Tuesday, April 19, 2011

The Synthese Affair

You probably have heard about this already, so I shall be brief (see here and here for more details). The Editors-in-Chief of Synthese prefaced the January 2011 special issue of Synthese on "Evolution and Its Rivals" (guest-edited by Glenn Branch and James H. Fetzer) with the following statement (apparently, without the Guest Editors' knowledge):

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

John Symons

Editors-in-Chief / SYNTHESE

This was likely the result of pressure from supporters of Intelligent Design in general and of Francis Beckwith (who is the polemical target of one of the papers in the special issue) in particular.

Over at Leiter Reports, Brian Leiter has urged '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.'

Since Synthese is one of the main philosophy of science journals and many of the readers of this blog read, submit to, and publish in that Journal and since Leiter's post doesn't allow comments, I thought it might be a good idea to open the floor for discussion here.

To set the ball rolling, here are my two cents. In my experience (and from what I hear from most other people who have first-hand experience as well), Synthese is a very well-run journal and this is in great part to be attributed to the excellent job done by the Editors-in-Chief. I agree, however, that, on this occasion, the EiCs' conduct and judgement were questionable. I think it was inappropriate to add the above statement especially if, as it seems likely, this was done as a result of dubious external pressures. (Incidentally, I wouldn't go as far as saying that the statement 'undermines the integrity of the entire volume and its contributors', as Leiter somewhat hyperbolically does). If the EiCs had any concerns about the tone of any of the papers, they should have voiced them before the papers were published. Since apparently they had not done so, they should have stood by the papers (not all editors may be ready to go to the same lengths as the Editor of the European Journal of International Law but there must be a middle-ground). I think it would be in the best interest of the journal if the EiCs publicly acknowledged their lapse of judgement, but I trust that it's not going to take a boycott to get them to do that.

45 comments:

  1. Gabriele, thoughtful comments, but I actually don't believe the editors are going to do anything about this until they feel pressure from the community. As it happens, I had just submitted a paper to Synthese, which I am about to withdraw, today.

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  2. Tempest in a teacup, imo.

    The editors of a journal are perfectly justified in adding a statement if they think that the tone of an article in a special issue is improper or if they think that this may protect the journal they edit from a lawsuit. This is after all their journal: they set the standards.

    It is, of course, unfortunate and regrettable that the guest editors and the authors were not told in advance of this statement, but this does not justify an organized boycott.

    In addition, while I have read a fair amount of serious accusations (particularly, that the editors of Synthese bowed to pressures), I have seen zero evidence supporting them.

    So, I will not join this witch hunt, and I invite philosophers of science to do the same.

    Edouard Machery

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  3. Edouard,

    I take you are not familiar with the tactics of the Discovery Institute, or you would not refer to this as a "witch hunt" (talk about uncalled for ad hominem language).

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  4. I am not sure to see how calling an action "witch hunt" is ad hominem, but in any case publicly accusing the editors of Synthese and calling for some collective, organized, out of proportion action against the journal they are editing without making public any evidence seems fairly well described by this term.

    IMO if a mistake has been made it is very minor.

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  5. @Edouard

    I don't see how the boycott would constitute a "witch hunt". It is clear who the alleged perpetrators are, it is clear what the allegations are, it is clear what the evidence is. Having said that, I must confess that I myself wonder whether the boycott might be a disproportionate reaction.

    What I think you might be misinterpreting, however, is what the promoters of the boycott find inappropriate. The problem, as far as I can see, is not so much that the EiCs found the tone of the papers to be somehow inappropriate. It is that, if they did, they didn't raise the issue with the Guest Editors and the relevant author(s) before the publication of the paper(s) and decided instead to publish a blanket statement without informing either the GEs or the authors. The proponents of the boycott take this to be evidence that the EiCs didn't find the tone to be inappropriate but only bowed down to pressure from the supporters of ID and Beckwith.

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  6. The problem is not just that the editors included this note, suggesting in a blanket way that papers in the issue were sophistry. The more serious problem, to my mind, is that the possibility of such a note had been discussed with the guest editors previously and the guest editors had ultimately been given assurances that such a note would not be included.

    As for whether a boycott is too much of a response, I think Massimo is right that there is not much else we could do. Refusing to provide our labour to the journal is really the only kind of leverage we have.

    I say about more about this, over on my blog.

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  7. "The proponents of the boycott take this to be evidence that the EiCs didn't find the tone to be inappropriate but only bowed down to pressure from the supporters of ID and Beckwith."

    I do not see how this is evidence for the accusation. This is only one among many possible interpretations. Do you have any better evidence? If not, how can you be confident in your accusations?

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  8. PD,

    you say: "this note, suggesting in a blanket way that papers in the issue were sophistry"

    How does the following passage suggests "sophistry"?

    "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."

    It just notes the tone of the passage, without saying a word about the content.

    And I agree with you that the editors may have made a mistake in not letting the editors know (see my first post), but one that does not call for an organized boycott.

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  9. Edouard,

    it is really not clear to me what you would like to see as sufficient evidence. A signed declaration of misconduct by the editors?

    As for whether this does or does not call for a boycott, clearly it's a matter of opinion, though you keep repeating that it doesn't without offering an alternative path to let the editors know that they crossed a line.

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  10. I tried to post this comment previously without success, so will try again.

    Edouard, Branch and Fetzer gave testimonial evidence that the editors of Synthese were harassed and threatened by Beckwith and his allies about the Forrest piece. There has been no contrary evidence to date. Their testimonial evidence is consistent with the modus operandi of the ID crowd, as Massimo notes, above. It is reasonable to suspend judgment until the editors respond with regard to the merits of the allegations. To describe any of this is a 'witch hunt' is absurd.

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  11. It is no surprise that how people have reacted to the Synthese affair directly corresponds to how they view ID and the ID movement. Those of us, who believe the current ID movement in the United States is a disingenuous and dubious enterprise, see the EiCs decision to cast doubt on the integrity of the articles as a deeply problematic and dangerous move. Doing this in a highly respected journal gives credibility to a political movement that is pushing an overwhelmingly Fundamentalist agenda. Forrest has been one of the most visible critics of ID and in the landmark Dover trial gave the plaintiffs' their "smoking gun" in providing solid evidence that ID is a progeny of creationism. Her article is highly critical of Beckwith, but hardly unusual. There were many articles written in the aftermath of Dover that were just as, if not even more critical of Steve Fuller (a social epistemologist who testified in defense of ID). As far as I can tell, the special issue of Synthese did what it should have done: offered a rigorous, unrelenting critique of ID.

    We should not forget that ID is not an isolated philosophical doctrine, but is also a political one. In public discourse, we should be holding the Discovery Institute and its allies accountable for their misinformation and hypocrisy. But we should be even more vigilant of our own actions, that we do not give this questionable political movement any more traction.

    As to the question of whether the philosophical community should boycott Synthese, I think Leiter’s battle call is more a PR stunt more than anything, to put it bluntly. It is unrealistic to expect a wide spread boycott of such a prestigious journal. But the boycott call did exactly what it was meant do, create discussion, publicity, and put pressure on the EiCs to recant their disclaimer. I think right now, attention to this issue and thoughtful debates are exactly what’s needed.

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  12. Edouard: I had in mind the bit at the beginning. The editors say that some papers "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." If I am reading it correctly, it alleges that the papers mix legitimate argument with ad hominem attacks and make it hard to tell which is which. That is an allegation of sophistry.

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  13. I'm reluctant to join the boycott, having enjoyed very positive relationships with the EiC of Synthese for many years, But I will if they do not respond appropriately, for the reasons that Gabriele, Massimo and PD have already set out. Its not just the the EiC have been discourteous in not consulting with the guest editors, it is that they have made a serious and unfortunate allegation against certain of the authors in that issue and have given the impression that they have caved to pressure from the ID lobby. The academic integrity of Synthese is at stake and as PD says what other leverage do we have.

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  14. PD
    Fair enough, although I am reading it differently: this passage makes the simple point that when the tone of an article is passionate it may be hard for the reader to determine when the arguments are ad hominem and when they are substantial.

    Massimo and Brian
    It looks like that you and me have different conceptions of the minimum level of evidence that is required to justify accusing someone publicly and asking other people to engage in coordinated sanctions. Branch and Fretzer's unverified assertions do not come close to showing that the editors added the statement to placate the ID folks.

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  15. How much evidence is there really of either threats or harassment from either Beckwith or pro-ID people?

    The part of the testimony of Branch and Fetzer that Leiter reports (http://leiterreports.typepad.com/blog/2011/04/synthese-editors-cave-in-to-pressure-from-the-intelligent-design-lobby.html) that seems relevant to the issue of the correspondence between any pro-ID people and Synthese editors is:

    "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.""

    Then there is this later on:

    "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."

    But this looks more like a conclusion or an inference, rather than testimony. (Most of the testimony seems to concern the dealings between the chief editors themselves and between the chief editors and the special issue editors.) Even granting the first quote as giving evidence that pro-ID people protested to the Synthese editors (and it would be nice to have more information about who, how many, the nature of the remarks, etc.), what is the basis for believing that Beckwith himself protested, or that anyone "lobbied" against or harassed or threatened the editors?

    The statement from the editors-in-chief, "We have observed that some of the papers in this issue...", suggests that the editors found something to be worthy of protest. Even supposing the disclaimer came "as a result of" any sort of lobbying, the question remains as to whether it was the cause (such that the editors "caved") or the occasion (such that the editors found merit in the charges).

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  16. The statement from the editors-in-chief, "We have observed that some of the papers in this issue...", suggests that the editors found something to be worthy of protest. Even supposing the disclaimer came "as a result of" any sort of lobbying, the question remains as to whether it was the cause (such that the editors "caved") or the occasion (such that the editors found merit in the charges).

    If the editors found merit in the charges, then they need to own up that they didn't do their job of requesting minor revisions in the first place.

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  17. It also seems to me that there are many interpretations of what actually happened which are consistent with the factual aspects of testimony. (The involvement of a well-known conspiracy theorist in providing the interpretation should give us pause.)

    However, taking the factual aspects at face value, the EiC have been discourteous and several procedural irregularities have occurred. An apology should therefore be issued. (Actually, it looks to me like there may have been an internal communication failure and/or disagreement, among the EiC. For all we know, they may be trying to thrash matters out before making a public statement.)

    But a boycott seems like an overreaction. (I don't agree with the premiss that leverage is required at this stage.) A petition would be a gentler and more civil means of proceeding, in the first instance. This would show the EiC the strength of feeling in the community.

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  18. P.S. I just read the Forrest article.

    It does strike me as odd, in so far as it gives lots of biographical detail about Beckwith which appears irrelevant to assessing the worth of his arguments. It also appears to be oddly concerned with questioning his expertise. For example, it effectively questions whether he _ought_ to be writing on legal matters because of his background. Why not just assess what he says, if you've chosen to engage with him?

    I also found the paper to be surprisingly assertive on the epistemological issues. For example, it just asserts that faith has no part to play in science, or preference for beliefs derived from science, although it's entirely unclear in what sense Forrest can be said to lack faith in, say, reason and experience. (For that matter, there may also be faith in Haack on science.) In short, there are deep issues here, such as the regress problem, that cannot just be shoved under the carpet without leaving an unsightly bump.

    Anyway, I suppose my view on the quality of the paper is rather beside the point... In short, I can see why (at least some of) the EiC may not have been keen on it. Not that this excuses the publication of the disclaimer in the relevant circumstances.

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  19. Darrell, good points. But, again, I caution that discussions of ID are not simple academic matters. Motives and background information *always* enter into them because these people are typically dishonest and keep following their "wedge" strategy: once they get into an academic journal - science or philosophy - they then turn around and trumpet their accomplishment to a largely ignorant public and media with the sole goal of undermining science education in public schools.

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  20. Update: the Editors of Synthese have published a non-responsive response. Full text plus commentary here:

    http://goo.gl/Exlrh

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  21. I highly recommend that the proponents of boycott have a look at Laudan's take on the statement appended by the editors of synthese. Hopefully, this will open some eyes:

    http://www.newappsblog.com/2011/04/on-the-response-from-synthese-unanswered-questions.html?cid=6a00d8341ef41d53ef01538e0c99dd970b#comment-6a00d8341ef41d53ef01538e0c99dd970b

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  22. @Edouard: some (but not all) of the quotes given by Laudan are not from Pennock, but from Gross, who is in turn quoted by Pennock.

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  23. I looked at the Pennock paper Laudan cites, and it is replete with fallacies and personal attacks. Here are two examples:

    “If the problem of demarcation is a philosophical pseudo-problem, then there is a long list of first-rank pseudo-philosophy journals (Philosophy of Science, British Journal for the Philosophy of Science, Studies in the History and Philosophy of Science, Philosophy of Social Sciences, etc.) and an even longer list of top-notch pseudophilosophers publishing on the question at the time and since.” (182)

    and,

    “Laudan’s and Quinn’s discussions of demarcation, which can only be described as histrionic and ill-considered, and those of their careless imitators continue to muddy the waters to the detriment of both science and philosophy of science.” (180)

    This kind of stuff has no place in a journal like Synthese, so I have no problem with the editors in chief inserting a disclaimer at the beginning of the special issue. The guest editors seem to be at as much of a fault as are the editors in chief. Did they read Pennock’s paper, and, if so, did they approve of it? Either way, they failed to do their job properly, and meet the journal’s standards.

    There are two distinct issues here:

    (1) Did the editors of Synthese insert the disclaimer and ask Forrest to revise her paper BECAUSE of pressures from ID advocates?

    (2) Where they RIGHT to insert the disclaimer and ask Forrest to revise her paper?

    Regarding (1) we have, so far as I know, no tangible evidence. It’d be interesting to know what kind of revision was requested from Forrest: style or content?

    Regarding (2), the Pennock paper, in and of itself, is enough to justify the disclaimer. Yes the disclaimer ‘casts aspersions’ on the guest editors (in Leiter’s words), but that’s only right.

    Other authors with papers in the issue might not like the idea of a disclaimer like the one that was inserted, and maybe the disclaimer should have been more specific, but do these authors really want their papers to be published along with papers like Pennock’s?

    More generally, philosophers of science need to ask themselves: do we want a journal such as Synthese to publish papers such as Pennock’s? Do we want the editors of Synthese not to balk at the idea of the journal they edit publishing pieces like Pennock’s?

    And on the issue of whether the editors in chief assured the guest editors that there would be no disclaimer, so far it is the word of van Benthem-Hendricks-Symons vs. that of Branch-Fetzer. Seeing the quality of the editorial work of the editors in chief vs. that of the guest editors, throwing the former under the bus seems premature, to say the least.

    The editors in chief might be to blame for the way they handled the matter, but the guest editors are also to blame for doing a poor job and including in the issue papers which clearly do not meet the standards of a journal like Synthese (or, really, of professional philosophy in general).

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  24. UPDATE:
    The Editors of Synthese have now issued the following statement:

    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.

    Johan van Benthem

    Vincent F. Hendricks

    John Symons

    Editors-in-Chief, Synthese

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  25. Two part post. Part 1/2:

    I looked at the Pennock paper Laudan cites, and it is replete with fallacies and personal attacks. Here are two examples:

    “If the problem of demarcation is a philosophical pseudo-problem, then there is a long list of first-rank pseudo-philosophy journals (Philosophy of Science, British Journal for the Philosophy of Science, Studies in the History and Philosophy of Science, Philosophy of Social Sciences, etc.) and an even longer list of top-notch pseudophilosophers publishing on the question at the time and since.” (182)

    and,
    “Laudan’s and Quinn’s discussions of demarcation, which can only be described as histrionic and ill-considered, and those of their careless imitators continue to muddy the waters to the detriment of both science and philosophy of science.” (180)

    I think it’s fair to say that this kind of writing has no place in a journal like Synthese, so I have no problem with the content of the disclaimer inserted by the editors in chief at the beginning of the special issue. The guest editors seem to be at as much of a fault as are the editors in chief. Did they read Pennock’s paper, and, if so, did they think it meets Synthese’s standards? Either way, they seem to have failed to do their job properly.

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  26. Part 2/2:

    There are two issues that should be kept distinct:

    (1) Did the editors of Synthese insert the disclaimer and ask Forrest to revise her paper BECAUSE of pressures from ID advocates?

    (2) Where they RIGHT to insert the disclaimer and ask Forrest to revise her paper?

    Regarding (1) we have, so far as I know, no tangible evidence. It’d be interesting to know what kind of revision was requested from Forrest: style or content? This would presumably give us some information about whether or not the editors in chief were pressured by ID advocates.

    Regarding (2), the Pennock paper, in and of itself, seems to me to be enough to justify the disclaimer. Yes the disclaimer ‘casts aspersions’ on the guest editors (in Leiter’s words), but that’s only fair.

    Other authors with papers in the issue might not like the idea of a disclaimer like the one that was inserted, and maybe the disclaimer should have been more specific, but do these authors really want their papers to be published along with papers like Pennock’s?

    More generally, philosophers of science need to ask themselves: do we want a journal such as Synthese to publish papers such as Pennock’s? Do we want the editors of Synthese not to balk at the idea of the journal they edit publishing pieces like Pennock’s?

    And on the issue of whether the editors in chief assured the guest editors that there would be no disclaimer, so far it is the word of van Benthem-Hendricks-Symons vs. that of Branch-Fetzer. Seeing the quality of the editorial work of the editors in chief vs. that of the guest editors, throwing the former under the bus seems premature, to say the least.

    The editors in chief might be to blame for the way they handled the matter, but the guest editors are also to blame for doing a poor job and including in the issue papers which clearly do not meet the standards of a journal like Synthese.

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  27. Part 2/2:

    There are two issues that should be kept distinct:

    (1) Did the editors of Synthese insert the disclaimer and ask Forrest to revise her paper BECAUSE of pressures from ID advocates?

    (2) Where they RIGHT to insert the disclaimer and ask Forrest to revise her paper?

    Regarding (1) we have, so far as I know, no tangible evidence. It’d be interesting to know what kind of revision was requested from Forrest: style or content? This would presumably give us some information about whether or not the editors in chief were pressured by ID advocates.

    Regarding (2), the Pennock paper, in and of itself, seems to me to be enough to justify the disclaimer. Yes the disclaimer ‘casts aspersions’ on the guest editors (in Leiter’s words), but that’s only fair.

    Other authors with papers in the issue might not like the idea of a disclaimer like the one that was inserted, and maybe the disclaimer should have been more specific, but do these authors really want their papers to be published along with papers like Pennock’s?

    More generally, philosophers of science need to ask themselves: do we want a journal such as Synthese to publish papers such as Pennock’s? Do we want the editors of Synthese not to balk at the idea of the journal they edit publishing pieces like Pennock’s?

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  28. My view, having now looked at Pennock's paper too, is that the guest editors did a shoddy job. (Were the papers by Forrest and Pennock sent out for blind review?)

    Perhaps the EiC shouldn't have said they wouldn't publish the disclaimer, and then done so nevertheless. But they were placed in a difficult situation.

    Clearly, however, it would have been better if the EiC specified the offending papers in the disclaimer. If an apology is owed, it is to those authors who have produced papers that do not fall below the editorial standard. This apology should come not only from the EiC, but also from the guest editors!

    Should we boycott Synthese? No, in my view. The statement says 'there are lessons to be learnt from what happened regarding our internal procedures'. I think we all know what this means.

    Finally, there is the interesting issue raised by Massimo. My view is that the guest editors - along with Forrest and Pennock - have played into the hands of the pro-ID crowd. Now Beckwith gets a free paper - wouldn't we have preferred that to be peer reviewed? - and thus a 'wedge'. In short, it seems to me that it's crucial to be whiter than white in dealing with this crowd. We need to be beyond reproach. (Maybe, Massimo, you take a different view on this? I'd be interested to learn about that.)

    (If it doesn't take us too far away from the present territory, I'd add that there's a sense in which demarcating/up-valuing science by appeal to peer-review is a double-edged sword. If we didn't do that, it would lessen the effectiveness of the 'wedge' strategy that Massimo mentions. Besides, it seems to me that it's what happens _after_ a paper/idea is presented that's more important than whether it appears in print in the first place... especially with a view to the history of science...)

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  29. Alex,

    not sure why your comments appeared multiple times, but briefly:

    a) I agree that Pennock's words were strong. If you know him, that's the way he is. But they were no stronger than exchanges I've seen in print among people like Dennett, Chalmers, and so on. Laudan's dismissal of the demarcation problem was indeed much too quick, and has indeed been adopted without much thinking by far too many (probably because it gets us out of the way of precisely this sort of unpleasant debate).

    b) The statement by Pennock that you dismiss as a non sequitur is hardly anything of the kind. It certainly was a flippant remark (again, certainly not a rarity in philosophical journals), but it does follow from the alleged non-existence of the demarcation problem.

    c) Seems to me that it is a more than reasonable inference that the editor of Synthese did act (wrongly, regardless of what one thinks of the papers' tone) because of pressure from the ID lobby. To believe otherwise risks burying one's head in order to avoid to see unpleasant things around.

    d) No, the editors were not right in putting any disclaimer at all, before or after the fact. What they had the right to do was to reject Pennock's or Forrest's paper (I remind you that the problem apparently is with Forrest's, not Pennock's) before publication. Once accepted it is unconscionable and unprofessional to request further changes and/or to add disclaimers, no matter the where the pressure is coming from.

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  30. Darrell,

    I respect your opinion about the editors of Synthese having done enough to repair the damage. I don't think they did. We may "all know" what they mean, but if they don't say it, in my opinion it doesn't count for much.

    Yes, you may be correct that the guest editors may have been lured into all of this with premeditation, though frankly I'm beginning to feel like a conspiracy theorists ;-)

    Frankly, I think Synthese should never even have tackled the ID issue. It's not serious philosophy, and it doesn't belong in any philosophy journal. Any entry by these people into serious academic discourse will be used in nefarious ways no matter how careful and well intentioned our community is.

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  31. I'm not trying to stir anything up here, but do you think the editors-in-chief might resign over this?

    It would be sad if they did, since by all accounts they have done a very good job. But they are surely in a very difficult position at this point.

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  32. Jonathan,

    that would be a bit too drastic even for my taste. I'd simply like a clear, not wishy washy apology so that we could all get on with our lives...

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  33. I find Edouard's position on this matter almost inexplicable. Testimonial evidence is given by Branch and Fetzer as to what transpired. Edouard declines to accept it because it has not been independently verified. What if it were verified by other testimonial evidence (say mine)? Would that suffice? Or do you need to see phone records or hear tape recordings? What exactly is the standard of evidence you are applying here?

    But we have not only the testimonial evidence of those with personal knowledge of the matter. We have:

    1. The fact that the only article challenged was the one that attacked Beckwith--consistent with the testimonial evidence that Beckwith and his ID allies lobbied the editors.

    2. The fact that there is another article, Pennock's, that could be challenged on grounds of its rhetoric, but was, in fact, never challenged by the EICs--consistent with the hypothesis that the EICs were motivated by the lobbying, not by a concern with tone.

    3. Evidence available to anyone awake about how the ID crowd operates, a modus operandi consistent with the testimonial evidence about what transpired here.

    Apart from the fact that there is strong, and so far undefeated, evidence that the EICs caved in to pressure from Beckwith and the ID crowd, there are also the other wrongs unrelated to that: lying to the guest editors, insulting all the contributors to the volume with generic allegations of failure to meet professional standards and so on. Everyone should look at Hilary Kornblith's comment, which I posted today.

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  34. Hi Massimo; I didn't want to suggest the GEs were lured into anything! I just wanted to suggest that they provided an opening that they needn't/shouldn't have.

    I just fear all this is getting out of hand, and that the motivations of some individuals in calling for this boycott are primarily political. I will also confess to a concern about Leiter's role in agitating this. I think the philosophical community would do better without this self-appointed policeman.

    My plan is now to get on with my life, though. ;-) I wish you well in yours.

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  35. I am posting this comment on behalf of Brian Leiter (who is experiencing technical difficulties in posting his comment. If anyone else is having troubles, please feel free to contact me):

    "I find Edouard's position on this matter very puzzling. Testimonial evidence is given by Branch and Fetzer as to what transpired. Edouard declines to accept it because it has not been independently verified. What if it were verified by other testimonial evidence (say mine)? Would that suffice? Or do you need to see phone records or hear tape recordings? What exactly is the standard of evidence you are applying here?

    But we have not only the testimonial evidence of those with personal knowledge of the matter. We have:

    1. The fact that the only article challenged was the one that attacked Beckwith--consistent with the testimonial evidence that Beckwith and his ID allies lobbied the editors.

    2. The fact that there is another article, Pennock's, that could be challenged on grounds of its rhetoric, but was, in fact, never challenged by the EICs--consistent with the hypothesis that the EICs were motivated by the lobbying, not by a concern with tone.

    3. Evidence available to anyone awake about how the ID crowd operates, a modus operandi consistent with the testimonial evidence about what transpired here.

    Apart from the fact that there is strong, and so far undefeated, evidence that the EICs caved in to pressure from Beckwith and the ID crowd, there are also the other wrongs unrelated to that: lying to the guest editors, insulting all the contributors to the volume with generic allegations of failure to meet professional standards and so on. Everyone should look at Hilary Kornblith's comment, which I posted today. Perhaps evidence will be adduced sufficient to support the conclusion that pressure from the ID crowd did not play a role in what transpired; that would still leave the other concerns on the table."

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  37. Steven - you said:

    'It's not just that 1) the EiC have been discourteous in not consulting with the guest editors, it is that 2) they have made a serious and unfortunate allegation against certain of the authors in that issue and 3) have given the impression that they have caved to pressure from the ID lobby. '(numbering mine)

    Steven: I'm with you on one and three: clearly there was discourtesy (and worse - apparently also dishonesty), and clearly the editors have given the impression of having bowed to pressure.

    It doesn't seem to me that discourtesy (or even dishonesty) on its is own is sufficent grounds for a boycott. And while I agree that'giving the impression of having been leant on' is a bad thing, whether or not one actually has, it's not clear that the this is a wrong that a boycott can undo: any response will simply give the impression that the Synthese editors have been leaned on by another group.

    So the case for the boycott seems to rely on the claim that the editors 'have made a serious allegation against the authors', and I can't see that that's true. The editors say:

    '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.'

    and '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.'

    I take them to be saying that that some of the authors have been unduly rhetorical, in a way which, in the opinion of the EiCs isn't good for the discussion.

    Whether or not that's true, I can't see it as a serious allegation. We're all capable of going over the top rhetorically, aren't always capable of seeing it when we do so, and people's judgment as to what is over the top will vary.

    What am I missing? What makes this an especially serious and unfortunate allegation?
    (as opposed to the sort of thing which one would not like someone to say about one's writing, but which one runs the risk of if one puts out a strongly argued view.)

    As a point of comparison: in a discipline such as history, there are areas where it's possible for the editor of an academic journal to (mis)represent an author's written views on in such a way as to open up the possibility of the author's being prosecuted for them.

    That is the sort of thing that I would call a 'serious and unfortunate' allegation. I would also call something that could impact substantially on the professional lives of the authors a 'serious allegation' - for example, an accusation of plagiarism. But I can't see that there's anything of this sort here.

    So - what am I missing?

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  38. Francis Beckwith has used the editors' vague disclaimer to discredit Barbara Forrest (this is even clear from the abstract of his article posted online). Even if we trust the editors' public defenders that no public pressure was put on them to publish Beckwith's piece the editors and their defenders should recognize that one of the most important philosophical venues is being used to help discredit a very brave philosophical colleague.

    The editors of Synthese should also realize that by publishing Beckwith's particular piece they are enhancing Beckwith's credibility in the political arena. All of this is pretty galling once we remind ourselves of the historic roots of Synthese in scientific philosophy and public enlightenment projects. This is a clear instance where a procedural focus on politeness (if that is what it really was) misses the very simple political fact that scientific authority is being abused by folk, however civil their tone, that have aims inimical to public reason.

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  39. I said something about this over on the Leiter blog, but I just want to register that I completely disagree with Darrell Rowbottom's assessment above of the Forrest article.

    Forrest attempts (inter alia) to expose a deliberate "Wedge Strategy" to which Beckwith contributes. The strategy is to flood the journals with arguments that are (or ought to be) known as fallacious, so as to plant a seed of doubt about ID's religious basis. Once this is done, the courts and the media will have to support, or at least permit, discussion of the arguments, and therefore of ID, in the (biology) classroom.

    Now Rowbottom may not agree that Forrest has established this. But for my part, I think she has done a great job. However this might be, it seems to me perfectly appropriate to include "biographical detail" in a work that is concerned with contemporary history.

    Secondly, I can't figure out what the EiCs of Synthese are complaining about -- even very respected historians, e.g., Tony Judt, engage in vigorous declamation, especially when one is dealing with a political agenda. Forrest's rhetoric is perfectly appropriate in a historical work.

    Secondly, I disagree with this statement by Rowbottom: "I also found the paper to be surprisingly assertive on the epistemological issues. For example, it just asserts that faith has no part to play in science, or preference for beliefs derived from science, although it's entirely unclear in what sense Forrest can be said to lack faith in, say, reason and experience. (For that matter, there may also be faith in Haack on science.)" First of all, I find it sophistical to equate faith in God the Creator with "faith" in reason and experience. Secondly, the comment misses the point: Forrest wanted to contrast science as a "federation of kinds of enquiry" with religion and faith, which endorse particular beliefs.

    To reiterate: I found Forrest's article to be impressive in its scholarship and astute in its exposure of philosophical fallacy, and if it had been sent to me to referee, I would have recommended acceptance in no uncertain terms.

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  40. I said I wouldn't post again at Leiter reports, so I won't. But I will respond here, Mohan, because I think you somewhat misrepresented my claims in that forum. (I am not saying you did so intentionally, of course!)

    You may well 'find it sophistical to equate faith in God the Creator with "faith" in reason in experience'. But that is no argument. I was alluding to the issue of epistemological regress, and the _tu quoque_ argument raised by Bartley in _The Retreat to Commitment_.. This is an issue I've thought about a great deal, over very many years, and indeed published on; see, for example, chapter one of my recent _Popper's Critical Rationalism: A Philosophical Investigation_. (I open this chapter with the following: 'is there any position, or belief set, that is not underpinned by faith (or that lacks dogmatic elements)? The worry is that if there is not, then relativism beckons; that it would be acceptable to choose whichever poison one likes (or to stick with whichever poison one inherits).') And as you'll see if you follow up the references there, Bartley's attempt to deal with this issue was discussed in a number of papers in leading journals, such as Analysis, by leading general philosophers of science (especially those working out of what one might call the LSE 'critical rationalist' tradition, understood broadly, to include Lakatos and Feyerabend).

    You also say I miss the point. But I was just referring to one particular step in Forrest's paper. In any event, faith in particular belief generation methods (or more broadly, particular sources) is only a small step away from faith in particular beliefs. (Note that creationists appeal to sources too; it's not as if their beliefs are totally inflexible, or that they are expected to memorise scripture.) I've discussed all this in print, in the past, with reference to van Fraassen's notion of 'stance'.

    Under the circumstances, I should also give some more concrete examples of the problems I have with Forrest's piece (which were originally part of a private e-mail to Leiter). Here's goes:

    --:
    Philosophically, e.g., in the abstract: ‘I preface my examination of Beckwith’s arguments with... philosopher of science Haack’s _clarification of the established naturalistic methodology and epistemology of science_’ [emphasis mine]. Established by whom? This is just a (convenient) misrepresentation of the philosophy of the science. I take strong exception to it.

    And in terms of ‘tone’ (or appropriate content): ‘Although he has been called a legal scholar... he is neither a lawyer nor, properly speaking, a constitutional scholar. He lacks the requisite credentials and expertise, holding degrees in philosophy, religious apologetics, and a Master of Juridical Studies (M.J.S.) from the Washington University School of Law (the Discovery Institute financed Beckwith’s research for the M.J.S. with a $9000 fellowship)... The M.J.S. “is designed for individuals in career fields who would benefit from limited legal train- ing and do not require a professional degree.... [C]redit earned toward the MJS is not transferable to the JD program. It also does not qualify recipients to practice law”... Nonetheless, he presents his major pro-ID arguments in two law review articles... and a book, Law, Darwinism, and Public Education...’

    Why not just engage this guy’s arguments? It would be cleaner, and much more persuasive (in my view).
    --

    Needless to say, if Forrest's had been sent to me I would have recommended rejection. But disagreements such as this are unsurprising, and perhaps to be expected given our different areas of expertise and different sensitivities. (This, indeed, is partly why I think the guest editors should have used external blind review.)

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  41. P.S. There's another point that Mohan raises, on Leiter Reports, which is important. He writes: 'The Forrest paper is not an original work of philosophy, and is not intended to be. However, it is a powerful piece of contemporary historical research...'

    I confess that I judged it as a work of philosophy (and/or HPS). I did this because of my sense of Synthese's scope and target audience. I'm open to the possibility that this is/was a mistake.

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  42. @Leeds PhD
    I think there may be a couple of things you are missing. First of all, the philosophical community are not just another special interest group that can be put on a par with the 'ID lobby'. Those of us in the UK should not underestimate the impact of the latter. Its not just that being leant on or giving the impression of being leant on is a 'bad thing' - its much more serious than that (in ways that I hope I don;t have to spell out!). Given that the EiC have yet to fully clarify the situation, what other leverage do we have, as PD asks?
    Furthermore, the EiC disclaimer presents a blanket slur against the authors of this special issue and even if one is uncomfortable with the tone of Forrest's piece, this is an appalling editorial dismissal. How can what they say not be a serious allegation?! Already it has been seized upon by ID folk and the concern is that it will be used to push their political agenda. Again, easy for us euros to take a disinterested stance; not so much for colleagues in Texas, say, struggling to resist further incursions of ID into the science curriculum.
    Finally, the EiC had plenty of opportunities to urge corrections to tone and content at an early stage. They didn't. They allowed the paper concerned to be published on-line and they assured the guest editors no disclaimer would be made. They then went back on their word, thereby creating the impression of having caved. At the very least they should clarify the situation, apologise and assure us this will not happen again.
    I agree that a boycott is a serious step and not one to be taken lightly. However the EiC have not take up a series of opportunities to apologise and give us the assurances we seek. Perhaps the plethora of petitions will do the job but I'm not holding my breath.
    - Steven French

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  43. I'm not sure I fully understand the argument to the effect that no disclaimer should have been inserted/Beckwith shouldn't have been allowed to publish a reply to Forrest because this will further the political agenda of ID advocates.

    Publishing a paper in a serious philosophical journal such as Synthese presumably already contributes to furthering the political agenda of the ID crowd, whether or not the paper in question ends up being refuted. Inserting the disclaimer obviously makes things worse, but it's not like the ID people wouldn't have been able to use Beckwith's publication in Synthese to support their views had the disclaimer not been inserted.

    So let me ask: should the EiCs of Synthese not have had an issue on 'Evolution and its rivals' in the first place? Or should the guest editors have picked somebody other than Beckwith to represent the ID side of things? Or should they not have given a voice to the ID people at all? Or should the EiCs have picked different guest editors than Fetzer and Branch?

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  44. Of course, there are prima facie reasons to question the editors' conduct, and it seems clear that they did not handle this affair in the most clever and professional manner. But after reading all this, I am still not in a position to judge whether they made a gross fault or not, because it remains unclear what happened internally prior to publishing this statement.

    But in any case, I am shocked that Brian Leiter takes the right to publicly call for a boycott of the journal (which is the strongest sanction available). Testimonial evidence by the guest editors and *suspicions* that the EiCs gave in to political pressure are clearly not enough for that.

    My hunch is that BL would like to punish the journal for unwillingly helping the ID movement, which seems, given the course of events, to be a fact of the matter. Still, in my view one should not pursue a political agenda at the price of damaging one's colleagues if one runs an influential and much-read blog.

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  45. Jan - it seems like the evidence of gross fault is better today than it was when this post was made:

    http://leiterreports.typepad.com/blog/2011/05/the-letter-2-of-the-3-synthese-editors-in-chief-sent-to-barbara-forrest-after-being-lobbied-by-beckw.html

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