Good: I’m on track to getting a bunch of writing done today! Bad: It’s writing that was foisted on me by an external party and the writing is to their (immediate) deadline. Depressing: All of the writing might get tossed away should their editor decide to can the story.

The reality of a day in the life of a public intellectual…



Peer review is a hit and miss proposition. Sometimes whoever reviews the work is clearly unsuitable. Other times the reviewer’s suggestions would have you write a totally new paper. And other times the reviewer shows how the argument you’re making can be helpfully deepened and strengthened. That last kind of review is rarer than it should be but, when you experience it, can help to transform a good paper into a considerably stronger and more meaningful piece of work.



I have a deep and abiding dislike of editors of academic journals who enrol me in their content management systems and then issue peer review requests without bothering to first send me a personal inquiry. I appreciate the ‘ease’ of automating the requests but doing so significantly diminishes the likelihood that I’ll ever review for them or suggest another peer to take on the assignment because I don’t like the idea of them being spammed, either. Further, the way these requests are issued raises security concerns: I don’t know the journal, there’s no reply-to-human contact, nor can I verify the legitimacy of the link by just glancing at it. The onus shouldn’t be put on me to sniff around and confirm the sender in order to do free labour for them.


Metadata in Context – An Ontological and Normative Analysis of the NSA’s Bulk Telephony Metadata Collection Program


In the aftermath of the Snowden revelations, the National Security Agency (NSA) responded to fears about warrantless domestic surveillance programs by emphasizing that it was collecting only the metadata, and not the content, of communications. When justifying its activities, the NSA offered the following rationale: because data involves content and metadata does not, a reasonable expectation of privacy extends only to the former but not the latter. Our paper questions the soundness of this argument. More specifically, we argue that privacy is defined not only by the types of information at hand, but also by the context in which the information is collected. This context has changed dramatically. Defining privacy as contextual integrity we are able, in the first place, to explain why the bulk telephony metadata collection program violated expectations of privacy and, in the second, to evaluate whether the benefits to national security provided by the program can be justified in light of the program’s material costs, on the one hand, and its infringements on civil liberties, on the other hand.

A terrific paper from Paula Kift and Helen Nissenbaum.


The Inanity of Academic Publishing

From Verena Hutter and Karen Kelsey:

I have made it clear how I feel about book chapters in edited volumes or editing volumes (read chapter 16 in the book, and don’t publish in edited volumes, and don’t EDIT VOLUMES, until you are tenured). If my advice has come too late, and you have no other publications, it’s fine to mention the book chapter in your publication para, but don’t try to pass it off as an article. Some edited volumes are in fact peer-reviewed, but your contribution is still not an article.

It drives me nuts that edited volumes are given so little prestige compared to journal articles. There is a general position in academia that book chapters are not rigorously reviewed as compared to journal articles but, really, this has more to do with the publishing outlet than anything else. I’ve published with some journals where the review has been a joke and vice versa. The same is true of edited volumes.

But what bothers me even more about the focus on journal publications over edited volumes is that academics are encouraged to publish places where only the wealthy universities can afford to access/read what is written. I was given advice as a very junior scholar that almost no one in government will read academic journal publications because they can’t justify the per-article cost, whereas departmental and government libraries can justify purchasing books.

If you want to make a public policy impact, or want to generally have your work theoretically more available, then publishing in books (or putting pre-pubs in public repositories like SSRN) is a must. But academics are disincentivized from such practices: they’re punished for trying to actually expand the numbers of people who could read and use the work. So while they’re actively glorifying knowledge production they’re simultaneously hindering the dissemination of what is produced.


George Yancy: I Am a Dangerous Academic

It is deeply concerning that faculty in American universities are being ‘put on notice’ even before the President-Elect takes office. The solution is to stand with them and speak, and argue, and fight against efforts to silence such academics regardless of whether we individually agree with the targeted academics’ respective philosophical or political leanings. The goal of the academy is to further thinking and thoughtful analyses rather than collectively advocate for any particular political leaning.

In Yancy’s defense of himself, the academy, and philosophy itself he succinctly explains the value and importance of a philosophically-influenced education:

To be “philosophically adjusted” is to belie what I see as one major aim of philosophy — to speak to the multiple ways in which we suffer, to be a voice through which suffering might speak and be heard, and to offer a gift to my students that will leave them maladjusted and profoundly unhappy with the world as it is. Bringing them to that state is what I call doing “high stakes philosophy.” It is a form of practicing philosophy that refuses to ignore the horrible realities of people who suffer and that rejects ideal theory, which functions to obfuscate such realities. It is a form of philosophizing that refuses to be seduced by what Friedrich Nietzsche called “conceptual mummies.” Nietzsche notes that for many philosophers, “nothing actual has escaped from their hands alive.”

In my courses, which the watchlist would like to flag as “un-American” and as “leftist propaganda,” I refuse to entertain my students with mummified ideas and abstract forms of philosophical self-stimulation. What leaves their hands is always philosophically alive, vibrant and filled with urgency. I want them to engage in the process of freeing ideas, freeing their philosophical imaginations. I want them to lose sleep over the pain and suffering of so many lives that many of us deem disposable. I want them to become conceptually unhinged, to leave my classes discontented and maladjusted.

Philosophy, like the Arts and Social Sciences more generally, ought to leave students upset. Confused. And disturbed. Not for the purpose of causing harm but to generate an unrootedness; as students re-plant their roots following a period of unrootedness they may return to the same political and philosophical positions as before but with stronger rationales that are girded in a deeper ethical and normative appreciation of reality. But maybe they subtly, or significantly, shift in their understandings of the world and their ethical commitments within it. In either situation the student has changed by broadening and deepening their ability to consider the different aspects involved in holding their respective positions. And that’s absolutely fine to my mind.

The goal of philosophically-influenced education isn’t to force a reversal in view, belief, or understanding but to compel students to better consider why they hold the positions they do and better appreciate those positions’ implications. The very act of reflecting upon oneself invokes the opportunity for change, but to prompt such change the academy (and its students) need to support and protect those who prompt such uneasiness in students. Silencing such academics-of-change thus constitutes a directed threat to an essential aspect of what the University is meant to provide to society.