The Synthese Editors-in-Chief Respond to a Petition

The main petition regarding the Synthese disclaimer published in the January, 2011 issue was signed by 470 academics. It asked for a retraction of the disclaimer and additional information about the circumstances that led the Editors-in-Chief (EiC) to include it.

The EiC have now provided a response to the main petition. I received no direct notice of this response; I ran across a post about it on the “New Apps” blog. Prof. Matthen, author of that blog post, noted:

As far as I can tell, this is a website with one item only. This is clearly a tactic to make the response as obscure and invisible as it can be.

To give some more detail on the apparent desire for obscurity, let me note that the web page as provided has only one piece of content, an image that shows the text of a response letter. Posting an image means that the text of the response is not made easily accessible and it is not indexed by search engines as text. (Interestingly, the page was generated out of Microsoft Word and includes metadata identifying Prof. Hendricks as the author of the piece signed by all three EiC.)

As for the text not being out there recorded for search engines and posterity, that is easy enough to fix. Here it is. I’ve transcribed it from the image at the link above. Any misspellings are likely mine.

In response to the petition sent to Synthese:

We have considered the demands contained in this petition very seriously. We have implemented a moratorium on new special issues and we have begun planning appropriate changes to the editorial procedures of Synthese.

The petition asks for full disclosure of all legal threats. There have not been any communications received from Christian philosophers that constituted legal threats. There was a single email from a member of the public expressing the view that the entire special issue was ‘scurrilous and libelous’. We did not consider this email to be a legal threat. It is important to note that this email was received after our initial contacts with Professor Beckwith.

As far as meaningful legal action is concerned, we have received messages that we take seriously as legal threats but these have not come from Christian philosophers. Our ability to provide detailed responses in the blogs is constrained by these challenges.

Professor Beckwith requested an opportunity to respond to Professor Forrest’s paper. We agreed that this was a fair course of action. As regards the inclusion of our editorial statement and the email correspondence with Professor Forrest, it is true that there was considerable discussion between the editors of all aspects of the special issue. We took these matters very seriously and as is often the case with serious deliberation there were some oscillations prior to our reaching a conclusion. Eventually the editors arrived at a shared position, in consultation with the publisher, based on what we judged to be the offending language in two papers.

With respect to the claim that the guest editors were given assurances that no editorial statement would appear, it is true that the guest editors were privy to internal discussions between the editors-in-chief at earlier stages. We were unable to properly communicate later stages of our decision-making process to the guest editors.

We are ultimately responsible for what appears in the journal and we decided to publish the special issue without amendment to any of its papers. We wish to emphasize that our editorial statement should in no way be interpreted as an endorsement of ‘intelligent design’.

At this point, we have a duty to help create procedures to prevent situations of the sort we saw here from recurring. Thus, in consultation with the publisher, we have begun planning a transition to improved editorial procedures and improved oversight which will be in place in 2012. We will work closely with our board or area editors and our advisory board to make this happen.

Johan van Benthem

Vincent Hendricks

John Symons

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Wesley R. Elsberry

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

4 thoughts on “The Synthese Editors-in-Chief Respond to a Petition

  • 2011/05/15 at 10:04 am
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    The striking thing about the EiC reply is that while they label it as a “response”, the proper term for what they’ve produced is much more clearly in the category of an “acknowledgment”. They take notice of the petition, but they do not substantively engage its requests.

  • 2011/05/17 at 12:48 pm
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    “As far as I can tell, this is a website with one item only. This is clearly a tactic to make the response as obscure and invisible as it can be.”

    Having read the response, over at John Pierret’s I already thought they were weaselly, but adding in the bizarre method of communication the EICs of Synthese couldn’t have made themselves look more weaselly if they’d tried.

  • 2011/05/20 at 3:38 pm
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    So what is happening to the journal? I would hope that no has recently submitted any article there, and that anything pending or accepted has been withdrawn. That seems the obvious course of action. Is its’ what being done?

  • 2011/05/20 at 6:52 pm
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    Massimo Pigliucci and a co-author have done precisely that. John Wilkins is tracking the people willing to boycott Synthese over this matter.

Comments are closed.