February 07, 2008

Game Time! Spot the Looney

Spot the LooneyTwo rather looney things have happened in the last few days, both involving Creationists and review articles in scientific publications. While there are several differences between the two events, the most important qualification is that in one instance there was nobody behind the affair but a single looney while in the other case a reputable and responsible individual was willing to stand up and accept responsibility for the event, promising to remedy the situation.

So, let's play a game, shall we? It's time to play...

Spot the Looney!

Contestant #1
Contestant #1Our first contestant comes to us from Seattle's Discovery Institute. He used an icon tied to a service that helps foster discussion about peer-reviewed publications in scientific journals for use on his manifestly anti-science website (not a blog as stipulated in the service's charter; his site doesn't allow for comments and, in fact, bills itself as a news source). The article he wrote about was a review paper, not original research which, again, is in violation of the BPR charter. The author of the review, now deceased, states throughout the article that there are aspects of the phenomena under review which we haven't yet worked out and that more scientific investigation is called for to fill in the gaps in our knowledge of a biological process — which this contestant proceeds to twist into a declaration by the author that the system in question has been "intelligently designed."

When his misuse of the icon was discovered, he was called on it by one of the people who runs ResearchBlogging.org in a thread calling for discussion of whether our contestant violated BPR's charter. Respondents to that request gave specific rationale as to how they thought that the icon had been misused. After all of this, Dave Munger reached a decision taking into account all of the feedback and weighing it against our first contestant's excuses for his abuse.

After all of this, our contestant concludes that he is being persecuted by perpetrators of "intolerance" and effectively throws a tantrum and threatens his most effective weapon: gossip:
...The intolerance expressed here comes as no surprise to any of us. But this incident has given me some valuable anecdotes that I can retell in the future. I wish I did not have these anecdotes and I wish that people acted differently, but it seems I now have these anecdotes nonetheless.

Source (scroll to comment #70)

Is our first contestant the looney? Before you decide, let's have a look at Contestant #2!

Contestant #2
Contestant #2Our second contestant hails from Dublin, Ireland where he works as Research Professor of Biomedical Proteomics at the Conway Institute of Biomolecular and Biomedical Research at University College Dublin. He's also the editor-in-chief of the journal Proteomics which released online on January 23 a paper ahead of publication entitled Mitochondria, the missing link between body and soul: Proteomic prospective evidence. Their curiosity aroused by the rather strange title of this review paper by Mohamed Warda and Jin Han, the online scientific community looked into it and didn't like what they saw. The article claimed that mitochondrial endosymbiosis — a well-respected theory about the evolution of eukaryotic cells — had been disproven and that mitochondria are thus most likely to have been inserted into our cells by an act of divine intervention. The paper claimed that they were "fingerprints" of this supernatural event and represented the "preservation of divine wisdom." On further investigation, scientists discovered that a number of the references to other works scattered throughout the paper had nothing to do with the topic supposedly under discussion (a daunting task, considering that the review cites more than 230 other works!) and, perhaps worst of all ethically speaking, that most of the paper wasn't original writing by the so-called authors but plagiarism mainly from previously-published works. Much of this discussion can be found on Pharyngula.

Having discovered all of this, a number of scientists then contacted our second contestant wanting to know why Proteomics would even consider publishing such an unscientific, plagiarism-riddled, poorly-written review. Our contestant promptly responded to these inquiries with an email containing the following verbiage:
Thank you for your e-mail and for drawing my attention to the issues regarding the Review Article by Warda and Han (2008) Mitochondria, the missing link between body and soul: Proteomic prospective evidence. PROTEOMICS 8: EPub.

Clearly your e-mail raises very serious questions regarding the manuscript and our Editorial and Review Process which I am currently looking into together with my colleagues on the Editorial Board and at the Publishing House.

I will get back to you with our response as soon as possible.
He thereby accepted responsibility for the unfortunate event and promises to remedy it in order to insure the reputation (and viability) of the journal under his charge. While it's too early to say what will happen, it seems likely from the response that this unethical and unprofessional work of fiction will be withdrawn in short order and never find its way onto a printed page.

So, now that you've had a chance to have a look at our two contestants, it's time for all of you to buzz in and

Spot the looney!

Votes are being tabulated...

And we have a winner!

Contestant #2, Dr. Michael Dunn, our audience has determined that you are not the looney. Thanks for playing; you'll receive a home version of our game.

That means our winner is...

Casey Luskin of Seattle's Discovery Institute!!!!

Congratulations to Casey Luskin, and thanks everyone for playing Spot the Looney!

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