Figure out faulty thinking

January 15, 2009

Much as I'd like it to be true that philosophy is becoming much more popular with employers ("More things in heaven and earth, Horatio", 1 January), the main evidence is based on a sloppy reading of Higher Education Statistics Agency (Hesa) statistics, which was taken apart in The Philosophers' Magazine last year.

You state that the number of students choosing to study philosophy has risen 10 per cent since 2002-03, but this is less impressive when you consider that, in that time, the number of graduates for all subjects has risen by 10.6 per cent.

The feature also says that the number of philosophy graduates in full- or part-time employment six months after graduation rose by 13 per cent over the same period, but this is almost entirely because of the rise in student numbers. The percentage going into employment remains virtually unchanged at 63.1 per cent, compared with 62.4 per cent in 2002-03. This compares with an average for all graduates in 2005-06 of 73.7 per cent.

This perpetuates a misreading of the Hesa statistics that was first propagated in The Guardian on 20 November last year, despite the fact that Hesa's press officer stated that "there is no appreciable change in the percentage of philosophy leavers in employment".

The feature quotes Barry Smith, who said: "Philosophers are very good at pointing out faulty thinking and are in general better equipped than most to detect bullshit." It would be interesting to know how many spotted this stinker.

Julian Baggini, Editor, The Philosophers' Magazine.

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