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.

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Wesley R. Elsberry

Falconer. Interdisciplinary researcher: biology and computer science. Photographer. Husband. Christian. Activist.

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