COMMENTS NOW OPEN, SINCE I HAVE TIME TO MODERATE
Philosopher of science Eric Schliesser (Ghent) also offered to post a response by the Synthese editors to the earlier item here, and they have now sent him one (on which he and Mark Lance usefully comment). I think it fair to say that the response of the Editors-in-Chief is wholly non-responsive to the issues raised by the Guest Editors. Here is the 'response' in full:
In response to the controversy concerning a decision by the editors of Synthese involving a recent special issue on "Evolution and its Rivals":
We are committed to the view that Synthese, in addition to being a venue for pure philosophy, also be a forum for debate on issues which extend into the public sphere. In particular, we believe that philosophical debate concerning the role of religion in science and public policy is important. This is why we accepted the proposal to pursue this special issue.
We allow guest editors sufficient freedom to craft intellectually significant special issues. At the same time, as editors of Synthese we must ensure the highest standards of politeness and fairness. This is sometimes a difficult balance to strike, especially with respect to highly-charged matters.
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.
While we grant anyone's right to judgment calls different from ours, the simple fact remains that it was our task as editors to make them in this case. Of course, there are lessons to be learnt from what happened regarding our internal procedures, and Synthese will do that.
Finally, we would emphasize once more that maintaining standards of courtesy in academic writing is not a matter of taking sides. It is beneficial to all parties interested in the pursuit of truth. The special issue is out there now, and we trust that colleagues interested in its theme will now proceed to discuss the actual contents.
Just to recap, the open letter from the Guest Editors, Glenn Branch and James Fetzer, alleged that:
1. The disclaimer, because it did not name the purportedly "offending" papers, cast aspersions on all the contributors and the Guest Editors.
2. The Editors-in-Chief had, on three occasions, promised the Guest Editors no disclaimer would be inserted; the Editors-in-Chief broke that promise and inserted the disclaimer behind the backs of the Guest Editors.
3. One contributor, Barbara Forrest, was asked to revise her paper (critical of ID apologist Francis Beckwith) after publication on-line because of complaints, including (nonsensical) allegations of "libel," that were directed at the Editors-in-Chief by supporters of Beckwith and Intelligent Design. The Editors-in-Chief did not even inform the Guest Editors that they were making this unusual demand for post-publication revision.
4. The contributors were never advised by the Editors-in-Chief of a possible disclaimer, and several have stated that they would have withdrawn their paper had they been forewarned, rather than have the integrity of their work impugned unfairly.
I know that some philosophers were waiting for a response from the editors before deciding whether to boycott Synthese. In light of the non-response, I hope more philosophers will now join the boycott: please contact philosopher John Wilkins at the University of Sydney: john-at-wilkins-dot-id-dot-au. By joining the boycott, you signal that you think the behavior of the Editors-in-Chief was professionally unacceptable.
It does seem to me the non-response of the Editors-in-Chief is particularly offensive in failing to name the offending articles, and thus, once again, casting aspersions on all the contibutors.
It really is disappointing that the editors did not follow Mohan Matthen's sage advice, noted earlier:
Special Issue [of Synthese] 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.
As an aside, I should add that my own personal opinion is that there is one paper in the volume that is both philosophically shallow and whose rhetoric is not supported by the quality of the argument, namely, Robert Pennock's (I alluded to this long ago). But Mr. Branch reports that no objection was ever raised about Pennock's paper by the Editors-in-Chief, only about the paper that targets longtime ID apologist Francis Beckwith; that, of course, supports the inference that the Editors-in-Chief caved into pressure from Intelligent Design proponents and friends of Beckwith, as originally alleged.
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