Letter from the PSA President
Letter from the PSA President
March 5, 2021
Dear PSA members,
First, I am delighted and honored to be beginning my term this year as President of the Philosophy of Science Association (PSA). I believe that 1984 was the first time I attended a PSA meeting, and I certainly did not imagine then that almost 40 years later I would be contemplating the presentation of a Presidential Address. The PSA has been a source of professional inspiration, collaboration and friendship ever since, and I hope I will be able to repay a little of this in my work as President.
A New Home for the PSA
As most of you will know from reading the recent letter from our past-President, Alison Wylie, this has been a busy time for the Association. Perhaps the most significant activity has been the move of the PSA office from Baltimore to Cincinnati. This has also, sadly, meant saying goodbye to Jessica Pfeifer, whose service to the PSA you will also have read about in the richly deserved appreciations recently sent out from several presidents who worked with her.
It was something of a shock to realise that I would be starting my term as president as Jessica left, but happily we have found a more than capable replacement in our new Executive Director, Ryan Feigenbaum. Ryan could hardly be better qualified, coming to the PSA with a PhD in philosophy and history of biology and experience working for the History of Science Society, and he has already also shown us his exceptional IT skills, working with Jessica on the development of our wonderful new website, and on the mechanics of our very successful online colloquium on COVID last November. The PSA remains in excellent administrative hands.
Philosophy of Science Moves to Cambridge
Another major change is that Philosophy of Science, the Association’s thriving journal, is moving from Chicago to Cambridge University Press. Planning this move has involved a great deal of work by various colleagues, but has been rewarded with a deal with Cambridge that should keep the journal in great shape for the foreseeable future. I am delighted that the journal’s outstanding editor-in-chief, Andrea Woody, will extend her term of duty and remain at the helm at least for long enough to see the journal through the transition.
A New PSA
As Alison outlined in her letter, many other aspects of the PSA’s activities have been reviewed and reformed. The PSA has amicably but firmly separated itself from its relation to the History of Science Society in the organization of its biennial meetings, which has many advantages for us, but also puts a substantial new load on the executive office. We have been greatly expanding our online services and social media presence, looking at new ways to promote our discipline both at and outside the biennial meetings, and very actively exploring ways to improve the diversity and inclusiveness of our membership. All of these changes are intended to pursue a goal of making membership in the PSA an even more obvious assumption for anyone with a professional interest in the philosophy of science. Generally, the PSA is in excellent health, and I am extremely grateful to my predecessors, Alison and a number of presidents before her, who have worked so hard to bring us to this position.
There are, of course, challenges, most obviously at this point the response to the COVID pandemic. I do not need to tell any of you that we were forced to postpone the 2020 biennial meeting; and the biennial meetings are undoubtedly the high point of the PSA’s activities. Even now, we cannot be sure that it will be possible to hold the postponed meeting in Baltimore in November, though our working assumption is that this will go ahead. Given the continuing uncertainties and that some members may still feel uncomfortable about traveling (or simply be unable to travel) we recognize that this may well be a smaller meeting than usual and we are seeing what we can do to make possible some limited access to the conference activities online.
The Future of the Biennial Meeting
We are also looking ahead at a much wider question about the future of our biennial meetings. If there is something positive to come out of the pandemic it is perhaps that we have all been forced to confront the advantages and disadvantages of life online, and one familiar advantage is that it enables us to avoid some of the carbon cost of the considerable distances many of us fly. A committee chaired by Kerry McKenzie has been looking at ways we can reduce the carbon output of our activities. This committee is currently circulating a questionnaire to the membership asking your opinions about in-person versus online events, and I do ask you to try to find the time to fill this in. There are limits to what we can do for this year and 2022, simply because we are committed to hotel bookings and the cost of just adding full online accessibility parallel to this will be prohibitive. But we are open to explore all possibilities for 2024, including developing a meeting open to full participation both online and in-person, and the views of the membership are essential for this planning process.
The main challenge over the next two years will be the rather practical one of putting on two “biennial” meetings. (I do have the privilege of being, as far as I know, the only PSA President who will have had the honor of presiding at two meetings.) This, and a number of ongoing projects will keep Ryan and his staff very busy and I don’t want to add a great deal more to his burdens. This is more a moment for consolidation than to boldly go anywhere new, so I am not currently envisaging any major new initiatives.
Finally, let me once more thank Alison, Jessica, and many others in lesser but vital roles for leaving the PSA in such good shape. And let me wish all our members good health, rapid vaccination and a better year than the last.