Saturday, February 21, 2009

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.


  1. Ed, I want a copy of the original Encyclopedia. Any way to get a copy? I first heard about this story on KFI radio here in Los Angeles (Bill Handel talked about how crazy it was). I then saw your (first) article about this whole mess at National Review Online and am absolutely livid. I emailed K-Lo at NRO to keep on the story. We must spread this travesty far and wide in terms of getting the word out.

  2. Kind of strange that they don't answer some of the basic questions such as the bce/ce issue.

    -Neil Parille

  3. Afraid I don't know how to get a copy, vertex. I had no idea Handel mentioned it. When was that?

    I agree, Neil -- that one in particular should be a pretty easy yes/no question.

  4. Turns out that Kurian is a racist: "Muslims who unleashed one of the most brutal massacres characteristic of their faith and RACE (emphasis mine)."

    From Christianity Today:

    Bernard McGinn, professor emeritus at the University of Chicago Divinity School, was on the encyclopedia's editorial board but asked to be removed. He said he doesn't believe Wiley's actions are a form of censorship. McGinn read Kurian's introduction and said its tone of "bombastic Christian triumphalism" was "unacceptable" for a "serious encyclopedia." Of particular concern was "misleading, erroneous, and potentially inflammatory language about Islam." In a passage about the rise of Islam in the seventh century, Kurian wrote,

    "The original Christian homelands of Christians in North Africa and the Middle East were stolen by Muslims who unleashed one of the most brutal massacres characteristic of their faith and race. The Mongols and the Turks followed, like locusts, and wiped out the church in Asia."