In a recently published scientific paper, researchers referred to the human hand as being the product of a “design by the Creator,” launching a debate over the nature of editing and peer review at the journal that published and later retracted the paper.
The paper by Cai-Hua Xiong of Huazhong University of Science and Technology in Wuhan, China, and his co-authors appeared in the journal PLOS ONE on January 5. It only came to international attention this week, however, after critics attacked its creationist slant on Twitter, with the hashtags #Creatorgate and #HandofGod.
The authors of the paper wrote that their 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.”
A storm erupted on social media, with scientists such as molecular biologist James McInerney referring to PLOS ONE as “a joke of a journal” on Twitter.
Xiong has acknowledged the problem, saying the error is in the paper’s translation.
“Indeed, we are not native speakers of English, and entirely lost the connotations of some words such as ‘Creator.’ I am so sorry for that.” he told the journal Nature.
McInerney later retracted his hostile statement, explaining, “My original tweet was strong because creationism is a nuisance to me for 20+ years.”
Other commenters, however, denounced the online science journal, saying that the error was a sign of an insufficient peer review process at PLOS ONE.
On March 3, PLOS ONE announced its decision to retract the paper, as reported by Retraction Watch.
“We have completed an evaluation of the history of the submission and received advice from two experts in our editorial board,” said the journal. “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.”