Saturday, May 14, 2011

Synthese Editors in Chief Respond

Via New APPS, we learn that the editors in chief of Synthese have responded to Leiter's (it was the one Leiter created, right? There were so many...) petition. The response can be found here. It is not at all illuminating.

In the same New APPS post, we learn that Beckwith has also posted the response, and that the New York Times ran a story yesterday.

The way I look at it, there are a bunch of things that are pretty weird about this whole disclaimer thing. One of them is that the disclaimer is attached to material that they, the editors in chief themselves, accepted for publication. This strikes me as highly peculiar. Another is that they accepted the Forrest paper (in particular) for publication, sent it to the typesetter, published it, and then asked Forrest (in particular) to revise the paper. This seems to me to be a highly irregular order of operations. Another is that they attached the disclaimer even though they assured the guest editors more than just once that they were not going to attach any disclaimer.

One thing that the letter does clear up is the issue of the existence and nature of legal threats that may have led to the issuance of the disclaimer. The editors insist that there were no legal threats. So that's helpful. They then go on to say that they did receive messages that were not legal threats but which the editors take as seriously as legal threats. These messages did not come from Christian philosophers, though. And these challenges constrain them from answering questions on the blogs.

I don't know about you, but that seems cryptic to me. It does not seem forthright.

Another thing it clears up is where the idea for Beckwith to respond came from: Beckwith. But that's no mystery. What would be interesting to hear about is where the idea for a disclaimer came from, but on that there is no word.

They also indicate that there were problems with the language of two papers, but not which two. They indicate that they corresponded with Forrest but there is no indication that they corresponded with a second author.

Finally, the weirdest thing is where they explain that they "were unable to properly communicate later stages of [their] decision-making process to the guest-editors." They say that were pretty good about communicating the early stages of their decision making with the guest editors, but not so much with the later stages. Of course, the early stages were where they were disinclined to issue the disclaimer, and (to hear the guest editors tell it) the communications about the early stages seem to have been disguised as a communication of a final decision, and the later stages were where they changed their minds and decided to issue the disclaimer.

On its face, I have no idea what they could possibly mean here. When you say 'unable,' that makes it sound like you lack the ability to do something. If you had the ability but failed to exercise it, you say you failed, not that you were unable. But then they say that what they were unable to do was to properly communicate with the guest editors. The use of 'properly' there makes it seem like they think there was something improper about the way they didn't communicate with the guest editors. But if that's right, they should apologize for having done something improper--especially since this is a response to a petition that calls on them to apologize for exactly that. And now I feel like I'm parsing the sentence entirely too carefully. So I'm not at all sure what to make of it.

And there's no indication of why they changed their minds and decided to issue the disclaimer or anything, either.

--Mr. Zero


Euthyphronics said...

I was intrigued by the claim that the interpreted-as-legal-threats did not come from "Christian philosophers". Who, then, did they come from? Christian non-philosophers? Non-Christian philosophers? The lawyers of Christian philosophers? And I was also very curious the extent to which their editorial decision was influenced by these almost-threats by not-Christian-philosophers. The idea of academic judgments being heavily influenced by legal threats (real or perceived) is one any academic should quail at, creed notwithstanding.

zombie said...

"There have not been any communications with Christian philosophers constituting legal threats."

I wonder what they consider to be a "Christian philosopher."

Irate Non-Christian Philosopher said...

Is it just me, or does seem that as philosophers, they seem horrifically bad at parsing what's at stake here. It appears as if they are reading the situation as follows: "We did a special issue that made Christian Philosophers mad. Let's put up a disclaimer... The disclaimer seems to be making non-Christian Philosophers mad. Let's tell them that we don't support intelligent design."

Anonymous said...

I suspect they just meant a professional philosopher who identifies with some christian denomination, wouldn't you? I read the claim about christian philosophers as saying that no members of the philosophical community made legal threats. It is likely that other Chrisitans made legal threats, since it is typically Christians who would have an interest in defending Beckwith's work from attack, but information like this typically tends to be distorted or confused for the notion that there is just something about Christians that makes them want to make legal threats over controversial cases involving ID. I take it that the EIC wished to tell concerned philosophers that no one in their own community levied legal threats, even those some might expect.

WV: subst. as in: Wah subst, dawg?

Anonymous said...

My, we have SO progressed beyond Socrates.

I guess the only conclusion is that truth is always doomed by the powers-that-be so challenged.

Read and weep. We have met the enemy. . . Pogo.

Anonymous said...

Regarding "legal threats" not from Christian philosophers: How about Larry Laudan? He certainly seems to think that he was poorly treated by one of the articles. It's also possible that Synthese received legal threats AFTER the disclaimer came out, by someone (such as Forrest herself) who was aggravated by the disclaimer. After all, a legal threat regarding the disclaimer would be most likely to prevent the editors from providing "detailed responses in the blogs," as the letter says.

Anonymous said...

Does anyone agree or disagree with the last comment there? It seems that on all the other blogs, people are assuming that "not Christian philosophers" meant "people who are Christians but not philosophers," or "people affiliated with ID in some sense." But it does seem that the Synthese editors are trying to hint that the only legal threats have come from people who are on Forrest's side here.

Wesley said...

I'm not sure how you come to that inference. The vagueness of everything the Editors-in-Chief have written on the topic permit great scope in misinterpretation, just as the disclaimer's caveat about "tone" has morphed into talk of "retraction" elsewhere.

What seems to me to be the best clue as to timing of things perceived as "legal threats" is the change noted by the EiC between "earlier stages" of deliberation that were open to the guest editors and Prof. Forrest, and the "later stages" that were not. None of the three people "on Forrest's side" at that point appear to be good candidates for making "legal threats". If there had been a problem communicated to others at that point, so as to expand the suspect list beyond three, I would have been among those notified, and I saw nothing of the sort. I asked Prof. Forrest specifically about "legal threats", and her sense is that the "legal threats" come from people in Prof. Beckwith's camp.

Sorry, I see nothing in the EiC statement that in any way supports your speculation.

Wesley R. Elsberry

Anonymous said...

The full reference to legal threats is this:

"As far as meaningful legal action is concerned, we have received messages {NO INDICATION THAT THIS WAS PRIOR TO PUBLICATION, AS OPPOSED TO RIGHT NOW} that we take seriously as legal threats, but these have not come from Christian philosophers [HINTING AS CLEARLY AS POSSIBLE THAT IT WAS NOT BECKWITH'S SIDE THAT MADE LEGAL THREATS]. Our ability to provide detailed responses in the blogs is constrained by these challenges [LEGAL THREATS BY FORREST OR YOURSELF ETC. AGAINST THE DISCLAIMER WOULD BE MOST LIKELY TO GIVE RISE TO SUCH CONSTRAINTS . . . ]

Of course, there's also the Larry Laudan possibility.