Paper Claiming Human Hand Was “Designed by Creator” Sparks Concern

Mar 8, 2016

Photo credit: PDArt/Wikimedia Commons

By Daniel Cressey

Researchers who wrote “design by the Creator” in a paper about the function of the human hand have triggered a debate over the quality of editing and peer review at the journal that published it—and ultimately retracted it.

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. But it came to prominence this week after its apparently creationist slant was flagged on Twitter, spawning the hashtags #Creatorgate and #HandofGod.

James McInerney, who works on computational molecular evolution at the University of Manchester, UK, started the ball rolling when he tweeted:

“Plos One is now a joke. ‘….proper design of the Creator’ absolute joke of a journal”

McInerney later provided a caveat, saying: “My original tweet was strong because creationism is a nuisance to me for 20+ years.”

The paper’s authors asked volunteers to perform a variety of tasks with their hands, and the researchers concluded that “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”. It also includes the sentence, “Hand coordination should indicate the mystery of the Creator’s invention”.

When contacted by Nature, Xiong said that he was discussing the issues raised with his co-authors and would respond as soon as possible. He added, “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.”


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23 comments on “Paper Claiming Human Hand Was “Designed by Creator” Sparks Concern

  • @OP When contacted by Nature, Xiong said that he was discussing the issues raised with his co-authors and would respond as soon as possible. He added, “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.”

    It looks like a case of poor command of English and poor proof-reading and editing!

    Researchers who wrote “design by the Creator” in a paper about the function of the human hand have triggered a debate over the quality of editing and peer review at the journal that published it—and ultimately retracted it.

    These sorts of blunders should not slip through!

    It is probably going to be pounced on and quoted by creationists – along with the usual conspiracy theories about why it was retracted!



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  • I have always considered that one of the stronger proofs of His beneficence as displayed in the Creation, in His own image, of Mankind, is the opposable thumb. It is also an illustration of His foresight, in that it had no real use, until the invention of the mobile telephone. Without the opposable thumb, mobile telephone technology would be impossible, but our Creator, in His divine wisdom, anticipated this, and designed our hand so that we could all share the immense joy that the technology brings to His children.



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  • 5
    justasec says:

    Anybody who has ever done any construction work realizes that if there actually was an “intelligent designer,” then humans would have at least three hands.



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  • This is terribly unfortunate. I have no beef with the open access movement, but the push to get review turn around time down to weeks can result in this kind of nonsense. It takes time and concerted effort to review a paper, and if it’s going to be printed in English at least one reviewer should speak English. As for the editorial staff, there’s no good excuse for them allowing this to get through. Sadly the researchers are having their work pulled due to poor translation, not poor science.

    I get that it’s not the reviewer’s job to fine tooth a manuscript for spelling and grammar, but it looks like either the reviewers didn’t actually read the paper or none of them had any real mastery of English. When I review a paper written by non-native English speakers I do comment on language issues as appropriate. Hell, I’ve had reviewers point out spelling and other goof-ball mistakes I’ve made.



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  • In one sense this seems an over-reaction, there must be a tremendous amount of incorrect or poorly thought out work published in many a paper take Andrew Wakefield’s work for example and that was in the Lancet so arguments about the validity of Creative Commons publishing would need to show much more than this one example before it is considered to be a joke. There would need to be a study comparing the amount of these sorts of errors in the more open journals like Plos One before I’d be overly concerned about its reliability. However the nature of this comment means that the Creationist movement who will use this as an argument from authority, will get a great deal of mileage out of this paper for sure. The real problem seems to be that people don’t understand the peer review process. In this case the peer review process doesn’t just happen prior to publication but also after it, so the papers conclusions are rightly being hammered. When would we consider a published paper fact just because it was published? Surely we would just consider the information and others in the field would tear the paper down if they could and that would seem to be the case here. Embarrassing that such a whopper didn’t get picked up before publication but surely not that rare even in journals with more resources.

    When I’m arguing with my AGW denier friends I always first ask if the information they are giving me was published in a peer review journal. If not I ask the question as to why this so called expert is afraid to publish their work in a journal of their peers so we can judge the validity of their arguments case in point geologist Ian Plimer who finds the time to write a book but not publish a paper. And if they have I always ask them what criticism other in the field have for the paper. If we are going to win the battle ultimately we need to educate the public about the peer review process, if this was understood then this issue would not be that big a deal.



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  • 11
    rocket888 says:

    God was not a good number theorist, or we’d have that 6th finger!

    If we all had 6 fingers on two hands for a total of 12, then we would likely have used a base 12 system instead of the decimal system. Base 12 would give us a better system as it would have 2 extra numbers that divided evenly into the base (2,3,4 and 6).

    Counting by sixes would be as easy as counting by 5 in the decimal system 6,10,16,20,… Both 3 and 4 would also be easier, as we would count 3,6,9, 10, 13,16,19, 20,… each of 3 and 4 having a multiple that ended in 0 (like 2 and 5 in the decimal system).

    Factors would be easier as well, given any number that ended in 0,3,6, or 9 and you’d know that 3 divided it evenly, whereas for 4, ending in 0,4, and 8 would tell you that 4 was a factor. So, given the number 587A18B6 in base 12 (with A and B being the 10th and 11th digit), and you’d know that 2,3, and 6 all divide evenly into it.

    And finally, 12 inches to a foot would be part of a metric system!



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  • I had a thought about this whole idea of perfection. The hand (and other things we observe in nature) may seem to be “perfect.” And that perfection may suggest to certain people that it was created by a superhuman entity of some kind.

    However, everything is relative. And everything changes. If the hand is perfect then it would not ever change. But the hand probably appeared perfect in the distant past when it was not as evolved as it is now. When there is nothing to contrast one’s experience with it is easy, all-too-easy, to assume that what one has or sees is perfect. Moreover, if, over time, the hand evolves and gets, say, smaller (as a way of adapting to more gadgetry or for other reasons, requiring smaller fingers) we will then look back and say: how did we ever manage with those big fingers way back then?

    As for the paper referred to in the OP, I think this was a gross oversight. I know something about journals. My father founded one. I helped a little. Every submission has to be read very carefully by the editor(s).



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  • rocket888 #11
    Mar 10, 2016 at 4:01 pm

    God was not a good number theorist, or we’d have that 6th finger!

    Actually some people do have six fingers, but it does not seem to give them a survival advantage, or it would be more common.

    http://genetics.thetech.org/ask-a-geneticist/polydactyly
    When people or animals are born with extra fingers this typically dominant trait is called polydactyly. The same is true for the much more rare ectrodactyly, when people are born missing digits.



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  • Dan #12
    Mar 10, 2016 at 4:34 pm

    If the hand is perfect then it would not ever change. But the hand probably appeared perfect in the distant past when it was not as evolved as it is now. When there is nothing to contrast one’s experience with it is easy, all-too-easy, to assume that what one has or sees is perfect.

    The hand has evolved into many forms for various uses by animals in different environments, but the bones and the structures are basically the same.

    Here are some images:
    http://ngm.nationalgeographic.com/2012/05/hands/christie-art#/2



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  • @ Alan #13

    I am not sure if they are actual cousins, where I come from we are all cousins in name (especially if you are useful), but I used to play with a cousin who had six fingers. His two older brothers had them too but not the sisters. The younger brothers had them operated on and removed, they just got in the way, but the eldest still has his six fingers. The whole family were called (imaginatively hah) “alti-parmaklilar”, which does not need translating I think. They never lost the width of the hand but the finger went.



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  • @ Olgun

    My point is that the hand is not and can never be perfect, as it is always changing. It may appear “perfect” to those who believe it was the work of a superhuman creator.

    (How could a superhuman creator, a God, create anything less than perfect? The illogic of this is radiant; the author of the paper, in spite of his reference to a creator, acknowledges the fact of evolution. I don’t see how evolution is in any way compatible with a divine creator –or with Intelligent Design. Some have argued that God works “through” nature, and some final product, some kind of perfection, or ultimate fruition, is the goal. Not likely: an infinity of time has already elapsed and we are not there yet.)



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  • @ #12 – how did we ever manage with those big hands way back then

    Distant future – how adept humans were > crafted instruments for clunky hands produced a litany of music!

    (I do see your point about comparisons)



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  • @ A4D (#14):

    Great exhibit showing the diversity of hands. Yet even in National Geographic the spectre of “design” rears its head:

    “It (the Aye Aye) taps one specially designed finger on the bark, listening and feeling for vibrations…”

    One of my colleagues, a dentist on the faculty of the school where I teach (a state university), gave a presentation on forensic dentistry in which she stated that forensic dentistry is possible because “the human jaws are specially designed just for us”. Unlike the authors of this paper (or so they claim), my colleague is a young-earth creationist.

    Back to the hands… IIRC it was Neil Shubin (“Your Inner Fish”) who described the extremities of a wide variety of species as being based on the pattern: “one bone, two bones, lots of bones, digits.”

    Steve



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  • Agrajag #20
    Mar 14, 2016 at 4:17 pm

    Great exhibit showing the diversity of hands. Yet even in National Geographic the spectre of “design” rears its head:

    I suppose that evolution is the best form of testing variations in “design”!

    The problem is when creationists pick up on the words and assume woo is implied!



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