Field of Science

Creationism in a science journal, redux

It’s been a month since the controversy over the stealth attempt to sneak creationism into the well-respected journal Proteomics, but one outstanding question remains unanswered: how did this happen? Several of us have agreed to blog simultaneously today to demand an answer – see these blogs today for new postings:

http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula (P.Z. Myer’s science blog)
http://pimm.wordpress.com (Attila Csordas’s science blog)
http://larsjuhljensen.wordpress.com (Lars Juhl Jensen’s science blog)

When the article appeared originally (in the online version of the journal), we all pounced on the bizarre claim of a “mighty creator” that appeared in this paper. We also pointed out that the Editor-in-Chief (Michael Dunn) should have noticed that something was amiss from the title alone, which was “Mitochondria, the missing link between body and soul” – and also in the abstract, which claimed to “disprove the endosymbiotic hypothesis of mitochondrial evolution.”

Some astute readers further discovered, after a quick investigation, that most of the article was also plagiarized. In fact, so much of it was plagiarized that I suspect the only original text was the creationist nonsense. The EIC was able to force the authors to retract the article before it appeared in print, and all that remains is this retraction. The journal website says only that the retraction is “due a substantial overlap of the content of this article with previously published articles in other journals.”

The EIC should post more of an explanation at the journal website than this. We’d like to know if
  1. the authors, Warda and Han, snuck their bogus claims into the article after the peer review process was complete,
  2. the reviewers were sloppy and missed these claims, which were present in earlier drafts,
  3. the reviewers were incompetent, or
  4. the article wasn’t reviewed by independent peer reviewers.
Or maybe there’s another explanation. The journal should explain the full story on their website in a prominent location.

The obvious plagiarism made this easy for the EIC to force a retraction. What if it hadn’t been plagiarized, though – what then? I’d like to see a statement from the EIC repudiating the creationist claim and making it clear that such non-scientific claims won’t be permitted to slip through again.

Finally, I noticed that the Warda and Han article is listed by the journal’s website as the most-accessed article for the past month. Controversy brings attention, obviously, and Proteomics should use the attention to provide a full explanation of the Warda and Han fiasco.

5 comments:

  1. perhaps you under-estimate the prevalence of "cute" titles in the literature, and over-estimate how much people (including editors) actually pay attention to what is published.

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  2. Good job!

    Dunn's ploy of simply letting all the publicity wash away cannot be allowed to succeed.

    What sanctions exist in science for dealing with beligerent journals and editors, who are unanswerable to the scientific community at large? Other than simply refusing to publish there, not much can be done? Maybe if NIH were to get involved (I'm sure the office of scientific integrity would be pleased to help).

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  3. At the time of the publication of the original Warde and Han article I contacted Michael Dunn directly per email (michael.dunn@ucd.ie) and received a response back within a few days; not very specific at the time...pretty much saying they are looking into it and how much they appreciate my message of concern.
    Maybe a way to get some answers from the editor!

    Thanks for following up on this story...Proteomics still has quite a bit of explaining left to do!!!

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  4. bmp3: I've been trying to give Michael Dunn the benefit of the doubt - he replied to me too, and seemed genuinely concerned. However he has clammed up since, and gave a very evasive answer to a reporter at The Guardian (UK) who got him on the phone - see that reporter's article here: http://blogs.guardian.co.uk/science/2008/02/thanks_to_cjv5040_for_putting.html

    Basically Dunn is refusing to talk and leaving it up to the Public Relations office of the publisher. This is, in a word, spineless. If he thinks the article was fraudulent, he shouldn't be afraid to say so. I don't understand his reluctance to comment on the record.

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  5. Either the peer reviewers were devout creationist scientists (they do exist unfortunately) or they simply didn't read the manuscript. As far as the authors are concerned this is a weak attempt at the Templeton Prize.

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