Many are wondering why the now infamous Plos One paper, Biomechanical Characteristics of Hand Coordination in Grasping Activities of Daily Living, was published. In case you aren’t familiar with it, the paper has come under fire by scientists for its mentions of “the Creator” and intelligent design. Some are wondering if it was proper to retract the piece at all.
“The biomechanical characteristic of [the human hand] is the proper design by the Creator”
Jabs about creationists aside, the debate over how the paper passed reviewer’s judgement should take a step back.
One good point that has been raised is that we should tolerate calm discussion of different points of view in academia. On the surface, I agree with that statement. However, in this context, it does not apply. A scientific paper should not debate matters of theism, philosophy, etc. This should be left to the liberal arts. Philosophy exists for weighing different ideas, views, and truths–such as if there is evidence of a “Creator.”
Secondly, the paper does not try to argue that “the Creator” exists and designed human hands. It is merely an offhand mention. Since the authors are not intending to convince you of “the Creator’s” existence, I would say this is simply inappropriate wording. It was a poor decision to bring religion and deities into a banal piece about fingers. Not to mention that is risks alienating Plos One’s reader base. If I were the editor, I’d be a bit embarrassed right now.
Finally, I need to mention that the authors have claimed that “the Creator” is a poor translation of a Chinese saying, which was intended to mean nature. I don’t speak Chinese, but I think it’s a fair point–translations are not always accurate. It can be difficult to convey the feelings and ideas associated with certain foreign words and phrases to an English audience.
We can only wait and see how Plos One manages the blunder. It’s also pertinent to say that the retraction of somebody’s work can ruin their career, their livelihood. Will the authors regain respect in their field, or be dismissed as creationists?