Journal retracts creationist paper “because it was published in error”

Charles Darwin

It’s become a sort of Retraction Watch Mad Libs: Author writes a paper that is so far, far, out of the mainstream. Maybe it argues that HIV doesn’t cause AIDS. Or that vaccines cause autism. Truth squads swarm over the paper, taking to blogs and Twitter to wonder, in the exasperated tone of those who have been here before, how on earth it was published in a peer reviewed journal.

Then, in something that approaches — but does not quite qualify as — contrition, the journal in question retracts the paper, mumbling something in a retraction notice about a compromised peer review process, or that ghosts in the machine allowed the paper to be published instead of being rejected.

This week’s parade float entry is a paper in the International Journal of Anthropology and Ethnology, a Springer Nature title that is apparently sponsored by The Institute of Ethnology and Anthropology at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, where many of its editorial board members work.

Here’s how Jerry Coyne, a researcher at the University of Chicago who keeps an eye on creationists, described the paper, “A brief history of human evolution: challenging Darwin’s claim,” written by Sarah Umer, in a December 18, 2018 post:

And the content is dire: this is a straight-up creationist paper, impugning the evidence for evolution, arguing for human separatism from the rest of the planet’s species, and claiming that modern humans (yes, H. sapiens sapiens, not Neanderthals or any other species of Homo), as well as other species, appeared suddenly and fully formed about 50,000 years ago. Yep, that’s Genesis-style “instant appearance” creationism, though Umer appears to be somewhat of an old-earth creationist.

Coyne wrote another post on the 19th, describing an email exchange with Springer Nature, and then another on March 1, reporting that the paper had been retracted. (Coyne would like to see the article removed from the journal’s site entirely, which would not be in keeping with guidelines from the Committee on Publication Ethics.)

Here’s the retraction notice:

The Editor-in-Chief has retracted this article [1], because it was published in error before the peer review process was completed. Further post publication peer review determined that the article is not suitable for publication in the International Journal of Anthropology and Ethnology. The author does not agree to this retraction.

Now, mistakes happen, and editors press the wrong button, and all that, but…really? We’ve seen this sort of thing before, almost always with controversial papers. That suggests at least two possibilities: This happens a lot, but no one notices when the papers are mundane, or it’s a convenient excuse that publishers trot out when they realize they’ve published something that was “bull shit.”

Such language, you say! Keep reading.

‘[T]hey claim that the article is bull shit’

Umer, of the department of design and visual arts at Lahore College For Women, University of Lahore, Pakistan, confirmed that she did not agree to the retraction. She told Retraction Watch by email:

I think they were under pressure from the physical anthropologists, as my claim refuted their theories. It is unfortunate that even in this century people are not uncomfortable with new explanations and want to stick with old theories.

We asked her to share the peer reviews her paper had received, so that we could understand how, in the journal’s words, it was “published in error before the peer review process was completed.” She declined to share the reviews, saying that doing so would be unethical, but said that

nevertheless the only reason it was accepted was because my paper raised questions against the standing theories and tried to counter it with logical reasoning.  I believe that I received undue criticism from people who did not believe in a divine force. Divine Force is a belief in a super natural power that is controlling the world and the universe. It is a force that almost all religions of the world believe in, whether it is Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Hinduism etc. However, I have quoted a couple of physical anthropologists and pure scientist, who also doubt this theory. Therefore, I still stand with my claim and findings and strongly believe that the only way I can be proved wrong is if the anthropologists find intermediate species, which they haven’t  since 1859, the date of Charles Darwin’s theory.

Now in support of my article, I would say that maybe it is against many physical anthropologists and it openly refutes Charles Darwin theory of evolution. But none of the critics refuted me by informing me that they have found intermediate species that counter my argument and endorses Charles Darwin’s theory. Although, they claim that the article is bull shit and I immediately need to remove it.

Finally, I would say that we had this theory of evolution since 1859 and I openly refuted it in 2018. I think only future fossil findings can either prove Darwin right and me wrong or vice versa.

150 years seems like a mere pittance in geological time, right?

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4 thoughts on “Journal retracts creationist paper “because it was published in error””

  1. “That suggests at least two possibilities:…”
    What kind of data could we look at to determine which possibility is more likely?
    How would publishers respond when asked if it’s at all possible that my paper gets published before peer review is completed?

    1. My sparse contact with the peer review system, both as an author and as a reviewer, leads me to believe that it happens a lot. I can see editors from more disorganized publications taking a quick look at the article, being somewhat satisfied by it, and mindlessly forwarding them to reviewers with whom they might not get in touch again before the publication is finished.

  2. 1. Is sharing anonymous peer reviews of your work “unethical”? I don’t think so.

    2. Are her ideas really a “new explanation” or pretty much the explanation/dogma that was used for millenia before the 1800’s?

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