Saturday, May 14, 2011
Of Editors and Hemlock
Via Brian Leiter, the editors-in-chief of Synthese have "responded" to the petition demanding an explanation of their behavior in the matter of the "disclaimer" appended to the print edition of the special issue of Synthese entitled "Evolution and Its Rivals." Here is some background.
The petition read:
To: Editors-in-Chief of SyntheseStrangely, the statement was put on line in a format in which it could not be easily copied and pasted. I've corrected that and below is the statement in full. Let's see how well they have "responded" to the petition.
We, as members of the philosophical community, call upon the Editors-in-Chief of Synthese to:
1. Respond forthrightly to the allegations in the 'open letter' from Glenn Branch and James Fetzer, the Guest Editors of the special issue on "Evolution and Its Rivals" (their open letter is available here).
2. Apologize to the Guest Editors and the contributors for the unprofessional manner in which this issue, and the insertion of a "disclaimer," were handled.
3. Retract the "disclaimer" in a subsequent print edition of Synthese.
4. Disclose the nature of complaints and/or legal threats from Francis Beckwith, his supporters, and supporters of Intelligent Design that were received by the Editors-in-Chief after the on-line publication of "Evolution and Its Rivals" last year.
In response to the petition sent to Synthese:Hmm! No mention one way or another about an apology or a retraction of the disclaimer.
We have considered the demands contained in this petition very seriously. We have implemented a moratorium on new special issues and we have begun planning appropriate changes to the editorial procedures of Synthese.
The petition asks for full disclosure of all legal threats. There have not been any communications received from Christian philosophers that constituted legal threats. There was a single email from a member of the public expressing the view that the entire special issue was 'scurrilous and libelous'. We did not consider this email to be a legal threat. It is important to note that this email was received after our initial contacts with Professor Beckwith.
As far as meaningful legal action is concerned, we have received messages that we take seriously as legal threats but these have not come from Christian philosophers. Our ability to provide detailed responses in the blogs is constrained by these challenges.
Professor Beckwith requested an opportunity to respond to Professor Forrest's paper. We agreed that this was a fair course of action. As regards the inclusion of our editorial statement and the email correspondence with Professor Forrest, it is true that there was considerable discussion between the editors of all aspects of the special issue. We took these matters very seriously and as is often the case with serious deliberation there were some oscillations prior to our reaching a conclusion. Eventually the editors arrived at a shared position, in consultation with the publisher, based on what we judged to be the offending language in two papers.
With respect to the claim that the guest editors were given assurances that no editorial statement would appear, it is true that the guest editors were privy to internal discussions between the editors-in-chief at earlier stages. We were unable to properly communicate later stages of our decision-making process to the guest editors.
We are ultimately responsible for what appears in the journal and we decided to publish the special issue without amendment to any of its papers. We wish to emphasize that our editorial statement should in no way be interpreted as an endorsement of 'intelligent design'.
At this point, we have a duty to help create procedures to prevent situations of the sort we saw here from recurring. Thus, in consultation with the publisher, we have begun planning a transition to improved editorial procedures and improved oversight which will be in place in 2012. We will work closely with our board of area editors and our advisory board to make this happen.
Johan van Benthem
There were "oscillations" (what a pretty -- and unforthright -- euphemism!) in their "editorial deliberations." The "guest editors were privy to internal discussions," until, for some unspecified reason, the editors were no longer able to "properly communicate later stages of our decision-making process to the guest editors." Reading between the tortured lines, it is pretty clear that, as the guest editors claimed, they were assured that the idea of an editorial disclaimer had been dropped and were not told that one would be inserted in the print edition before it was published, though it is obvious that Beckwith was, since he referred to it in his reply to Forrest's article.
Also notable is the fact that the editors-in-chief continue to be vague about which articles they are disclaiming, which was one of the original major complaints about the disclaimer, since it smears all the authors in the special issue. While it is now clear that Barbara Forrest's article was one target of the disclaimer, they specifically refer to a second article which they do not identify.
Their response to the issue of what legal threats Synthese received is even less forthright. No "Christian philosophers" (whatever the heck that might mean, though it presumably includes Beckwith) supposedly made threats. They refer to an email from a "member of the public" that used the words 'scurrilous and libelous' but which the editors did not consider to be a legal threat. Nonetheless, they make a point of noting they received the email after their initial contacts with Beckwith. They did receive legal threats that they considered serious but there is no mention of the time frame of those, much less whether or not they entered into their decision to publish the disclaimer (though I think the conclusion is obvious).
In essence, the editors-in-chief are admitting that, in their "earlier" deliberations, to which the guest editors were privy, they had come to a conclusion that, no matter what they thought of the "tone" of the special issue, there was no academic reason to issue a disclaimer. But, after the legal threats, they caved in to outside pressure and included it. And who else could those threats have come from but supporters of Intelligent Design?
The editors-in-chief "wish to emphasize that our editorial statement should in no way be interpreted as an endorsement of 'intelligent design'." But when the editors of a prestigious journal issue "disclaimers" based, not on academic reasons, but on pressure from those leading an assault on science education and all of academia, their cowardice under fire is precisely that.
Gentlemen, would you like another cup?
Addendum: Mohan Matthen, in a comment at New APPS, took (with a little help from me) kind notice of my post and summarized the events as follows:
So, is this the sequence?That jogged my lawyer-born cynicism and it occurred to me that there was a possibility that would explain two other rather baffling aspects of this affair: 1) why was Beckwith told about the disclaimer (he references it -- disingenuously -- in his response to Forrest's article in the printed issue), while the guest editors weren't; and 2) why was Beckwith's response printed apparently without any editorial or refereeing process? As I put it at New APPS:
1. EICs included the Guest Editors in the discussions during the oscillatory phase.
2. Then Synthese received some kind of legal threat from someone other than a Christian philosopher.
3. "Eventually the editors arrived at a shared position, in consultation with the publisher, based on what we judged to be the offending language in two papers." (What is "the" offending language? See below.)
4. "We were unable to properly communicate later stages of our decision-making process to the guest editors."
5. "We have a duty to help create procedures to prevent situations of the sort we saw here from recurring."
Apparently, then, the EICs were going to let things go, but then the threats arrived. The phrase "the offending language" must refer to something that these legal complainers cited. (Without a specific reference, unfortunately hidden from us, the definite article makes no sense.) At this point, the publishers decided to dodge the bullet, and the editors caved.
5 sounds a bit ominous. What situations? In the light of the publishers' intervention, one might be worried.
I think that sequence is probably right. Of course, the very failure of the EICs to be forthcoming makes this somewhat speculative but it fits the known facts and the less-than-clear "response" by the EICs._________________________________________
There was initial concern by the EICs, probably initiated by the complaints of Plantinga, Clark and Beckwith, as documented in the New York Times story.
But the EICs decide that there was no basis academically for a disclaimer and assure the guest editors that they were dropping the idea.
Next came the "messages that we take seriously as legal threats" and the publisher and its lawyers get involved. The disclaimer idea is revived but the guest editors are not informed (possibly at the insistence of the lawyers), while Beckwith is told (possibly as a way, along with the opportunity for Beckwith to publish an unedited/unreviewed response, to head off the threat of litigation).
Update: There was a story in the New York Times yesterday presaging the "response." Also, Mohan Matthen at New APPS has commented and called the response "a passive aggressive gambit."
That's what I thought. I doubt this will go down well with the philosophers.
And just what is the nature of these "messages" that they "take seriously as legal threats" which constrain them from providing "detailed responses"? Could they have been demands to print a disclaimer, a response from Beckwith and conceal the identities of those issuing the threats or face a costly legal action? Now, who do we know on the ID side that is prone to such behavior?
You might look at the "addendum" that I just added to the post.
That's certainly a possibility. I'm not familiar with the EICs philisophical work, though they seem to be respected in the community.
But, then, who approved the idea of the special issue AND put Glenn and Fetzer in charge of it? If the EICs are IDers, why would they let known enemies of ID edit it with no apparent interference (before it was published online)?
Do you know if Forrest (or someone else) has done a reply to Beckwith's reply? I have a vague recollection there is one but it's disappeared from my memory.
under what circumstances would the editors not be able to reveal anything - All this not a chirstian philosopher nonsense.
Any response they make without revealing facts is going to look more and more damaging.
It's not so much that they are not able to reveal anything but, more likely, that the publisher's lawyers would prefer to keep everthing vague so as not to further inflame those making the legal threats. If the lawyers negotiatiated with the threateners, the latter may have made it a condition of the deal not to reveal who they are and the best way to do that is to keep everyone guessing.
They may think it's a tempest in a teapot that will quickly fade, as "publish or perish" is a stronger incentive than indignation.
Physics is crucial to philosophy. Oh, wait! That's what the logical positivists thought!