[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.)