That paper that cited the Creator for designing the hand has been retracted.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.
— Dr24hours (@Dr24hours) March 3, 2016
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:
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
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?