Creationism Sneaking in Through the Front Door of the Science Journal PLOS ONE?

Creationism Sneaking in Through the Front Door of the Science Journal PLOS ONE? March 3, 2016

comfort banana


Update
: upon further clarification by the paper authors and others, it really does look like the original apparent creationist statements in the PLOS ONE paper were in fact not (intended as) such, and came about due only to unfamiliarity with English and awkward translation. One of the authors, Ming-Jin Liu, posted a comment to the PLOS ONE page for the paper reading

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.

Perhaps the paper’s retraction is only temporary until an updated version can be posted.


A paper published in January in the open-access science journal PLOS ONE has recently come under fire for its (seemingly) transparent creationist sympathies.

The article, entitled “Biomechanical Characteristics of Hand Coordination in Grasping Activities of Daily Living,” addresses the “complex biomechanical architecture of the human hand.” However, at a few different points in the article—including in the abstract itself—there are dubious references to “the Creator” and its (ostensibly his) role in the “design” of the human hand:

The explicit functional link indicates that the biomechanical characteristic of tendinous connective architecture between muscles and articulations is the proper design by the Creator to perform a multitude of daily tasks in a comfortable way. The clear link between the structure and the function of the human hand also suggests that the design of a multifunctional robotic hand should be able to better imitate such basic architecture. (From the abstract)

. . .

Thus, hand coordination affords humans the ability to flexibly and comfortably control the complex structure to perform numerous tasks. Hand coordination should indicate the mystery of the Creator’s invention.

. . .

In conclusion, our study can improve the understanding of the human hand and confirm that the mechanical architecture is the proper design by the Creator for dexterous performance of numerous functions following the evolutionary remodeling of the ancestral hand for millions of years. Moreover, functional explanations for the mechanical architecture of the muscular-articular connection of the human hand can also aid in developing multifunctional robotic hands by designing them with similar basic architecture.

The ghost of Ray Comfort, anyone?

It’s highly suspicious, to be sure; though on the Indo-Eurasian_research e-list, contributor Rodo Pfister has suggested that the confusion here may ultimately be due to a language mix-up by the Chinese authors of the paper:

The phrase ‘the creator’ has nothing to do with a designer god . . . but is a well-known ancient Chinese way of saying something alike “nature” or “evolution”, by way of zaohua zhe 造化者 ‘the Creator, creation’ (or, more literally, “the one who forms and transforms”, or “what forms and transforms”).¹

This actually syncs with what’s reported in an article on Nature‘s site—that one of the paper’s authors, having been contacted, clarified “we are not native speakers of English, and entirely lost the connotations of some words such as ‘Creator’.”

All of that being said, however, as of the last few hours PLOS ONE has issued an official retraction of the paper, noting

Our internal review and the advice we have received have confirmed the concerns about the article and revealed that the peer review process did not adequately evaluate several aspects of the work.

In light of the concerns identified, the PLOS ONE editors have decided to retract the article, the retraction is being processed and will be posted as soon as possible. We apologize for the errors and oversight leading to the publication of this paper.

While I suppose we could be cautious about the source of the following, a commenter over at RetractionWatch (purportedly) also contacted one of the authors of the paper, who responded that “[i]t is too miraculous to let us think that human hand is the masterwork of Creator and indicates the mystery of nature. The further discussion about the Creator is indeed out of place in our article.”

It’s hard not to think that the language barrier is really messing things up here, even in this clarification; but in light of the retraction it does look like there was something more going on.

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