Epistemic community and the Synthese boycott 
Brian Leiter is calling for a boycott of Synthese. He gives details of the case at his blog, but the gist of it is this: The January issue was a special issue on the theme Evolution and its rivals. It included a paper by Barbara Forrest excoriating intelligent-design mountebank Francis Beckwith. The ID flak machine went to work long before the issue appeared. There was discussion of adding a disclaimer or revising the paper, but (after much ruckus) the guest editors were assured that the issue would appear without such tampering. In the end, however, the print version of the issue contained an apology from the journal editors for breaches of the "usual academic standards of politeness and respect." Some of the papers, they say, "employ a tone that may make it hard to distinguish between dispassionate intellectual discussion of other views and disqualification of a targeted author or group."

The guest editors of the issue are understandably miffed. Leiter leads with the headline Synthese Editors Cave in to Pressure from the Intelligent Design Lobby, and that doesn't seem overblown. The editorial note basically condemns some of the papers in the issue for resorting to ad hominem. The editor who wrote it were bungling, craven, duplicitous, or some combination of these.

I have published in Synthese in the past, and I have a paper working its way through their editorial process right now. If my present paper were just a regular submission, I would withdraw it.

The bind for me is that my paper was prepared for a special issue. The issue is on the theme The epistemology of inclusiveness. I was invited to submit the paper, I would not have written it but for the invitation, and the paper does not really make sense out of that context. Indeed, it's titled The epistemology of inclusiveness (or) Particular epistemic communities are always a mess.

Of course, losing a publication for principle would not cost me too much. I have tenure, and one paper more or less won't make much difference for my CV. Yet the guest editors who invited me have put time into the issue, as have other authors. They may not be in a position to be as cavalier about it as I could be, and none of them were involved with caving in to pressure from ID hacks. So I think that I will not withdraw my paper from the special issue.

I will join the boycott to this extent: I will not submit anything else to Synthese or review papers for the journal until there is a satisfactory reckoning. An apology from the editors would help here, but what can they say?

Of course, I will also keep an eye on the case. The editors have not given their account of it publicly.

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Lo! -gos & episteme! 
My paper, Miracles, Trust, and Ennui, has now appeared in Logos&Episteme.

Huzzah!

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Whither logos & whence episteme? 
UPDATE: Hither & thither! I heard back the next day from the editors. It was just a technical glitch, and I happened to visit the site during a brief technical outage. So let me commend the editorial staff for being johnny-on-the-spot, and let me recommend to you (the reader) submitting a paper to Logos&Episteme.

I have a paper forthcoming in the open access epistemology journal Logos&Episteme.* The journal, although new, has an impressive editorial board and is off to a good start.

I checked the journal's website today to discover: This Account Has Been Suspended

The Google Cache for March 19 (two days earlier!) shows the page for the journal. So its disappearance seems to be a new thing. Hopefully it is just a technical glitch, but I worry that the journal has been swallowed by digital silence.

I've e-mailed the editor, but I also thought I'd try asking you. Do you know what's up with L&E? C'mon, internet, what's the haps? [I know! See the UPDATE.]


* I sent my paper to L&E because it's important to support open access publishing. Having commercial publishers skim off of university budgets is ultimately untenable, and open access publishing may be crucial to the survival of humanities publishing. If L&E has disappeared, I don't think it's a cautionary tale about open access - but instead a cautionary tale about new journals. It just happens (alas) that most open access journals are new, because the old journals still labour on with the old model.

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Topic neutrality is geek carte blanche 
When writing problem sets for Intro Logic, I try to use interesting topics. Since the logical form of 'All capybaras are flammable' is the same as the logical form of 'All men are mortal', the structure of the problem is the same in either case.* Students have to get the structure right, so it doesn't matter if they know anything about the topic or not.

If students have to define their own key, then abstruse predicates can lead them to make overly complex translations. Where I provide a symbolization key, however, students have to do as well as they can with the predicates defined in the key. For example: We might argue about whether 'x is a liar' can be adequately represented as 'there exists some y, such that x lies to y'. Nevertheless, it is clearly the best representation possible if we have to express it using just the relation 'x lies to y'.

Today's exam illustrates how this can come together in odd ways. Students were given a series of sentences. The universe of discourse was specified to be commanding officers from Star Trek. The predicates included 'x was played by Avery Brooks' and 'x was commander of Deep Space 9'; there was a defined constant referring to Sisko.

On reflection, I may have cheated on the metaphysics by setting up the problem this way. It is true in the story that Sisko was commander of Deep Space 9, but it is true in the actual world that Avery Brooks played the role of Sisko. So perhaps 'Sisko' is equivocally used for both the character and the role. Are those different things? I'm honestly not sure.

On a tangentially related note: Although she recognized that it didn't matter for the exam itself, one student wondered about how some problem sentences were effected by the fact that the original series pilot (in which Pike rather than Kirk was captain) was aired after the series (in which Kirk was captain).**


* I used 'All capybaras are flammable' on a final several years ago. A few students raised their hand to ask what a capybara was. I answered that (a) it shouldn't matter, since there was a predicate defined to mean 'x is a capybara' but (b) it's a giant South American rodent.
** The exam did not mention Captain Pike by name! It's nice when somebody gets the references.

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Seadevil you say 
I just put up a draft of Drakes, seadevils, and similarity fetishism. It's on R&R from a journal, and I just found out that it has been accepted for the conference Metaphysics and the Philosophy of Science. Yay!

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