EvoLiteracy News 03 03 2016
Breaking – PLoS ONE Retracts Paper by Liu M-J et al.
Nature Calls it “Social Selection”
The INDEPENDENT “Scientific Paper Sparks Controversy”
The paper by Liu M-J et al. (Biomechanical Characteristics of Hand Coordination in Grasping Activities of Daily Living) must be retracted from PLoS ONE, and its editor, Renzhi Han (Ohio State University Medical Center), dismissed from the journal for carelessness in processing the manuscript, to say the least. Here is why: the authors (apparent sympathizers of Intelligent Design) invoke the “Creator” in the Abstract, Introduction, Discussion, and also in the Comments section of the online version of their article, in which they respond to criticisms by the readers and editors at PLoS. And this is not an error of translation, nor a struggle in the authors’ attempt to explain, in English, the contrast between the evolutionary origin of the mechanic dexterity of the human hand and its alternative, unsupported hypothesis, “DESIGN CREATIONISM” responsible for it. No, the authors, with the blessings of the journal’s editor, insist that a Creator, or Designer, made the hand almost perfect. This is bad science and terrible editing by PLoS ONE. Below, I summarize the case and provide links to the journal and PDF. But keep in mind that PLoS ONE might retract the article, terminate the editor, and the information from the journal website might be removed. In any event, the paper by Liu M-J et al. must go from PLoS ONE to ZERO. – Guillermo Paz-y-Miño-C
The paper by Liu M-J et al. was received by PLoS ONE on October 28, 2015; accepted on December 14, 2015; and published on January 5, 2016. I missed it, but became aware of it by allusions to it in the social media (Retraction Watch alerted it on March 2, 2016).
Citation: 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.
What is the paper about?
In the authors’ own words “…This study explores a method to identify the proper explanation for the hand architecture of muscular-articular connections from the analysis of behavioral result…”
Liu M-J et al. examine the biomechanics of the human hand; its dexterity and relationships between anatomy and function. The authors aim at conveying the message that any robotic attempt to mimic the ability of the human hand should pay close attention to its anatomy (and physiology), which, according to Liu M-J et al., would lead to best outcomes in robotic-engineering design. So far, so good. But what follows below is unacceptable, and for that reason the paper must be retracted and its editor, Renzhi Han (Ohio State University Medical Center), dismissed from PLoS ONE.
This is what the authors state in the ABSTRACT:
“Hand coordination can allow humans to have dexterous control with many degrees of freedom to perform various tasks in daily living. An important contributing factor to this important ability is the complex biomechanical architecture of the human hand… It is not understood which biomechanical characteristics are responsible for hand coordination and what specific effect each biomechanical characteristic has. To explore this link, we first inspected the characteristics of hand coordination during daily tasks… from thirty right-handed subjects during a multitude of grasping tasks. Then, the functional link between biomechanical architecture and hand coordination was drawn by establishing the clear corresponding causality between the tendinous connective characteristics of the human hand and the coordinated characteristics during daily grasping activities. 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.”
Thus, Liu M-J et al. invoked “design intervention” to account for complexity.
This is what the authors state in the INTRODUCTION:
“The human hand is an amazing instrument that can perform a multitude of functions, such as the power grasp and precision grasp of a vast array of objects. The excellent behaviors of the human hand are enabled by a highly complex structure, with 19 articulations, 31 muscles and more than 25 degrees of freedom (DOF). While the abundant functions are favorable, this complex structure also raises a challenging problem of how the human body controls such a large number of mechanical DOFs with ease and an absence of effort…”
To help readers understand, we can simply call DOF “dexterity,” or the readiness and grace in physical activity, the skill and ease in using the hands.
Liu M-J et al. continue: “…Studies indicate that digits do not move alone in isolation of adjacent digits during functional activity, even when a specific movement requires an individual digit. On the contrary, the movements of multiple digits are correlated, and movement information of the human hand is redundant, so that only a small number of components account for most variances. The human hand adopts coordinated movements to reduce the number of independent DOFs and simplify the complexity of the control problem. 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…”
Once again, Liu M-J et al. invoked a “Creator’s intervention” to account for complexity.
This is what the authors state in the DISCUSSION:
In closing the article, Liu M-J et al. reaffirm: “…the architecture is the biomechanical basis of the dexterous movement that provides the human hand with the amazing ability to perform a multitude of daily tasks in a comfortable way. 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. Moreover, functional explanations for the mechanical architecture of the muscular-articular connection of the human hand can also aid in developing multifunctional robotic hands by designing them with similar basic architecture.”
The doctrine of Intelligent Design (ID), or Design Creationism, born in the 1980s, proposes that a Designer is responsible, ultimately, for the assemblage of complexity in biological systems; according to ID, evolution cannot explain holistically the origin of the natural world, nor the emergence of intricate molecular pathways essential to life, nor the immense phylogenetic differentiation of life, and instead ID proposes an intelligent agent as the ultimate cause of nature. In conceptually mistaken, type-I-error-based arguments to discredit evolution, ID has attributed randomness to molecular change, deleterious nature to single-gene mutations, insufficient geological time or population size for molecular improvements to occur, and invoked “design intervention” to account for complexity in molecular structures and biological processes. In 2005, ID was exposed in court (Dover, Pennsylvania, Kitzmiller et al. versus Dover School District et al. 2005) for violating the rules of science by “invoking and permitting supernatural causation” in matters of evolution, and for “failing to gain acceptance in the scientific community” (excerpt from Paz-y-Miño-C and Espinosa 2013, 2014).
And this is what Liu M-J et al. and the Academic Editor at PLoS have done: invoke and permit supernatural causation in matters of evolution.
Notification from PLOS Staff
“… A number of readers have concerns about sentences in the article that make references to a ‘Creator’. The PLOS ONE editors apologize that this language was not addressed internally or by the Academic Editor during the evaluation of the manuscript. We are looking into the concerns raised about the article with priority and will take steps to correct the published record.”
But the reaction from PLOS just happened, after two months of the paper being on air. Look at this exchange between one of the readers of PLoS ONE and the first author of the paper, Mr. Liu M-J.
On February 15, 2016, Jason Friedman posted on the Comments section of PLoS ONE the following:
“In the abstract (and similarly later in the paper) it is claimed: 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. I am interested to hear from the authors why one should come to this conclusion? I could not find any support for this claim in the article, and it seems out of place in this article…”
Mr. Liu M-J responded also on February 15, 2016:
“Thanks for your comments. As we know, human hand is an amazing instrument that can perform a multitude of functions, such as the power grasp and precision grasp of a vast array of objects, with ease and an absence of effort. Although expended great attempts by scientists and engineers, there is no artificial hand matching the amazing capacity of human hand. The origins of human hand remain unclear. It is too miraculous to let us think that human hand is the masterwork of Creator and indicates the mystery of nature. The further discussion about the Creator is indeed out of place in our article…”
In addition, today, March 3, 2016, Mr. Liu M-J, posted this note at PLoS Comments:
“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.”
A bit late, the analogy NATURE = Creator is not new among spiritualists (or even religions), the problem is that it was used in a scientific paper by professionals in a scientific field. And the Academic Editor at PLoS allowed it a complete ride up to publication. And that is the issue we are discussing. And the authors, and editor, must know that a “Creator” (unequivocally invoked three times in the paper and once in the Comments) has no place in Science.
What should PLOS and PLoS ONE do?
It is evident that neither the authors, nor the Academic Editor, understand how evolution via natural selection works. Worse, none is aware of the fallacies intrinsic to Intelligent Design, or Design Creationism. Here a common-knowledge principle applies “not knowing the law does not exempt anyone from having the law being applied to everyone.” What law? At least one and two bylaws: natural selection (which explains the origin and evolution of the human hand), plus the bylaws of publication of articles in scientific journals (i.e. substantiation by evidence, not by the whim of the authors or editors, and sound editorial process). [For accuracy, be aware that natural selection is not a “law,” I am using it here as an unavoidable mechanism that helps us explain much of the evolutionary processes; selection imposes restrictions on randomness and helps us dismiss, quite easily, the fallacy of “design creationism”]. What should be done now that we, the people, caught this “error” at PLoS, after two months since publication?
The allusions to the Creator or Designer by Liu M-J et al. are out of place, but they do invoke and permit supernatural causation in matters of evolution. Unfortunately, there is no evidence of a problem in translation, from the authors’ native language into English. In fact, the authors insist in the Abstract, Introduction, Discussion, and in the Comments section of their article that they do give credit, in a scientific publication, to the long-time debunked hypothesis of Intelligent Design, Design Creationism. The paper must be retracted from PLoS ONE, the Academic Editor, Renzhi Han (Ohio State University Medical Center), must be dismissed from PLOS, and the journal must assure the scientific community that the Public Library of Science (PLoS) will never, ever embrace design creationism in its publications. The paper by Liu M-J et al. must go from PLoS ONE to ZERO. — Evolution Literacy