Pseudoscience on Preprint Servers

Peer-to-Peer, one of Nature's many blogs, has a post on pseudoscience on preprint servers. The post is in response to a post from another blog (creationists using nature precedings to pre-publish junk science) that pointed out a potentially pseudoscientific article on Nature's preprint server, Nature Precedings (The saltational model for the dawn of H. sapiens, chin, adolescence phase, complex language and modern behavior). The article in question came off as creationist tripe to selena, who blogged about it at Tending the Garden.

This brings up a couple of questions. Taking a narrow focus, is the article pseudoscience? While I know a little about the study of human origins, I do not feel comfortable to judge this article. I also lack the time to read anything more than the abstract:

A new model may contribute to resolve the origin problem of H. sapiens. According to our new viewpoint, Neandertals were neither one of our direct ancestors nor a different species. Their origin was not in Europe 150-200 or 300 thousand years ago. As for the origin of H. sapiens, it was neither in Africa roughly 2 million years ago nor roughly 200 thousand years ago. In other words, both the Multiregional model and the recent African origin model seem wrong. Our own species arose in the Middle East approximately 150 thousand years ago and split into two subspecies: Moderns and Neandertals. Rapid and radial expansion of H. sapiens from the origin implies a revolution (see Figure 1). Complex language, modern behavior and even adolescence phase plus chin might be included into the revolution. This possibility seems consistent with the data and could also be tested via; 1-the origin of complex language based on the modern human form of FOXP2 gene 2-the origin of adolescence or adolescent growth spurt 3- the genetic origin of the Flores hobbits. If all of these three origins appeared in the Levant about 150 thousand years ago then our model is true in all aspects. This speciation seems an unexpected revolution or macroevolution occured in several thousand years. The last pre-sapiens hominids may be extinct due to OIS 6 namely without replacement by sapiens.

Well, the FOXP2 point seems to be moot -- Neandertals have the same protein sequence as moderns -- although regulatory differences aren't well understood. Aside from that, does anyone who knows better want to take a look at the paper and figure out if it's good science, pseudoscience, or just plain crap?

The other question that comes up is what is the role of editors in managing preprint servers? Should they remove pseudoscience? Or should it be the responsibility of commenters, acting as sort-of-peer-reviewers, to flag the dreck? But what happens when preprint servers don't get many comments? If the comment traffic is low on all articles, then it's hard to imagine that the pseudoscience ones will be flagged by many readers.

More like this

And what should science writers do? Should they wait until these papers pass the test of peer review? Or will it be too tempting for some to grab a sexy-sounding abstract on precedings and run with it?

I'd hope that a science writer who notices an interesting preprint (on Precedings, the arXiv or wherever) would tag a scientist who works in the appropriate field and request an interview, or at least comments by e-mail. In these wild days of Web 3.1, such scientists should be easier to find than ever before.

i read about half of it. selena is pretty much right, a lot of it is unintelligible. some of it is also just made up stuff and non sequiturs thrown all together in an attempt to impress.

And what should science writers do? Should they wait until these papers pass the test of peer review? Or will it be too tempting for some to grab a sexy-sounding abstract on precedings and run with it?

well, that paper is just a joke. no one would take it seriously if they were familiar with the literature in this area as you are. i don't even know bones & stones very well but i caught a bunch of made up crap after reading only half of it.

Thank you for the mention of Peer to Peer. On Nature Precedings, the curators do show possible pseudoscience to editors of Nature or the Nature journals, as was done in this case.
In my experience, science journalists and writers do exactly as suggested here, whatever the source material-- gather some independent opinions in the course of creating their articles. Also, preprint servers can have clear policies about the provenance of the material they contain, and can state this plainly, so that the science writers and other non-specialists are aware of the context of the material they are reading.
Although commenting may at this time be limited, the preprint servers like Nature Precedings that offer "voting" and comment facilities seem to me to be the way forwards: the Internet is being used in more and more ways by scientists to communicate, so I think online community feedback to manuscripts and other material uploaded to preprint servers will happen more and more as a sort of informal "peer review of the crowds". ArXiv, the physics preprint server, has been going for some time and there is considerable community feedback -- although there was that recent case of the 15 papers by Turkish authors, a different type of problem, but one that came to light pretty quickly, via other scientific users.
Thanks again for picking up my Peer to Peer post, much appreciated.