Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Again on the Synthese Affair

Brian Leiter has posted a comment on my previous post on the Synthese affair. The reason I didn't accept it three hours ago was that I was away from my computer. I think that his comment deserves to be reproduced in a new post and that I should try to respond to it.

"Here's another question: who is Diego Machuca and why is he obsessed with me (see the Certain Doubts blog for his first intervention) and why does he feel free to misrepresent what's been going on so outrageously?

What I actually wrote on May 21, after the petition signed by 470 philosophers failed to generate a satisfactory response, was the following: "It seems, at this point, that there are now two options, given the intransigence of the Synthese editors with respect to the core issues of misconduct. One option remains a boycott of the journal, by both contributors and referees. The second, which several philosophers have now raised (and one of whom, a distinguished senior figure in the fields in which Synthese publishes, has raised directly with the publisher), is to demand the resignation of the editors responsible for this mess. Right now, it would be fair to say, the stink of this affair hovers over what everyone agrees has been a very good and important journal in the field. Some philosophers feel that only a complete turnover in editorial management will suffice. I invite signatories to the petition to weigh in with their thoughts on what should be done now."

That's the full extent of my alleged "demand" that the editors resign. Others have suggested it, I wanted to gauge what others thought about this suggestion, and about the boycott.

The subsequent poll revealed, contrary to Dr. Marchuca's continued misrepresentation, that hundreds of philosophers agree with my opinion, including some 200 who favor a boycott now.

But what is particularly puzzling is the suggestion that I am not allowed to have an opinion about this matter and express it unless lots of other philosophers agree with me. Why should I be so constrained in my right to express my views?

That you, Dr. Machuca, do not appreciate the seriousness of the editorial misconduct at issue or its consequences for science education in the United States does not mean I am "obsessed" and it certainly does not justify a blog purportedly about skepticism being turned into a forum for an irrelevant personal attack on me. Shame on you."

First of all, thanks for your comment, Professor Leiter. Here are some remarks in response to yours:

(1) This blog is indeed devoted to skepticism, but very rarely I write off-topic posts when I feel like expressing my impressions about other academic or scholarly issues. In addition, since it is my blog, I can write posts on any subject I want, and readers can decide whether to stop reading it.

(2) Who is Diego Machuca? As I said in my previous post, I’m not an important member of the philosophical community, but I do speak my mind. I’m surprised by your claim that I’m obsessed with you. You base your claim on my two comments on John Turri’s post on Certain Doubts and my post here. In the second comment I don’t mention you at all, whereas in the first one I only say that it seems to me that you’re obsessed with the affair. Since I used “seems,” I left open the possibility that I may be wrong (note that in my previous post I used “apparently” and “seemingly” a few times), but I must confess that you do seem quite obsessed. That’s not a personal attack; it’s just that your behavior looks extreme to me.

(3) I already said, both in my comments on Certain Doubts and in my previous post, that I don’t agree with what the Synthese editors did. The difference is that I don’t think that what they did licenses us to try to boycott the journal. Neither do I think that what happened will exert any influence on science education in the US. The articles against ID are there (again, there was no censorship) and intelligent readers will weigh the force of the arguments. Those who are dogmatic will remain dogmatic, I suppose.

(4) I never said that you’re not allowed to express your views, did I? (Reread my previous post.) What I said was that those of us who are not involved can voice our opinions (including the opinion that the editors should resign), but that we don’t seem to have the right to demand the resignation of the editors.

(5) I mentioned your name because Leiter Reports is your blog and because you seem to be the spokesman of quite a few people. (I must admit that when I said that a few dozens of scholars agree with you, I should have said “a few hundreds.”) But my criticisms were directed at all those who are trying to boycott the journal so fiercily.

(6) If you’re really intellectually honest, you should admit that you have undertaken a campaign against the journal and that you want the editors to resign.


  1. Can you not see that the entire issue boils down to #3? We have a substantive disagreement about this. Unsurprisingly, you are under-informed about how the ID proponents operate, and what the ramifications of the disclaimer and Beckwith's exploitation of it will be for Barbara Forrest's work defending science education in the public schools. There have been some good discussions of this at the New APPS blog.

    But you want to interpret the substantive disagreement as evidence of an "obsession." An obsession is an unattractive personal trait, and to describe someone as obsessed is obviously to describe them as behaving irrationally. In fact, I have a different, and more rational, appraisal of the editorial misconduct and its consequences, and would, like many others, like to see the situation remedied. I have no firm opinion about whether the editors should resign, and you should be honest enough not to impute a view to me. I also say what I think, and at the point at which I think resignation is the only suitable option, I will say so.

    I do now realize this is your personal blog and not a group blog devoted to skepticism. You are, of course, free to write whatever you want, no matter how ill-informed, and on any subject of your choosing. I congratulate you for not being "easily intimidated." But no one was trying to intimidate you. I was hoping that you might, on reflection, reconsider the tact you have taken in light of norms of professional discussion.

  2. Yes, I'm probably unsurprinsingly under-informed or ill-informed and unprofessional. (You seem to think you're the criterion regarding what is and is not professional, but I'll grant you that.) Be that as it may, it still seems to me that those who are serious scholars and try to assess arguments objectively will examine Beckwith's arguments and views carefully and will draw their own conclusions. What I think is important is that the papers were published without any changes, so that Forrest's case against Beckwith is there for us to consider.

    I thank you for this discussion.



  3. Dr. Machuca: observing that you, a resident of Argentina I infer from the information you have on-line, are under-informed about how the ID proponents, including Beckwith, operate was not an insult. As to what constitutes acceptable norms of discourse, I am entitled to my opinion, and you to yours. I had hoped you might share mine in this instance.

    In any case, thank you for the opportunity to express my reservations about your initial characterization of the matter.

  4. You're right in that. But it still seems to me (and some people from the US agree) that it is extremely unlikely that what happened with Synthese would have terrible effects on science education in the US.

    At least sometimes disagreements are not resolved, but I have no problems with that.