Monthly Archives: April 2011

Petition for Synthese to Retract the Disclaimer

Just in case there’s any academics who haven’t gotten the word yet, there’s a petition going requesting four things of the Synthese Editors-in-Chief, including the retraction of the vague disclaimer that tarnishes the whole special issue on “Evolution and its rvials”. If you aren’t on board with one or more of the items, that can be noted in a comment when you sign up.

There’s a separate petition requesting that Synthese give Barbara Forrest a chance to respond to Francis Beckwith.

Religious Antievolutionists and Civility: Paul Giem

Professor Paul Giem, M.D., of Loma Linda University has a batch of video lectures online. One of them has him discussing the Synthese special issue on “Evolution and its rivals”, with special attention given to Prof. Barbara Forrest’s paper and Prof. Francis Beckwith’s response. Giem really, really doesn’t like Forrest’s article. At 28:49 into the video, Giem delivers a truly stunning bit of incivility:

This lady [referring to Prof. Forrest] needs some Haldol or something. She’s paranoid.

One of the possible defenses against a defamation of character claim concerns the credibility of the defamer. You can’t win a defamation case if the defaming party is not considered credible when stating the defamatory speech. The fact that Giem is an M.D. would work against him in any case concerning the figurative prescription of psychoactive pharmaceuticals. Giem would be held to a higher, not lower, standard in any such instance.

Civility for religious antievolutionists is a one-way street: they can dish out incivility, but they aren’t going to put up with taking any.

I’ve added this instance to the Invidious Comparisons thread, noting that it isn’t an invidious comparison per se.

Update: It’s been noted that I left out a bit of context. Loma Linda U. is a Seventh-Day Adventist institution, and the SDA is committed to a literal Fall of Adam. Giem expresses his young-earth creationist views online here.

Update 2: Following Tom English’s comment, I’ve added the next words from the video where Giem refers to Forrest as paranoid.

Some of My Best Friends Are Authors…

Over at New APPS, the comments continue. Jeff Shallit, my co-author on the paper in Synthese, weighed in with a brief comment:

Apparently Prof. Laudan thinks it is justified, if editors have a problem with a single paper or two in a special issue, to issue a general disclaimer that potentially impugns the integrity of every single author in the issue under question.

As a co-author of one of the papers in the special issue, I am shocked by both the behavior of the editors and the endorsement of that behavior by Prof. Laudan.

Jon Cogburn took issue with Jeff, expanding at length on his opinion that the EiC disclaimer in no way impugned the integrity of authors in the special issue.

And I replied to a part of Cogburn’s comment:

“I mean the editors did not say that some of the authors abused students or committed plagiarism or that some of the papers were unsound or not deserving of inclusion. They just said they thought some of the papers were too impolite and further clarified that this was an editorial oversight, one that clearly could have been addressed in the revising period of the papers.”

It seems ironic that tender sensitivities must be protected of everyone *except* the authors, who are apparently supposed to simply overlook anything other than outright accusations of high crimes and misdemeanors.

The distinction you make about editorial oversight might arguably be part of the just-released online response from the EiC (though I think it isn’t nearly clear enough to be described in just that way), but it isn’t part of the original disclaimer. I think arguing that it might be implicit in the original disclaimer would not be satisfactory.

We may need to agree to disagree about the scope of effect of the disclaimer on the authors.

Maybe you can touch upon another aspect of this. Given that the EiC felt it necessary to attach a disclaimer that might be applied severally to each and every paper in the volume (and the response in the IDC community shows that this is exactly what is happening, whether justifiable in each case or not), was it appropriate for the EiC to omit notice of their intended action and to deny each of the contributors the opportunity to withdraw their work? As Jeffrey’s co-author, I am in agreement that we would have withdrawn our paper if we had been informed of the nature of the disclaimer that would be published with our work. Maybe that would not have been your choice in the same situation, but I would hope that you would allow that opinions vary, especially with respect to protecting one’s own reputation. We were not notified of any of these concerns and intentions prior to the appearance of the printed issue. I, at least, see that as an irresponsible and unprofessional lapse on the part of the EiC at Synthese.

“New APPS” and Synthese Comments

Mark Lance makes an excellent point over at “New APPS” concerning the Synthese disclaimer flap. I think it deserves more notice than simply being part of a longish stream of comments.

So, all in all, I’m still looking for anything that is remotely a candidate for exclusion on the grounds of unprofessional rudeness. Again, if the issue is that the arguments are bad, then the paper should have been rejected on those grounds. But if editors start saying that it is unprofessional to draw negative conclusions about people who are engaged in debates with obvious and dire political consequences, then we need to be aware that they are taking a stand in favor of philosophical irrelevancy.

The Synthese Editors-in-Chief Strike Back

The Synthese Editors-in-Chief issued a joint statement today about the disclaimer in the special issue. The closest approach to an apology was the following:

Of course, there are lessons to be learnt from what happened regarding our internal procedures, and Synthese will do that.

It’s a ‘Nothing to see here, move along’ sort of thing they have there, at least at first sight. On re-reading that, it can be taken not as an indication of a glimmer of recognition that their response might have gotten it wrong, but rather as an implication that they’ll be tightening down on guest editors.

I did my part to set them straight in the comments:

The EiCs also had a responsibility not to tarnish the reputations of contributors whose work did not have “unacceptable content”. Failure to provide authors with the opportunity to revise or withdraw before being smeared with such a disclaimer as employed by the EiCs is irresponsible and unprofessional, in my opinion. As a contributor to the issue in question, I can attest that at no time did the EiCs contact me with respect to that failed “internal resolution”. We would have opted for withdrawal rather than publish under the conditions that actually took place. At a minimum, the EiCs should have specifically identified the papers they believed to be problematic and not turn the issue into a philosophical “Where’s Waldo?” panel. That would have at least not tainted the rest by the vagueness that obtained in the actual disclaimer. I find the vague disclaimer to be itself highly discourteous, let alone the lack of notice provided to affected contributors whether guilty or innocent of the claimed lapses.

A Grete Waitz Reminiscence

Back in the early 80s, I made what living I had as a staff photographer for the Independent Florida Alligator (IFA) newspaper. One day I was assigned to go get a photo of a runner to go with a story being worked up by a reporter. I was given the appointment time and place (IIRC, the Holiday Inn University Center at 13th and University). I showed up on time, but the reporter did not. The runner was Grete Waitz, someone about whom I knew little except that she ran well and a lot. As I recall it, she wasn’t yet completely comfortable with English, and I certainly had no Norwegian. Somehow we came to an understanding that I was there to take some photos for the paper. I got some absolutely unremarkable head-and-shoulders type shots, but given that we had more time than originally planned, I also used my 24mm lens to get some wide-angle shots that emphasized her feet in running shoes. I think Ms. Waitz was either perplexed or amused by the angle I was taking photos from, but given the language barrier that didn’t become clear. I left while the reporter was working on the interview.

While I printed the head-and-shoulders portrait, the IFA used the wide-angle shot. Kim Kulish, our photo editor, encouraged me to keep looking for the apropos but unusual approach to a subject.

I spent maybe twenty minutes in Ms. Waitz’ company, but I remembered her fondly as from time to time her name came up in the news or articles. Her extraordinary success in running — and winning — marathons made that a regular thing through the 1980s. Today, I have to remember her sadly, as her name was once again in the news, this time announcing her untimely death due to cancer. She was 57 years old, just six years older than I am now.

A couple of years ago, I know I saw the glassine envelope marked “Grete Waitz” in my collection of negatives from my time at the IFA. I will try to find, scan, and post the photo that I took on that sunny day in Gainesville. I do remember you, Grete, and my life was a bit richer for the experience. My thanks for your forbearance with a young photojournalist and my condolences go to your family for having lost you so soon.

Is the Synthese Thing Just Business as Usual?

Chris Pincock at “Honest Toil” has a different take on the Synthese disclaimer issue. Pincock makes the argument that since the Editors-in-Chief have responsibility for the reputation of the journal, of course they would have to put a disclaimer on a special issue if they saw a problem. There’s nothing to do because the Editors-in-Chief have a compelling motivation for the action they took.

My response in the comments there was this:

As an author in the special issue in contention, I am less sanguine than you about the events. You see, the broad-brush vagueness of the Editors-in-Chief statement casts aspersions upon my academic integrity. Do the Editors-in-Chief have the right, in your estimation, to tar my reputation without notice or recourse? If I had been informed ahead of time of the intention to run that disclaimer with my paper, I would have retracted it on the spot. I was given *no* prior notice that any such criticism would be part of publishing in the special issue. I was given *no* opportunity to either revise or retract to escape the criticism leveled at the papers of the special issue. Is that also just their unquestioned right as Editors-in-Chief?

In my estimation, it is not simply business as usual for an academic publication to treat its authors as the Synthese Editors-in-Chief have done in this case. I don’t know that a boycott is absolutely the right response, but I disagree with the idea that no response is justified.

Wesley R. Elsberry

Synthese Shenanigans

I had a co-authored paper published in the philosophy journal, Synthese. It appeared online back in 2009 and then in print in the January issue this year. But something else appeared in the January issue with my paper. It was a disclaimer from the chief editors saying that unspecified papers published in that special issue failed to meet the journal’s usual standards for civility in discourse.

This was news to me. It turns out that there was discussion between the special issue editors, James Fetzer and Glenn Branch, and the Editors-in-Chief of Synthese concerning one of the papers, the one by Barbara Forrest that took up the case of Francis Beckwith and his support of “intelligent design” creationism. After the online publication of the articles, the IDC community apparently lobbied the Editors-in-Chief for revisions in Forrest’s paper and giving Beckwith the opportunity to respond in the journal. Two of the Editors-in-Chief asked Forrest to make revisions, or they would add a disclaimer to the special issue. With a batch of correspondence between the various editorial parties, the special issue editors came away with the idea that things had been resolved: Beckwith would get his chance to respond in print, but there would be no after-the-fact revisions and no disclaimer. It wasn’t until the print issue arrived that they discovered that that was not the case, as the threatened disclaimer was discovered as a pretty ghastly reality. Worse, the disclaimer was vague about its disapproval, making it appear to the casual reader that there could be many, if not all, of the articles that caused the high editorial reaction.

Brian Leiter has called for a professional boycott of Synthese until and unless the Editors-in-Chief retract the disclaimer and issue an apology over the matter. Organization of the boycott is being handled by John Wilkins.

For myself, I think boycotting Synthese doesn’t make much sense, as I don’t publish often enough in the philosophical literature for them to notice my absence. Others with more production in philosophy will have more influence via a boycott. If I had been apprised of the disclaimer ahead of time, I would have opted to retract the paper rather than publish it as implicitly tainted by the Editors-in-Chief actions. I would hope that professionalism re-asserts itself in the editorial leadership at Synthese and we see a quick and decisive correction of the deplorable actions so far taken by them.

Florida Senate Majority Office on Facebook

The “Florida Senate Majority Office” has a page on Facebook. They ran a poll asking, “Do you think government employees should contribute to their retirement funds, similar to the private sector?”, which is how I became aware of them. The way that’s worded, I’m sure they were expecting a runaway “Yes” response, but the “No”s are currently ahead. It’s possible people are becoming aware that that is just code for “cut total compensation to public employees”, not pension reform. The state started paying all retirement in the mid-70s because it is cheaper that way: the state doesn’t have to hand over an employee contribution that doesn’t exist if the employee doesn’t stay until “vesting” in the program. That’s right, the current system of complete state pay-in for retirement is not meant as a special benefit for public employees, but rather as a way to be cheap with a whole swath of them. Employee pay-in will make the vesting waiting period less effective as a means of saving the state money. The savings currently considered actually are in the across-the-board reduction in total compensation. The whole thing could be done better, from a “save the money” point of view, by simply reducing all public employee salaries by a certain percentage. That would automatically reduce the state pay-in for retirement, too. But I think that the political calculation is that “pension reform” is an easier label to sell than an absolutely obvious pay cut, even if they amount to the same thing, reducing total compensation.

Anyway, the Facebook page looks to be a good way to keep up with what the Florida GOP is doing. Among other items, Senator Altman is sponsoring a Senate Joint Resolution aimed at removing strong language from the state constitution that forbids direct or indirect funding of religious entities with state funds. It is SJR 1218, and it removes the previous prohibition on funding religious entities while asserting positively that an individual may use state funds by giving them to religious entities. The opportunities for slapstick appear to be about to increase.

In the “that’s scary” column would be the news about SCR 4, a resolution for Florida to advance a balanced budget amendment to the US constitution. What’s scary about that? The way they propose doing it, that’s what. They want to hold a national constitutional convention in order to add a balanced budget amendment. A constitutional convention could certainly add such an amendment, but it need not stop with that. The convention could rewrite any or all of the constitution at their discretion, and looking at what’s been going down in our state and national legislatures doesn’t look like any sort of discretion to me. A balanced budget provision is at least popular and arguable, but some of the other stuff our legislators have been spending their time on is not. Which makes me think that calling a constitutional convention isn’t actually for the purpose of adding a balanced budget amendment (they could just propose and advocate that in the normal, single-issue amendment process), but for doing whatever else it is that isn’t put on the table for us to see beforehand. Very scary indeed.