Not much, I’m afraid. The weirdly awful paper has been retracted, but we still don’t know how it got published in the first place. NCSE Reports has an excellent summary of the affair, but the conclusion is still highly unsatisfactory (the conclusion of the event, that is, not the summary, which is spot on).
THE EDITOR’S RESPONSE
I contacted the editor-in-chief of Proteomics, Michael Dunn, to find out more about what happened. Many scientists have speculated publicly that the peer review process went seriously wrong for this paper. Dunn assured me that the paper was reviewed by two “well-respected and highly competent reviewers” both of whom recommended minor revisions. For some reason, though, “neither picked up the references to creationism, nor did they recognize that sections of the text were plagiarized,” according to Dunn. It is not too surprising that the reviewers missed the plagiarism, but the title and abstract should have raised huge red flags warning the reviewers that this article had questionable science. I have to conclude that the reviewers were very sloppy, incompetent, or both; at the very least they were inattentive in this case, despite the editor’s claims to the contrary. And Dunn himself is not without responsibility in this case: he must have seen the reference to “the soul” in the article’s title, and he should have been more pro-active. His failure to make any public statement about the creationist claims in the article also raises questions about the leadership at the journal.
This entire episode points out a weakness in scientific peer review that creationists and other pseudoscience proponents may try to exploit again. We only caught this attempted fraud thanks to the diligence of bloggers: the journal itself had already missed it. What is perhaps more troubling is the fact that the journal relied solely on the plagiarism to force the retraction: if not for that, the article might have been published despite its unsubstantiated creationist claims. I asked Dunn specifically about this issue, but he declined to comment. The Warda and Han paper demonstrates a new strategy that proponents of creationism might attempt again, and perhaps next time they will not be so foolish as to plagiarize their text. We can only hope that the publicity surrounding this incident will alert both reviewers and editors of scientific journals to be on the lookout for “stealth” creationist claims in the future.
The title of the paper was “Mitochondria, the missing link between body and soul: Proteomic prospective evidence.” I’m still baffled by the fact that “well-respected and highly competent reviewers” could completely overlook the title and an abstract that makes extravagant claims for a complete and rather revolutionary revision of the most widely accepted explanation for the origins of mitochondria.