Saturday, January 18, 2014

Trends in Logic XIV - deadline extended

The submission deadline for Trends in Logic XIV has been extended to January 20. All other submission details remain unchanged (see here).

(Also, we still have some conference trip grants for formal philosophers from Poland!)

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Forms should die, long live CVs

It's this wonderful time of the year when I and probably a lot of other researchers are swamped with paperwork, preparing yearly reports, grant applications etc. And it's ridiculous. 

Pretty much every friggin institution, whether you're submitting a report to the faculty, explaining what you've been doing to a grant agency, applying for a new research grant, trying to get money for a conference or whatnot requires you to include your CV in a format/online form of their choice. 

Now, I've counted how many times I had to do something like that over the last calendar year, and as far as I remember, it's 26. Each time it took me around 90 minutes to copy and format the data according to some bureaucrat's wishes, so together the procedure stole around  2340 minutes, that is, 39 hours of my time. This is pretty much a whole working week a year spent on re-formatting my CV!! To give you a bigger picture, consider the following examples:
  • The British Academy in year 2006/2007 received  578 applications.  Even if you think I'm slow and that everyone fills the CV-related fields in a form in, say, 60 minutes, this gives you 34680 minutes, that is 578 hours, that is more than full 24 days (24/7) or almost 15 working weeks of researchers' time, who instead of doing actual research stare at the screen and play around with font size, margin size and copy-pasting some boring stuff into online forms (and that's CVs only!).
  • Ghent University (this is just an example, I'm not picking on it) has around 5000 researchers/faculty. Let's say each of them spends just 30 minutes a year re-formatting or entering their data in some unusual format (and it's a pretty low estimate). This gives you 150 000 minutes, or 2500 hours, or more than 62 researchers' working weeks! (Also, if you're externally funded, you kinda have to do this twice).
The solution, I think, is to accept people's CVs instead, however they shaped them. Normally, researchers are not idiots and are sane enough to prepare their CVs in a fairly legible and transparent manner. Perhaps, reading CVs of different format will make the referee's job just a bit more challenging, but it also will make it less boring. And a referee who cannot easily read and understand a CV shouldn't be trusted anyway. 

And if you're running a university and need the researchers' publication data in some particular format, it's cheaper to hire someone to do things like that than to waste qualified researchers' time! (Even if it was 52 and not 62 weeks, it would still be cheaper, because the administrative staff salary is lower.)

So, dear bureaucrat! (Although, the chance you're reading this instead of coming up with new ways of making people's lifes worse, is rather low.) Please be aware that each decision regarding the use of non-standard formats instead of accepting CVs will have more serious results than you might initially think.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Talk@UGent: Model-theoretic constructions without actual infinity (M. Czarnecki)

At 5 p.m. on January 7, Marek Czarnecki (Warsaw University) will give a talk at the Centre for Logic and Philosophy of Science (room 2.30). If you're around, feel free to drop by.

We base on the notion of FM-representability introduced by M. Mostowski as an explication of representability without actual infinity.  By Mostowski’s FM-representability theorem and Shoenfield’s Limit Lemma FM-representable notions  are  exactly  those  which  uniformly  computable  limits  of  computable notions  i.e.   which  are  constructible  in  finitistic  sense  (by  true  constructions, not constructions relative to some uncomputable oracle).
We introduce the notion of concrete models - FM-representable models - and consider the feasibility of classical model-theoretic constructions in concrete models framework.  The aim is to identify the finitistic content of model theory - the part that has a computational meaning.
More philosophically - studying concrete models provides with a better understanding of mathematical structures that are cognitively accessible and can be algorithmically learned.  They can also be used for representing epistemologically feasible approximated representations of reality and cognitively accessible semantics.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Gender, logic events, public transport

As is well known, the Munich Center for Mathematical Philosophy organizes a summer school on mathematical philosophy for female students. I deeply admire the work and organizational skills of the members of MCMP. Organizing a logic event for female students turned out to be somewhat controversial - so I just wanted to briefly comment on standard reactions I've encountered (I'll use some examples I've seen/heard).


On one hand, some people think that the implicature is that women are somehow worse in logic and therefore need extra tutoring. I don't think this criticism is viable. Logic needs to be promoted more among women not because they are worse in logic, but rather because there are not enough women in logic, despite them being perfectly capable of doing the research (I recall a logician saying that nowadays being a logician is like being in a barrel full of dicks. Wording aside, the person who made this comment did have a point.) There are also good methodological reasons to exclude males from the participation in the summer school - their presence tends to have detrimental impact on the performance of female students (see the summary here, or the relevant section of this survey paper).

On the other hand, some argue that when you organize a workshop, you have the right to select participants so that you think it's fun to hang out with them. I'll quote anonymously:
I just think that any logic related event is just fun. I like to learn it in any circumstances. It is like partying, I like to go out with my boyfriends and girlfriends, and I like ladies nights.

Now, I  don't think this is a viable strategy either. (I have already written about closed workshops, but I'll elaborate on this one.) Of course, you are more than welcome to hang out and have fun with anyone you prefer to have fun with, in your spare time and at your own expense. If you organize a scientific workshop, you are paid salary with public money to spend a bunch of public money to organize a scientific event - and therefore, your goals should be aligned with the academic goals of the institution you work for.

Now, this doesn't mean the sole criterion for participation should be research performance. For instance, excluding some jerks from the participation in a conference just because you know them to be jerks is rather okay, because their presence would hurt the academic quality of the conference (for instance, younger researchers could be afraid to disagree or to vote their concerns, or could be caused to give up on a line of research not because of good arguments they heard but because of hurtful comments by some (in?)competent asshole).

Yet, deciding on a ladies' night just because it sounds fun and you want to hang out with girls would be too much. Because then you would be excluding participants clearly for personal reasons that have nothing to do with the spirit of academia. If the summer school for female students was organized for this reason, I think it would be a pretty bad motivation.

But I don't think this is the reason. Rather, the ultimate goal is not for anyone to have fun at a ladies' night (albeit, this probably will be a nice side-effect), but to improve the situation in the field gender-wise, and it seems to me that at this point organizing this summer school will contribute to this academically desirable goal.

This doesn't mean that the ultimate ideal is to have separate logic events for women. I can't stop thinking that organizing such events is a bit like having separate train compartments for women only  in places where they don't feel safe or comfortable travelling with men. To some extent, this improves on the existing situation and is needed, but on the other hand, the very need of such compartments is a sign of  deeper problems that have to be handled.

Another observation that some people make is that the most of the instructors at the summer school are male. [Thanks Nicole for correcting me about the current list of speakers. It's 4 women, 3 men.] But [even if there were more men than women], I don't think that this is an objection. The very problem to be handled is how dominated by males logic is, and so it is no surprise that NOW there are more male instructors (as long as the ratio of women instructors at least corresponds to the ratio of women researchers in the field - which it clearly is in this case is something I didn't check for this event). And there is nothing wrong with male instructors trying to change the situation (and the ratio) by teaching at this summer school.




Monday, December 2, 2013

Applications of Logic in Philosophy and Foundations of Mathematics XIX

Traditionally, Janusz Czelakowski, Tomasz Połacik and Marcin Selinger will organize another in this wonderful series of conferences in Szklarska Poręba, a small town in Polish mountains (which is slightly annoying to get to, but quite beautiful once you're there). It will take place May 5-9, 2014. The information isn't on the conference website but I guess it will be there soon(er or later). If you feel like hanging out with Polish logicians in a place like that, talking about the foundations of mathematics and other geeky things, I highly recommend going.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

TiL XIV reminder


This is just a reminder that the submission deadline for Trends in Logic XIV (The road less travelled. Off-stream applications of formal methods), January 6, is approaching.

More details about the conference:

Please observe that there will be TWO Trends in Logic conferences next year, the other one being Trends in Logic XIII (Gentzen's and Jaśkowski's heritage; 80 years of natural deduction and sequent calculi).  More details about TiL XIII can be found here: http://filozof.uni.lodz.pl/trends/


Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Cons and cons of closed workshops

In Europe (at least in logic and/or philosophy) the dominant model of a conference involves:
  • a few invited speakers,
  • some contributed papers (acceptance is usually based on abstracts).
Some conferences diverge from this model. Sometimes, there are no invited speakers (e.g. EetN 2013). Sometimes, full contributions are required and reviewed (e.g. EetN 2010, EetN 2011, EetN 2013, TiL XIV). Sometimes, there are no contributed papers (on purpose, I won't give any example) and the only speakers are those who were invited by the organizers. 

On the face of it, closed workshops/conferences are kinda cool:
  • If you're the organizer:
    • You don't have to prepare and distribute your CFP.
    • You don't have to collect and manage the submissions.
    • You don't have to find referees to review the submissions.
    • You don't have to message the contributors with the results.
    • Some of the speakers might later invite you to their closed event.
  • If you're an invited speaker, you might feel a bit better about yourself because you were chosen for a closed workshop (although, if you're not too insane, it's rather unlikely; I think the fact that the event is closed shouldn't add any value to your being invited).
  • If you're a participant, there are some options:
    • You're one of the organizers and then you have fun because you get to spend some research money on hanging out with good old friends without the uneasiness of meeting new people, making sure they're comfortable and whatnot. 
    • You're the invited speaker and then you have fun because you hang out with the crowd you know and like.
    • You're a graduate student: either from the institution that organizes the workshop, or you're one of those lucky people who study under the supervision of one of the speakers who decided to use their research grant to help you cover the trip costs and convinced the organizers to allow you to come. Then you're sort of happy because you get to do some networking and attend a (hopefully) interesting workshop.
A moment of reflection should lead you to the observation that none of these supposed advantages is academically relevant. Actually, closing your workshop to external submissions makes things worse:
  • Since the organizers are only going to invite people they know or they know of, the extent to which the selection of participants is going to be gender-biased is only up to them. And we've seen quite a few workshops where most (or all) speakers were male - not because the organizers are evil, not because women are not good logicians or philosophers, but rather because whoever you are, your own picture of people in the field is going to be limited by various factors that shouldn't be relevant and it seems that currently some of those factors make male researchers more likely to be invited. If, on the other hand, your conference is open to submissions and those are blind-refereed, you have a higher change of discovering female researchers you haven't heard of even though they're pretty awesome.
  • The point generalizes. Your view of people in the field is limited. By closing your workshop to submissions you miss out on meeting researchers doing interesting stuff whom you've never heard of.
  • Also, as a consequence, you're especially discriminating against young researchers: if they're not in your field of vision, they're not even allowed to compete for the right to present their views and to participate in the discussions. Senior scholars are likely to be invited here and there, but younger scholars have pretty low chances of becoming members of your in-crowd, unless their supervisor is in a position to help them. This is far from meritocratic.
  • You might think that by hand-picking the speakers you ensure that the level of the workshop is high. But you really don't:
    • Sometimes invited speakers make less effort preparing their presentations. Why the hell would they make the extra effort? They get invited anyway and they are usually more torn between various events they have to go to and they have to prepare for each of them. Many times I've seen an invited speaker doing a poor or only decent job or just reading their paper aloud without being properly prepared.
    • The person having the most impact on the quality of accepted contributed papers is you. The point of the review procedure is to select good submissions. Of course, if the selection is based on abstracts only, there's a chance of getting a bad talk. But it's still trumped by the chance of getting a good talk you wouldn't hear if there were no contributed papers. (Also, if you worry about the quality of contributed talks, require full papers rather than abstracts.) 
  • Another problem is that you not only prevent young scholars from presenting their work relying on non-meritocratic factors, but also prevent most of them from being in the audience. Even if in principle anyone can come to the talks, quite rarely a scholar from out of town will be able to have their trip covered if they don't give a presentation, not to mention the case of coming from abroad.
  • Also, if all you do is give a talk to the organizers and  invited speakers whom you've known for a while,  giving a talk at a closed workshop won't contribute to popularizing your views and getting useful feedback you didn't think of as much as giving a talk at a standard workshop/conference would.
  • Perhaps, you could argue that organizing a closed workshop is better than not doing anything and that it requires less effort on the part of the organizers. Still, I think the additional effort of going out of your comfort zone and having contributed presentations isn't that great when compared to the advantages mentioned above.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

A general audience paper on Lesniewski's Mereology

This material is intended for a general audience. The paper is  forthcoming in European Review (special issue on Logic and Philosophy in Poland). I would like to express my gratitude to Dagfinn Follesdal for his comments.

It's not going to be terribly surprising if phil of math is your thing, but for an exposition it's almost bearable (he said proudly).

Also, p. 7 par. 5 from the bottom and fn. 13 give you an example of what logician's revenge looks like (and how harmless it is).

[EDIT: Thanks to Paweł Pawłowski for his correction.]
[EDIT 2: Thanks to Jack MacIntosh (this one, not this one) for his comments and a pointer to Lowe's paper.]

Monday, October 28, 2013

Nominalistic plural quantification paper is out...

...in Synthese (Open Access). Thanks to Oystein Linnebo for discussion and comments.


Title: Plural quantifiers: a modal interpretation

Abstract: One of the standard views on plural quantification is that its use commits one to the existence of abstract objects–sets. On this view claims like ‘some logicians admire only each other’ involve ineliminable quantification over subsets of a salient domain. The main motivation for this view is that plural quantification has to be given some sort of semantics, and among the two main candidates—substitutional and set-theoretic—only the latter can provide the language of plurals with the desired expressive power (given that the nominalist seems committed to the assumption that there can be at most countably many names). To counter this approach I develop a modal-substitutional semantics of plural quantification (on which plural variables, roughly speaking, range over ways names could be) and argue for its nominalistic acceptability.