ASHEVILLE, N.C. (BP) — A scientific journal has retracted an article about the complexity of the human hand after receiving backlash to the authors’ use of the C-word, “Creator.”
“Hand coordination should indicate the mystery of the Creator’s invention,” researchers wrote for the online, peer-reviewed journal, PLOS ONE, in January. The article also stated, “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.”
In March, appalled readers and tweeters exploded in scathing responses on #Creatorgate and #HandofGod. The readers complained “Creator,” a term related to religious belief, had no place in a scientific journal.
Commenters called the journal a joke. “Authors, editors, and journal should be deeply ashamed. This should never have happened! Now ID [intelligent design] guys have what they wished for decades!” one reader with the handle “paleosp” wrote in the comment section of the journal. Readers threatened to boycott, and editors threatened to resign if the article wasn’t immediately retracted.
Several experts said the science seemed credible even though they disagreed with using the word Creator. Even popular atheist biologist PZ Myers acknowledged on his blog, Pharyngula, there appeared to be nothing wrong with the data.
The four Chinese authors of the study, whose native language is not English, pleaded for mercy on the grounds they were not creationists and their use of the word Creator was a linguistic mistake. Nonetheless, the journal quickly retracted the article, apologized for the inappropriate language, and said on closer evaluation there were also concerns with the scientific rationale and presentation.
David Klinghoffer, author and senior fellow of the Discovery Institute, believes PLOS retracted, instead of simply editing the paper, to punish the authors. The incident shows “how the mechanism of intimidation works,” he said. “Retracting a paper is serious business; it can destroy careers. In such an oppressive atmosphere, honest investigation hardly stands a chance.”
The scandal is turning into a witch hunt, Klinghoffer blogged on Evolution News and Views. It appears the academic editor of the article, Renzhi Han, had an affiliation with Chinese Evangelical Church in Iowa City, where he had previously worked, The Chronicle of Higher Education News reported. David Knutson, PLOS public relations manager, acknowledged PLOS had dismissed Han. “The academic editor who handled this paper has apologized to us for the oversight. He has been asked to step down,” Knutson told For Better Science.
The incident highlights the dilemma faced by creationist scientists, according to Ken Ham, president of Answers In Genesis. Many secular journals will not publish creationists’ papers regardless of the quality of their research and credentials simply because what they write isn’t based on the ideology of naturalism, he blogged.
“If it in any way supports a Creator God (and it doesn’t even seem to matter which creator; it doesn’t even have to be the God of the Bible), they throw it out,” Ham wrote.