Chow fun philosophy 
After dinner at Emperor's Chinese, this treatise in philosophy of science:



Nom nom nom.

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The debacle in plain text [or] The editors' reply, redux 
Last month, I discussed the unprofessional and craven reply by the editors of Synthese to the petition protesting their unprofessional and craven behaviour. Their reply, if you'll recall, was in a grainy jpeg at synthpetition.info. Wesley Elsberry had transcribed the response, and I pointed to his blog.

Elsberry's blog is now down. The text below is cut and pasted from the Google cache, and I offer it because Google cached pages are ephemeral. This really ought to exist as plain text (a fit format for verbal content) rather than as a bitmap (the preferred format for porn).

The response


In response to the petition sent to Synthese:

We have considered the demands contained in this petition very seriously. We have implemented a moratorium on new special issues and we have begun planning appropriate changes to the editorial procedures of Synthese.

The petition asks for full disclosure of all legal threats. There have not been any communications received from Christian philosophers that constituted legal threats. There was a single email from a member of the public expressing the view that the entire special issue was ‘scurrilous and libelous’. We did not consider this email to be a legal threat. It is important to note that this email was received after our initial contacts with Professor Beckwith.

As far as meaningful legal action is concerned, we have received messages that we take seriously as legal threats but these have not come from Christian philosophers. Our ability to provide detailed responses in the blogs is constrained by these challenges.

Professor Beckwith requested an opportunity to respond to Professor Forrest's paper. We agreed that this was a fair course of action. As regards the inclusion of our editorial statement and the email correspondence with Professor Forrest, it is true that there was considerable discussion between the editors of all aspects of the special issue. We took these matters very seriously and as is often the case with serious deliberation there were some oscillations prior to our reaching a conclusion. Eventually the editors arrived at a shared position, in consultation with the publisher, based on what we judged to be the offending language in two papers.

With respect to the claim that the guest editors were given assurances that no editorial statement would appear, it is true that the guest editors were privy to internal discussions between the editors-in-chief at earlier stages. We were unable to properly communicate later stages of our decision-making process to the guest editors.

We are ultimately responsible for what appears in the journal and we decided to publish the special issue without amendment to any of its papers. We wish to emphasize that our editorial statement should in no way be interpreted as an endorsement of 'intelligent design'.

At this point, we have a duty to help create procedures to prevent situations of the sort we saw here from recurring. Thus, in consultation with the publisher, we have begun planning a transition to improved editorial procedures and improved oversight which will be in place in 2012. We will work closely with our board or area editors and our advisory board to make this happen.

Johan van Benthem

Vincent Hendricks

John Symons

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E-mail beyond the event horizon 
I recently suffered a computer failure. Although I restored to a recent backup, there is a small window of e-mails which were lost to the void. If you contacted me in the last two weeks or so and never heard back, please send your message again.

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Petition repetition [or] Synthesiana ad infinitum 
It seems that April has become Blog About the Synthese Debacle month here. The debacle, a recap: There was a recent guest-edited issue of Synthese. The usual editors added a disclaimer to the printed version of the issue, distancing themselves from it and saying that some of the papers in it were insulting rubbish.

There are now three different on-line petitions, all directed at the editors of Synthese: Eric Schliesser has started two petitions.

Schliesser's first petition calls for the editors to allow Barbara Forrest the write a response to Francis Beckwith's response to her original paper. Her paper, recall, is the one that led the editors to apologize for the guest-edited issue of their own journal in the first place. In Beckwith's reply, he uses the editors' disclaimer as evidence that the original paper was incompetent!

Schliesser's second petition calls for the editors to explain how and why they allowed Beckwith to publish such a brazen reply.

The third petition, organized by Brian Leiter, demands that the editors retract the the disclaimer and apologize. Ingo Brigandt and Mohan Matthen provide strong arguments for signing it.

I have signed all three, although I worry that the grand buffet of petitions will dilute the appropriate outrage. One might object to Schliesser's first petition for procedural reasons, on the grounds that allowing Forrest a reponse would be the wrong form of redress, even if one thought that the editors well and truly cocked this up. Yet a weak showing for that petition might be taken as somehow vindicating the editors and Beckwith's response. Bleah.

I am still prepared to give mitigated support to a boycott of the journal, so petitions now are weak sauce. I'll sign them, though, and so should you.*


* Obviously, you shouldn't just sign them because I said you should. Follow some links. Read up on it. Then sign.

Update, 3May


Leiter's petition, which I think was the most important, has now closed. It will be delivered to the editors with roughly 470 signatures. Leiter provides a summary of signatories and comments.

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How to say 'ahoy' in a correspondence 
In elementary school, there was a unit on letter writing. Personal letters, we were taught, should begin "Dear So and so," while business letters should begin "Dear So and so:" When there was no specific so and so, business letters were supposed to begin "Dear Sir:"

A BBC item highlights the obvious fact that this has all broken down. Some people in the article complain that 'dear' sounds too familiar, others that it is too formal. The fact that twenty-somethings don't just think of it as just right for starting a letter suggests that they didn't get the unit on correspondence that I got in third grade.

There are bigger problems, though. I very rarely write physical letters anymore, but the unit in third grade failed to cover e-mail. (How shortsighted!)

Since most e-mail is shorter than physical mail would be anyway, one get often get away with a casual "So and so," But how to close the missive?

Just "-P.D." is enough, but isn't obviously right when mailing undergrads. I am fine with them calling me P.D., but they may be uncomfortable with it. I have concluded that the better thing, for a short e-mail, is just not to begin with any address or end with any explicit sign off. Better just to write my sentence or two of content and let the program fill in my generic sig.

For letters of recommendation, the only physical correspondence that I really write anymore, it won't do to drop the niceties. But the "Dear sir" thing? It is sexist and so sounds entirely wrong on formal correspondence. Alas, I can't think of anything better. "To whom it may concern" sounds like a sales circular addressed to Resident.

And what are kids in third grade now being taught?

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