On December 18 of last year, I wrote to Springer’s International Journal of Anthropology and Ethnology, which had published a loony creationist paper by one Sarah Umer, whose affiliation was listed as the “Department of Visual Arts & Graphic Designs at the Institute of Visual Arts & Designs at the Lahore College for Women University in Lahore, Pakistan”. She’s pretty clearly a Muslim, with the paper, straight-up creationism that almost surely derives from Umer’s faith. As I wrote at the time:
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.
Of course Springer is one of those predatory-journal outfits that charges a ton for open-access publication, but why an apparently reputable outfit would publish such tripe—you can still see the paper here on the journal’s website though it’s “retracted”—eludes me.
I wrote to Springer the next day and also wrote this on this website:
Yesterday, after reading a ridiculous creationist paper in a Springer journal (International Journal of Anthropology and Ethnology), I wrote both a post about the paper and a kvetching letter to the “general inquiries” address of Springer Nature. I got a reply within 24 hours, which is good, but the response was lame and evasive, which is not good. First my letter (again), which was sent to General enquiries: firstname.lastname@example.org.
I am writing to call to your attention to something you probably already know: the December issue of your International Journal of Anthropology and Ethnology has published a straight-out Genesis-style creationism paper by Sarah Umer, “A brief history of human evolution: challenging Darwin’s claim.” (Link is at https://link.springer.com/article/10.1186/s41257-018-0014-2). Not only does the paper make a number of false statements about evolution, and misquotes prominent evolutionists, but also quotes the jailed Turkish creationist loon Adnan Oktar (Harun Yahya) in support of its thesis that humans and all species originated instantly at the behest of the “divine”. The editing is also dreadful: there are grammatical and spelling mistakes throughout. Did anybody whose first language is English even edit the paper?
I would like to know how this paper got published and what review process you used. Are you going to let the paper stand as is? Also, why was it so poorly edited?
This paper is an affront to all evolutionary biologists who do good work, as well as a tremendous embarrassment to Springer, who should have known better.
I would appreciate the courtesy of a reply. In the meantime, I’ve posted a short critique–it would take pages to refute Umer’s misstatments and lies–on my website Why Evolution is True. That link is here: https://whyevolutionistrue.com/2018/12/18/creationist-paper-gets-into-a-springer-journal/
Department of Ecology and Evolution
The University of Chicago
I got a tepid and defensive response; the journal clearly intended to do nothing. First have a look at this paper to see how dire this paper really is; it could have been written by Duane Gish—if Gish were smarter and still alive. Here’s my response from the Springer flack:
Nevertheless, I persisted; I did NOT contact the paper’s author, but pursued the matter further, writing to anybody other than Romel Jake Cruz whom I could contact at Springer (they make it hard to reach them!).
From: Jerry Coyne
Sent: Thursday, December 20, 2018 2:55 AM
To: OR Support
Cc: Carl Johann Samson; Jerry Coyne
Subject: Creationist paper published in your journal
Your International Journal of Anthropology and Ethnology recently published a creationist paper by Sarah Umer, a paper that is so full of lies and misstatements, and so poorly edited (if it WAS edited), that it casts shame on the journal and, indeed, on Springer. That paper is here: https://link.springer.com/article/10.1186/s41257-018-0014-2
I wrote about that paper on my website, which has almost 60,000 subscribers, pointing out its flaws: https://whyevolutionistrue.com/2018/12/18/creationist-paper-gets-into-a-springer-journal/
Yesterday I got the enclosed response [JAC: above] from a “Global Open Support Executive,” which is a non-response, just saying that the paper was “peer reviewed”. That’s not satisfactory, because if your peer review system allows this kind of creationist nonsense into your scientific journals, something is wrong with the reviewing system. And the editing is so horrible that the paper reads like it was written by a fifth grader. I realize that the author’s native language may not be English, but that’s what editors are for.
I have written another post on my website about Springer’s non-response: https://whyevolutionistrue.com/2018/12/19/springer-writes-back-defending-its-publication-of-a-creationist-paper/
I also sent a tweet to Springer’s CEO, but it looks as if he doesn’t use Twitter very often.
I want to call the publication of this paper to your CEO, managing executives, and to the editors of the International Journal of Anthropology and Ethnology. But I can’t find their email addresses; it’s as if they’re deliberately keeping themselves insulated from scientists and the public. I would appreciate it if you could put me in contact with those people, especially the scientists who are responsible for maintaining the quality of your journals. Thanks very much,
Department of Ecology and Evolution
The University of Chicago
Well, clearly Springer had lied: they were in a position to correct the paper. After more than two months, I got the following email on Wednesday, saying that the article had been retracted because it was “published in error before the peer review process was completed.” (If you believe that, then you’ll believe that crystals can cure your rheumatism.)
Dear Dr. Coyne,
I hope you are well.
Thank you for contacting Springer Nature regarding the article published in the International Journal of Anthropology and Ethnology. Further to our previous correspondence, we would like to inform you that the Editor-in-Chief has retracted this article 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.
Kind regards,JohannCarl Johann Samson(Mr)JEO AssistantJournals Editorial Office (JEO)Springer Naturecarljohann.email@example.com—Springer Nature is one of the world’s leading global research, educational and professional publishers,created in May 2015 through the combination of Nature Publishing Group,Palgrave Macmillan, Macmillan Education and Springer Science+Business Media.
Now if a paper that is published in a paper journal gets retracted, it can’t be withdrawn from circulation; all the journal can do is post a “retraction” notice in a subsequent issue of the journal. But for an online journal, like this one, it seems to me that retracting an article should involve removing it from the journal’s website.
That Springer has not done, and so the paper still appears with all its flawed (and palpably dumb) creationist arguments. I guess I can take some satisfaction that the paper has been “retracted”, but really, in what way has it been “retracted”? It’s still there, freely available on the paper’s website and even in the journal’s table of contents (where, I note, it is labeled as “retracted”.
I just found another note that the paper was retracted, but the paper is still online, perhaps because “the author does not agree to this retraction” (click on screenshot):
So, Springer, what is the story? Does an author have to agree to a retraction before the paper gets removed from the journal? Can Umer can still cite the paper on her c.v.? And why do you even NEED an author to agree to a retraction?
I’m not sure I’ll contact Springer further (though I really feel that I will, as I have no free will), but you’re welcome to if you’re so inclined and are nice about it. Samson’s email is firstname.lastname@example.org
In the meantime, a dubious, erroneous, duplicitous creationist paper remains on the journal’s website. Springer and Mr. Samson, TAKE DOWN THAT PAPER!