Editors of Synthese respond

Synthese received a volley of objections to part of a special issue. See here to view a description of the problem. Below is a response from the editors. This response is largely about preventitive practical and procedural issues. As readers will see, there will be a more explanatory response later, when more is known.

I think we should heartily welcome what seems to be a significant move toward transparency regarding what happened and what will be done.

———- Forwarded message ———-

Date: 27 January 2016 at 18:34

Name: Gila Sher
Email: gsher@ucsd.edu
Website: http://philosophyfaculty.ucsd.edu/faculty/gsher/
Message: We would like to reiterate our apology for any offense caused by the special issue article published in Synthese and also our strong commitment to feminist and LGBT values. We would also like to reassert our commitment to high-quality publications and assure the community of our dedication to high professional and humanistic standards.

We have considered complex ethical issues related to the published article. We take full responsibility for all the articles published by Synthese and we do not want to change the status of any accepted article. We believe that (except for extreme circumstances like plagiarism) all accepted articles should remain part of the scholarly record and a possible point of further discussion in the academic debate.

The events around this paper have led us once again to revisit our procedures regarding special issues. Shortly after beginning our appointment as editors in chief in 2012 our team installed new guidelines and rules for special issues (see the Synthese website), which include doubly anonymous reviews and oversight by the editors in chief. We carefully checked our records concerning the article in question and the special issue to which it belongs and contacted the guest editor and Springer, our publisher. Our procedure for special issues says that, after a guest editor has made an acceptance recommendation regarding a paper, the final decision is made by the editors in chief. Regrettably, due to an unfortunate human error, this particular paper was not sent to the editors in chief after the guest editor had entered his recommendation into the editorial management system. We are working with Springer to fully understand the problem and make sure that it does not recur.

To provide some more context, 27 articles were submitted to the special issue. Each was sent to two anonymous reviewers. 8 articles were rejected by the guest editor based on the reviews, and 19 articles were accepted after 1-4 cycles of revisions. Of these, 18 were sent to the editors in chief following the guest editor’s recommendation to accept the papers, and after an inspection by the editors in chief they were accepted for publication.

In light of the problem and the resulting concerns about special issues we have decided to put a moratorium on new special issues. During the moratorium period we will reexamine our policies with regard to them, including quality control and other aspects of special issues. We will strive to conclude the review process in two to three months.

Of course, we will remain open to submission of articles to regular Synthese issues during this time. We will also respect our obligations to the guest editors and authors of special issues in various stages of preparation at Synthese at the present time. We will, however, make sure there is an adequate level of oversight on these issues while we are conducting our review.

Once we complete our investigations and review process we will issue an additional statement about our findings, the decisions we made concerning special issues, and the practical steps we have taken to prevent recurrence of the present problem to the best of our ability.

Thank you very much for your understanding, patience, and the support we have received.

Gila (Sher), Otávio (Bueno), and Wiebe (van der Hoek)
Editors in Chief

8 thoughts on “Editors of Synthese respond

  1. I am disappointed by this statement. Conspicuously absent is an apology for publishing the paper—or even an explicit acknowledgement that it does not meet the standards of Synthese.

  2. JI, I agree that an apology for causing unhappiness isn’t an apoloy for publishing the paper, but I think it comes close in this case. Similarly, the statement of commitment is pretty close to what you want. I suspect that one thing that is holding them back is that they don’t now know what went on.

  3. I don’t really see why you think that, Anne. “We’re sorry for any offence caused” is literally textbook language for fake apologies. And I don’t see anything at all close to what I ask for; which of their statements do you think is close to a statement that the paper should not have been published?

  4. So JI you think the entire article should not have been published because it is disagreeable and sexist? What does that say for Nietzsche?

  5. I think there are many reasons the entire article should not have been published. Some people say it doesn’t matter whether the Synthese editors explicitly say so or not because it’s just so obvious that it shouldn’t have been published, but Alex’s comment illustrates that this is not as true as it should be. The fact that there is any controversy about whether this article meets the standards of highly-regarded professional journals illustrates exactly my point.

    To answer Alex’s other question, I don’t think what I say about this article says anything at all about Nietzsche.

  6. 2 things:

    1. I think there’s a complex conversational implicature carried by the first three sentences. I’m not sure of Grice’s exact wording here, but in giving us reassurances on issues of equality, ethics and values, the letter strongly implicates that the publication of the article could very fairly be thought to have raised questions about these.

    2. It is often very hard for committees to come up with wording that suits all their members. It is hardly surprising withe the odd cliché makes its way in, along with a mildly hedged statement.

  7. I’m reading the implicature in just the opposite direction you are, Anne. Precisely because they know the statement will be under close scrutiny, they chose their words carefully, and deliberately chose not to say that the paper should not have been published. If that is because some of the editors in chief think that it should have been published, it demonstrates serious cause for concern about their judgment.

    It is concerning to me that “this paper does not meet the standards of Synthese” appears not to have been acceptable to all three editors in chief.

  8. had the passage been noticed in time presumably a number of actions could have been taken. Only one of them is not publishing the (whole) paper. In addition, since they don’t know how it got through, they can’t tell what they’d be criticizing by implication. I think it is a very good idea in hierarcichal structures not to throw those below one to the dogs, especially when you don’t know whether it was commission or ommission that got the paper through.

    We also don’t know how veto powers get distributed. Who was in a position to veto at least the passage and who wasn’t? And could there be legitimate concerns about vetoing and who gets to do it? I myself would be inclined to break any rules restricting a veto in the present case, but tons of philosophers don’t have such a cavalier attitudes toward rules. Plus, if someone broke the rules to reject some feminist or neurophilosophical thought on the grounds that it’s offensive rubbish, then I’d be probably supporting any rules that restrict vetoing.

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