Did Synthese bow to Intelligent Design pressure?

A while back I published a paper in a special edition of Synthese on “Evolution and its rivals”. My paper was titled “Are Creationists Rational?” in which I argued that yes, in a bounded sense they are. I was very pleased to be invited to publish in this front rank journal by the special editors. However, when the printed version arrived, the editors-in-chief had inserted a rather nasty statement, a disclaimer in fact, bringing the academic standing of the contributions into disrepute. Although I do not think my paper was directly involved in this, I post below a statement about the disclaimer by the special edition’s editors, Glenn Branch and James Fetzer. I fully support it.

RE: “Evolution and Its Rivals”, SYNTHESE 178:2 (January 2011)

Dear Members of the Philosophy Community,

As the Guest Editors of a special issue of SYNTHESE, “Evolution and Its Rivals”, we have been appalled to discover that the Editors-in-Chief added a prefatory statement to the issue that implies that the Guest Editors and their contributors have not maintained the standards of the journal. Our purpose here is to convey to you an explanation of the history of this special issue and the unusual problems we encountered in dealing with the Editors-in-Chief, in the hope that our reflections will place their statement in the proper context and guide you in future dealings with the journal.

The following statement was published in the printed but not the on-line version of this issue:

Statement from the Editors-in-Chief of SYNTHESE

This special issue addresses a topic of lively current debate with often strongly expressed views. We have observed that some of the papers in this issue 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.

We believe that vigorous debate is clearly of the essence in intellectual communities, and that even strong disagreements can be an engine of progress. However, tone and prose should follow the usual academic standards of politeness and respect in phrasing. We recognize that these are not consistently met in this particular issue. These standards, especially toward people we deeply disagree with, are a common benefit to us all. We regret any deviation from our usual standards.

Johan van Benthem
Vincent F. Hendricks
John Symons
Editors-in-Chief / SYNTHESE

First and foremost, we deeply regret the decision to insert this disclaimer, which insults not only us but also the contributors to the special issue. It was inserted without our consent or approval, without our being directly notified by the Editors-in-Chief, and despite our having been assured twice by one of the Editors-in-Chief that it would not be inserted (as we will explain below). In retrospect, we perhaps should have warned the contributors when the proposal to insert such a disclaimer was broached, but it did not occur to us that the Editors-in-Chief would renege on their assurances that no disclaimer would be inserted. Nevertheless, we would like to take this opportunity to reiterate our sincerest apologies to the contributors.

The background to the disclaimer involves Barbara Forrest’s contribution to the special issue, “The Non-Epistemology of Intelligent Design,” which vigorously critiqued the work of Francis Beckwith. Shortly after the papers were published on-line in advance of publication by SYNTHESE in 2009, friends of Beckwith began to protest — not to the Guest Editors, but to the Editors-in-Chief — about Forrest’s article, one even going so far as to claim that it was “libelous.”

In response, the Editors-in-Chief discussed the matter with Jim Fetzer, who has an extensive history with the journal, including serving as one of its co-editors from 1990 to 1999 and editing six previous special issues. In preparation for this discussion, Fetzer solicited the opinion of another former editor of SYNTHESE, who regarded the paper as unproblematic with the minor exception of Forrest’s mention of Beckwith’s recent return to the Catholic Church, a matter that has not surfaced in any of the discussion that has followed.

The outcome of the discussion was that Beckwith would be allowed a chance to respond in a later issue of SYNTHESE (which he has now taken; his response has already been published on-line in advance of publication), but that “[n]othing is to be done to the special issue” (as Fetzer summarized his understanding of the discussion to the Editors-in-Chief, none of whom expressed any disagreement).

Subsequently, in September 2010, Forrest advised Glenn Branch that she had been asked by two of the Editors-in-Chief to revise her paper — which, again, had already been published on-line — on pains of an editorial disclaimer being added to the issue. This condition was not, as would have been appropriate, discussed with or even divulged to the Guest Editors. Branch passed this news on to Fetzer, who protested vehemently to the Editors-in-Chief; it appears that the third was not aware of the demand from the other two. In November 2010, the third Editor-in-Chief assured us that both the request for a revision and the idea of an editorial disclaimer had been dropped. (We should also mention that the publisher of the journal was by no means enthusiastic about the idea of revising an already published paper.) With that, we believed we had resolved any issues between the parties involved.

It therefore came as a complete — and most unwelcome — surprise to discover such a statement included in the printed edition.

Several of the contributors have informed us and/or the Editors-in-Chief that they would have withdrawn their papers from the issue had they known that they would have been published under the shadow of such a disclaimer. (Note that the disclaimer speaks of “some of the papers,” in the plural, suggesting that Forrest’s was not the only paper that is supposedly objectionable.) We ourselves would have reconsidered our proposal to edit a special issue on this subject had we any idea that such opprobrium might attach to our efforts, which have conformed to appropriate standards of scholarship and publication in general, and with the standards of SYNTHESE in particular, with which we are very familiar.

We are both shocked and chagrined that a journal of SYNTHESE’s stature should have sunk so low as to violate the canons of responsible editorial practice as the result of lobbying by a handful of ideologues. This tells us — as powerfully as Forrest’s work — that intelligent design corrupts. We regret the conduct of the Editors-in-Chief and the unwarranted insult to the contributors and ourselves as Guest Editors represented by the disclaimer. We are doing our best to make the misconduct of the Editors-in-Chief a matter of common knowledge within the philosophy community in the hope that everyone will consider whatever actions may be appropriate for them to adopt in any future associations with SYNTHESE.


Glenn Branch
Deputy Director
National Center for Science Education, Inc.

James H. Fetzer
McKnight Professor Emeritus
University of Minnesota Duluth

(Institutions are listed for the purposes of identification only.)

It looks very much like Francis Beckwith’s sympathisers’ objections were unilaterally accepted without question by the editors-in-chief. One can only wonder why. Perhaps threats of legal action were made against the journal or the editors? If so, this action is execrable and should be withdrawn. The proper forum for academic dispute is in debate, not attack based on fear of litigation. Beckwith has his forum, and readers can decide for themselves whether they think he has a case. One wonders whether or not a similar disclaimer will accompany his contribution.

Is this what the academy has been reduced to? In the light of recent attempts to silence or discourage criticisms by certain allied political interests, this looks very bad.


Filed under Academe, Censorship, Creationism and Intelligent Design, Evolution, Philosophy, Politics, Rant, Religion

39 Responses to Did Synthese bow to Intelligent Design pressure?

  1. Well, I don’t endorse all of A&E911′s positions, either, because they make nanothermite, an incendiary, the principal mechanism for the destruction of the Twin Towers, which obviously required massive explosives as well. But their documentary, “Blueprint for Truth”, demonstrates–conclusively, in my view–that these cannot possibly be “collapses” of any kind, whether from so-called “truss failure” or of floors falling onto other floors. Even the gross observable visual evidence–see “New 9/11 Photos Released”, for example, archived at http://jamesfetzer.blogspot.com/2010/02/new-911-photos-released.htm–makes that apparent. Does this look anything like a collapse?

    So much of the evidence is visual that language is a poor medium to explain it absent demonstrations of what you are addressing. Here I shall enumerate a baker’s dozen of crucial points about New York for your consideration. But I urge you to consider them along with one or another of my Powerpoint presentations, “Was 9/11 an ‘inside job’?”,
    http://twilightpines.com/JF-BuenosAires/Buenos-Aires.html or “Are Wars in Iraq and Afghanistan justified by 9/11?”, which is archived at http://noliesradio.org/archives/21621/ . Let me know what you find to disagree with here, because if I have anything wrong, I want to know it. We are looking for the scientific explanation conferring the highest probability on the evidence. (5) and (10) are especially worthy of your consideration

    (1) The impact of planes cannot have caused enough damage to bring the buildings down, since the buildings were designed to withstand them (as Frank DeMartini, the project manager, has observed), the planes alleged to have hit were similar to those they were designed to withstand, and the buildings continued to stand after those impacts with negligible effects.

    (2) Most of the jet fuel, principally kerosene, burned up in those fireballs in the first fifteen seconds or so. Below the 96th floor in the North Tower and the 80th in the South, those buildings were stone cold steel, unaffected by any fires at all other than some very modest office fires that burned around 500 degrees F, which functioned as a massive heat sink dissipating the heat from building up on the steel.

    (3) The melting point of steel at 2,800 degrees F is about 1,000 degrees higher than the maximum burning temperature of jet-fuel-based fires, which do not exceed 1,800 degrees under optimal conditions; but the NIST examined 236 samples of steel and found that 233 had not been exposed to temperatures above 500 degrees F and the others not above 1200.

    (4) Underwriters Laboratory certified the steel in the buildings up to 2,000 degrees F for three or four hours without any significant effects, where these fires burned neither long enough or hot enough–at an average temperature of about 500 degrees for about one hour in the South Tower and one and a half in the North–to weaken, much less melt.

    (5) If the steel had melted or weakened, then the affected floors would have displayed completely different behavior, with some degree of asymmetrical sagging and tilting, which would have been gradual and slow, not the complete, abrupt and total demolition that was observed. Which means the NIST cannot even explain the initiation of any “collapse” sequence.

    (6) The top 30 floors of the South Tower pivoted and began to fall to the side, when the floors beneath gave way. So it was not even in the position to exert downward pressure on the lower 80 floors. A high-school physics teacher, Charles Boldwyn, moreover, has calculated that, if you take the top 16 floors of the North Tower as one unit of downward force, there were 199 units of upward force to counteract it.

    (7) William Rodriguez, who was the senior custodian in the North Tower and the last man to leave the building, has reported massive explosions in the sub-basements that effected extensive destruction, including the demolition of a fifty-ton hydraulic press and the ripping of the skin off a fellow worker, where they filled with water that drained the sprinkler system.

    (8) Rodriguez observed that the explosion occurred prior to reverberations from upper floors, a claim that has now been substantiated in a new study by Craig Furlong and Gordon Ross, “Seismic Proof: 9/11 Was an Inside Job”, demonstrating that these explosions actually took place as much as 14 and 17 seconds before the presumptive airplane impacts.

    (9) Heavy-steel-construction buildings like the Twin Towers are not generally capable of “pancake collapse”, which normally occurs only with concrete structures of “lift slab” construction and could not occur in redundant welded-steel buildings, such as the towers, unless every supporting column were removed at the same time, floor by floor, as Charles Pegelow, a structural engineer, has observed.

    (10) The demolition of the two towers in about 10 seconds apiece is very close to the speed of free fall with only air resistance, which Judy Wood, Ph.D., formerly a professor of mechanical engineering, has observed is an astounding result that would be impossible without extremely powerful sources of energy. If they were collapsing, they would have had to fall through their points of greatest resistance.

    (11) Indeed, the towers are exploding from the top, not collapsing to the ground, where their floors do not move, a phenomenon Wood has likened to two gigantic trees turning to sawdust from the top down, which, like the pulverization of the buildings, the government’s account cannot possibly explain. There were no pancakes.

    (12) WTC-7 came down in a classic controlled demolition at 5:20 PM after Larry Silverstein suggested the best thing to do might be to “pull it”, displaying all the characteristics of classic controlled demolitions: a complete, abrupt and total collapse into its own footprint, where the floors are all falling at the same time, yielding a stack of pancakes about 5 floors high.

    (13) Had the Twin Towers collapsed like WTC-7, there would have been two stacks of “pancakes” equal to about 12% the height of the buildings or around 15 floors high. But they were actually reduced to below ground level. Since there were no “pancakes”, there cannot have been any “pancake collapse” of either building, where these buildings were destroyed by different modes of demolition.

  2. Because I submitted them before he posted his new policy, John has allowed the rest of my replies to djd and to TTT. Here’s the last:

    As for the Pentagon, TTT, I take it you have not read “What Didn’t Happen at the Pentagon”, in which I explain (with photographs) that the hit point on the ground floor was only 10′x16-17′, that there was no massive pile of debris as we would expect from a 100-ton airliner, including the wings, the tail, and bodies, seats and luggage. Not even the engines,which are virtually indestructible, were recovered. It may be worth adding that, while the 767s in New York carved out cookie-cutter like impressions in the steel, there is no comparable impression of the 757 at the Pentagon, even though its facade is relatively soft limestone, one more indication that no 757 crashed there. If you read that study and have more questions, get back to me. Many thanks!

  3. John has kindly allowed me to complete posting my replies to djd and TTT because they were submitted before he laid out his new policy:

    As for the Pentagon, TTT, I take it you have not read “What Didn’t Happen at the Pentagon”, in which I explain (with photographs) that the hit point on the ground floor was only 10′x16-17′, that there was no massive pile of debris as we would expect from a 100-ton airliner, including the wings, the tail, and bodies, seats and luggage. Not even the engines,which are virtually indestructible, were recovered. It may be worth adding that, while the 767s in New York carved out cookie-cutter like impressions in the steel, there is no comparable impression of the 757 at the Pentagon, even though its facade is relatively soft limestone, one more indication that no 757 crashed there. If you read that study and have more questions, get back to me. Many thanks!

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