Article in ScienceAlert today (3/4/16):
The article in ScienceAlert begins:
Twitter exploded today with the news that a peer-reviewed scientific paper about the human hand credits its design to "the Creator", and scientists around the world are so furious, they called for an official retraction.
The paper, which mentions a "Creator" several times throughout, was published by the journal PLOS ONE back in January, but went largely unnoticed until James McInerney, a researcher in computational molecular evolution at the University of Manchester in UK, used twitter to call the journal "a joke".
To say that the paper has generated an enormous amount of controversy would be an understatement.
Here's the formal citation for the publication:
Liu M-J, Xiong C-H, Xiong L, Huang X-L (2016) Biomechanical Characteristics of Hand Coordination in Grasping Activities of Daily Living. PLoS ONE 11(1): e0146193. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0146193
Reference to "the Creator" occurs three times in the paper. First, in the Abstract:
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.
Then, in the Introduction:
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.
Finally, in the last part of the Discussion:
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.
One of the authors, Ming-Jin Liu, apologized for the team thus (in the Reader Comments section for the paper):
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.
But the apology was immediately questioned by another commenter, Head:
Sorry, but I don't buy this excuse. As mentioned by others, it is not just the incorrect use of the word "creator". The whole context of the sentences is very clearly about creationism. The words "superior", "proper", "mystery" and "invention" are at least as disturbing and appalling as the word "Creator" (see the citations below). And if it is all just an incorrect use of a word (mentioned no less than 3 times in the paper) by a non-native speaker, why was it (plus the other appalling words) not picked up by the editor or one of the reviewers?
– "An important advantage that makes human hand superior to other animals"
– "proper design by the Creator"
– "the mystery of the Creator's invention"
As I write, the debate rages on. What I can add is to suggest several Chinese terms that the authors may have had in mind when they wrote "the Creator".
chuàngzàozhě 创造者 (lit., "the one who creates–makes")
zàowùzhǔ 造物主 (lit., "the lord who makes things")
These first two terms are both modern and are used mainly by Christians to refer to God the Creator.
zàowùzhě 造物者 (lit., "the one who makes things")
zàohuà[zhě] 造化[者] (lit., "[the one who] makes-transforms")
These two terms occur a total of seven times in the sixth chapter of the Zhuang Zi, which is titled "The Great Ancestral Teacher" (Zhuāngzi. Dà zōngshī 莊子．大宗師). Here are a few representative examples:
`Wěi zāi! Fū zàowùzhě, jiāng yǐ yǔ wéi cǐ jūjū yě.'「偉哉！夫造物者，將以予為此拘拘也。」
"Great is the Creator of Things! She's making me all crookedy like this!"
`Jiē hū! Fū zàowùzhě, yòu jiāng yǐ yǔ wéi cǐ jūjū yě!'「嗟乎！夫造物者，又將以予為此拘拘也！」
"Alas!" he said. "The Creator of Things is making me all crookedy like this!"
Jīn zhī dàyě zhù jīn, jīn yǒngyuè yuē, “wǒ qiě bì wéi Mòyé”, dàyě bì yǐwéi bùxiáng zhī jīn. Jīn yī fànrén zhī xíng, ér yuē, “rén ěr rén ěr”, fū zàohuàzhě bì yǐwéi bùxiáng zhī rén. Jīn yī yǐ tiāndì wéi dà lú, yǐ zàohuà wéi dà yě, è hū wǎng ér bùkě zāi!
"Now, the Great Smelter casts his metal If the metal were to jump up and say, 'You must make me into Excalibur!' the Great Smelter would certainly think that it was inauspicious metal. Now if I, who have chanced to take on human form, were to say, 'Man! I must remain a man! the Great Transforming Creator would certainly think that I am an inauspicious man. Now, once I accept heaven and earth as the Great Forge, and the Transforming Creator as the Great Smelter, I'm willing to go wherever they send me."
See Victor H. Mair, tr., Wandering on the Way [Bantam, 1994; University of Hawaii Press, 1998], pp. 132-136
On conceptual, theological, and philosophical grounds, some may argue that terms in ancient Chinese texts meaning "creator", like zàowùzhě 造物者 (lit., "the one who makes things") and zàohuà[zhě] 造化[者] (lit., "[the one who] makes-transforms") do not signify a monotheistic god, but refer to "nature", "Nature", "natural selection / evolution", a process (especially the second one), not a deity.
On the other hand, we should note that the suffix -zhě 者 is a nominalizer or agentive, i.e., "a person / agent / being / power / force who / that" brings about whatever immediately precedes it.
Be that as it may, no matter what the authors may have meant if they were thinking of a Chinese term, or even if they weren't thinking of a particular Chinese term, this paper was written in English for consumption by the international community of scientists, and "the Creator", plus all of the other mystical verbiage that surrounds it, conveys the wrong message for a scientific paper.
The paper was written by four Chinese researchers: Ming-Jin Liu, Cai-Hua Xiong, Le Xiong, and Xiao-Lin Huang. The first, second, and fourth authors are from Huazhong University of Science and Technology in Wuhan); their English ability may not be up to snuff. But the third author, Le Xiong, is affiliated with the Foisie School of Business, Worcester Polytechnic Institute, Worcester, Massachusetts, so one would expect that their English would be sufficient to understand that "the Creator" refers to a god or being of some sort. Even if they were unaware that "the Creator" — especially when capitalized, as it always is in the paper under consideration — generally refers to the Judeo-Christian God, at least Le Xiong must have been aware that the Latin suffix -or indicates one who performs a specified action. Thus "the Creator" (not "a creator") is a very different proposition from "creation".
The responsible editor for the paper at PLOS ONE was Renzhi Han of The Ohio State University Medical Center. He has been living in English speaking countries for over fifteen years, so his English should be plenty good enough to understand the meaning of "the Creator" and he should by all rights have caught this blunder. As editor, it was his job to do so.
PLOS ONE (publishing since 2006) is a relatively new online science journal. Its goals, principles, and modus operandi are worth looking into (it publishes around 85 papers every day at a rate of roughly 70% of submitted manuscripts). Overall, PLOS ONE would seem to be a quick and easy pay to publish operation.
Here are a few of the many articles reporting the PLOS ONE "Creator" scandal:
"A Science Journal Invokes ‘the Creator,’ and Science Pushes Back" (WIRED 3/3/16)
"The Creator Gets a PLOS One Mention" (Genomeweb 3/3/16)
At 12:20 p.m., I went back to look at the paper again and was pleasantly surprised that the editors of PLOS ONE had retracted the paper, the notice appearing against a light red background. Score one for scientific rectitude.
[Thanks to Jason Cullen]