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where's the inequality?

Regarding the people who fall into this category and *only* this category: "It also seems rational that even if you have none of these factors, you want to be cautious: from a preprint of a study that had surprisingly little media coverage, we have reasons to believe repeated infections with Covid make one increasingly vulnerable to burdensome health conditions such as diabetes, stroke and heart disease."

What is the inequality here? There is a gamble on the table (infection and possible longterm illness vs benefits of a conference) and some people want to take that gamble and others don't. Everyone is being offered the same gamble: isn't it just that some people are more risk averse? I don't see any inequality here: the world can't be such that people of different risk aversion all receive the same outcome.


I second Where’s The’s question.

Some of my colleagues live pretty far away. They report missing the days of department meetings online. For various reasons they want to live further away (often schools and more space - they aren’t lacking the means to live in a smaller place nearer work). Commuting is annoying and inconvenient. But it’s hard to see an inequality here. Isn’t this on a par?

But that aside. I try to offer zoom options wherever I can for events and classes. But the truth of it is, I don’t have the high tech provided. I don’t have a second person keeping an eye on hands raised on zoom, I don’t have a nice microphone that picks up questions from the back of the room. The experience is crap and the extra work is truly a pain. I’d have a lot more patience for this quandary if I were better resourced.

Shelley Lynn Tremain

I have written a post at BIOPOLITICAL PHILOSOPHY on related themes. The post can be found here: https://biopoliticalphilosophy.com/2022/06/13/about-the-ableism-that-conditions-your-criticisms-of-zoom/?fbclid=IwAR0fZYyg6IvGpE4mZD7i82XVi6MjJ7RSMJJLEIg8st2J9tcJFQ1mkP4g-XM

Isaac Jiang, Melinda Hall, and I recently presented a virtual panel to the annual philoSOPHIA conference, which was hybrid this year. I thought the conference organizers did an excellent job of ensuring that virtual participants were recognized and participated in the Q and As, etc.

Shelley Tremain

more info

I have been super cautious and have not attended any conference since the beginning of the pandemic. Neither have I dined in at any restaurant except outdoors. My problem is that I cannot find any information about how to be rationally less cautious. Almost all information I can find online assumes the audience to be not cautious, and it tries to persuade people to be serious about covid.

I really want to be back to normal. I saw posts on social media about in-person conferences. Those participants seemed really happy. I miss that a lot. But I just do not know. For example, have they had covid already? How many of them would get covid from such conferences? What is the odd? Do they have kids? Have their kids had covid before? Do they have any long covid symptoms?

I know it is a gamble. But I need to collect enough information to make my decision. And I really want to hear the reasoning and thoughts from those who are back to normal.

Dan Weiskopf

I'm honestly surprised at the first two questions here. In their opening salvo, "WTI?" pointedly narrows the focus of the debate to "only" people who have none of the disadvantages that are the main concern of the original post. Doing this imagines that the model member of the profession is someone who is in a stable, well-salaried position, who is provided with adequate health care, who is not disabled or chronically ill (or susceptible to being either), and who has generally a good economic and social safety net for themselves and their dependents. This is the kind of person for whom trading off conference attendance versus the personal, individual risk of getting Covid can be framed as simply a matter of varying "risk aversion."

But the whole point of the post is to resist narrowing our attention to this fictional model of who an academic is. As Helen quite correctly points out, there are a lot of people who were and are already disadvantaged for whom the social and professional pressure to return to in-person conferences, without alternate accommodations, will create even greater inequalities. They will increasingly not be seen or heard by their colleagues in some of the forums that provide the greatest prestige and opportunity for advancement. And some of them will likely be driven out of a profession that is unwilling to create ways for them to participate in it as fully as is possible.

None of this is (or should be) news. These professional inequalities have always existed. But Covid magnifies and entrenches them, as well as creating many people newly disabled by the disease itself. I don't know anyone who is happy with the present state of virtual or hybrid conferencing, which was cobbled together in emergency circumstances and largely not built to be permanent technosocial infrastructure. The resources to do it well, as ZF notes, are usually not provided. But not trying to build better systems that will remedy these inequalities--let alone not even acknowledging them--isn't an acceptable alternative.

Cecil Burrow

If you want 'reasoning and thoughts from those who are back to normal', I think you will find the reasoning largely unsurprising - as someone otherwise healthy and vaccinated and who has already caught covid (with nothing more than a few days of mild sniffles), I judge the risk to be low enough that I'm completely happy to live the life I was living pre-covid.


More Info, this can’t be a way to live a life. I never saw much in William James on belief, but I think you have persuaded me. There will never be enough evidence. If you are genuinely in a high risk group, fair enough. For all those in that category, I want to contribute to better options and I’m actively pushing my school to get the resources in place. But in the meantime if you are merely being hyper cautious you aren’t tracking risks in a way that seems remotely reasonable. I bet you don’t wear a helmet in the car.


@ZoomFatigue I think you might be misinformed about the long covid numbers (or maybe you just disvalue getting long covid less than More Info does)--the long covid numbers are pretty bad! And even the consequences we know about are pretty bad, but there's a good chance we don't know about more long-term damage. (And one needn't be in a high risk group to get long covid.)

Here's info about a CDC study (with 2 million people): https://www.nytimes.com/2022/05/24/health/long-covid-infections.html

Filippo Contesi

I agree with Shelley Tremain above. I continue to organize fully online events, and when I can uploading the talks on YouTube. I have also been in multiple hybrid events which worked excellently, and am organizing an hybrid event myself at the moment. The tech isn’t too expensive or complicated to use. The easiest effective way is to use a microphone for each in-person participant, even simply one or two wireless handheld ones. I encourage colleagues to continue making their academic events and work more widely accessible and sustainable, and to consider signing the Online Accessibility Pledge:


Assistant Professor

To the points Helen raises in the post: I appreciate bringing attention to how our profession needs to better address all kinds of inequities about how the profession functions, including the norms of conferencing and travel (which could result in health risks for some, or financial insecurity for others, or family hardship for others, or carbon emissions for all) and how the profession can both retain what works about conferencing and be innovative about new ways of doing some of the things conferencing is supposed to do (and may or may not succeed at) without the inequities it raises.

To the conversation about rational risk assessment: part of the challenge is that information is constantly emerging and evolving and is far from static, so one piece is about rationally weighing known risks and benefits - which will be different for everyone based on their own circumstances and also based on how much they weigh risks to others in their own decision-making) and one piece is about how to weigh the possibility of unknown risks (and possibly unknown benefits) of any given choice. It strikes me that philosophy should be a field that helps shape thinking and conversations about this - and not just deferring to other disciplines to theorize about this (economics seems to have really taken a prominent role in how the public is thinking about these things, for better or worse).


@Dan...I'm not sure why you're surprised.

Helen is worried about inequity in the discipline falling upon various groups as a result of missing talks in virtue of covid risks—a good thing to be worried about. However, one of the groups she lists is the (rationally?) risk averse. (I add that that group is explicitly listed as an independent group—not merely as a confounding factor that might apply to the other groups listed: "...It also seems rational that even if you have none of these factors...")

How is it not reasonable to ask whether that group belongs on the list? It is not a small group. (In my department, it is certainly the largest group of individuals reluctant to return to how things used to be—rightly or wrongly.) It also isn't at all obvious that they belong on the list.

And, for what it's worth, asking this certainly doesn't require, as you state, imagining anything at all about who the typical academic is.

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