General Philosophy of Science
History of Philosophy
COVID-19, other zoonotic diseases, and wildlife conservation
Quit blaming the pandemic on how poor people feed themselves. If we want to prevent future pandemics, we should rethink how rich people feed themselves. Yeah, I know John Oliver did a segment on this later on. You might as well watch that rather than reading my paper.
Waiting for the Anthropocene
Are we living in a new geological epoch? Maybe. Maybe not. But we definitely shouldn't go around confidently saying we are. Buzzwords aren't the solution to complex environmental and social problems.
Save the Planet: Eliminate Biodiversity
Biodiversity is a scientifically elusive entity. Worse, it misrepresents what we actually value in nature. Buzzwords aren't the solution to complex environmental and social problems.
Sometimes, when people don't get it the first time, you have to simplify the argument so they can get it the second time. In this one I come down hard on the gap between what biodiversity represents and what we actually value in nature.
Biodiversity is a chimera, and chimeras aren't real
Sometimes, when people don't get it the first or second time, you have to clarify the argument so they can get it the third time. In this one I explain, with constant reference to ecological examples, why biodiversity isn't a real entity or property you can find in the world.
Why do North American geological vandals, who destroy irreplaceable parts of nature, get off with a slap on the wrist, while African poachers, who kill endangered but usually replaceable parts of nature, face lengthy jail sentences or even death? That's a rhetorical question, but it should tell us that the biocentrism of much of environmentalism is morally problematic.
What's wrong with dogwhistles?
You know when a politician says something racist that isn't supposed to sound racist, like how comments about "inner city" crime are mean to evoke racist stereotypes about people of color? Linguists, philosophers, and the Twitterati call these dogwhistles or secret codes. I argue that that they're neither, because there's nothing secret about them.
How we can make good use of linguistic intuitions, even if they aren’t good evidence
Some theoretical linguistics makes use of "intuitions" as a source of data, but relying on intuition doesn't seem like good science. I argue that these intuitions aren't actually being used as evidence, they're just shorthand for shared background assumptions.
What is language?
This simple question can get linguists and philosophers of language really riled up. This paper is my attempt to get everyone to play nice. I highlight some ground rules that, if followed, allow everyone to have their own answer to the question.
Ambiguity in cooperative signaling
Why are biological signaling systems (including language) so ambiguous? Because organisms are lazy.
Let's not agree to disagree: the role of strategic disagreement in science
Should scientists play devils advocate for theories they don't really believe? Read this paper to find out, or just run the code for the simulation I use in the paper yourself.
Philosophers have been using mineralogical examples in debates about natural kinds forever. This is my attempt to show what would happen if these examples were informed by the science of mineralogy.
Why not all evidence is scientific evidence
Have you ever wondered why "I feel it in my gut!" or "My grandparents always said..." aren't permissible forms of evidence in science, even though your gut and your grandparents are usually right? I wrote this paper so you don't have to wonder anymore.
Three short commentaries on cultural evolution
In which I recount the early history of Nevada's richest silver mine.
The moral of the story: there should be no philosophical canon.
"Two opposite things placed near each other are the better discerned": Philosophical readings of Cavendish's literary output
Historians of philosophy tend to dismiss Cavendish's plays and novel as not worth our attention because they don't look like philosophy. That's sexist! When male philosophers write in fictional genres, we take them seriously. Moreover, there's some good stuff in Cavendish's fiction. You can't honestly tell me you're not interested in a play called "The Convent of Pleasure" or a sci-fi novel called "Blazing World."