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)?


Monday, April 25, 2011

More On The Synthese Controversy

There are several online petitions:

This one calls on the editors of Synthese to grant Forrest space in the journal to respond to Beckwith's piece.

This one calls on the editors of Synthese to explain the circumstances surrounding the publication of the Beckwith piece.

The idea here is that Beckwith's article was accepted the day it was submitted and appears not to have been edited for content or tone by the EiCs of Synthese. (And its tone is really, really heinously, brutally condescending. It has been suggested, and I am sympathetic to this idea, that Beckwith's piece is an instance of this sort of criticism--one so global and all-encompassing that it is not possible to respond effectively. Consider, for example, that the title of Beckwith's piece is "Or We Could Be Philosophers," which suggests falsely that being a philosopher is a genuine alternative to whatever Forrest was doing.)

This one objects much more strongly to the conduct of the Editors-in-chief, asking them to both apologize for and retract the disclaimer, and to "[d]isclose the nature of complaints and/or legal threats from Francis Beckwith, his supporters, and supporters of Intelligent Design that were received by the Editors-in-Chief after the on-line publication of "Evolution and Its Rivals" last year."

The idea here is that (as John Protevi says here) there is an "extremely high probability that the next time Professor Forrest testifies to the LA state legislature (as she often does in these matters, and no doubt will soon in the debate on SB 70, which would repeal the stealth creationist Lousiana Science Education Act or LSEA), some ID partisan will claim she has been "refuted" in the pages of a prestigious philosophy journal and that therefore her testimony should be discounted if not ignored."

Regarding this last one, Mark Lance, in comments here, writes:

We are told publicly that there were general objections to the tone of multiple articles, and that this prompted the disclaimer. But then only Beckwith is given an (apparently unrefereed, and unedited) opportunity to publish a rejoinder. Whatever the intent behind any of this, (a) it is hard to see why mere issues of tone would justify a special opportunity to respond, (b) hard to see in any case why others challenged in the special issue weren't as well given the opportunity to respond and (c) hard to see why oversight was not exercised regarding tone and misuse of the disclaimer in Beckwith's article.

Apart from the petitions, there has been some interesting commentary. For example, in comments here, Alex Malpass writes,

I am a guest editor of a forthcoming issue of Synthese [...] As far as I understand, there is no controversy surrounding our issue.

If the calls for a Synthese boycott (or a Synthese-special-issue-boycott) were heeded by the philosophical community, then we (i.e. myself, my co-editor, and each of the 6 contributors to the issue, none of whom are involved with the ongoing controversy) would be the ones to suffer.

I'm not a philosopher of morality, but would imagine it would be hard to justify why those associated with my issue should be so penalised.

I would like to simply request that those people calling for a boycott reflect upon the potential impact on us 'civilians' that would be the result.

How short-sighted can a person be? This is a controversy about how Synthese treats its guest editors. Malpass, his co-editor, and his six contributors should be first in line to participate in this boycott. They should be unable to contain themselves at the very thought of this boycott, because they are the ones who stand to be affected by these editorial shenanigans. It doesn't matter if there is no controversy surrounding their issue, it matters what editorial policies are in place in the event of controversy. And if I were a guest-editor I would be terrified, because (if the past is any indication) the EiCs would not tell me about the controversy if it existed; the EiCs would turn their backs on me and by disclaiming my issue; and they would lie to me about what they were doing. If I were guest-editing a special issue of Synthese, I would be much more worried about what the editors of Synthse were going to do to me than about the effects of a boycott.

In comments here, Philippe Huneman writes:

The allegation of professional misconduct – having published the disclaimer without either mentioning it to the guest eds. or having obtained their permission to include it , would not be regarded as so horrible, and I am sure, would not have led to any kind of call for a boycott if we had been in a context other than evolution and ID. In fact, if such actions had been denounced in another context as professional misconduct, someone would have raised their voice to say that we should give the EiC the benefit of the doubt and ask to have the full transcript of the interactions between them and guest eds. made explicit before making any further judgment. However, when someone condemns the disclaimer as a concession to Evil (ID), then of course many people will be horrified and incited to protest.

This gets the allegation of misconduct wrong. It ignores the crucial detail that the EiCs didn't just publish the disclaimer without notice; they published the disclaimer after twice giving an assurance that they were not going to publish any disclaimer. And that is misconduct no matter why they did it.

And it's not as though nobody has asked for the EiCs to explain their side. It's just that their "explanation" completely sidestepped all the important issues. And it is worth mentioning that the EiCs have not disputed any of the pertinent facts, except to deny that the disclaimer was the result of pressure from the ID movement. But they have not denied, for example, that they were subject to pressure by the ID movement, or that they gave assurances that they would not disclaim the issue.

He goes on:

So, in the event that some papers to be published in a guest-edited volume transgress the boundaries of academic politesse, what options do those who are ultimately responsible for the publication have for maintaining it? Notice that whatever action is taken, -- not to accept the papers , to write a disclaimer, or whatever - the disapprobation faced will be the same. Some people in the blogs recently said that the EiCs should not have accepted the papers, and that they did so was already indicative of their professional misconduct. But what if they had actually refused to accept them? Wouldn’t it have led to the same or an even more harsh campaign against them, with the same accusations of their having made concessions to ID people raised?

For crying out loud. The editors might have used the new-fangled and controversial tool known as the "conditional acceptance." If the EiCs thought the tone of any of the submissions was inappropriate, they should have said, "we will accept this only if you tone it down." Crisis averted.

Lastly, am I the only one who thinks it strange that Synthese would devote a guest-edited special issue to the topic "Evolution and its Rivals"? Because evolution has no rivals.

--Mr. Zero

Friday, April 22, 2011

This Synthese Hullabaloo

I've been following the hullabaloo about the special issue of Synthese dealing with "Evolution and its Rivals" with interest. Very briefly, what happened was that Synthese had a guest-edited special issue this past January dealing with Intelligent Design. One of the articles, Barbara Forrest's "The Non-Epistemology of Intelligent Design," is I would say pretty critical of Francis Beckwith's ID advocacy. According to the guest editors, after the article was published online (but before it appeared in print) friends of Beckwith and of ID protested to the editors-in-chief. The EiCs attempted to get Forrest to revise the article (after it had been published), but she declined. The idea of inserting a disclaimer into the issue was broached and rejected--the guest editors claim that they were assured on two different occasions that no disclaimer would be attached. Beckwith was then given space in (a later issue of) the journal to respond to the Forrest article.

So the guest editors were really pissed when the editors-in-chief did attach a disclaimer to the print version of the issue, vaguely indicating that some of the articles included in the issue violated the journal's editorial standards with respect to tone.

Leiter thinks the EiCs caved to the ID lobby and is urging people to boycott Synthese unless they can present a satisfactory explanation or make things right some other way. The EiCs have issued a response. The most interetsing discussion so far has appeared in this thread at New APPS.

There are, obviously, a bunch of issues here. But one thing I would like to know more about is this: what kind of editorial procedures are normally in place for guest-edited special issues like this? Do the editors-in-chief just hand over the keys to the guest editors and then leave and not come back until the issue is done? I am naive about this sort of thing, but that strikes me as unlikely. It seems to me that even if the guest editors are doing the hands-on work of finding authors, selecting and editing the articles, sending them to reviewers, assembling the issue, and that sort of thing, the editors-in-chief would still have to be reading penultimate drafts and exerting final executive authority. Right? The editors-in-chief do not just totally cede all executive control over those pages of the journal to the guest-editors, do they?

If my sense of how these guest-editing procedures would work is correct, then the decision to disclaim the issue is ludicrous. If the EiCs read the Forrest article in advance of publication and felt that it would violate their editorial standards for tone or whatever, they should have taken steps in advance of publication to correct the problem. And if they read the article in advance of publication and felt that it would not violate their editorial standards, then they should stand by the issue and their guest-editors now. And if they are going to disclaim the issue, they should let the guest editors and contributors know about it beforehand, and they should not assure the guest editors that they aren't going to do it.

--Mr. Zero

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Shallow thought of the day

Who's breaking the blind review process: the reviewer for finding my website or me for reverse finding them using my tracker?

--Second Suitor


I've been thinking about getting a Kindle. The main thing I would do with it is read articles in PDF format which I would download from JSTOR and journal websites. I heard that Kindles are better abou this sort of thing than what they used to be, but I thought I would check in with the Smokers to be sure. Are Kindles indeed better about this sort of thing than what they used to be? Many thanks.

--Mr. Zero

Monday, April 18, 2011

They Are Pleased; I Have Felt Better Actually

I got another one of these "We are pleased to announce that we hired somebody other than you" emails today. Seriously, people. Don't lead off rejection letters by saying how happy you are. It's tacky.

They did thank me for my interest and wish me well, though. So that was nice.

--Mr. Zero

Friday, April 15, 2011

Place Your Bets

I have two papers under review right now. Each has made it past the referees and is sitting on the desk of an Editor-In-Chief waiting for a decision. One has been sitting there since this morning; the other has been there for almost seven weeks. (The second one also spent a number of weeks in transit between the referees and the editor, and has been clear of the refs for longer than the first one has been under review at the current journal.)

So the question is, which one will get rejected first? The one with the quicker procedures, or the one with the seven-week head start?

--Mr. Zero

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Published Writing Samples

Big D asks,

Okay, job-related question. If I'm submitting a writing sample for an application, and it has been published, should I submit a copy of the final, published form, or a simple copy from my word processing program?

I don't think it really matters. I've had success--that is, I've gotten interviews--both ways. What say you, Smokers?

--Mr. Zero

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Sunday Comics

(Click to embiggen)

-- Jaded, Ph.D.

Friday, April 8, 2011

APA web-only listings are up(dated)

185 posts, but due to the usual numbering wackiness, not 185 distinct positions. Lots of fellowships (go get 'em!) and VAPs and a few TTs in the mix. The total number is pretty similar to last year's offerings in April, for what it's worth (but I haven't done a comparison by type of job).


Thursday, April 7, 2011

Wacky Student Time: On The Nature of Fairness

I recently received an email from a student who earned a really solid D on an exam. The student was sort of asking if there was anything I could do about this grade. I am accustomed, of course, to receiving requests for special extra-credit assignments and the like. But this one was different. This student just wanted me to change his grade. He seemed to sort of acknowledge that there was nothing in principle wrong with the grade--there was no grading error; no extenuating circumstance. He just wanted me to give him a better one. Then he says, "im just asking you to be fair and just."

Again, I get this kind of request a lot--though usually the student wants me to let him do a special extra-credit assignment. A lot of times they will preface the request by saying that they don't want to be unfair to their classmates, which I take to be an implicit or backhanded acknowledgement that granting the request would indeed be unfair to their classmates. A lot of times they don't say anything about fairness--the question of fairness either doesn't occur to them, or else it doesn't interest them, or else they realize that it's not to their advantage to bring it up. A lot of times they stress their willingness to do extra work: "I'll do whatever it takes," they say. "I'll work really hard the rest of the term," they say. I have a standard reply that I send to all such requests, which stresses the degree to which they and their classmates have a right to expect that the policies of they syllabus will be honored blah blah blah.

But I have never, ever had a student ask me to just scratch out the 65 at the top of the exam and write in an 87 instead, for nothing, no extra work, and no legitimate reason. And I have never, ever, ever had a student tell me that I should do this because of justice; because it would be the fair thing to do. My head is spinning.

--Mr. Zero

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Friday, April 1, 2011

Cautionary Tale in the Chronicle

I read with interest this article in the Chronicle of Higher Ed, in which Rena Kraut tells the disappointing story of the time she found out she didn't get a job because of a celebratory Facebook post from the friend who did get it. I quote at length:

On a Friday afternoon, just days before my due date [she was super pregnant during this job search], I gave up waiting by the phone for the weekend, figuring I would resume my breathless anticipation on Monday. Browsing Facebook, I came upon a status update from an old friend I had worked with a decade ago. Something about it caught my eye. Could it be? ... No ... oh, no, he didn't. ...

He did. He had posted his job offer and subsequent acceptance on Facebook. And the reader can well guess what job that was.

No need to detail the ensuing hormonal rant, nor the contained message of congratulations I sent off. But be sure that, when the call from the dean came three days later—three days, long enough to rise from the dead, for Pete's sake—and told me I was not The One, my answer was, "I know. I've known since Friday."

Rejection via Facebook. It's a whole new world out there.

Readers of the administrative ilk, I hope you can learn from my cautionary tale. For while this university had been the very model of respect and propriety throughout the hiring process, it sadly stumbled at the finish line. Judging from the shock in the dean's voice, the hiring committee had not foreseen that, in a world where information moves faster than one might wish, the final candidates might connect with each other—albeit accidentally—faster than the university communicated with them.

I thought it was pretty interesting because certain details sounded awfully familiar. This is pretty much how I found out I didn't get the job I on-campus-interviewed for. And as I read the passage, I thought, You're lucky. At least they told you at all, however late. My people seem to have just figured I'd hear through the grapevine eventually, because they didn't bother to do me the courtesy of ever contacting me at all—let alone contacting me on a Monday to let me know they'd hired someone the previous Friday.

--Mr. Zero