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TSQ, Synthese, and What to do Next

BY MATTHEW J. CULL


In 2015, the prestigious journal of epistemology, logic, and the philosophy of science Synthese published a paper entitled “The Relativity and Universality of Logic” by Jean-Yves Beziau. The paper was published in a special issue of the journal (Synthese was well-known at the time for producing a large number of special issues) and without full chief-editorial oversight (see Weinberg 2016b).[1]


Beziau’s paper is perhaps most notable for a remarkable passage on a position known as logical pluralism. In the passage, Beziau connects logical pluralism to sexiness, political correctness, and even homosexuality. He writes, for instance, that “Logical pluralism is fashionable and fashion is ephemeral and superficial, like a sexy young woman that 1[sic] day will be a not so attractive old lady” (Beziau 2015 1948), and that

““Logical pluralism” is linked in another way to sexuality: it is connected to homosexuality. The flag of homosexuality is the rainbow seen as a general symbol of pluralism opposed to the black and white dichotomy. It is a bit weird to promote plurality through a sexual activity between people of the same sex.” (Beziau 2015 1947).

To be clear, whilst logical pluralism is a somewhat radical position, and indeed appears to be becoming more popular,[2] the reader unfamiliar with contemporary philosophical logic should rest assured that Bezaiu’s claims are just as strange as they appear. As such, there was widespread online backlash to the publication of the article, with the analytic feminist blog feministphilosophers.wordpress.com calling it out as a sexist and homophobic rant (Yap 2016), and many commenters arguing that the piece was poorly argued, even if we attempt to ignore the offensive content involved.


Why do I raise this case in connection with the recent piece “On Being a Transamorous Man” as published in TSQ? Well, I think that there are a number of salient similarities between the cases. Most relevantly, the journals are both prestigious, and therefore offer a degree of epistemic authority to anything they publish, extending both inside and outside of a research community. After all, if one is an outsider looking for the latest research in a field, one generally thinks that one can find authoritative work in the leading journals of a field. Moreover, publishing in one of these journals can offer significant career advantages to an author.[3] There was also considerable online backlash to the publication of both articles. There are differences, however. TSQ is the only dedicated trans studies journal, whilst Synthese sits among an established field of other journals. Synthese also styles itself as a broadly apolitical journal, just interested in science, logic, epistemology and the methodology and history thereof (Synthese 2020).[4] Meanwhile, TSQ has a set of political and ethical commitments as a part of its stated goals, not just interested in scholarship about transgender issues, but in scholarship that “contest[s] the objectification, pathologization, and exoticization of transgender lives” (TSQ 2019). Further, whilst Beziau’s article (at least according to the Synthese) did go through peer review, “On Being a Transamorous Man” did not (see Lavery 2020).


This should lead us to the conclusion that the practices for deciding on publication in TSQ should be more stringent than in the already stringent Synthese. Why? Well, think about the journals’ stated goals. Just like Synthese, TSQ has a professed responsibility for publishing work that meets the highest epistemic standards, but just as importantly, TSQ also has a professed responsibility to publish work that meets its professed ethical standards, of contesting objectification, and so on.[5] Insofar as we think a journal’s publication procedures should match, or flow from their stated goals, it looks as if the procedures at TSQ should be tougher than those at Synthese.[6] Moreover, as perhaps the only trans studies journal, TSQ is invested with a particular epistemic authority that goes beyond the authority that Synthese has in its field – that is, there is no possibility for dissenting positions published in other trans studies journals because there are no other prominent trans studies journals. If one wishes to refute the claims of an article published in TSQ, likely one must also publish in TSQ.[7] I suggest, therefore, that TSQ has a particular responsibility to get things right that goes beyond even those journals like Synthese, which already have a number of quite stringent duties in this regard.[8]


What, then, is to be done? Here I think that we can learn from Synthese’s response. Synthese put an immediate moratorium on the publication of special issues whilst the issue was investigated, and the journal’s policies were reviewed. The policies, as they stand now, insist on double-blind peer review for all papers, ensuring that each accepted paper has been vetted by at least three experts.


I think the main thing to take from the Synthese controversy is that cases such as this should lead us to take a step back and ask what can be done to avoid such occurrences in the future. That means, to my mind at least, a review of the publication procedure and policies at TSQ. Should, for instance, the editor of a special issue be allowed to invite a piece of work from someone they know, and sidestep peer review entirely? I suspect that the answer to this question has to be no, both on grounds of fairness and grounds of academic rigour. Instead, I suggest that TSQ might consider the adoption of triple-blind peer review, where the identities of authors are withheld from both the reviewers and the editors prior to publication.[9] Of course, this is not a panacea. Reviewers can make bad decisions, and editors can choose to ignore the good advice of reviewers as to publication. However, additional checks and balances, I suggest, are to be preferred. This might lead us to additionally think that the editors-in-chief should have the final say on publication decisions, with the ability to overrule special issue editors. Here, considerations regarding the editorial freedom of guest editors might weigh against such a move, but if exercised responsibly, by editors-in-chief concerned only to block publications that directly violate the stated policies of TSQ, I see no reason for us to be worried. After all, if editors-in-chief are only licensed to use this power to block the publication of articles that, for instance, falsify data, or objectify trans people, I see no issue with giving them this power.


It has been suggested that one way in which TSQ might respond to this controversy is to adopt, or make more clear, a distinction between what we might call ‘academic research articles’, which are usual bread and butter of any academic journal, and other pieces of work which the journal deems to be important in some way, whether poetry, art, or personal narrative. The policy might go as follows: we have double- or triple-blind peer review for academic research articles, but not for other work, and we label each clearly so that it is obvious to the reader which texts are which. However, I think the defender of such a policy must answer several questions. First (if one buys the need for a distinction here) one might ask, is an academic journal really the place for the publication of works of art or personal narratives? Certainly, these works might be of importance, and the editors may wish to both legitimate and disseminate those works, but even so, we might wonder whether an academic journal the appropriate place for such a publication. One might suggest that a supplementary journal of such works is more appropriate.


Second, why can’t these works also go through peer review? Even if peer-review looks a bit different when it is the review of a personal narrative or piece of art, peer review would play an important role, even if that role is just a second opinion to that of the editors on whether the work is significant enough for publication. Rather than separate out these works, instead, one might think, we can just subject them to peer review and publish them with more ‘traditional’ forms of scholarship.[10]


Third, if the point of including such pieces in TSQ is to legitimate them in some way, doesn’t the policy of distinguishing such pieces from the peer-reviewed academic journal articles undermine that legitimation? One might worry, for instance, that in distinguishing these forms of content, we implicitly create a hierarchy, privileging some forms of knowledge production over others and suggesting that arts and personal narrative are not ‘proper’ scholarship.[11]


I don’t want to suggest that the above questions have no answers, or that any policy review would inevitably result in a radical overhaul of TSQ’s procedures. However, I do want to suggest that TSQ undertake such a review. My take on the above is that TSQ ought to implement a system whereby all submissions undergo triple-blind peer review, with no distinction made between those papers that are traditionally ‘academic’ and those that are works of art, personal narrative, and so on. This, I suggest, along with the above-mentioned chief-editorial veto on articles that violate journal policies, provides a system which promotes fairness, does not privilege some forms of knowledge over others, and does not infringe hugely on the editorial freedom of guest editors.


NOTES

[1] Thanks to Elizabeth Ventham, Rosa Vince, and Lewis Brooks for their helpful comments on a draft version of this paper.

[2] The position also sees support from certain queer philosophers, myself included, but I would be hard pressed to make a direct connection between my queerness and my endorsement of logical pluralism.

[3] I won’t explore this aspect of the cases further, but note that in a world where academic jobs are scarce (especially for trans people) and publications are the main determining factor in hiring decisions, editorial decisions here have huge impacts both on the lives of individuals and the makeup of the academy. Given that editorial decisions may therefore affect whether someone is able to find employment, I suggest that, minimally, the stakes are high here, and that however one cashes out the notion of getting such decisions right, the consequences for getting such decisions wrong are serious.

[4] Though see Weinberg 2016a for a message from the journal’s editors suggesting that they were “committed to feminist and LTGB values”. Such a commitment does not, as far as I can see, make it into Synthese’s stated policies on their website, however.

[5] One might suggest that these ethical standards are pretty low and that therefore ensuring that one does not publish a paper that violates them should be pretty easy. It wouldn’t take much extra ‘stringentness’ on the part of editorial practices. However, given that “On Being a Transamorous Man” has, in the eyes of many online commenters, violated the ethical constraints set out by TSQ, it strikes me that enforcing even these low standards may require additional editorial procedures.

[6] This is not to say that Synthese should have no ethical concerns when it comes to editorial decision-making. On the contrary, I think it has a number of moral and political duties to attend to in the publication process. I am simply making a procedural point about the stated goals of the two journals. Thanks to Elizabeth Ventham for pushing me to clarify this point.

[7] One might get lucky and be published in a non-trans studies journal, but it is unlikely that one will be able to do so when writing about trans studies in particular. Of course, this point is undercut slightly by the recent development of this very platform, TSQ Now, which does allow additional space for dissent, but note that obviously TSQ Now is nonetheless still an offshoot of TSQ.

[8] One response to the above that I am deeply sympathetic to might be as follows: we need more trans studies journals.

[9] One might reject pre-publication peer review entirely, a la Heeson and Bright (forthcoming), and following them suggest that the journal system requires a complete overhaul. I’m sympathetic to such an argument. However, for the moment an arXiv-style repository for trans studies featuring a robust culture of post-publication peer review looks to be a long way off. As such, in this piece I focus not on overthrowing TSQ in favour of such a system, but on potential reforms that TSQ might make. (That said, we might read the online outcry at the publication of “On Being a Transamorous Man” as being a version of post-publication peer review!)

[10] For what it’s worth, I think that this is the most pressing of my three questions.

[11] For the kinds of challenge this question is inspired by see Dotson 2012.



WORKS CITED


Beziau, Jean-Yves. (2015). “The Relativity and Universality of Logic” Synthese 192: 1939-1954.

Heesen, Remco, and Bright, Liam Kofi. (Forthcoming). “Is Peer Review a Good Idea?” British Journal for the Philosophy of Science. Synthese. (2020)


Dotson, Kristie. (2012). “How is this Paper Philosophy?” Comparative Philosophy 3(1): 3-29.


Lavery, Grace. (2020) “An Interview with Susan Stryker” TSQ Now


Nicholson, Geoffrey H. (2020). “On Being a Transamorous Man” Transgender Studies Quarterly 7(2): 268-271.


Synthese. (2020) Synthese.


TSQ. (2019) Transgender Studies Quarterly.


Weinberg, Justin. (2016a). “Hey Did You Know Logical Pluralism Is “Connected to Homosexuality”? (updated with a statement from the editors of Synthese)” dailynous.com


Weinberg, Justin. (2016b). “Statement from Synthese Editors/Moratorium on Special Issues”


Yap, Audrey. (2016). “Homophobic and Sexist Rant in Synthese.”



Matthew J. Cull is a philosopher based at the University of Sheffield. They recently finished a PhD on the metaphysics of gender, arguing for a position they call ameliorative semantic pluralism. Drawing on analytic philosophy and transfeminist theory, Matthew works on a number of topics, including social philosophy, epistemology, and political theory. Their work has appeared in Feminist Philosophy Quarterly, Social Epistemology, and The Journal of Social Ontology, along with a number of other venues. Their tweets can be found at @maattcuull.




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