It's more than a bit depressing to report that Synthese, a journal that has published classic papers by Carnap and Quine, among many others, and has been a major scholarly forum for philosophy informed by the sciences, should now have caved in to the major enemies of science education in the United States, the Creationist/Intelligent Design lobby. The story is a sordid one, and leads me to think that philosophers working in philosophy of science, epistemology, philosophical logic and other areas where Synthese has traditionally published should look elsewhere (there are certainly many other suitable fora: Erkenntnis, Philosophy of Science, Journal of Philosophical Logic, British Journal for the Philosophy of Science, and so on, all of which have the virtue of not pandering to the Intelligent Design crowd). Perhaps the Synthese editors will rectify the wrong, and acknowledge that they caved in to political pressure and behaved unethically. But if not, I hope readers of this blog will stop submitting to Synthese and stop refereeing for them: editorial misconduct of this magnitude must have costs. (If you will participate in the boycott, please e-mail philosopher John Wilkins at the University of Sydney: john-at-wilkins-dot-id-dot-au. Let him know if you are willing to have your name made public in connection with the boycott.)
Below is the statement I have received from the "guest editors"--Glenn Branch of the National Center for Science Education and James H. Fetzer of the University of Minnesota, Duluth (and a past editor of Synthese)--of the January 2011 special issue of Synthese on "Evolution and Its Rivals." It is preceded by an e-mail from Mr. Branch to me:
The editors-in-chief of a leading philosophical journal apparently think that it's within the bounds of ethical editorial practice to insult contributors to their journal, renege on their agreements, and demand revisions to articles that have already been published.
As I hope that you'll agree, this is a situation that deserves and demands the attention of the philosophical community, and your help in publicizing it will be much appreciated.
RE: "Evolution and Its Rivals", SYNTHESE 178:2 (January 2011)
Dear Members of the Philosophy Community,
As the Guest Editors of a special issue of SYNTHESE, "Evolution and Its Rivals", we have been appalled to discover that the Editors-in-Chief added a prefatory statement to the issue that implies that the Guest Editors and their contributors have not maintained the standards of the journal. Our purpose here is to convey to you an explanation of the history of this special issue and the unusual problems we encountered in dealing with the Editors-in-Chief, in the hope that our reflections will place their statement in the proper context and guide you in future dealings with the journal.
The following statement was published in the printed but not the on-line version of this issue:
Statement from the Editors-in-Chief of SYNTHESE
This special issue addresses a topic of lively current debate with often strongly expressed views. We have observed that some of the papers in this issue employ a tone that may make it hard to distinguish between dispassionate intellectual discussion of other views and disqualification of a targeted author or group.
We believe that vigorous debate is clearly of the essence in intellectual communities, and that even strong disagreements can be an engine of progress. However, tone and prose should follow the usual academic standards of politeness and respect in phrasing. We recognize that these are not consistently met in this particular issue. These standards, especially toward people we deeply disagree with, are a common benefit to us all. We regret any deviation from our usual standards.
Johan van Benthem
Vincent F. Hendricks
Editors-in-Chief / SYNTHESE
First and foremost, we deeply regret the decision to insert this disclaimer, which insults not only us but also the contributors to the special issue. It was inserted without our consent or approval, without our being directly notified by the Editors-in-Chief, and despite our having been assured twice by one of the Editors-in-Chief that it would not be inserted (as we will explain below). In retrospect, we perhaps should have warned the contributors when the proposal to insert such a disclaimer was broached, but it did not occur to us that the Editors-in-Chief would renege on their assurances that no disclaimer would be inserted. Nevertheless, we would like to take this opportunity to reiterate our sincerest apologies to the contributors.
The background to the disclaimer involves Barbara Forrest’s contribution to the special issue, “The Non-Epistemology of Intelligent Design,” which vigorously critiqued the work of Francis Beckwith. Shortly after the papers were published on-line in advance of publication by SYNTHESE in 2009, friends of Beckwith began to protest -- not to the Guest Editors, but to the Editors-in-Chief -- about Forrest's article, one even going so far as to claim that it was "libelous."
In response, the Editors-in-Chief discussed the matter with Jim Fetzer, who has an extensive history with the journal, including serving as one of its co-editors from 1990 to 1999 and editing six previous special issues. In preparation for this discussion, Fetzer solicited the opinion of another former editor of SYNTHESE, who regarded the paper as unproblematic with the minor exception of Forrest's mention of Beckwith's recent return to the Catholic Church, a matter that has not surfaced in any of the discussion that has followed.
The outcome of the discussion was that Beckwith would be allowed a chance to respond in a later issue of SYNTHESE (which he has now taken; his response has already been published on-line in advance of publication), but that "[n]othing is to be done to the special issue" (as Fetzer summarized his understanding of the discussion to the Editors-in-Chief, none of whom expressed any disagreement).
Subsequently, in September 2010, Forrest advised Glenn Branch that she had been asked by two of the Editors-in-Chief to revise her paper -- which, again, had already been published on-line -- on pains of an editorial disclaimer being added to the issue. This condition was not, as would have been appropriate, discussed with or even divulged to the Guest Editors. Branch passed this news on to Fetzer, who protested vehemently to the Editors-in-Chief; it appears that the third was not aware of the demand from the other two. In November 2010, the third Editor-in-Chief assured us that both the request for a revision and the idea of an editorial disclaimer had been dropped. (We should also mention that the publisher of the journal was by no means enthusiastic about the idea of revising an already published paper.) With that, we believed we had resolved any issues between the parties involved.
It therefore came as a complete -- and most unwelcome -- surprise to discover such a statement included in the printed edition.
Several of the contributors have informed us and/or the Editors-in-Chief that they would have withdrawn their papers from the issue had they known that they would have been published under the shadow of such a disclaimer. (Note that the disclaimer speaks of “some of the papers,” in the plural, suggesting that Forrest’s was not the only paper that is supposedly objectionable. [BL comment: I asked the editors-in-chief to identify other objectionable papers, and they did not identify any.]) We ourselves would have reconsidered our proposal to edit a special issue on this subject had we any idea that such opprobrium might attach to our efforts, which have conformed to appropriate standards of scholarship and publication in general, and with the standards of SYNTHESE in particular, with which we are very familiar.
We are both shocked and chagrined that a journal of SYNTHESE's stature should have sunk so low as to violate the canons of responsible editorial practice as the result of lobbying by a handful of ideologues. This tells us -- as powerfully as Forrest's work -- that intelligent design corrupts. We regret the conduct of the Editors-in-Chief and the unwarranted insult to the contributors and ourselves as Guest Editors represented by the disclaimer. We are doing our best to make the misconduct of the Editors-in-Chief a matter of common knowledge within the philosophy community in the hope that everyone will consider whatever actions may be appropriate for them to adopt in any future associations with SYNTHESE.
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.)
Giving Beckwith the opportunity to respond seems fair (though the response is pretty feeble, but that's a different matter), but adding a disclaimer (behind the backs of the Guest Editors) that undermines the integrity of the entire volume and its contributors because of intensive lobbying by friends of Beckwith and Intelligent Design is beyond belief.
Again, I would urge all philosophers to stop submitting to Synthese; to withdraw any papers they have submitted at Synthese; and to decline to referee for Synthese until such time as the editors acknowledge their error, and make appropriate amends. See the contact information above for Dr. Wilkins, who will keep track of philosophers participating in the boycott.
To be clear, I do not think the editors acted with malice in this matter, though they made a spectacularly bad judgment call. They were subjected to aggressive lobbying and threats (like the utter nonsense about "libel"), and I suspect that Professors Hendricks and van Benthem, not being residents of the U.S., may not be fully aware of how the ID proponents operate, Beckwith in particular.
In this regard, It's really hard to overstate the shameless audacity of Beckwith's response to the critique by Professor Forrest , unless you realize that there is no one in the pro-Intelligent Design community who has been less of a philosopher, and more of a shameless and underhanded political hack, than him. (Professor Forrest has written about Beckwith's extensive involvement with the ID political movement before. This is also relevant.)
I first heard of Beckwith, who spents years as a Fellow of the Discovery [sic] Institute (the main propaganda arm of the ID movement), when he surfaced in the media eight years ago as one of those lobbying the Texas Board of Education to undermine the teaching of evolution by natural selection in the public schools. When I excorciated an incompetent and wholly misleading "book note" by a right-wing student at Harvard Law School about Beckwith's apology for Intelligent Design seven years ago, Beckwith's response came in the form of a smear piece in the National Review On Line by one of his students (generously quoting Beckwith smearing me), who didn't acknowledge that he was one of Beckwith's students! When I called Beckwith out for his anti-gay bigotry, his response included posting an unflattering photo of me in order to make fun of it. That's quite a track record--and I've only included the bits that intersected with me!--for a "philosopher" who has the audacity to invoke the Rawlsian duty of civility when it comes to disputes about 'comprehensive doctrines'!
Beckwith is, first and foremost, an advocate for his religious views (as he effectively admits in his reply to Forrest). That is fine and that is his right. But he is not entitled to pretend that he is some innocent philosophical investigator, somehow unfairly swept up in political battles. One may notice that actual philosophers who write about Intelligent Design, such as Bradley Monton (Colorado) and Michael Rea (Notre Dame), don't come in for the kind of scrutiny Beckwith does, because, unlike him, they are philosophers, and they are not involved in under-handed political advocacy and smear campaigns. (I've noted their work in the past--Monton's I'm less impressed by, but Rea's World Without Design is an important piece of metaphysics, albeit not convincing in the end.)
(I want to add that Baylor's Philosophy Department has made great strides in the last decade. Beckwith, who was tenured initially in Church-State Studies not philosophy, and his track record of intellectual dishonesty and unethical behavior should not, in any way, take away from what the Baylor Department has accomplished.)
ADDENDUM: Let me note that I have corresponded with Vincent Hendricks about this issue over the last several months. Last week, I forwarded them the open letter from Branch and Fetzer, indicating that I planned to suggest a boycott. The Synthese editors acknowledged my e-mail, but offered no substantive response on the merits to any of this; I am thus left with the impression that the Branch & Fetzer account of what transpired is accurate. If the editors produce a substantive response, I will consider posting it here.
ANOTHER: Mohan Matthen (Toronto) sums this up well:
[H]ere is the summary [of what transpired]: Special Issue consisting of critiques of intelligent design; Editors-in-Chief correspond with author of Special Issue paper, demanding changes, after that paper has been published on-line; they make these demands without the consent of the Guest Editors; most shocking of all, E-in-C’s insert a disclaimer regarding the Special Issue.
It seems clear that whatever their motives or exculpations, the E-in-C’s acted unprofessionally. Surely they should admit this and apologize. Nobody wants to participate in a “boycott” of philosophers as distinguished as they are, but they made an error in their public capacity, and they should simply make things right, with as little fuss as possible.