The Guest Editors of the Synthese issue on "Evolution and Its Rivals" have asked me to post the following open letter in reply to the 'non-response' of the Synthese Editors-in-Chief:
RE: "Evolution and Its Rivals", SYNTHESE 178:2 (January 2011)
Dear Members of the Philosophy Community,
We write in response to the reply from the Editors-in-Chief of SYNTHESE to our statement about the special issue we guest edited, which included a prefatory disclaimer that impugned the published articles, their authors, and us as Guest Editors. We are astonished that they offer the following explanation:
"We judged that several articles included in the special issue contained language that is unacceptable: neutral readers of the issue will find no difficulty in identifying such passages. We placed no restriction whatsoever on content. After internal resolution failed, we added a preface as a way of acknowledging our ultimate responsibility, while expressing our regret for the breach of our standards."
This reply completely fails to justify, or even acknowledge, their procedural derelictions. Notice, in particular, that it does not explain what could possibly have warranted asking a contributor to this special issue to make revisions to her paper after the paper had been published on-line, after it had already been agreed that no revisions would be required, and without apprising the guest editors of the demand. Nor does it explain why, after it was agreed and later confirmed that no disclaimer would be added to the special issue, a disclaimer was added to the printed version nevertheless.
Recall that, after the issue came to the attention of the guest editors, one of us (with extensive experience with SYNTHESE, having served for ten years as an editor and having guest edited six special issues) contacted yet another scholar with extensive editorial experience with SYNTHESE, who reviewed the article that was being addressed and reported that, in his considered opinion, while it was a vigorous critique of the views of its subject, Francis Beckwith, it was one that fell within the boundaries of scholarly discourse and met SYNTHESE's standards.
The issues we have been forced to raise in public could have been resolved quickly if the Editors-in-Chief had conceded that they had exercised poor judgment, apologized to the contributors to the special issue, and formally retracted their disclaimer. Instead, they now appear to be revising history by asserting that MORE THAN ONE ARTICLE was involved, which leads us to ask, "If other articles were of concern to you THEN, why are we only hearing about them NOW?"
Again, no concerns about any articles in the special issue were expressed to the guest editors by the Editors-in-Chief until they received complaints from third parties about the article criticizing Beckwith's views. Without a detailed explanation from the Editors-in-Chief, it would be difficult to say whether those complaints were the cause or only the occasion of the editorial misconduct on the part of the Editors-in-Chief.
Some have speculated that the formal orientation of the Editors-in-Chief may have left them unprepared to deal with issues that are far more politically loaded than questions about modal operators and computational models. However that may be, we are incredulous that they have been unable to recognize the seriousness of their mistakes and take the simple and obvious step of issuing a straightforward apology and retraction.
National Center for Science Education, Inc.
James H. Fetzer
McKnight Professor Emeritus
University of Minnesota Duluth
(Institutions are listed for the purposes of identification only.)
I should note that Professor Symons, one of the three EICs, has now explicitly denied that the editors "caved" in to pressure from Beckwith and the "intelligent design" crowd, though he was unwilling to answer in a public forum specific questions about whether they were, in fact, lobbied by the ID folks, threatened with legal action, etc. (To see his comment, you will need to scroll down to his comment at April 21, 18:11 pm.) Here is the relevant portion of the exchange; Professor Symons's comment comes first, my reply follows:
I'm speaking independently of my co-editors and the publisher here, but I'm sure they'll concur with me fully: To be clear, the editors in chief of Synthese in no way "caved to the ID lobby" or to threats of lawsuits. Regular readers of the journal will find many instances of intemperate language and ad hominem in this issue which we regret and for which we take full responsibility. We are in no way shifting this responsibility to the guest editors. We failed to prevent this language going into print and because of this failure we felt the obligation to write this preface and to acknowledge that we compromised the standards of the journal.
Reply 21 April 2011 at 18:11
John, I have reports from various sources that you in particular were subjected to aggressive lobbying by friends of Beckwith. Do you deny that? That is, do you deny that supporters of Beckwith lobbied you to do something about the Barbara Forrest article? Do you deny that at least one of those supporters alleged the Forrest piece was libelous?
Yes or no?
Do you deny that the Guest Editors were assured no disclaimer would appear?
Yes or no?
Can you identify which articles in this volume failed to meet professional standards?
Professor Symons declined to answer these questions in a public forum, which is his right.