Pharyngula

That paper that cited the Creator for designing the hand has been retracted. The authors say it was a translation error — that they assumed that “Creator” was synonymous with “nature” in English, and apparently, they weren’t aware of the potential for willful misinterpretation of the word “design” in the creationist community. I can sort of accept that, except, of course, that they managed to write an entire complex technical paper on the physiology and anatomy of the hand in fluent English. I wouldn’t have expected a retraction, though, but only a revision of an unfortunate mistake.

Except now it has become a different story: Science Journal Publishes Creationist Paper, Science Community Flips Out. Wait, who’s flipping out? It wasn’t a creationist paper, but an ordinary technical paper that leapt to an inappropriate conclusion. I think it was entirely reasonable for scientists to be irritated by some sloppy editing that would be abused by creationist propagandists. But no — this is now the tale of deranged atheist scientists getting unwarrantedly upset about a casual mention of a god in a science paper.

Even more amusingly, I am now the villain.


I blame @pzmyers who credulously assumed religion rather than translation.

Say what? I did what?

First, let’s dismiss the idea that I started it. I mentioned it, but so did lots of other people: Retraction Watch brought it up, it had multiple comments, and I think I picked up on it on Twitter. And here’s the thing: none of them are mentioning me. Really, the idea that I was the match that lit the fuse is not born out by the evidence at all, much as I’d like to take the credit as a vastly powerful influencer of the entire scientific community. That’s just silly.

Second, you should actually read what I wrote.

There’s nothing wrong with the data that I can see, but the authors do make a surprising leap in the abstract and conclusion.

That’s what jumped out at me, that there was not a shred of analysis of design anywhere in the paper, yet the authors suddenly yanked these buzzwords out of their pocket at the end. It was a leap.

The paper is a technical structure and function analysis of the bones and muscles of the human hand. There’s nothing in the paper that probes the creator for their intent and goals of proper design, or that assesses the the hypothesis of design vs. evolution — in fact, they seem to want to have it both ways, ascribing its functional adaptedness to both.

That’s an entirely accurate assessment of that conclusion.

Then, to make the association to creationism, I pointed out that others, like the Discovery Institute, would make hay over this mention, but I explained that nothing in the content of the paper was about gods or religion or would support claims of intelligent design creationism.

But be prepared: this is the kind of thing creationists love to cite, and I expect it will make it to the Discovery Institute’s list of ID-friendly scientific publications. Just note that it says nothing to support the god hypothesis at all.

I also had a few conversations with others on Facebook about. Here, for example:

fbcomment

And now my comments are representative of a bunch of anti-religious bigots in the scientific community. This is totally nuts.

First the outspoken atheist PZ Myers, without apparently doing any investigation, blogged about it credulously asserting it was creationism in a scientific journal. Then twitter exploded about it and PLOSONE retracted the paper.

This is the catastrophic failure of post-pub peer review. Retractions matter, and can destroy careers. These scientists don’t deserve one. Their paper is valid. They have a poor translation of an idiom, which made a bunch of anti-religious bigots in the scientific community flip out and start howling, and mob PLOSONE, who retracted the paper reflexively with no investigation of their own. Disgrace all around.

No investigation? I read the paper. The whole paper. It’s outside my field, so it took a little more effort than usual. It says what it says. I quoted entire paragraphs from it, and I gave the authors credit for writing a reasonable paper with just a few phrases that marred it.

As for “credulously” calling it out as creationism, my main concern was that a poorly worded and unjustifiable conclusion was going to be abused by American creationists to suit their agenda.

What’s really annoying, too, is that in this new rush to blame anti-religious bigots, this guy is overlooking the fact that, when it was pointed out to them, the authors were quick to disassociate themselves from any religious sentiment: “Our study has no relationship with creationism”. They seem to be just as appalled at that interpretation as we anti-religious bigots.

We are sorry for drawing the debates about creationism. Our study has no relationship with creationism. English is not our native language. Our understanding of the word Creator was not actually as a native English speaker expected. Now we realized that we had misunderstood the word Creator. What we would like to express is that the biomechanical characteristic of tendious connective architecture between muscles and articulations is a proper design by the NATURE (result of evolution) to perform a multitude of daily grasping tasks. We will change the Creator to nature in the revised manuscript. We apologize for any troubles may have caused by this misunderstanding.
We have spent seven months doing the experiments, analysis, and write up. I hope this paper will not be discriminated only because of this misunderstanding of the word. Please could you read the paper before making a decision.

That’s a reasonable request. That’s why I read the paper first before saying that I would have just requested a minor edit, if I’d been reviewing it.

I think someone out there ought to apologize for their anti-atheist bigotry. The bottom line is that we were actually right to point out a poorly edited and misleading conclusion in a science paper. What are we supposed to do, shut up if we spot an unsupported inference in a paper, but only if it props up religious delusions?

Comments

  1. #1 dean
    United States
    March 4, 2016

    I get the feeling this story will hang around for some time.

    A question for anyone who might notice: the acknowledgements include

    We thank Mr. Di Hu for the collection of the data.

    but he is not listed as an author. Is that unusual?

  2. #2 outeast
    March 7, 2016

    I strongly recommend the discussion by linguist (and Chinese expert) Victor Mair on Language Log – see http://languagelog.ldc.upenn.edu/nll/?p=24360

    He comes to no firm conclusions but seems to find the simplistic ‘translation error’ excuse to be rather implausible. His hypothesis is that someone interpolated the creationist/ID language, likely without the knowledge of (all of) the authors. Absent the pre-translation paper, it’s a bit hard to test the hypothesis… but it sounds plausible.

  3. #3 Louis Morelli
    New York - USA
    March 16, 2016

    The link between biochemical architecture and hand coordination was explained and its Inventor is the inventor of the Creator. So what?

    The brain is the inventor of the hand and God. As the brain does not remember how it did the hands, he does not know why and how invented God. So, the problem is a mystery about an invention of the creator, or in another words, himself. The authors are right.

    The human hands has the same phenotype and genotypic functionality of a unit of the building blocks of the DNA, which is a lateral pair of nucleotides. We have demonstrated it putting side by side the two elements, but this demonstration is not known by scientific community, yet. You can see a designed model at http://theuniversalmatrix

    The human brain, after the development of the superior cortex, also has the same architecture of DNA`s building block and human hands. The reason is very clear: the three elements were made by the same creator, which is the universal formula that Nature has used for organizing inertial matter into functional systems.This formula can be seen at the same website and is called Matrix/DNA.

    As says the paper, “It is not understood which biomechanical characteristics are responsible for hand coordination and what specific effect each biomechanical characteristic has”. it means that Human Sciences has not solved a phenomenon and this fault is prejudicing human kind by a non-working medicine and avoiding the construction of better robotics for improving automatic production. This problem has been solved by human intelligence and now we have a team of valuable engineers doing a good work advancing our knowledge. So, who is prejudicing human kind?

    The paper has all scientific value obeying the scientific method. Due some unfortunate three words related to ultimate causes not related to the engineering process, words that express the state of the minds of the human beings doing the job, the entire paper is retracted, as the whole job should go to the garbage.Such is the minor importance of that words that another real scientific workers – the team of PLOS peer review – did not care about. Who retracted the paper was an ideology coming inside the human scientific enterprise. And due this ideology, lovable workers and the whole human kind is prejudiced. Please, remember that outside the las there are 8 billion brothers of us being tortured in this stupid condition of human existence and waiting for the unique hope of salvation we have, that is Human Science.A scientific experiment can not be interrupted or influenced by far away disturbances of human noises doing the job, noises like words not related to the experiment in itself

    The link between the biomechanical architecture and hand coordination is the way that works the internal coordination of the brain after receiving information from its sensors, which goes stored at the medulla oblongata
    which has another storage of information from the internal body. Since that hands are made upon the same template that brains were made, and the two are interconnected, the wishes of the brain activates regions or specific functions of the brain that are located at same regions or functions of the hands. What holds an object is the brain, who moves or pulls the object is the brain touching and holding the object, through its extension that its own design.

    its is very ease to understanding the whole thing when you know the formula that operates the genetic stuff which was self-projected as human brain after million years of evolution and self-projected itself as human hands.If you knows the grandparents, the parents, of course, you will understand the anatomy and functionality of the son.

    Nobody has noticed that the human hands mimics exactly the shapes that a human body shows in its lifelong. The palm of the hands is the pregnant mother, the smallest finger mimics the shape, the size, the inactive ability of the baby, The next finger mimics the aspects of the teenager, till the thumb mimicking the senior. Why? Merely coincidences? No, the variations and functionality of a human body is dictated by genetics, whose building blocks are systems where each molecule performs functions in the same sequence of a life’s cycle. There are lots of details we are now grasping about human hands, due that formula. I never pretended that the Science Academy recognizes this formula as I would never pretend that it recognizes God.although the formula is scientifically falsifiable while God is not. The engineers are doing a research trying to solve a natural phenomena. Science is working in the lab.What matters which is the ultimate cause theorized in the mind of the workers, if the process is running by the scientific method?! They have a physical profitable goal doing the job. In a second plan, they are testing their preferred theories. If the advocates of other theory want to destroy their theory, what better chance than this testing their theory? The hopes and happiness of 8 billion humans brothers will wait till that three words be expelled from their way. It is insane. I didn’t like that mention to a creator also, I know that was not a magical creator that did it. But my offended ideology or theories can not prejudicing the walking of Science. Science, the Universe and 8 billion human beings does not care about what I like or not. They want walking ahead,and those lovable workers are doing that, it matters..Congratulations to the heroic procedures of the peer-review team, which did not stopped Science due something did not tasted well to their rationality also.

  4. #4 dean
    United States
    March 16, 2016

    The link between biochemical architecture and hand coordination was explained and its Inventor is the inventor of the Creator. So what?

    You really aren’t that bright or honest are you? You did see that the authors said nothing in their paper was meant to support creationism?

  5. #5 Louis Morelli
    New York - USA
    March 17, 2016

    I can’t understand yours post or you did not understood mine. The paper talks about a creator. But it does not give a name or does not makes definition of that creator. And we need remembering that they are Chinese, nurtured under the Taoism philosophy, where creator has different meanings than creationism. But, be it what it can be, any phylosophy (or religion or gods) are created, invented by the human brain. Since that my theory suggests that the hands were also made, developed, invented, by human brains, so, the brain is the Creator. And since that the brains that developed the humans was ancestrals, our modern brain does not knows, or does not remember how the hands was made. This is the mistery, which the authors mentioned in the article. Of course, that seems not to be their intentions, they seems to be thinking about a different inventor. But it can not be proved, since they did not defined it. The literally meaning of the text is correctly. We does not know how the creator of the hands did it, since that is not possible to mimic it technologically, doing robots’ hands, which is the goal of the authors. We know that the way the authors wrote those half dozen words is not morally honest. But it is not against any law, because the meaning is correctly. Only under established law we could retract the paper. Am I wrong?

  6. #6 dean
    March 17, 2016

    I made no comment about the paper’s retraction. Your first post included the comment I quoted: that indicated that you supported the view that they were giving credit to a creator. They specifically said that was not the case. End of my objection.

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