Public Philosophers Work to Advance the Humanities

PPN has three goals: to pursue public philosophy projects directly, to support member’s work in the public sphere, and to effect institutional and societal change toward greater recognition of the value of public philosophy. This series highlights member projects, and in the project described here, Christopher P. Long, editor of the Public Philosophy Journal, is working to raise the visibility and appreciation for humanities research.

In July, Michigan State University received a $695,000 grant from the Andrew W. Mellon foundation to develop a framework that will guide teachers and researchers in the humanities and social sciences to better demonstrate the impact of their work. Chris Long is one of an international group of co-PIs working on the Humane Metrics in Humanities and Social Sciences Initiative (HuMetricsHSS).

Metrics for evaluating the impact of university research are typically drawn from the sciences, where what counts is the number of publications, the “impact factor” of the journal where articles are published (this reflects the average number of citations to all articles in a journal), and author order (in some fields). Arguably, this metric fails to capture the value of the humanities, largely because publication and citation practices in the humanities are different than in the sciences. In particular, the humanities can have a large impact on shaping society through public projects, and these efforts are not captured at all in standard research metrics.

The goal of the HuMetricsHSS project is to serve society by generating recognition of the richness of humanities and social science research and teaching, and to change universities’ evaluation procedures in ways that offer better support to the humanities—including public philosophy. Public philosophers will benefit from this project by being able to better express the rich value of the work they do.

Public Writing to Influence Policy

One of the many tasks of public philosophy is to clarify philosophical issues that affect the decisions of experts and professionals. Issues in Science and Technology is a forum for the discussion of public policy issues. It is similar to a journal in that the pieces are written by academic researchers and other experts rather than by journalists, but it is also similar to a magazine because pieces are written for a general audience. IST influences both policymakers and academic researchers and is accessible online to the general public.

Robert Frodeman, a founding member of PPN, curates a regular column called “Philosopher’s Corner” in which philosophers show how judgments of ethics and values are woven into specific public policy decisions pertaining to science and technology. Demonstrating the philosophical assumptions that guide how issues are framed pierces the assumption that scientific knowledge or technical know-how is all that’s needed to resolve our most pressing social problems.

Recent examples of this column by members of PPN include:

J. Britt Holbrook, Open Science, Open Access, and the Democratization of Knowledge

Robert Frodeman, The Hidden Life of Science & Technology

Adam Briggle, Make Science Great Again

Evelyn Brister, Genome Fidelity and the American Chestnut