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Wiley-Blackwell responds

In response to my second National Review Online piece on the Encyclopedia of Christian Civilization controversy, Wiley-Blackwell representative Susan Spilka has posted the following statement:

Dear Mr. Feser,

Please allow me to clarify a few points in response to your February 17th article.

First, we have not responded to Mr. Kurian’s accusations characterizing the content issues because we have a process in place for a peer group of scholars – the Editorial Board – to do that job. They are better qualified to evaluate the work and determine if revisions are necessary. Mr. Kurian agreed to and helped prepare Wiley-Blackwell’s agreements with Editorial Board members and is bound to fulfill his responsibilities in relation to them.

In addition, in your article, you confuse different facets of the publishing process: printing with publishing, and copy editing and legal vetting with a substantive review of the content. It is indeed unfortunate that the content review by the Editorial Board is taking place later than anticipated, but that does not negate the need to do so to ensure the quality of the work’s scholarship.

No decision was made by anyone at Wiley-Blackwell to "pulp" the first print run. Anyone who claims that such a decision was made is wrong. Mr. Carpenter did indeed have a conversation with Mr. Kurian regarding the first print run and specifically the effect changes would have on copies already printed. During that discussion, Mr. Carpenter proposed ways in which the first print run could be salvaged.

Wiley-Blackwell will more publicly announce its further plans once the Encyclopedia's Editorial Board has completed its review.

I appreciate the response. A few comments. First, as readers of my second piece know, I had originally asked Ms. Spilka not merely if Wiley-Blackwell had demanded the changes in content alleged by Kurian, but specifically if Wiley-Blackwell and/or the Editorial Board had demanded them. It is important to note that in none of Wiley-Blackwell’s statements on this matter, including this one, has the publisher or its representatives denied that the Editorial Board demanded these changes.

Second, as I also noted in my second piece, Kurian denies that his contract even mentions either an editorial board or its right to review anything, and has challenged the publisher to provide documentary proof to the contrary.

Third, with respect to Ms. Spilka, I am not at all “confused” about the “different facets of the publishing process.” I am well aware that printing is not the same as publishing, and that copy editing and legal vetting are distinct from a “substantive review of the content.” Here is something else I know about the process: that a “substantive review of the content” typically takes place before a work is printed and bound, not afterward. In the present instance, to say that this review is occurring “later than anticipated” is, to put it charitably, rather to understate things. To put it less charitably, it is to obfuscate.

Finally, Ms. Spilka reiterates Wiley-Blackwell’s recent claim that no decision was ever made to pulp the existing print run. I have to say that I am wondering whether there is a lawyerly use here of the word “decision.” As I noted in my second article, Kurian names Philip Carpenter as the Wiley-Blackwell official who told him that the existing print run would be pulped. Is the claim now simply that this had never actually been “decided” upon – leaving it open that it was at least suggested, and perhaps favored by at least some officials at Wiley-Blackwell, as one of several possible “effect[s] changes [might] have on copies already printed”? Spilka’s statement certainly leaves this open. Is Wiley-Blackwell denying that Carpenter even raised the possibility of pulping the print run in his conversation with Kurian? Notice that Spilka’s statement stops short of saying this. And as I said in the article, given how explosive the “pulping” charge has been, it is simply amazing that Wiley-Blackwell did not deny it clearly and explicitly from the start – the publisher’s first reply to Kurian did not even address the issue! – if in fact there is no truth in it.

One more development: Christianity Today says it is looking into the story.


Comments (6)

Hm. Having had a mere one book (and a small handful of articles and reviews) published, even I know one thing with certainty, one which I communicate to my writing students regularly: content concerns are always addressed *before* copyediting and proofreading, which are useless time-wasting exercises if the basic content is not appropriate or accurate . . .

Good point, Beth, and I should have thought of it.

Dear Mr. Feser:
I would like to clear up some of the points you raised in your Feb. 21st posting.

Wiley-Blackwell colleagues conveyed the initial concerns of Editorial Board members and contributors to Mr. Kurian, who has grossly misrepresented them in his public statements. Mr. Kurian’s characterizations of Wiley-Blackwell as “anti-Christian” are complete nonsense; Wiley has stood for freedom of expression for more than 200 years.

We trusted Mr. Kurian to administer the full Editorial Board's review of the content of the Encyclopedia. Unfortunately, he took a shortcut and essentially eliminated the involvement of the Editorial Board. The fact that occurred does not diminish our responsibility as a Publisher to our customers and to all of the Encyclopedia's contributors to rectify the situation now.

We cannot predict the outcome of the full Editorial Board’s review. For now, the books remain in our distribution center. We would like to be able to use as much of them as is possible.

We hope that Mr. Kurian will involve himself constructively in this process. We have committed substantial resources to this project, and we would like to move forward to publish what should be a valuable addition to Christian scholarship.

Susan Spilka


Thanks for chiming in. I'm not sure exactly what this means:

Unfortunately, he took a shortcut and essentially eliminated the involvement of the Editorial Board.
Are you saying that Mr. Kurian somehow tricked Wiley-Blackwell into doing a large and expensive print run without first going through W-B's normal editorial process? If so, is it possible for you to share how he managed to do that to a venerable 200 year old publishing company?

and essentially eliminated the involvement of the Editorial Board.

I would echo Zippy's question. I have worked with Wiley-Blackwell myself and am closely acquainted with people who have worked with them on other, very long, projects. I know how careful the company is in going over material, and I appreciate it. The only way I can interpret your explanation here, Susan, is that there was some degree of inexplicitness concerning the amount of involvement the editorial board was supposed to have prior to Mr. Kurian's work with the production people at WB. Certainly there has been no evidence brought forward that shows that Kurian actually violated clear contractual requirements, so I am forced to conclude that the contract was unclear on this point. If this is so, however, then it seems to me that it was a matter of the board's bringing forward their complaint too late in the process. Again, having worked with the company, I know how careful and lengthy that production process can be, and again, I mean this as a compliment. But if the editorial board just somehow didn't find out that they were not being as involved as they had expected to be until an expensive print run of an entire four-volume set had been carried out, and if the degree of involvement they expected was not required by contract, then it seems to me that the only sensible or just thing to do would be to tell them, "Sorry, too late, you should have paid more attention" and wait for the second edition for giving them more of a hands-on role.

Moreover, it still seems to me that the specific content of the editorial board's concerns is being left fuzzy. Kurian has alleged _specific_ things that he has been asked to do--statements to cut, statements to add, changes to date indicators like A.D. and B.C., and the like. I have to say that I really doubt he just made up these specific change requests out of whole cloth. And if indeed he was told to take out negative references to Islam, for example, and to add more "balance" by adding negative references to Christianity, then this does sound like the editorial board is making an ideological push.

As WB's representative, Susan, you are implying that this entire thing is a purely procedural matter, that there were no substantive complaints made by the editorial board regarding the content of the book and that the entire issue is one of their having been insufficiently involved. I have to say that I do not find this plausible. Nor have you ever said expressly, "No one told Mr. Kurian by any communication means that he should remove negative references to Islam," and the like. Now it is entirely possible that you simply have not had access to the content of conversations Mr. Kurian had in which these complaints were made and these changes requested. Perhaps they were phone conversations or e-mails that you have not seen. But if that is true, then you are not really in a position to say whether the complaints have had an anti-Christian slant. And if you do know that these complaints and requests were made, then your statement that Kurian's allegations are "complete nonsense" is somewhat misleading.

It seems to me that the best thing you can do is to ask Mr. Kurian when, how, and from whom he claims to have received the specific requests he alleges, if you really know nothing about them. Meanwhile, please realize that to those of us looking on, your failure to address these specific allegations and confining yourself to general statements about freedom of expression, etc., really is not terribly reassuring.

very intresting

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