The main problem he identifies is that journal editors inserted the following preface to the special 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
Editors-in-Chief / SYNTHESE
This insertion was made over the objections of the guest editors of the special issue.
Leiter calls for a boycott of the journal:
I would urge all philosophers to stop submitting to Synthese; to withdraw any papers they have submitted at Synthese; and to decline to referee for Synthese until such time as the editors acknowledge their error, and make appropriate amends.Based on what I can find out about this, a boycott seems unwarranted. The editors of Synthese have elected to dramatically expand the number of issues they publish, and this has involved a proliferation of special issues where much of the editorial work is delegated to guest editors. Full disclosure: I am currently co-editing one such issue now. So, for me, the issue concerns the propriety of the journal editors inserting a preface over the objections of the guest editors. I believe that the journal editors should be allowed to exercise their judgment on such an issue. Of course, others might have acted differently. But the editors of the journal are ultimately responsible for the articles printed in the journal, and for this reason they should not be expected to delegate all questions about a special issue to the guest editors.
For Leiter, the issue seems to be related to debates about intelligent design. I would concede that a pattern of behavior which suggested that the editors were advocating for intelligent design at the expense of competing views would be disturbing and might warrant a boycott of the journal. However, there does not seem to be any such pattern, and a boycott would damage not only the editors, but also the many contributors whose articles meet the high standards of scholarship of a leading philosophy journal.