Accusations

So people are calling for us to boycott Synthese. More backstory and commentary here and here.

[Ed. note: You can take a poll here on how the profession ought to respond. The poll question should be understood to refer to the the Synthese Editors in Chief, not the guest editors.] — [Later edit: It looks like the poll is now closed: 35% supported a boycott.]

If the Editors-in-Chief (EICs) of Synthese did mislead the guest editors in this case, as has been alleged, that’s bad. The EICs implicitly admit that aspects of their handling of the case were in error, when they say, “there are lessons to be learnt from what happened regarding our internal procedures, and Synthese will do that.” It’s not the outright public apology that some have been calling for, but it’s not nothing either. If the allegations are true, they should apologize to the guest editors for misleading them. (For all I know, they might have already done so.) It’s not clear to me that a public apology is either a moral or professional duty, but it would be good, and probably also prudent, to offer one. I recommend that they do so.

Having said that, it’s also worth noting that some of the critics’ claims thus far have been excessive, in a way that doesn’t strike me as productive.

Why did the EICs add the disclaimer? Brian Leiter and others say it’s because they “cave[d] in to pressure” from the ID crowd. The EICs say, “We judged that several articles included in the special issue contained language that is unacceptable” because inhospitable to the free and fair exchange of ideas. The evidence produced thus far does not seem to warrant Leiter’s inference about the EICs’ motivation. It seems to not warrant an assertion that they caved. And I’m genuinely puzzled that anyone thinks that it warrants going so far as to organize a boycott on that basis. (Says Leiter, “Perhaps the Synthese editors will rectify the wrong, and acknowledge that they caved in to political pressure and behaved unethically. But if not, I hope readers of this blog will stop submitting to Synthese and stop refereeing for them.”)

Does “the editorial disclaimer call into question [the guest editors’] professionalism”? It doesn’t seem like it to me. I’m no more inclined to judge the guest editors unprofessional upon finding out that some other editors took exception to the tone of some papers published in the guest-edited journal issue. Why would that make me think that the guest editors are unprofessional? Seriously, who would own that inference?

Is it true that the EICs’ public response is “particularly offensive in failing to name the offending articles, and thus, once again, casting aspersions on all the contributors”? Neither charge appears warranted. Why is failing to name names offensive? Maybe they’re being too timid, but that’s hardly offensive. And why would anyone draw negative conclusions about all of the contributors? I didn’t. If anyone else did, they’re being hasty and irresponsible.

It has also been remarked, “the disclaimer was so vaguely worded as to suggest that many if not all papers were faulty and not just the one that was (erroneously) deemed to be problematic,” and that the disclaimer put “all special issue contributions into disrepute.” Again, such conclusions would be hasty and irresponsible.

All I have concluded from this affair is that (a) the EICs disagree with one or more of the twelve contributors about what sort of language crosses the line of acceptability in a professional philosophy journal, and (b) based on the available evidence, the EICs would do well to apologize for blindsiding certain parties by including the disclaimer, and ensure that doesn’t happen again.

(Given all the publicly available evidence, it’s easy to figure out at least one of the authors that the EICs disagree with. But I’m also not tempted to conclude that this author is unprofessional because of that.)


Comments

Accusations — 27 Comments

  1. John,

    I don’t have any particular stake in this debate, and I’ve elsewhere expressed concerns about the idea of a boycott. But there are a couple of points where I think things are a bit more complicated than you suggest.

    First, on whether the disclaimer calls into question the professionalism of the guest-editors, notice that the disclaimer doesn’t just say that the contributions failed to meet the standards of the EICs. It says they failed to meet the ‘usual academic standards of politeness and respect in phrasing’. Asserting that the issue edited by the guests fails to live up to ‘usual academic standards’ in some respect looks pretty close to what’s charged. If there’s a gap, it’s a small one.

    But more importantly, I’m not sure what you’re claiming when you say that the presented evidence doesn’t warrant the assertion that the EIC were compelled by pressure from the ID crowd. The allegation is being made on the basis of the testimony of the guest editors. It seems to me that if things happened as the guest editors say they did, that does strongly suggest (even if it doesn’t entail) the kind of political motivation alleged. Are you disputing that, or suggesting that we can’t place sufficient credence in the guest editors’ account?

    • Hi Aidan,

      The EICs say that the standards were “not consistently met,” right? They don’t say that the issue as a whole doesn’t meet an acceptable overall standard. The impression I get is that they think a few passages cross the line.

      No, I don’t think it amounts to accusing the guest editors of unprofessionalism. Even if the EICs are right about the underlying facts, why should I infer that the guest editors are unprofessional? Because they didn’t, in every case, prevent someone else from not being polite enough? Do you think Brian is accusing the guest editors of unprofessionalism when he points out that one of the papers is “philosophically shallow and rhetorically over-wrought”? Lacking philosophical substance is a more serious failure than adopting an inappropriate tone.

      Similarly I don’t infer anything about Brian’s character if he approves a comment on his blog that doesn’t live up to professional standards of academic blogging. Of course, there’s a (vague) point, beyond a baseline transgression of norms, where an editor or moderator should censor the attempted contribution, not just flag that they think it crossed the line. I’d guess that the EICs thought that this was noteworthy enough to flag, but not serious enough to censor. (I understand that they approached at least one of the authors and asked for revisions after on-line publication, and yes, that does complicate things a bit.)

      By the way, I was just assuming that the EICs’ standards here were usual academic standards.

      The message from the guest editors that Brian posted says, “friends of Beckwith began to protest — not to the Guest Editors, but to the Editors-in-Chief — about Forrest’s article, one even going so far as to claim that it was “libelous.”” I believe the guest editors. Later Brian remarks that EICs were “subjected to” “intensive” and “aggressive lobbying and threats.” This goes beyond what the guest editors claim. (Brian has some history with these people that does lend support to his more emphatic characterization of the efforts.)

      So did the EICs include the disclaimer because they were browbeaten, or because they considered the matter and agreed that some passages crossed the line, or some combination of both? The EICs say that their considered judgment is that some passages crossed the line: “We judged that several articles included in the special issue contained language that is unacceptable: neutral readers of the issue will find no difficulty in identifying such passages.” I take them at their word. Do you? If we suppose the causal history of that judgment includes protests from ID folks, I’m not convinced that this warrants flat-out asserting that they simply “caved” to political pressure, rather than exercising their own judgment.

  2. John, this is a quite suprising rendering of the public record to date. Branch and Fetzer give testimonial evidence that Beckwith and friends pursued the EICs in complaining about Barbara Forrest’s article about Beckwith, and thereafter, the EICs tried to get Forrest to revise a published article. Do you have any evidence inconsistent with that? Even the EICs, in their non-response, do not deny it, they just avoid it.

    Having actually read through a lot of this issue of Synthese, there is one article that seems to me both philosophically shallow and rhetorically over-wrought, and that is Pennock’s. But the Guest Editors report that the EICs never raised any question about that article, just about the piece on Beckwith. That, of course, is wholly consistent with what Branch and Fetzer report.

    So it seems to me that on the basis of literally no evidence, you are prepared to dismiss the testimonial and other evidence on offer.

    • Brian,

      I didn’t purport to give a rendering of the public record to date; I linked to some relevant posts which do give a rendering.

      I don’t have any evidence inconsistent with that testimony. I don’t dispute the testimony, so I don’t really need any counterevidence. I take the guest editors at their word about the underlying facts of the case. Indeed, it’s on the basis of the guest editors’ testimony, and yours, and the EICs’ response, that I provisionally conclude that aspects of their handling of the matter were improper, that they owe the guest editors an apology, and that they would do well to publicly apologize.

      At the same time, I’ve been underwhelmed by some of the conclusions and proposals people have been making based on the available evidence.

  3. Brian,

    It’s not clear to me that John is ignoring that testimony. Here is a charitable way of incorporating that testimonial evidence: the editors get some sort of complaints/threats from the Beckwith clan, they then think more carefully about the piece in question, and agree that it has an inappropriate tone or whatever. This isn’t accurately described as caving into pressure. I’m sure we’ve all experienced cases in which we agree with something once its pointed out, even though we hadn’t thought about it yet or whatever. Is there some reason to think this is not what happened in this particular case?

    I’m not saying this is what really happened, and it does sound like the editors failed to handle the situation perfectly. But those who allege that there is caving to pressure should presumably have some reason that blocks the above possibility before they make public accusations and call for boycotts, etc. Maybe there is a reason, but I haven’t seen it yet (though, i haven’t followed the situation super carefully either).

  4. John,

    If I were a guest editor and the EICs were to add a disclaimer to my issue, I’d probably be insulted. It would suggest to me that the EICs thought of my issue as having such a significant failing, whether it be in tone or whatever, that they had to publicly distance themselves from my issue. In the current issue, even if the disclaimer doesn’t make me doubt the professionalism of the editors, it certainly makes it very plausible that the EICs are calling into question the professionalism of the guest editors, at least insofar as it applies to their special issue.

    • Chris,

      I’m honestly trying to see it that way, but every time I try, I can’t. If the EICs are calling the GEs’ professionalism into question, it’s an indirect speech act that’s simply too subtle for me to pick up on. I now understand that there was a serious disagreement in this case about certain aspects of the issue. But even adding that to the mix, does it suggest that the EICs question the GEs’ character? Not to me.

      The EICs did publish the issue, so they can’t reasonably be interpreted as suggesting that it shouldn’t have been published, or that the publishing of it was unprofessional. What’s left to ground the suggestion that the GEs are unprofessional?

      The open letter by Branch and Fetzer, on the other hand, is a paradigm case of (to put it mildly) calling into question someone’s professionalism.

  5. Has anyone bothered to read the articles?

    I started, and I came across these passages in the first piece by Pennock:

    “Indeed, the evidence for this view is so pervasive that it is hard to see how one can take Laudan’s incredible pronouncements as anything but indicating a cavilier disregard for the balance of evidence and a foolhardy disengagement from what should be the subject matter of philosophy of science.” (p. 197)

    “Critics like Laudan first demand a precise line of demarcation for any possible case and then, failing to find one, petulantly declare that there is no difference and try to take away the ball and make everyone go home.” (p. 203)

    “Unfortunately, it seems that Laudan’s usual good sense did abandon him in this instance; he takes himself too seriously in these pieces and his attack on Ruse is too personal.” (p. 201)

    Remarks: (1) I take it that people of good will can disagree about whether the rhetoric here is acceptable or not. (2) But, whatever your view, or my view, or the author’s view, or even the guest editor’s view, it is the EiCs’ call to make that judgment. (3) How that call is made can raise another set of problems, to be sure, but (4) the last I knew, Larry Laudan wasn’t a member of the ID lobby.

    Now, I haven’t the faintest idea what happened between the EiC’s and the guest editors. I have the highest regards for both parties. But, the evidence suggests that a normal editorial disagreement went off the rails somehow, as can happen when people strongly disagree.

  6. Hey John,

    You say, “The EICs did publish the issue, so they can’t reasonably be interpreted as suggesting that it shouldn’t have been published, or that the publishing of it was unprofessional.” Maybe. But if the EICs promised the guest editors that they could do their thing, they may have felt obligated to publish the special issue even if they had doubts about the merit or tone of the finished product.

    Forget the term professionalism for a minute–I wonder how much we are talking past one another here. If you were a guest editor for Synthese and they put a similar disclaimer on your issue, would you not infer that the EICs thought your issue had a noteworthy failing? If the failing was just one of tone, maybe that’s not a horrible failing. But wouldn’t you read the disclaimer as involving a negative appraisal of your issue?

  7. Hi Chris,

    Yes, in such a case I would certainly infer that the EICs thought that the issue had a noteworthy defect, and I would read the disclaimer as offering a negative appraisal of (at least that aspect) of the issue.

    Whether I concluded that this reflected negatively on me as GE would depend on the details of the situation. I probably would feel that it reflected somewhat poorly on me, if I agreed that the tone clearly did cross the line. (After all, if I thought it clearly crossed the line, then why didn’t I do something about it?) If I didn’t agree that the tone clearly crossed the line, I wouldn’t feel that it reflected poorly on me, but rather on the EICs.

  8. John,
    I’m quite puzzled by your reaction to all of this. If I submit an article to a journal for publication, there are all sorts of reasons why they might decide either to reject it or to ask for revisions. Let’s focus on the issue of tone, since that is what’s at issue at Synthese. Suppose I submit an article which an editor wishes to publish, but the tone is somehow found wanting. There’s a wide range of reasonable views, I believe, about what tone is appropriate, and it’s a good thing that different journal editors have different views about this. And if, for some reason, the tone of a submitted piece doesn’t meet the standards a journal editor finds appropriate, then he or she might ask that the paper be revised in accordance with his or her concerns. Once that is done—assuming the author is willing to make revisions—the editor must decide whether to publish the paper. And if the journal editor’s standards fit into that wide range of reasonable views, then whatever decision the editor makes would be fine. What would not be fine, I believe, is to publish the paper and then include an editorial remark commenting that the tone is inappropriate. Authors have a reasonable expectation that their work, if accepted for publication, will not be accompanied by an editorial statement indicating deficiencies of any sort. Editors who believe that there are deficiencies which make publication inappropriate should fail to publish the paper. But if they decide that the paper meets their standards for publication, any remaining doubts they may have should be kept to themselves. Publishing editorial criticism of a paper which has been accepted falls very far outside the bounds of acceptable editorial conduct.
    It does not help if the editorial remarks are of a more general sort, indicating only that there are problems somewhere in a particular issue of the journal, without naming names. You say that this doesn’t cast aspersions on the authors, and you justify this claim by saying that you didn’t draw any conclusions about the individual authors. But what conclusions you would draw has nothing to do with whether the editors cast aspersions on the authors. You may have failed to draw any conclusions because you thought that the editors’ accusations were unwarranted, or for any of a number of other reasons. But the issue here is not whether you or anyone else would draw any conclusions from what the editors said. The issue here is about what the editors said. And by making very general remarks about problems with the issue, the editors do thereby call into question the appropriateness of the various contributions. If the editors thought that some of the contributors were guilt-free, why would they want to do this? And wouldn’t each of the contributors rightly feel aggrieved? This is not what authors sign up for when they contribute to a journal. Accept a paper or reject it. Bring whatever standards to bear that you think appropriate as an editor. But don’t accept a paper and then call its credentials, of whatever sort, into question. I have no trouble understanding why someone would think that when editors behave in this sort of way, their journal should be subject to very severe consequences. I don’t understand why your reaction is so mild.
    Finally, there is the very serious issue about the pressures which the editors were subjected to and the extent to which their response was a product of those pressures. You bend over backwards to explain how there might be no problems here. I certainly believe that, in general, one ought to give people the benefit of the doubt. But the problem here was directly raised with the editors, and their response merely sidesteps all of the important issues. When this sort of thing happens, it does seem to me that one is no longer deserving of the benefit of the doubt. Indeed, it does seem to me that it is no longer reasonable to believe, under these circumstances, that all is well. I don’t understand why, given all that has happened here, you aren’t more upset by what has gone on.
    Hilary

    • Hi Hilary,

      The EICs apparently asked for revisions between online-first publication and the publication of the issue (i.e., when the issue and the papers in it were assigned to a volume and were no longer “forthcoming”). Obviously, their final judgment was that the revisions didn’t address all their concerns. They could have, at that point, withdrawn the article(s) they objected to, and everyone would have then, I presume, known that they were withdrawn for what the EICs judged was an inappropriate tone. That would be a greater condemnation of the paper(s) than publishing it with a disclaimer.

      In any case, I don’t accept your general principle about not including disclaimers. It seems to me that there has to be some area in between rejecting/censoring and making no comment at all.

      The issue here is not whether you or anyone else would draw any conclusions from what the editors said. The issue here is about what the editors said. And by making very general remarks about problems with the issue, the editors do thereby call into question the appropriateness of the various contributions. If the editors thought that some of the contributors were guilt-free, why would they want to do this? And wouldn’t each of the contributors rightly feel aggrieved?

      Please correct me if I’m wrong, but the overall thrust of your remarks makes me think that by “the various” you mean “all.” I didn’t get the least impression that the EICs called into question the appropriateness of all the contributions. In fact, I got exactly the opposite impression: the EICs referred to the tone of “some of the papers in this issue,” and ‘some’ very strongly suggests ‘not all’ (and, typically, ‘not most’ too). I see no reasonable way to recover ‘all’ from either the EICs literal words, or from the fact that they expressed themselves in the way that they did. Consequently, I find it implausible that the EICs actually did call them all into question.

      I don’t think that “all is well” with the situation (and just to be clear: I never said or suggested otherwise). I think they owe certain parties an apology, and it would be wise for them to apolgize publicly. The overall situation is upsetting, I agree. Calling on respected colleagues to apologize (the point I led with) isn’t exactly “mild.” A pattern of such incidents would arguably warrant some of the accusations that have been made about the EICs motivations, and perhaps even a boycott. As it stands, I think the journal has already suffered because of what happened; a boycott would take it to a whole new level, and I’m not persuaded that it is warranted at this point.

  9. John,

    Your defense of the editors’ aspersion-casting seems to fall prey to a scope ambiguity. True, they didn’t imply that there is something wrong with all of the papers. But by not naming names it seems they did imply, of every paper, that there might be something wrong with it.

    Michael

    • Hi Michael,

      What you describe isn’t a scope ambiguity. You’re just making a different proposal about how to understand what they implied.

      Anyway, I’m pretty sure that everyone already knew that any given paper might have something wrong with it, in any number of respects. The EICs don’t need to imply that.

  10. Thank you, you have said much more clearly what I wanted to say.

    In general, I think it is disingenuous to say that if some one is to criticize another person, that one must name names or with-hold criticism. It strikes me as more and not less polite to be vague.

    If I am standing in front of a class, for instance, and say, “Some of the papers I got were too rhetorical,” that is better than saying, “John Elmore’s paper was too rhetorical”.

    It seems to me like Leiter wants to draw the editors in chief into the following dilemma: “Either you slander some particular individual, or you are slandering every one.” And that seems unfair, if that is his aim.

    I can’t help but feeling that what really is happening is that Leiter does not like intelligent design, and takes offense to any-one who expresses any sympathy with the ID people in any context.

  11. Hi Alex,

    I didn’t feel positioned to make any claims about Leiter’s motives. And regardless of Brian’s or the EICs’ motivation, I certainly wouldn’t mind if the publicity surrounding The Synthese Affair enhances editors’ awareness of the potential for unwarranted political interference in such circumstances.

  12. John,

    If you’re really disagreeing with professor Kornblith when he says the disclaimer calls into question “the various contributions” (i.e., “all” the contributions, on your reading), then yes I believe your response does depend on a scope ambiguity. Why would it matter that (in your words) “some” implies “not all” unless “all” in (your construal of) professor Kornblith’s remarks was applied (narrow-scope) to the content of what the disclaimer implied? Which clearly it was not meant to be.

    But technical details are beside the point, and if I put the point incorrectly so be it. I think it should be clear in any case that to cast non-specific aspersions on all the papers in a volume is in an important and obvious sense to cast aspersion on each paper.

    The response that we “already knew” there might be something wrong with any given paper strikes me as overly precious. The point is that when confronted with such a disclaimer, coming from an authority and without further context, many people would become more inclined to think, of each paper, that there is something wrong with it; if you will, their subjective probability that there is something wrong with any particular paper in the volume goes up. And not irrationally, I think.

    At least, that is what I would be concerned and angry about if it were my paper. Would you be as generously blasé if it were yours?

    • Michael,

      It’s trivially true that “to cast non-specific aspersions on all the papers in a volume is in an important and obvious sense to cast aspersion on each paper,” so I’m not sure what the significance of that point is.

      Upon reading the disclaimer, I noticed no change in how confident I was that each individual paper had something wrong with it. I don’t just indifferently distribute my confidence that way. Are you suggesting that people should do that? I disagree. You claim that “many people would” do that. Did you?

      And was there really no “further context”? The disclaimer appeared along with all the papers, which I would count as a relevant context.

      I’ll go on record as saying no, having my paper appear in a special issue with such a disclaimer would not anger me. Seriously, what might someone say about me as a result? “Look, there’s one of those authors whose paper appeared in the same issue as a paper that the editors thought adopted an inappropriate tone”? Or, “One of that guy’s papers is slightly more probable to take an inappropriate tone than the other philosophy papers I haven’t read”? I couldn’t be bothered by such things, not in the least.

      I grant that there’s a concern that people will misjudge one’s work, in this case, just as always. And I wouldn’t go so far as to deny that the disclaimer might increase the probability of misjudgment a bit. (Though perhaps it might have exactly the opposite effect. There’s strong empirical evidence that humans spontaneously discount and even overcompensate for some psychological biases when explicit cues make the distorting factor salient.) In this respect, had the EICs named names, it might have been helpful, just to avoid that unwanted potential increase in probability in the case of non-offending parties. But I’m guessing that the EICs thought that other considerations outweighed this benefit of naming names. Suppose that they made an honest mistake about that. Would it be cause for a boycott?

  13. Alex,

    Being vague may be more polite to the people whom one is criticizing, but is it more polite to the others who are implicated? I think clearly not.

    The classroom example is misleading for a number of reasons, chiefly because there is no third party present whose perception of them matters to the students. More analogously, suppose a teacher had to talk about his students to a group of admissions officers from colleges where they had applied. In that case it would seem grossly unfair to the better students to stick to sweeping remarks like “a number of the students were palpably stupid, perpetually truant, quite naughty indeed…”

    To me it seems no less unfair to tell the readers of a volume that some of the authors failed to meet standards of appropriateness.

  14. Hi Alex,

    One more thought about the classroom example. I would think that the remark that “some of the papers I got were too rhetorical” is only appropriate if 1) the specific offending students were informed in comments that their papers were overly rhetorical and 2) that those students whose papers were not overly rhetorical were aware of the convention that if their papers were overly rhetorical, they would be informed in comments. Otherwise, such a sweeping comment would give precisely the impression, even among the non-offending students, that their papers stood a legitimate chance at being overly rhetorical.
    The generalization would carry exactly the problematic features that the Es’IC carried. I am reminded of a generalization I once gave to a class: “There were a couple of papers guilty of plagiarism.” Later that day, every member of the class (except, of course, the authors of the offending papers) was in a line outside my door.

  15. All,

    Just to clarify a few crucial points about the history of this fiasco, the guest editors edited the special issue, it was submitted to the journal, and one of the Editors-in-Chief accepted it for publication. Subsequently, after its contents had been published on-line, one of the contributors contacted Glenn Branch to explain that she was being subjected to pressure from the Editors-in-Chief who had received complaints from Beckwith and others, where, if she did not revise her paper, they anticipated adding a negative preface to the issue.

    Neither Glenn nor I had been directly contacted by the Editors-in-Chief about this. When I learned from him that one of our contributors had been contacted directly, I called the Editor-in-Chief who had accepted our special issue to object to their having gone to one of our contributors rather than coming to us. I regard that action as inappropriate and inexcusable, where I began an exchange with them (via email) in which I laid out the case for not requesting revisions and for not adding such a preface, which, I explained, would be insulting to our contributors and to us as guest editors as well as be setting a terrible precedent for the future. If they wanted revisions, they should have been requested when the issue was submitted, not after its acceptance.

    The deliberations among the Editors-in-Chief took several weeks, possibly months, but I was eventually notified twice (by the Editor-in-Chief who had accepted the special issue) that the Editors-in-Chief had decided not to request revisions. He subsequently notified me that they had also decided against adding a negative preface. At that point in time, both Glenn and I believed that all was well. We were therefore shocked and chagrined to discover that such a preface had indeed been published in the hard copy of the journal. It is very difficult for me to understand how any professional academician, much less any serious philosopher, could not find fault with the actions taken by the Editors-in-Chief, which were duplicitous, deceitful, and professionally unethical. In my opinion, this is not even remotely “a close call”.

    Jim

  16. John,

    I doubt you meant to say it is “trivial” that there is an important sense in which casting aspersions on the whole volume casts aspersion on each paper, as that is rather against your point (and untrue.) However that is what I was claiming in the spot you quoted.

    In any case I didn’t want to argue too much about the extent or importance of that aspersion, only to remind us that to whatever degree it attaches to any of the papers, it naturally attaches to them all, despite the EICs’ sticking to the language of “some”. That is just the nature of general statements, which becomes anything but trivial in the case of those ranging over relatively small domains. But, since you seem to acknowledge that there is some non-trivial aspersion (a word I’ve surely never used so many times in my whole life as these last few posts), very well. I at any rate am far from prepared to claim that the authors whose work appeared in the volume, at least some of whom I take it really were upset by those aspersions (take a sip! it’s the aspersions drinking game) are irrational in being so.

    As to the rest, I take it you are not more than rhetorically interested in my actual reaction to the disclaimer (which would be a corrupted bit of data anyway, since I came to the whole thing via Brian Leiter’s post about/constituting the controversy. Maybe you did too?) But I will say this. Much of your defense depends on claims or speculation about what people would really be willing to say, or what inferences they would “own” if they thought very scrupulously about what they should draw from such a disclaimer, or maybe read the articles carefully, or whatever. To this, I think the proper response is that in many cases they might not own it, but they would surely think it, foreseeably so, and from an author’s or editor’s perspective that is already bad enough.

    I don’t exclude myself. Coming across a similar disclaimer in a different volume, I could easily see myself somehow discounting its contents. Obviously not to the point of saying “I own: surely all of these papers are crud”. But I might not read them, say (there is an awful lot of reading to do after all), or skim them with a sub-consciously oppositional eye, or something like that. Particularly if it were a topic I already had some feelings or suspicions about — say, if it were a volume largely in support of ID.

    All told, I think this sort of disclaimer could make a volume or paper significantly less apt to be viewed as a significant contribution to an important debate. And I think it is very understandable that this would be upsetting from the point of view of an author (to say nothing of the guest editors) who hoped to contribute exactly that.

    This of course is ignoring the potentially more serious issue of what kind of lobbying or capitulation may have actually brought about this particular disclaimer. But for what it’s worth, that’s my take on the issue of (unforewarned) disclaimers in general.

    • Hi Michael,

      Yes, I meant that it was trivial. (It clearly is: all obviously implies each, and there is no unimportant sense in which it’s true that aspersions are cast.) And I don’t need to accept that aspersions were cast on all the papers in the present case in order to agree with the general point expressed by the trivial sentence.

  17. John,

    Maybe I wasn’t clear. By “important” I meant something important is implicated about each paper by the general disclaimer — something beyond the trivial point that they belong to a volume containing at least one paper that doesn’t meet the editors’ standards of appropriate tone.

    Anyway, I’m pretty sure that point isn’t worth debating further. As I think is clear from professor Fetzer’s comment (which incidentally I didn’t see before my relatively flippant one was posted) the more worrisome issues have to do less with the disclaimer per se than the procedure leading up to it — surely we can all agree on that.

  18. Pingback: Pennock’s problematic piece in the controversial Synthese volume « Bradley Monton’s Blog

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