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Good Practices

Defective peer review

The scientific journal PLOS One has acknowledged that its review process failed in its evaluation of an article published in January 2016 according to which the architecture of the human hand was “designed by the Creator.”  It announced the retraction of the paper, signed by researcher Cai-Hua Xiong and colleagues from the Huazhong University of Science and Technology, in China.  The article had been harshly criticized for using a religious belief to support scientific results, but its author explained to the journal Nature that the problem was one of translation, saying that “English is not our native tongue and we don’t understand the connotation of a lot of words, such as ‘Creator.’  I regret what happened,” he said.  Although there was nothing wrong with the results reported in the article, which analyzed the hand movement of 30 individuals, the impression that remained was that the paper had not been read carefully by journal editors before publication.  That criticism is commonly lodged against a certain category of scientific publications said to appear to be more interested in profiting from the publication of articles than focusing on their quality.  PLOS One, however, does not fit that model.  It uses high-level reviewers and publishes a huge number of articles (about 30,000 a year), maintaining an impact factor that is high for an open-access journal.  “Several aspects of the paper were not adequately analyzed by the peer review process,” admitted the editors of PLOS One, justifying the retraction.