Last Friday I attended a seminar at Oregon State University titled, “The Rise and Fall of Philosophy in Ecology: Why and How to Put the Ph Back in your PhD.” (A PhD historically meant a doctorate in philosophy). The talk was given by an associate professor from the University of Houston who has a PhD from the University of Notre Dame. The lecture was largely built around an analysis of the number of papers that have been written over the last few decades with ecology and philosophy in their titles. After a lively discussion between the speaker and the audience about how to analyze the data and what the results would look like if the data were normalized according to the total number of papers written through the decades, they could not conclude with certainty that there has been a rise or a fall in the number of papers over the decades with ecology and philosophy in the title. One thing from the lecture was clear, however: philosophers of science and scientists are doing different things, and they do not, and maybe cannot, interact very well; although a number of ways that ecology could benefit from philosophy were presented.
The most interesting moment for me came during the question-and-answer session when a scientist mentioned that a few years back he had hired a liberal arts student. He said that the student read and wrote well and that he was particularly good at logical arguments. In other words, the liberal arts student adapted well to that particular work situation. The professor observed that scientists and science students are generally not very good at logic. The discussion then moved to how to improve the logic skills of science students. Someone immediately suggested that science students should be required to take a logic course, but it was not clear to the participants that such a course would solve the problem.
In 2010, I wrote an article for Gutenberg’s News & Views newsletter about why I thought that a Gutenberg education was actually the best curriculum for someone interested in science. The discussion at Oregon State provided a clear example of what I was talking about.