Okay, that “Creator” paper has officially been retracted by PLOS ONE (previously, and here). Based on what we now know, that looks like the wrong decision — at once unfair to the authors and completely failing to address the actual issue.
When PLOS ONE first announced its intention to retract the article, they stated that “the peer review process did not adequately evaluate several aspects of the work”, which makes it sound like they found problems other than inclusion of the “Creator” language that meant it should not have been published. Now that the formal retraction has happened, here’s the official statement:
Upon receiving these concerns, the PLOS ONE editors have carried out an evaluation of the manuscript and the pre-publication process, and they sought further advice on the work from experts in the editorial board. This evaluation confirmed concerns with the scientific rationale, presentation and language, which were not adequately addressed during peer review.
Consequently, the PLOS ONE editors consider that the work cannot be relied upon and retract this publication.
The editors apologize to readers for the inappropriate language in the article and the errors during the evaluation process.
This is infuriatingly vague, but it makes it sound as if the primary issue was the “Creator” language. The authors have insisted that this was a translation problem. In the context of the rest of the paper, that seems entirely plausible to me. In support of this explanation, check out this comment from over at Complex Roots (spelling corrected):
I am so surprised that so many people assert that there is no way a translation error though they don’t speak any Chinese.
In fact, there is special phrase in Chinese, which is “zao wu zhe”. If we translate it literally and directly into English, it is “the one who creates” or ‘creator’. Ancient Chinese people use it a lot in poems, way long before Christian is introduced in China. The meaning is same as “nature” because they believe that nature ‘creates’ everything, not a special man, or a God. There is a sentence in a poem written in Song Dynasty (more than 1000 years ago) by Su Shi, which saying that ‘we can enjoy the the breeze of the river, the moon between the mountain; this is the inexhaustible treasure that the creator have, and all of us can appreciate them together’. So here ‘creator’ means nature. (poem link: http://www.rthk.org.hk/chiculture/chilit/dy05_1205.htm)
Or you can use google translator to check this page (a Chinese dictionary): https://www.moedict.tw/%E9%80%A0%E7%89%A9%E8%80%85
It will tell you that ‘zao wu zhe’, which means who created all things. It refers to nature.
However, in English, Creator is epithet of God because people firstly say it believe God creates everything. That’s the difference. The author used capitalized ‘Creator’ because he thought that the underling meaning of this idiom in Chinese and English is same.
Unless there were technical issues with the science, the authors should have been given the opportunity to edit the paper to correct the offending language.
As I argued previously, the fact that this error slipped through is troubling, not because it plays into some creationist agenda, but because it reveals a review and editorial process that involved absolutely no care or effort.
Now, it seems that PLOS has responded to the twitter/comment outrage by throwing the authors under the bus, while giving no reason to believe that any other manuscripts, present or future, are going to receive any more care and attention than this one did.