Friday, April 29, 2011

Bad boys, bad boys, whatcha gonna do?

Regarding the Synthese kerfuffle, Anonymous wrote:
I don't know how seriously I can take all this, given the background of the atrociously bad editorial practices I suspect most journals really engage in... So the Synthese editors engaged in what seems to be bad editorial behavior. But until I have reason to believe they alone among top journals behave in this way, why shame them?
One thing the Synthese editors did, it seems, is publish Beckwith's 23 page reponse without peer review. This is based on the fact that it was received and accepted on the same day, Feb 7. This is Synthese's editorial policy:
Synthese follows a double−blind reviewing procedure. Authors are therefore requested not to include their name or affiliation in their submitted papers. Self−identifying citations and references in the article text should be avoided. Authors should thus make sure that their names and/or affiliations are NOT mentioned on any of the manuscript pages. If authors do include their names on submitted papers, anonymous reviewing cannot be guaranteed.
Obviously, Beckwith's response could not be double-blinded, since he refers to himself continuously throughout the essay. And there are fully two pages of references in which he cites his own work. And he put his own name in the keywords. But that the diatribe could not be blind-reviewed does not mean it should not be subject to peer review at all... or does it? He also in places dismissively refers to Barbara Forrest as "Ms. Forrest" rather than Dr. or Professor Forrest. And he writes this:
My task of responding is made more difficult by the fact that Forrest’s 49-page article is at many points nearly incomprehensible. She cites, quotes from, and misrepresents works of mine published over a 23 year period, from when I was 24 years-old until the age of 47 (I am presently 50); she compares and contrasts works, composed sometimes decades apart, that are dealing with different issues in different disciplines at different levels of abstraction and written for diverse audiences, including professional philosophers, theologians, legal scholars, Christian lay persons, etc.; and she often writes longish paragraphs that include a lot of controversial assertions that she presents as uncontested truths, and quotes from assorted writers whose work she often misunderstands or misrepresents, but with no actual arguments (or at least none that one can immediately recognize).
There really is no easy way to remedy this problem, though it is, happily, not my problem. It is Forrest’s. I have no obligation to provide clarity, rigor, and coherence to an article that lacks all three and that I did not author.
Which is to say, to remedy the allegedly problematic "tone" of Forrest's paper, Synthese published, without peer review, a piece that is essentially a dismissive ad hominem. (Which makes me suspect more and more that there is more at play here than just the ID controversy. There is also really and truly sexism.)

So it strikes me that the editors of Synthese are guilty of all kinds of editorial malfeasance here.

But to return to Anonymous's comment. Is this just par for the course? Are all journals this "atrociously" bad? This strikes me as unlikely, because if it happened all the time, we would either be hearing about it more often, or the Synthese thing wouldn't have turned into such a big deal and we could all go back to chewing our cud in peace and quiet.

Open discussion: Is this normal? What kinds of editorial misconduct have you encountered personally (or know about from a reliable source)?

~zombie

22 comments:

Anonymous said...

Phil Studies doesn't (always) practice blind review. As has been mentioned here before, you can send in work to have the editor serve as the referee and referee the paper. The paper is prepared for blind review, but isn't reviewed blindly.

* How do I know? The editor emailed me at a personal email acct to say that he'd be refereeing my papers.

* The Phil Studies sight says that papers are subject to blind review. If the paper is accepted and not reviewed blindly, that's bad. If the paper is is not accepted and not reviewed blindly, that's also bad.

* You might say that editors often decide what goes to referees and what doesn't. That's true. In this case, however, it seemed relatively clear that the editor had decided to be the referee before giving the paper a proper reading (email from editor preceded comments and verdict by 6 months). If the editor accepted, others could reasonably complain that they were subject to a blind review process that others got a pass on. If the editor didn't accept, the author (me) can complain that they are not receiving access to the same editorial process that others are.

Anonymous said...

I don't know if this is true or not, but I always assumed that the double-blind thing just had exceptions for articles that made it obvious who the author was. There is no shortage of such articles in philosophy journals, nor should there be, as philosophers should be allowed to be systematic in their research and reference other things that they've established or argued.

Anonymous said...

Forrest's piece was received on March 23 and accepted on March 25. This suggests that hers probably wasn't peer-reviewed either (unless we're thinking that being read by one of the Guest Editors counts as being peer-reviewed; that could've happened in a 2-day span... but if so, then presumably Beckwith's could've also been similarly read and accepted same-day).

The short time between submission and acceptance, for both pieces, suggests that neither were subject to external blind refereeing. If one finds fault with the editors for this when it comes to Beckwith's piece, I suppose one should also find it troubling for Forrest's.

Anonymous said...

What does "synthese" mean?

Anonymous said...

I've noticed that students from a certain program do exceptionally well in publishing pieces in two journals edited by one of their professors. A friend who was having trouble with a piece said that he'd either junk it or give it one more shot at this journal. It was accepted almost immediately and my friend assured me that he thought it had its best shot there.

My hypothesis is that there's a network of referees that this person uses frequently and given the collaboration between students in this group, they're more inclined to review papers favorably for members of the in-group than the out-group.

I don't think anyone is doing anything nefarious intentionally. I mean, there could be some intentional wrongdoing that takes place at somewhere in the chain, but I don't think we have to posit that to understand the nature of the problem. When you have one person editing two journals and relying on a network of those nearest and dearest to him, I think you'll get untoward results even if everyone link in the chain is operating with the purest of motives. I think the way to minimize these sorts of problems is to limit the amount of editorial work individuals have and require double-blind review.

cogitated said...

"Obviously, Beckwith's response could not be double-blinded, since he refers to himself continuously throughout the essay."

I'm not sure that you understand what the _Synthese_ policy means when it claims to be a double blinded journal. The double blind policy applies only to unsolicited, submitted articles. It does not apply to invited responses. Many journals invite people to give a reply when their work has been criticized in that journal. Given that such work is *invited* it couldn't be double blind -- it need not be blind at all, I think, since it doesn't seem clear that it should go through the normal refereeing procedures. For example, if it did go through them a completely clueless referee (i.e., one who didn't know that it was a response, not an original article) might wonder why the paper was nearly entirely negative and then reject it. But of course it's going to be largely negative; it's a response, after all.

So, I'm not sure that complaining about the procedure is the right way to go here, unless one wants to limit significantly people replying to others' criticisms of their work.

None of this is to say that I think that they should have published Beckwith's "response". It's horrible in multiple respects. Really, anyone who has read it should be shocked that Synthese allowed it to be published.

Anonymous said...

"But to return to Anonymous's comment. Is this just par for the course? Are all journals this "atrociously" bad? This strikes me as unlikely, because if it happened all the time, we would either be hearing about it more often, or the Synthese thing wouldn't have turned into such a big deal and we could all go back to chewing our cud in peace and quiet."

Is this really an either/or situation? It probably doesn't happen all the time and people probably are making too big a deal about this specific event because it has to do with ID and some perceived threat to scientific integrity and little children being taught odd and bad theories about the world. The editors surely handled this wrongly. But I sort of sick of this debate and the the idea that there is some deep moral failing lurking behind the whole spectacle.

zombie said...

Anon 8:33 -- That makes me wonder, then, if Forrest's piece was also invited.

cogitated: Fair enough. See above.

All of which just raises again the question of editorial oversight, and whether the EiCs actually read the content of Synthese before it goes to press. Maybe that right there is the whole problem here, and nothing more nefarious.

Anonymous said...

I'm in serious doubt about what conclusion can be drawn from the submission dates - see anon 8:33's post. The "Instructions for Authors" say that Springer offers the "option" of submitting online. In the case of an invited reply, where presumably the editors were in touch with the author beforehand, I don't see any reason to think that the online submission date was actually the date the editors first received the piece. Am I missing something?

As for sexism, I don't get the inference. You think that Beckwith is a total hack as a philosopher, and yet you conclude that sexism is at play in his reply because...it's hackish. Leiter seemed to find Beckwith just as hackish and prone to personal attack on him (Leiter), so this doesn't hold up.

Moreover, Beckwith does go on to discuss and dispute particular points - how well he does so is another question, but the passage you quote doesn't prove that there is no attempt at substantive argument in the piece. Moreover, I'm not sure what good the charge of ad hominem does here, as it's perfectly fair to call Forrest's piece an ad hominem argument as well - what else do you call all the biographical material in there? This is compatible with thinking that Forrest was dead right in the approach and substance of her article - it's sometimes contextually appropriate to criticize the arguer as well as or even instead of the argument. From the SEP on informal logic: "One may, for example, reasonably cast doubt on an arguer's reasoning by pointing out that the arguer lacks the requisite knowledge to make appropriate judgments in the area in question, or by pointing out that the arguer has a vested interest." Surely this is why Leiter and others call the reply shameless - they take Beckwith to have acted so as to deserve ad hominem arguments, and then he stands on the dignity of the discipline and dissociates "being philosophers" from using ad hominems.

I'm also unsure why you say that the editor's published Beckwith's reply as a corrective for the supposed problems in tone. My understanding was that their disclaimer was (foolishly and unprofessionally) intended to address those (supposed) problems. That Beckwith was invited to reply seems pretty standard to me - Forrest's piece had the goal of completely discrediting his work on philosophical issues related to ID, religion and science - i.e., most of the stuff he publishes on. (Again, that's not to say that it was wrong for her to have that aim, but given that's what the aim was, inviting a response seems pretty much de rigeur.) That's not to say that they edited well! But I don't see any persuasive case that there was no editing, nor do I see the ad hominem stuff as disqualifying it from publication as a reply to an ad hominem, nor do I see any evidence at all for the sexism charge.

zombie said...

What I see as sexist is that the "tone" of Forrest's piece has been called into question, but not the "tone" of Beckwith's. I should think that if the EiCs have concerns about the "tone" of discourse in Synthese, they would start applying whatever standards they have in this case. I see no reason why Beckwith's piece, even if an invited reply, should be published without any editorial oversight.

I recently had a paper published in which I referred to a famous sports figure by his (non-derogatory) common nickname. The editor changed it to his proper given name -- to conform with the journal's style. This kind of editorial change is not uncommon. I should think that Synthese would change a reference to "Ms. Forrest" to either "Forrest" or Dr or Professor. That they did not, to me, smacks of either sexism, or a lack of editorial oversight. I think it is fair, in this case, to question the editorial policies and practices of Synthese, since that is, at least in part, the issue here.

That Beckwith chose to use "Ms.", to my mind, also smacks of sexism. But perhaps he commonly refers to those he considers his opponents in a way that attempts to diminish their credentials. As this is a move not uncommonly deployed to discredit women philosophers, it is at least suggestive of sexism.

Anonymous said...

Zombie has it exactly right. Anyone who deliberately uses non-professional address should be called out for condescension in some way.

We had a Dean who always publicly addressed in email a certain disliked colleague with a doctorate as "Ms." Believe me--it was a sexist attempt to diminish her. The fact alone that they are insensitive to such sexist address is warrant enough for the EICs of Synthese to apologize--and be ashamed. More fodder for a boycott.

Anonymous said...

Anon 1:59PM makes an important point here: "I'm in serious doubt about what conclusion can be drawn from the submission dates - see anon 8:33's post."

Take a look at the exchange between Darrel Rowbottom and HRH Brian Leiter:

http://www.newappsblog.com/2011/04/new-leiter-post-with-one-more-disturbing-data-point.html#comment-6a00d8341ef41d53ef0154320282bd970c

From what I know about the editorial process at Springer journals, Rowbottom is right.

Anonymous said...

I don't get the sexism thing.

If, for example, 'Ms. Cavendish' is sexist address, then logically 'Mr. Cavendish'--were Cavendish a man--would be sexist as well.

But 'Mr. Cavendish' doesn't strike me as at all sexist.

I'd agree though, that both forms are odd ways of referring to someone in a scholarly publication.

zombie said...

That's interesting, and I take it the point is that when an article is invited, it is accepted on the same day that it is received. In other words, it is "pre-accepted" and then edited later (if it is edited). I still think it's reasonable to ask if Beckwith's rebuttal was edited.

Mr. Zero said...

If, for example, 'Ms. Cavendish' is sexist address, then logically 'Mr. Cavendish'--were Cavendish a man--would be sexist as well.

Why would that be?

Anonymous said...

"But 'Mr. Cavendish' doesn't strike me as at all sexist."

That may be because the Mr. Cavendishes of the world have not been subjected to the levels of sexism that the Ms. Cavendishes have.

Anonymous said...

anon 1:59 here - I take zombie's point on the use of "Ms." Unprofessional at best, and the editors should have caught it. That does not inspire confidence in whatever editing may have happened.

Ben A. said...

Anonymous @ 7:02pm

This strikes me as an excellent example of our old adage, "One person's modus ponens is another's modus tollens."

Anonymous said...

"Why would that be?"

Because, presumably, it's no more (or less) insulting to be called 'Mr.' than to be called 'Ms.'.

Mr. Zero said...

Because, presumably, it's no more (or less) insulting to be called 'Mr.' than to be called 'Ms.'.

Again, I don't see why that's presumable. The long-standing assumption underlying sexism is that men and women are different in that women are not as good as men. So why would it be true or even presumable that it is sexist (in an insulting or dismissive way) to refer to a person as 'Mr.'?

Anonymous said...

So why would it be true or even presumable that it is sexist (in an insulting or dismissive way) to refer to a person as 'Mr.'?

It's not that both Mr. and Ms. are sexist, it's that neither are.

Why would they be?

Is there anything wrong with being a man or being a woman? Surely not.

Really, unprofessional address is just that; speculating that it issues from sexist motivation without presenting evidence of such motivation is irresponsible.

Anonymous said...

A comment I read elsewhere on the blogosphere on the use of 'Ms': Ms is sexist, because it was meant in a sexist way. Or would you say that 'boy' is not racist, even though it can be used to address a white man as well?
I've often been addressed as 'Ms' even though I obtained my PhD 4 years ago. I know male graduate students who are called 'Dr'.