Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Many thanks to Cardiff University

. . . for the superb philosophy of punishment workshop yesterday at the Cardiff Law School (organized by Jules Holroyd). There were wonderful papers and I am very grateful for the excellent feedback.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Ranking philosophy journals

I will be off tomorrow to Cardiff University for a workshop on theories of punishment (where I'll be presenting my "The Unified Theory of Punishment" a view I've been working on for several years), but when I come back I believe it is time to re-consider the rankings of philosophy journals. Expect to see a new post from me on rankings -- a topic that has seemed to go quiet for a while now, but very likely to become more lively as faculties look at diverse ways of simplifying how they assess the quality of colleagues' work. While I do not endorse any rankings, I have several thoughts on how they might be done better and what such lists might look like. So expect more soon.....

The Yeovil Ninja

No, really. Details here. Vigilante justice? Or the Big Society solution to reduced police numbers?

Research council accused of failing to satisfactorily consult

The story concerns the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) and its recent decisions on funding. Imperial College chemist Anthony Barrett is reported in Research Fortnightly stating here that:

"[. . .] But talking to Research Fortnight Today, Barrett said Delpy’s response did not give the evidence of consultation or methods of prioritisation which the group had called for.

Barrett asked Delpy to provide the evidence in a letter on 23 August, after both the Royal Society of Chemistry and the Institute of Physics said they had not been consulted.

“He has not yet answered these key points and we will press him to answer,” Barrett told Research Fortnight Today. “As a former scientist, he should know to share data with colleagues, when he makes statements.”

Although the letter, published on the EPSRC website on 25 August, listed the types of sources called on it did not provide the supporting documents requested by Barrett and colleagues.

Barrett said his group would respond with “a total rejection of his statement” in the next few days, adding that there was “utterly no evidence whatsoever” that the EPSRC consulted anyone outside its own ranks.

Delpy’s letter defended the council’s ability to make such decisions.

“While I stand by the way EPSRC has used external evidence and advice to inform our decision making, I would also like to stress the expertise and knowledge of our staff in managing research funding and portfolios,” he said. [. . .]"

It would be interesting to learn more about whether research councils are genuinely better informed in getting "external evidence and advice" (but not from bodies, such as the Royal Society of Chemistry). Why not take advice from leading learned societies on major funding decisions? I can understand looking to other viewpoints, but no engagement? I will follow the story closely....

Friday, August 26, 2011

New books received

. . . include the following:

Thomas Docherty, For the University: Democracy and the Future of the Instituion. London: Bloomsbury Academic, 2011.
Stephen M. Gardiner, A Perfect Moral Storm: The Ethical Tragedy of Climate Change. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011.

William Golding, The Inheritors. London: Faber & Faber, 1955.

Will Hutton, Them and Us: Changing Britain - Why We Need a Fair Society. London: Little, Brown, 2010.

Donna Leon, Death at La Fenice. London: Arrow Books, 1992.

Deborah Mattinson, Talking to a Brick Wall: How New Labour Stopped Listening to teh Voter and Why We Need a New Politics. London: Biteback, 2010.

Chris Mullin, Decline & Fall: Diaries 2005-2010. London: Profile Books, 2010.
Eric A. Posner and David Weisbach, Climate Change Justice. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2010.

Jonathan Powell, The New Machiavelli: How to Wield Power in the Modern World. London: Vintage, 2010.

Jeffrey Sachs, Common Wealth: Economics for a Crowded Planet. London: Penguin, 2008.

Andrew Ross Sorkin, Too Big to Fail: Inside the Battle to Save Wall Street. London: Penguin, 2009.

Changing behavior may require more than a "nudge"

. . . or so argues Baroness Neuberger here (at "Lords of the Blogs") after chairing an inquiry looking into "nudge" theory and social policy.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Conference: Justice and Climate Change

Justice and Climate Change

Centre for the Study of Social Justice
Department of Politics and International Relations
University of Oxford

9th-10th September 2011

Friday 9th September

9.30 - 9.45 Welcome

9.45 - 11.00 Henry Shue (Oxford University) ‘Climate Hope: Fair Shares in the Exit Strategy’

11.00 - 11.15 Coffee

11.15 - 12.30 Darrel Moellendorf (San Diego State University) ‘The Right to Sustainable Development and the UNFCCC’

12.30 - 1.30 Lunch

1.30 – 2.45 Mathias Risse (Harvard University) ‘Climate Change and Common Ownership of the Earth’

2.45 - 4.00 Nicole Hassoun (Carnegie Mellon University) ‘Debt-for-Climate Swaps’

4.00 - 4.15 Coffee

4.15 - 5.30 Simon Caney (Oxford University) ‘Justice, Equality and the Distribution of Rights to Emit Greenhouse Gases’

Saturday 10th September

9.40 – 10.55 Edward Page (Warwick University) ’Unjust Enrichment and Global Climate Change: a Defence of the Beneficiary-Pays Principle’

10.55 – 11.15 Coffee

11.15 - 12.30 Paula Casal (Pompeu Fabra University) ‘Conservative and Conservationist Sufficiency’

12.30 - 1.30 Lunch

1.30 – 2.45 Robyn Eckersley (Melbourne University) ‘Moving Forward in the Climate Negotiations: Multilateralism or Minilateralism?’

2.45 - 4.00 Luc Bovens (London School of Economics) ‘A Lockean Defense of Grandfathering Emission Rights’

4.00 - 4.15 Coffee

4.15 - 5.30 John Roemer (Yale University) ‘North - South Convergence and the Allocation of CO2 Emissions’

Attendance is free. To attend please e.mail Simon Caney (

Location: Lecture Theatre, Manor Road Building, Manor Road, Oxford.

Funded by the ESRC

What is like to be MP for a week?

Play this game and find out!

New crime novels received

Readers may know that I'm a major crime novel and tv drama buff (as well as a major Poirot fan). While I normally note new books in ethics, government, philosophy, and public policy received, some readers may be interested in the following crime novels received (all classics):

Mary Elizabeth Braddon, Lady Audley's Secret. London: Atlantic Books, [1862] 2009.

G. K. Chesterton, The Man Who Was Thursday. London: Atlantic Books, [1908] 2008.

Erskine Childers, The Riddle of the Sands. London: Atlantic Books, [1903] 2009.

Charles Dickens, Bleak House. London: Atlantic Books, [1852-53] 2008.

Arthur Conan Doyle, Favourite Sherlock Holmes Stories: Selected by the Author. London: Atlantic Books, 2009.

Gerald Griffin, The Collegians. London: Atlantic Books, [1829] 2008.

Ernest William Hornung, Raffles. London: Atlantic Books, [1899] 2008.

J. Sheridan Le Fanu, Wylder's Hand. London: Atlantic Books, [1864] 2009.

Edgar Allan Poe, The Murders in the Rue Morgue. London: Atlantic Books, [1841] 2009.

Sapper [Herman Cyril McNeile], Bulldog Drummond. London: Atlantic Books, [1920] 2008.

The latest UK campaign finance figures

. . . can be found here and make for an interesting read.

Is the UK a safe port in an economic storm?

An excellent rebuff by the BBC Economics Editor Stephanie Flanders to George Osborne's insistence that the UK is a safe haven in difficult economic times. The story can be found here and highly recommended.

Indeed, perhaps the UK economy is a safe haven . . . but from economic growth. Let us hope this changes soon notwithstanding the damaging policies being agreed by the present government.

A pledge to end fraternity hazing

. . . from the Cornell University president in today's New York Times here.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Another headache for the Prime Minister

The BBC reports here that "Andy Coulson, the former editor of the News of the World who has been arrested on suspicion of involvement in phone hacking and bribing the police, received several hundred thousand pounds from News International after starting work as the Conservative Party's Director of Communications in July 2007."

If these allegations are substantiated, then it will give this story yet more legs and raise further questions about the Prime Minister's judgement. The government will be hoping for encouraging news on employment figures and Libya before Parliament returns from its summer recess. This is the politically damaging story that refuses to go away . . . .

Andrew Vincent on "Ideology and the University"

. . . in the current issue of Political Quarterly (found here - subscription-only). An abstract:

"Ideology underpins recent transformations of British universities; it forms an unquestioned backdrop to policy-making. The ideology at issue is a market-based neo-liberalism—accompanied by a doctrinaire private-sector managerialism. Universities employing this ideology envision it as common sense. The ideology is thus not proselytised, but rather structures the vernacular of university speech. In reality it is a highly politicised ideology masquerading as a managerial reality. Its effect on universities has been profoundly destructive. The dignified public good of higher education has now become a huckstering marketised mechanism. What is so perplexing is the quiescence of universities. The ideology is so hegemonic that it appears exempt from criticism. University administrators are now quite unapologetic ideological functionaries and we need to relearn how to criticise those who manage us. Ultimately no ideology lasts, this present one will be supplanted, the question is what level of damage to civil and intellectual life will it inflict?"

Monday, August 22, 2011

Libya prediction

. . . is that events are moving very fast. There are reports that Libya's state television programme has been taken by rebels and much more. I don't think it would a stretch to predict that Libya will have a new government by this time next week. Syria may well follow, although it's anyone's guess as to when.

The link between birth weight and future health

Fascinating analysis here from BBC Health.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Friday, August 19, 2011

Newcastle Philosophy Society to launch new Festival of Philosophy!

Details are here and I'm delighted to be taking part. There are several distinguished figures participating and not least Mary Midgley.

My talk is scheduled for Wednesday, 12th October from 14.00-16.00 in King's Gate, Newcastle University.

"The Community and Me: The Importance of Recognition"
A discussion about the importance of our feeling we have a stake in society, something that arises through mutual recognition and the construction of our social identities. The talk would make some use of major philosophers, particularly Kant and Hegel, and relate these insights to concrete problems in current affairs.

Global Poverty Workshop in Oslo

We invite global poverty experts from all disciplines to participate in "Building Consensus on Global Poverty", a workshop hosted by Professor Thomas Pogge that will take place in Oslo on Sep 3-4 under the auspices of the Centre for the Study of Mind in Nature (UiO).

The goal of this meeting is twofold: launching the Academics Stand Against Poverty (ASAP) network in Norway and launching a new ASAP initiative called the Global Poverty Consensus Report.

Background: Academics Stand Against Poverty (ASAP) is a new international organization of scholars and teachers that aims to increase the impact of academics on global poverty through promoting and supporting collaboration, public outreach and policy intervention. ASAP members include moral and political theorists, economists, environmental scientists, public health experts, and scholars from a range of other disciplines.

The Global Poverty Consensus Report (GPCR), is a project aimed at building an inclusive academic consensus on what ought and can be done to alleviate global poverty -- a consensus that will feed into ongoing international discussions about the replacement of the Millennium Development Goals. For more information:

Professor Pogge will chair the workshop, and participants will be asked to share their ideas for developing ASAP and the GPCR project.

The main results of our discussions in Oslo will be presented at a public event on the evening of September 4th with Ashok Acharya, Alberto Cimadamore, and Thomas Pogge, among others, participating as panelists.

The Oslo conference will be closely followed by a "twin" conference in New-Delhi on Oct. 20th. This second meeting will be dedicated to building and shaping the ASAP network in India as well as to continuing the discussion started in Oslo on the Global Poverty Consensus Report. Both conferences are co-sponsored by CSMN and CROP (Comparative Research Programme on Poverty, UiBergen).

Place: University of Oslo, Blindern Campus (more precise details to follow soon).

Time: Saturday, Sept. 3, 1 p.m. to 5 p.m., with buffet and reception to follow; Sunday, Sept. 4, from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., with dinner to follow.

Since there is limited seating available we will prioritize registrants based on disciplinary diversity and time of registration.

For questions and registration contact: Knut-Eric Joslin

For the full call for participation go to:

For the conference agenda go to:

For more information on ASAP:

The Brooks Blog in top 50 ranking of philosophy blogs

. . . and listed #1 here. The website notes:

"Thom Brooks is a Reader in Political and Legal Philosophy at Newcastle University in the U.K., yet his blog site receives more visits from the States than the rest of the world combined. His easy-to-read blog posts have recently concerned Sarah Palin, baldness and extra sensory perception – but not all at the same time!"

This is certainly true (even if I would rank other blogs much higher)!

LinkedIn milestone

Are readers on LinkedIn? My LinkedIn website here is approaching a new milestone -- do "connect" if you use the website.

What do you want to be when you grow up?

My answer was lead guitarist in Kiss, but others often had very different career goals. In today's Guardian, the paper notes that the answer of 84% of 16 year olds (in the UK) is "I want to be famous" although half could not say why they would be famous. Fame for its own sake. How depressing.

New York Times on the UK response to riots

Details here and heavy criticisms.

My advice for politicians on the recent UK riots

There has been no shortage of advice on offer to politicians on the riots although much soul searching remains on how best to respond.

I believe that politicians of all parties could have responded much better. A problem is that many party leaders did what they do normally: offer top-down solutions. We had images of politicians in suits visiting damaged businesses and homes. The idea was surely - amongst other ideas - to look like they were "doing" something about the problem in listening to the public's reaction. This response could be expected, but leaders of each party has missed a trick.

My advice for politicians on the recent UK riots would be to act differently. They should have traded their suits and ties for a jumper and a pair of jeans. Instead of asking the public about their views in a chat on the street, party leaders should have held the discussion with brooms in hand. Why not talk about how to address the damage done as you help clear up the mess?

Think about the publicity and positive message that could have been sent by Ed Miliband if he was paraded about clearing up debris and helping clean London's streets. An opportunity missed. (If only I was a member of his advisory team....)

The problem now is that the politicians all look and appear the same in the clothes they wear, the shops visited, and confused (and often lacking in substance) responses to how we might best avoid a future riot. No doubt Miliband has responded best and benefitted politically, but it could have been even better.

Is the party over?

The BBC has interesting analysis of the declining membership of UK political parties over the last few decades here.

Political party membership had once been high, but now about 1% of the UK population belongs to a political party. The BBC provides these estimated figures:

1951 Conservative 2.9m - Labour 876,000

1971 Conservative 1.3m - Labour 700,000
1981 Conservative 1.2m - Labour 277,000
1991 Conservative 1m to 0.5m - Labour 261,000 - Lib Dem 91,000
2001 Conservative 311,000 - Labour 272,000 - Lib Dem 73,000
2011 Conservative 177,000 - Labour 190,000 - Lib Dem - 66,000
(Source: Estimates based on party reports and House of Commons Library)

These numbers are nothing like what you find in the US. One major difference is that US political party membership is free. Party membership is not free in the UK: membership can cost as much as £40 per year.
British political parties are becoming the bodies that provide the public with its politicians, but to which the public does not formally belong. This is a worrying development that has become more problematic especially over the last 30 years.
What to do? Well, I'd recommend that readers join me in supporting the Labour Party. Membership information can be found here.

Martha Nussbaum on democracy and the humanities

Details here.

51% of UK voters believe the Conservative Party appeals to only one section of society

The link can be found here (PDF). This is more bad news for the government.

We also learn that while the great majority of UK voters believe the government is not doing a good job - support is 80% amongst Conservative Party members. This suggests that their perception of the government is at great odds -- perhaps opposite -- the perception of most in society.

This statistic may concern Conservative Party leaders. There have been great efforts to "re-brand" (and detoxify) the Tory brand to the broader electorate, led by former PR man (now Prime Minister) David Cameron. These efforts involved claims that the Tories were the party of the NHS and a criminal justice position of "hug a hoodie" amongst other ideas. I half suspected that these efforts may have worked given the strong views of party leaders for party uniformity on core issues.

The problem may lie with the austerity measures. The Conservative Party's critics are always quick to label the party's policies as "slash and burn": cut public services in the name of "waste" and "new efficiencies" and sell off public assets to private firms at rock bottom prices. However unfair such allegations the government has -- for one reason or another -- moved forward with major cuts in public spending which only adds fuel to the standard criticisms.

The austerity measures seem to be undermining several years of hard work by Cameron & co. to re-brand the Conservative Party. While I don't yet believe the party is beyond the point of no return, the majority of austerity measures are to kick in shortly. If the government cannot win over more hearts and minds over the next 6-8 months, then I would suspect that Cameron's efforts to sell a "modern" Conservative Party (complete with scrawled tree party symbol) will not have worked.

The poll numbers are not too troubling yet for the Conservative Party (they are of great concern for Liberal Democrats), but this is primarily because the greater opinion poll support for Labour has not yet materialized in full at the ballot box. If support for Labour were to remain at similar poll levels and "harden" come election day, then we might expect a new Labour government (with a thin, but overall, majority).

While it may be early days, there is no room for complacency in the Tory party. Labour must harden its support; Conservatives must work much more to argue "we're in it together" and that they are a national party representing a broad part of the country. Liberal Democrats? Something bordering on sheer panic. Most essential is that they may require a charismatic new leader to replace Clegg (and instead of Huhne). And fast.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Evidence-based public policy on criminal justice

. . . when will it happen? A highly interesting analysis here looking at the current (and previous) government(s).

There seems one possible explanation: public policy is too often made in reaction mode chasing newspaper headlines, where there always seems further bad news to report on criminal activity (even where crime is at historically low levels).

How can any government expect criminals to be deterred by hastily determined (and often incoherent) policies drawn in reaction to media organization attempts to attract customers and advertising revenue?

Stefan Collini on British higher education

Details here and mandatory reading. It beautifully summarises the many proposals in recent decades and why there are particular concerns with present policies of the current government. Excerpts:

"[. . .] It became clear during this period that the government had made a serious miscalculation even on its own premises. We now know that when the decision was taken to replace the block grant with a loan system, the Treasury (presumably the real driving force behind the change) calculated that the initial expenditure on loans would more or less match current expenditure on the teaching grant if the average fee were no higher than £7500. But the Treasury had assumed that the Office for Fair Access (Offa), which oversees universities’ admissions policies, had the legal power to dictate how much a given university could charge, ensuring that fees would be kept down to the desired average level. But Offa has no such legal power, as its director was obliged to ‘remind’ the government. A great many universities were setting fees of £9000 (as anyone could have told the government they would). It slowly dawned on the government that not only was the scheme not going to reduce expenditure; it was actually going to be a lot more expensive than the present system. Whether one is broadly in favour of the new fee regime or not, there can be no denying that the policy-making process in the last eight months has been a shambles. [. . .]

The White Paper is silent on the damage this will do in terms of course closures and academic job losses; presumably it thinks academics can be re-employed at piece-rates by private providers. And this is only the beginning: in each succeeding year, we are told, the ‘core’ will shrink and the ‘margin’ will expand. [. . .]

This is a naked example of the use of state power to entrench hierarchy in the name of ‘market principles’. By effectively ruling that a large number of universities must charge considerably less than the level it has legally permitted institutions to charge, the government is constructing a system that is bound to reinforce existing social inequalities. All the research shows that children at private schools have dramatically better chances of obtaining AAB at A-level than those at state schools. Now the universities they get into will be much better resourced as well. Perhaps it isn’t surprising that at this point the White Paper falls silent about its goal, much trumpeted elsewhere, of increasing ‘social mobility’. [. . .]

But these financial calculations do not go to the root of the matter. The inescapable conclusion is that this huge gamble with one of the world’s most successful systems of higher education is being taken in order to bring universities to heel. From the mid-1980s, when the minister responsible for higher education, Robert Jackson, complained that universities were frustrating government efforts to ‘reform’ them by acting as a ‘cartel of producer interests’, successive administrations have sought for ways to make universities conform to their will. But these efforts have run up against the tension at the heart of all higher education policy. Whatever other functions societies have from time to time required universities to fulfil, they are primarily institutions devoted to extending and deepening human understanding, and if they are to do this successfully, students and teachers must be allowed to pursue whatever lines of inquiry seem likely to be most fertile without being entirely constrained by immediate practical outcomes. All kinds of benefit may flow to the host society from such inquiry, but will only do so via a route that is indirect and at one remove. This makes good universities maddeningly resistant to the government wish that they contribute more directly to current policy objectives, and the resistance is all the more maddening since universities are the recipients of large amounts of public money. [. . .]

Christine O'Donnell walks out on CNN interview with Piers Morgan

Details here. O'Donnell walks off when questioned about her views on gay marriage and witchcraft. Many a political candidate have been able to recast themselves post-election defeat. I will be very surprised if she runs for the US Senate again.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Punishment workshop

. . . at Cardiff University on 30th August. Speakers include Thom Brooks, Matthew Kramer, and Jules Holroyd. The conference website is here. I'm really looking forward to the event!

Research Councils and consultations

More news on the EPSRC from Research Fortnightly here. It has been reported that two major learned societies -- the Institute of Physics and the Royal Society of Chemistry -- have criticised an EPSRC statement that claimed these bodoes had been consulted about new funding plans.

The funding plans concern decisions on which research areas will grow -- and which will be reduced. The Institute of Physics and Royal Society of Chemistry have claimed that they were not consulted about these decisions.

David Phillips (President, Royal Society of Chemistry) said: “I think we were just told what they were going to do—there was no real negotiation or consultation . . . It depends on how you define consulting, but to me it means that you have some influence on the outcome of the deliberation.”

Academics voice criticisms of EPSRC over proposed project studentship cuts

Details here from the Times Higher. The Times Higher reports that the number of PhD studentships awarded by this research council will fall by more than 1,000 to 1,900 in 2011-12.

It will be interesting to see if there are any changes made to the EPSRC's delivery plan. The AHRC faced unprecedented criticism over its inclusion of the "Big Society" several times in its delivery plan spelling out strategic research funding priorities. More than 4,000 academics signed a petition calling for the "Big Society" (a Conservative Party campaign slogan) to be removed which was supported by over 30 learned societies. The AHRC refused calls for change and several dozen senior members of the AHRC Peer Review College resigned en masse as a result.

Chi Onwurah on "cynical postmodernism" and the UK riots

Details here. More reasons to reject postmodernism from one of Newcastle's MPs...

Analysis on London riots: Nick Clegg on BBC Radio

The interview is particularly interesting towards the end.

New books received

New books received in July include:

Patrick Curry, Ecological Ethics: An Introduction, 2nd rev. ed. Cambridge: Polity, 2011.
Thomas Docherty, For the University: Democracy and the Future of the Institution. London: Bloomsbury Academic, 2011.

A. Raghuramuraju, Modernity in Indian Social Theory. New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2011.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

London council to pay university fees of poorest teens

Details here.

Who follows your tweets?

For all fellow Twitter users:

You can discover information about where your followers at (Mine are about 60% in the UK, 20% in the US, 5% in Canada, etc)

My twitter profile is here.