Poster: Contributions of Women to 20th Century Philosophy of Science


Dan Hicks


October 23, 2018

I’m going to be presenting in the poster session at the Philosophy of Science Association meeting in Seattle next month. You can get the poster here and I’m going to try embedding it below.

This is the inaugural project for the CompHOPOS dataset, which aims to be a comprehensive dataset of journal articles (and some book chapters!) in philosophy of science. This project has also let me develop my skills with topic models — especially giant topic models (20,000 documents x 10,000 terms in the vocabulary). And I figured out how to cross-apply a method from bibliometrics in order to identify “germinal papers,” papers written before a topic emerges as a recognizable subfield.

When we were finalizing the poster this weekend, my coauthor Evelyn Brister asked me what I found “most surprising” in this analysis. We ended up cutting that out due to space, so I thought it would make a good blog post.

It’s not really surprising to me, but it’s notable that women have made early contributions across the range of subfields of philosophy of science. I think there’s a perception that women have mostly been “confined” to feminism and philosophy of biology. None of the women with the most germinal papers (Table 1 and Figure A in the poster) are known for their work in feminist philosophy (though some are feminists as well as philosophers). And several are notable for their work in philosophy of physics, math, or statistics. Similarly, it’s notable that the areas in which women have been the most prominent early contributors (Table 2 and Figure B in the poster) include both general philosophy of science (“continental drift” is more general than its label suggests) and non-biological sciences such as cognitive science. Another version of Table 2/Figure B, which focused on counts of women-authored papers rather than share, included some areas of philosophy of physics.

Another notable thing is that many historically important women are still alive today. The timeline makes it clear that the 1970s was an extremely important period in the history of philosophy of science, and one that — as far as I know — hasn’t been the subject of much historical work. We have a very limited amount of time to collect an oral history of the period. It would be great for philosophy of science’s professional societies — the PSA, the Women’s Caucus, HOPOS — to sponsor this research.