Unprofessional, unresponsive, and unacceptable [or] Synthese, again and still

Fri 27 May 2011 10:30 AM

*sigh* The editors responded to the Synthese petition. It happened almost two weeks ago, while I was in Toronto talking about anglerfish.

The editors' reply was posted to the domain syntpetition.info. The domain was created just for this purpose, and it hosts only a low-res jpg scan of a letter in which the editors pooh pooh the entire affair. Wesley Elsberry has transcribed the response in actual text.

When I first read the reply, I wondered whether it actually was from the editors at all. Given subsequent non-denial, it seems that it is. However, I find the format of the response to be... well... unprofessional. 470ish sign a petition in protest, but the editors do the digital equivalent of mumbling their response before sprinting out the back door. They went out of their way to make the response indirect and inaccessible.

The way that the response was delivered compounds their original offenses. If they weren't out of line before, they are now. Even if the hundreds of signatories were entirely off base, the response ought to have been direct rather than maddeningly roundabout.

On top of all that, the content of the response is... well... unresponsive. They say that the disclaimer is or at least might have been a response to messages they received which they "take seriously as legal threats." This is just the worry - that they knuckled under to legal threats from creationists.

The letter goes on to say that the threats were not from "Christian philosophers." This careful wording allows that the threats were from other creationists; i.e., Christian non-philosophers. The dodginess almost even suggests that it was so.

It is possible, of course, that the evaluation of the legal situation was made by Springer's corporate lawyers rather than by the editors themselves. If so, they acting the part of coroporate toadies - worse, bad corporate toadies. If you aren't going to talk about it, a clear public statement of no comment would be both more honest and legally more secure. A grainy scan of an evasive letter posted at an obscure novel domain is a disasterous half-measure.

Also: There's been coverage of the Synthese debacle in the NY Times and the Guardian. Although the URL shifted, John Wilkins is still keeping up an aggregate of related links.