference.

    Philosophy should be among the most diverse of the academic disciplines, not among the least diverse.

    -----------------------------------------

    In 2018, the Blog of the APA ran a companion series on the lack of diversity in philosophy journals, which readers might also want to check out. Here is the introductory post.

    [image source]

    Saturday, June 06, 2020

    The Edge of Chaos

    Last Monday, a curfew was announced in Riverside -- blaringly announced, with calls on my landline in both English and Spanish, emails from the city and from my employer, cellphone text alerts from emergency services. I decided to violate it.

    Being a middle-class white guy in my fifties, when I think of curfews, I think of the former communist countries of eastern Europe. I think of police states and dystopias. The curfew started at six. At seven, against the advice of my wife, I drove downtown. I noticed boarded up shops, loitering groups mostly of young men, blocked off roads, parking lots with police cars. I parked several blocks down a side street, donned my face mask, and walked toward the center.

    Heading toward the noise, I felt conspicuous for my age and race. I felt examined and judged by groups of young black and Latino men who were leaning against the buildings. A stream of wailing police cars looped around toward me. I dashed around a corner onto another street and they rolled past.

    On Market Street, people were milling in all directions -- mostly not protesters, it seemed. No one was chanting or holding signs in a large organized group. Instead, they appeared to be curious residents out to see what's happening in their neighborhood, men looking for excitement or trouble, and a few college or high school students with friends and cameras.

    Someone called out to me, "Hey, weren't you my professor for Evil?" (Every fall, I teach a 400 person class on the moral psychology of evil.) A couple of Asian students approached me. They had been at the protests, taking pictures. The protesters had been fired on with rubber bullets, and my student (or was it his friend?) showed me an injury on his hand -- an inch-long laceration where a bullet had struck him while, he said, his hands were in the air and he was shouting "don't shoot". He had picked up the bullet that struck him. I took this picture:

    Someone who takes a round of this sort to the neck or head can be seriously injured or potentially even killed.

    Ahead, I heard an explosion -- not for the first time -- and saw the bright star of a firecracker rising over the roofs of the two and three story buildings. The protesters were taunting the police with commercial-grade firecrackers. They were moving as a mob from place to place. When police advanced, the protesters would flee and regroup somewhere else. Teams of squad cars looped around with sirens on, attempting to intimidate and scatter curfew violators, but they couldn't cover the whole area. A least two helicopters were also circling.

    Cars would drive down Market Street when the lights were green. Most cars seemed to be traveling on ordinary business, but a few drove slowly and honked, some with signs. One car had windows rolled down and a sign that said "Fuck you Karen". Pedestrians shouted "Fuck you, Karen!" several times to cheers.

    Groups of about a dozen people would suddenly appear, fleeing down the middle of Market Street. Crowds on the sidewalk would briefly run too, or duck around corners, in case police came chasing. I saw a man who had been shot in the leg sitting by the side of the road. Some people stood on the sidewalk with their phones out. Others appeared to be fleeing a T-Mobile cellphone store. I heard, but didn't see, shouting and more firecrackers. People were mostly wearing masks -- I suspected both because of the pandemic and to reduce the chance of being identified by police.

    Two women in a car pulled up, windows down, and demanded several times that the crowd stop taking pictures. No one paid attention to them until I asked them why. Their reply was drowned in the noise and they drove away. An ambulance roared past.

    Photos don't capture the tension, the feeling of a crowd despite the broad California streets, the sense that chaos might approach from any direction.

    Maybe seventy protesters turned onto Market Street as a group, some carrying signs, some shouting, none threatening or violent. At that time I saw no police, except in helicopters. I headed back in the protesters' direction, taking photos from the sidewalk.

    Ahead of me, I heard a crash, then saw a broken window and someone in a shop, messing with the blinds and broken glass. On the sidewalk, I was suddenly surrounded by large, strong men -- and then they were running. I was jostled among them, then I tripped up against bolted down sidewalk furniture. I feared becoming the tail end of a group that was being shot at by police, so I ran amid them. After about half a block of running, people calmed down. I could hear squad cars blaring on nearby streets.

    A crowd was stopped in the street, looking various directions but mostly up at a crane -- a huge, bright blue crane rising maybe 120 feet. A lone man was climbing its interior. The crowd cheered him on and probably, like me, wondered if he would fall. I watched him climb nearly to the top, but then I heard explosions or gunfire and nearby sirens and decided I'd seen enough. Later, I heard that the crane climber had somehow entered the control booth and turned the crane. Under what conditions might a badly operated crane fall?

    Leaving the scene, again I felt assessed by loitering men and curious residents. The last person I saw was also the only person my age that I recall seeing the whole time I was out. He greeted me from the small front yard of his house. I don't recall his words, but I thought he looked at me in camaraderie, one middle-aged white guy to another, as if we stood together above or to the side of the chaos.

    I returned home and related my adventures to my family. That night, as I lay in bed unable to sleep, I found myself longing to return downtown, despite the risk and fear I had felt. It seemed exciting and important, compared to daily life as a professor, compared to being caged at home amid the pandemic. If I were younger, more in love with excitement, if I had no children, no job, the streets would call to me more strongly, I'm sure.

    The Riverside police couldn't handle a thousand curfew-breakers downtown. They, we, pushed the police to the edge of what they could do with rubber bullets and their existing rules of conduct. It is easy, so easy, to imagine this amplified -- larger, more persistent tumult in the streets, unpredictable, potentially violent, police frustrated and tempted to use more extreme measures -- street-level chaos of the sort we in the U.S. are used to hearing about in other countries, but rarely imagine happening in our own.

    Wednesday, June 03, 2020

    How to Publish a Book in Philosophy: A Guide for the Perplexed (Part I)

    A couple of weeks ago, I signed my fourth book contract (working title, The Weirdness of the World, Princeton University Press).  I thought I'd share my impressions on book publishing in academic philosophy since I haven't seen any good, detailed how-to guides (and to help others avoid my mistakes).

    Seeking out and evaluating book contracts was especially puzzling to me, so that will be my focus.

    I'm no expert, and I certainly-definitely-enthusiastically-appreciatively welcome contrary opinions and further advice in the comments.


    Should You Publish a Book and When?

    Yes, you should!  Who else is going to plunge into your wonderful ideas in such depth?  What better excuse is there to really think things through in detail and see how it all hangs together?

    When?  Neither too early nor too late.

    Not too early: First publish a few articles on the topic, which will give your ideas a few years to mature, build your reputation and credibility in the subfield, and bring valuable feedback from readers, referees, and conference audiences.  (Most dissertations should become articles first rather than being revised straightaway into a book.)

    Not too late: After several years, your interests will probably drift and your perspective will probably change.  Hit the book project while you're still near the peak of your enthusiasm about the ideas.

    If articles 1-4 on Topic Y appear in years X to X+3, ideally you should be working on your book proposal on Y in year X+3.  (Of course, rarely are things ideal.)  At this point, you've probably been working on the topic since at least year X-3.


    Connect with Editors Early

    I had zero clue about this as an Assistant Professor.

    You know those book exhibits at the American Philosophical Association?  Their obvious function is to sell books, but they also have a second, less obvious function: They are a chance for acquisition editors to connect with potential authors.  If you're following my X+3 plan, you want to start connecting with editors in year X+2 or X+3.

    Here's how I recommend doing it:

    Early in the conference, visit the book exhibit.  (This could be an APA, but it could also be a subdisciplinary conference with a book exhibit.)  Notice which publishers have tables full of books of the sort you plan to publish.  Approach those tables and ask if an acquisition editor is around.  If one is, say something like this:

    Hi, my name is [You Know What Goes Here].  I've published a few articles on [Your Favorite Topic] in [The Most Prestigious Venues You've Published in So Far], and I'm thinking about synthesizing my ideas into a book.  Would you be available to chat about this over coffee sometime today or tomorrow?

    The editor might or might not agree.  Their schedules might already be full with other meetings (this is why you want to hit the book exhibit early), or they might be skeptical that you'd write a book of the type they want.  Or they might be willing to hear you out, but only standing there on the spot, which isn't nearly as a good as a dedicated meeting.

    Consider doing some homework ahead of time, finding out which publishers will be at the meeting and what they emphasize in their recent catalogs, maybe even emailing acquisition editors beforehand. But if this sounds intimidating, don't worry. It's probably more typical, especially if you're new to this, to first try to get a sense of things by strolling around the book displays.

    If the editor agrees to meet, you'll informally chat through your book idea with them.  The editor will likely think your book project needs some tweaking.  This is fine.  They might be right!  Work through broad ideas about how to frame the book and what to cover in it and what you imagine the audience to be.

    Be prepared for the editor to push you toward making the book more popular or more suitable for classroom use than the small-audience scholarly monograph you might have been planning.  Publishers love big sellers, of course.  But academic presses also obviously also publish lots of small-audience scholarly monographs, so if that's what you aim to write, it's fine to stand your ground.

    If your book idea seems not quite ready, or if the editor thinks it's not quite their thing, don't despair.  The best acquisition editors tend to play a long game, cultivating connections over several years.  Maybe next year you'll have a different angle that the publisher likes better (one reason to start in X+2 rather than X+3).  Or maybe in six years, your next book will be something they want.  Say hi once in a while and toss new ideas their direction.

    If the editor likes your idea, follow up by sending a book proposal.


    How to Write a Book Proposal

    Stand warned: I can't say that my book proposals have been especially good.

    Your book proposal might not be accepted, especially if you haven't previously published a book.  It's still a good idea to write one.  It will give you a chance to think about the general structure and aims of your book.  Share it with acquisition editors, since it might prompt useful feedback and pique their interest even if they can't commit to a contract.

    There's no formula.  In my experience writing and reviewing them, book proposals run about five single-spaced pages and contain the following elements:

    • a working title;
    • an estimated word count (60,000 - 80,000 words might be the typical sweet spot, though some presses also love shorter books);
    • a summary of the main idea, anything from one short paragraph to two longer paragraphs;
    • a description of the intended audience, e.g., "intended primarily for graduate students and professors doing research in philosophy of mind", "intended for a broad audience of scholarly readers, including both specialists in philosophy of mind and non-specialists from other fields who have an interest in the nature of consciousness";
    • optionally, a list of 3-5 books with which it is comparable and how it will differ from them;
    • a paragraph-long description of your qualifications and/or a short c.v.;
    • probably a summary of the projected chapters, one by one, with one paragraph per chapter;
    • optionally, attach a sample chapter.

    Some publishers also list proposal submission guidelines on their web pages. If so, you should presumably follow those guidelines.

    Unless your format is sufficiently unusual that it's difficult to see what the book will look like without a sample chapter, I think it's generally better not to include a sample chapter.  Referees will pick at the sample chapter, and unless you've already written the book it probably won't be in polished book form yet.  Better to let the general vision and your track record as a researcher carry the proposal.

    As an example, I attach the first version of my most recent book proposal here, along with some comments about how it was received by editors and reviewers (and thus some respects in which it is a negative example).

    I have a weakness for making my book proposals look like I'm just stapling together previously published articles.  Let me warn you against this.  Publishers are much less interested in collections of articles than they are in freshly written, coherent books.  Although I think it's usually best first to work out your main ideas in published articles, it should be clear in your proposal that your book will be written fresh from the beginning as a unified treatment that goes well beyond your articles.

    Send a cover letter along with your book proposal, reminding the editor of any previous discussions you've had and giving the title, main idea, and intended audience.


    Where to Submit Your Proposal

    One difference between publishing articles and publishing books is that although you shouldn't submit an article to more than one journal at a time you can and probably should submit a book proposal (or full book manuscript) to more than one publisher at a time.  I recommend targeting three to five publishers.  The key to doing this ethically and without hard feelings is to be open about it in your cover letter.

    I recommend only three to five publishers for two reasons.  One is that you want to be able to honestly say that you are also sending your proposal to a few other select presses.  An acquisition editor at, say, Oxford will understand if you're also approaching Princeton and Cambridge.  But if they think you're spamming twenty presses with your proposal, they will probably look elsewhere.

    The other reason is that you don't want to find yourself in the position of having to decide on a contract offer from a press that isn't among your top choices while you're still waiting to hear back from your preferred presses.

    The reasons to approach more than one publisher are obvious: Since it can take weeks or months for a decision, a strictly serial approach could slow you down by a year (or even more, in some particularly bad cases I know about).  Also, if you're fortunate enough to have more than one interested press, that gives you leverage in negotiations.

    If your proposal or manuscript is out for review at more than one press, you want to give the process time to play out at each press. After the first press makes you an offer, be sure to tell the other presses that are still considering your book that you have an offer from Press X (ideally, a competitor they respect) and that you are hoping to make a decision by such-and-such a time. Unless Press X is playing some strange hardball or the situation is unusual, Press X should be willing to wait at least a few weeks on a proposal and at least a couple of months on a full manuscript.

    One exception to my multiple-submissions advice is this: Based on a conversation or a proposal, a publisher might ask for an exclusive look at your book manuscript. This is a sign of enthusiasm about the project. You might wish to agree, especially if they commit to moving quickly. If they don't quickly offer a contract, or if they respond with a contract you find disappointing, you can later re-open the possibility of approaching other presses.

    Which presses in particular should you approach?  If you're writing a scholarly monograph for fellow philosophers, start by considering the publishers who have prominent book displays at the APA and at conferences in your subfield: These are the presses that are out there pushing to make their books visible in the circles you travel in.  You can also look at which presses are publishing books that you like and that are reviewed in journals you read.  And of course, if you followed my advice about connecting with editors in advance, you'll presumably want to send your proposal to editors who have already expressed interest in you or your book project.

    According to statistics I recently compiled on book reviews in elite general philosophy venues, the most visible academic philosophy presses seem to currently be Oxford, Cambridge, MIT, Princeton, Routledge, and Harvard.  Some other presses are highly visible in particular subfields, such as Columbia in Asian philosophy.  I'm currently pitching an anthology of science fiction to MIT, Routledge, Wesleyan, and Wiley, based on the strengths of those presses, and I have another anthology in the works with Bloomsbury.  There are many presses, and fit with the vision and strengths of the press is probably at least as important as the overall visibility of the press.


    If Your Proposal Is Rejected

    ... write the book anyway.

    You don't need a book contract in advance.  If you write a good scholarly book, you will very likely find a publisher.  Although some people find this surprising, it is substantially easier (in terms of likelihood of acceptance, not in terms of amount of work) to publish a book at an elite academic press than it is to publish an article in a comparably elite philosophy journal.  Even if your book isn't accepted at one of the most visible presses, there are lots of other presses to try.

    If you are capable of publishing research articles in mainstream journals, and if you pour your heart into a book of similar quality and scholarly rigor, it's very likely that some press will want your book.

    Don't accept a book contract in advance from a publisher that isn't among the publishers you'd most like to work with.  If you don't get the contract you want beforehand, write an awesome book and try again for that contract.  (This advice applies only to scholarly books for specialist audiences.  Popular "trade" books should usually be contracted in advance, with plenty of editorial input up front.)


    Responding to Feedback on Your Proposal or Manuscript

    Once you've emailed your proposal, expect to receive a reply email within a week or so.  The editor might decline your proposal without seeking further input from reviewers, or the editor might be interested in your proposal.  If the editor is interested, they might send it straightaway to reviewers or to their colleagues for further evaluation, or they might suggest that you make some revisions to the proposal before they send it along.  You might or might not want to make those revisions.

    For example, when I proposed A Theory of Jerks and Other Philosophical Misadventures, I imagined it as a collection of revised and updated short reflections from my blog and op-eds, on several themes (moral psychology, cosmology, philosophy of technology, and the sociology of philosophy).  Some editors thought it would be better as a unified book just on moral psychology, possibly quite short, and suggested that I revise my proposal accordingly.  I can imagine having done that, but in the end I chose to stick with my original vision, and fortunately MIT Press was enthusiastic.

    In contrast, my proposal for The Weirdness of the World was of interest to three editors at leading presses, and two of them made substantial suggestions about how to improve my proposal.  I accepted about two-thirds of their suggestions, resulting in somewhat different proposals to different presses, and I do think the proposals were stronger as a result.

    It doesn't take long to read a book proposal, so after it gets past the acquisition editor and sent out for further review, expect to hear something back within a few weeks -- hopefully not more than a couple of months.  Outside reviewers will make all kinds of suggestions.  You don't have to accept those suggestions!  Remember, at this point the acquisitions editor liked it enough to send it to reviewers.  What you need to do is respond to the reviewers' suggestions.  Write a response letter detailing your reaction to the suggestions and how you plan to accommodate them in the book; and if there are some suggestions that you would prefer not to implement, explain why.

    If you sent a full manuscript without a signed contract in advance, it will probably take longer to receive reviews (a few months to hopefully not longer than half a year) and the editor may be more neutral about your project.  These reviews should be handled more like you would handle reviews on submitted articles, especially if some of them are tepid to negative about the manuscript.  In other words, make the requested changes if you can, and if you can't, explain yourself well without striking a defensive tone.  The revised manuscript might or might not be sent back out to those same reviewers again.


    Negotiating a Contract

    Yay, yay, yay!  You have a contract offer!

    This is going to be hard if you're a newbie, but don't sign the offer right away.

    A book contract is a legal document about ten pages long.  (I'd share an example, but I think my publishers would rather I kept the exact details confidential.)  Here's something you might not know that makes book contracts very different from the contracts you sign when you agree to let a journal publish an article: Many of the clauses are negotiable.  The contract can be changed.  Think of the initial contract you receive as an opening offer. It's not all boilerplate that you have to sign as-is. Also, you might still be waiting to hear back from other presses.

    It will take some space for me to walk you through the details of book contracts, so I'll save that for Part II.


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    Update, June 4:
    Please read the comments section for some further helpful ideas from authors and editors, especially pertaining to simultaneous vs. exclusive submission of full manuscripts.

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