Sunday, March 13, 2016

The PLoS One Hand Of The Creator Debacle - Or Sometimes Things Are Found In Translation

Whenever I start warming up to Kent Hovind, he'll do something to aggravate me.  In Scientists' "Human Hand Designed by Creator" Causes Uproar in Evolutionism Community

he really bugged me around 5:49 when he knocked people in Central Massachusetts for not being more phonetic in our pronunciation of Worcester.


As it turns out there is a more serious reason to be upset about this.  Kent is refering to this article - Scientific paper which says the human hand was designed by a 'Creator' sparks controversy,  The scientific paper "Biomechanical characteristics of hand coordination in grasping activities of daily living" had four authors three from Huazhong University in China and one from Worcester Polytechnic Universtiy, which is what got Kent going on the pronunciation side trip, but of course that is not the main thing.

The paper has numerous referecnes to the "Creator" such as
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.
The uproar and the retraction of the paper has Kent going on about how mainstream science cannot deal with the idea of a Creator and will suppress anything that supports that notion and of course something as complicated as a hand had to be created - yah, di, yah.

Mechanical Engineers

Anyway the mention of Worcester Polytechnic had me intrigued.  WPI is an engineering school and I found that there is work going on their on human hand prothesis.It kind of had me wondering whether there was really a position being staked out on creationism in the paper.  The one author that I could track down information on, Cai-Hua Xiong has a Ph.D in mechanical engineering.

Translating The Translation

As it happens I had just been catching up with one of my oldest friends.  Tom Burns and I bonded as sophomores in high school from our common interest in Jean Shepherd who at that point in his career was on the radio for forty five minutes every night with rambling monologues that earned him a cult like following among adoloscents.  Tom explained to me his latest gig which has some relevance to this controversy.

There is a prefernece among scientists for having their papers published in English language journals.  Frequently, the people translating the papers are not native English speakers and there are some issues because of that..  That's where Tom's company Tekrighter Scientific and Medical Writing Services comes in. The idea is to bring the paper to the point where it would be if it had been written by a native English speaker (That's my notion anyway. There is probably a better way to put it.)

As I was poking around the corners of the PLoS One teapot tempest (to mix a metaphor that I am sure Tom would excise), I noted that it was pretty clear that the whole thing was a translation problem.  According to some of the comments, "Creator" is used pretty interchangeably with "Nature" in Chinese and that in China, where most people are atheists, the "intelligent design" thing is not much of a thing and not likely to set off alarm bells.

Still I thought it would be worth asking Tom if maybe he would have prevented this disaster, and although his answer was basically no, he still had a lot of interesting observations.  Here goes.


This glitch appears to be the result of a perfect storm.

First, the authors of the paper acknowledge that the questionable language was the result of a translation error. Running the paper by an ESL editor likely would have made no difference, because we can only deal with the English that is in front of us on the page. We are not arbiters of the scientific quality of a paper - that is the job of the journal editors and the peer reviewers. I would likely have not flagged “the Creator” because it is unambiguous, if non-scientific language. I would have left it for the scientific reviewers to sort out.

Second, PLoS One is not a strictly peer-reviewed journal. It is an open-access journal, which means that you do not need an institutional or personal subscription to access the published papers. The authors do need to pay to have their work published. The only required review is by a journal editor, whom I would assume is a scientist but not necessarily an expert in the field that a paper addresses. The journal editor can elect to require a review by an outside reviewer, who would assumedly be an expert in the field that a paper addresses, but there’s no hard and fast requirement for that. Although the articles you sent do not explicitly say so, in the case of the Hand paper, I strongly suspect that no peer review occurred, and probably minimal or no review by the journal editor, either.

A true peer-reviewed journal is usually available only by subscription and requires a review of any paper submitted by at least two experts in the field that the paper addresses. These experts can be suggested by the authors, but they are chosen by the journal. The peer reviewers can require the authors to revise a paper or do additional research. Of course, the authors can always withdraw the paper from consideration if they feel that the reviewer is off base and submit it to a different journal to get more reasonable peer reviewers.

Many consider open-access journals more “fair” because the information they contain is more readily available. Subscription journals can make life difficult for scientists in poor countries because they have to pay for every paper they want to read - the cost is generally between $30 - $50 per article. It would not be uncommon to have to read a couple of hundred papers or more to generate a scholarly reference list. These journals are also a problem for me as a freelance writer, because, as a small business, I can’t afford to maintain subscriptions, which can run several hundred dollars per year per journal. I can’t even access such papers electronically at a university library, because the subscriptions require that such access be limited to bona fide members of the institution that has the subscription. If a client had a job for me that required such access, I would have to pass the cost of obtaining the papers on to the client.

Some open access journals have been labelled as outright scams, because they will publish damn near anything if they are paid to do so. Here is an article that deals with the subject.

To my knowledge, PLoS One is one of the more respected open access journals. To their credit, the journal editors have decided to retract the paper. Of course, the fundies will totally ignore that part of it.

On a side note, I have always been perplexed by scientists who profess deeply held beliefs in mysticism. They seem to have a way to compartmentalize their minds, placing those facts that can be scientifically tested in one bin and those that must be taken on faith in another. I can’t do that because I believe that truth is objective by definition (and note that such a belief is not faith-based because it is self-evident). Also note that there is a difference in kind between assertions that may be scientifically testable in the future and others that will never be because they are strictly supernatural. Belief in a Creator falls into the latter camp, unless It turns out to be the Tralfamadorians. However, most such scientists that I have known would not insert their religious beliefs in a scientific article, though they might, for example, choose a field of study that does not conflict with their religion.

I'm wondering if Kent Hovind et al will look into this any further or continue to use it uncritically to support his conspiracy theories.

I do have to say though that I have my own peculiar view on this whole thing,  I'm wondering if there might in fact be some way to test the possiblity of intelligent design or perhaps more realistically the limits of randomness.  One of the reasons that Kent Hovind and Ken Ham and the like are succesful, I think, is that science cannot answer questions about ultimate purpose that people yearn to have answered.


Peter J Reilly CPA has been following the Kent Hovind drama since 2012.


  1. Don't get aggravated that God is the creator... get angry that stalker and harrasser Robert Baty who intimidates children and teenagers on the internet is friends with the owner of this blog Peter Reilly of

    Peter, think twice about who are friends with... me think Robert Baty is going to get metal wrapped around his wrists soon? Maybe?...

    1. Yet you called me pathetic Erin, then scrubbed my comments from your husband's Youtube vid, et once more you stalk Robert on the internet. Again I ask you what does it feel like to have invested so much time, effort, an money into Hovind just for him to toss you two over his shoulder like an empty beer can. You can come to Robert's page to refute my claim, but I'm betting you're to much of a coward yourself.

    2. Without a doubt. She's pathetic, sad, funny. Absolutely without the courage of her convictions. The ogre version of deity she pants for is as emotionally, cruelly deviant as her own psych.

    3. Let's see, a number of appropriate and descriptive labels have developed to identify the character of Kent and his people and their antics.

      We have (not intended as an exhaustive list):

      - Kent's Kowards
      - Hovind's Hypocrites
      - Hovind's Haterz

      The anonymous poster above didn't seem to take much time to make an appearance here, even though I don't think I am mentioned in the article at all.

      I think all three labels apply to that poster, and I know how Kent likes such labels; he uses so many of them himself.

      I am, however, still long-suffering and look forward to the time when Kent might come out into the light to face me or send out his Champion.

      Kent and I have a lot to talk about.

  2. PLoS One is most certainly a well-respected open access journal. It has an "impact factor" that rivals other major science journals and it was the only fee-per-submission journal out of hundreds to reject a fake paper submitted as a test of the open access system:

  3. The authors of the paper said it was really a translation problem. I agree. I also think the PLoS1 editors were incompetent.

    There is a Chinese notion embedded in Taoist cosmology that all material things are the result of what I would translate as “creative force.”

    An example that used the word “Mother” as the creative force,

    “All things have an origin.
    The origin could be called the Mother.
    When you know the Mother,
    You can know the child.”

    In other contexts the same word is translated as "the Way," or left untranslated as "tao."

    “They come out from Tao manifesting Their Individualities, then come back to the state without individual manifestations in It.”


    The Tao that can be told is not the eternal Tao. The name that can be named is not the eternal name. The nameless is the beginning of heaven and Earth. The named is the mother of the ten thousand things. Ever desireless, one can see the mystery. Ever desiring, one sees the manifestations. These two spring from the same source but differ in name; this appears as darkness. Darkness within darkness. The gate to all mystery.

    Life, or matter in any form is called the "manifest," or "multitude." Nature;Tao;"the Mother";Creator are equivalent.