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Creationist's Chicanery Exposed
Dr Ken Smith The Skeptic (Vol 15, No1)

Dr Smith holds the following: B.Sc. (1st class honours in Mathematics) from Sydney University, 1954; M.Sc. from Sydney University, 1955; Ph.D. from the University of Queensland, 1975; B.A. (major in Studies in Religion) University of Queensland, 1985; M.Lit.St. (Department of Studies in Religion) the University of Queensland, 1990. Dr Smith has held the following research and teaching positions: 1954-1955: Research student, Department of Mathematics, Sydney University; 1956-1961: Scientific Officer, Royal Aircraft Establishment, Farnborough and Bedford, England; 1961-1965: Senior Scientific Officer, Royal Aircraft Establishment, Bedford, England; 1965-1974: Lecturer in Mathematics, the University of Queensland; 1975-1997: Senior Lecturer in Mathematics, the University of Queensland; 1997 to date: Honorary Research Consultant, Department of Mathematics, the University of Queensland.

In 1991 Australia was favoured with a whirlwind tour by a Russian, one Dmitri Kuznetsov. This tour was sponsored by the Creation Science Foundation [now Answers in Genesis], well-known to most readers of the Skeptic. Kuznetsov was touted, in the publicity, as someone who had become a creationist before he became a Christian. Thus his objections to evolution were, it was claimed, scientific and not religious. So, we were told, we should all pay attention to what he had to say. We were urged to think deeply about our philosophical presuppositions, and consider whether creationism offered a better explanation than evolution for the fascinating variety of life which we see around us.

Incidentally, before going any further, it may be worth pointing out that his surname comes in a variety of spellings. Since the Skeptic is not, as far as I know, set up to print in Cyrillic, any Russian names have to be transliterated. As well as Kuznetsov, you will find Kousnetsov, Kusnetsov, Kouznetsof, and possibly other spellings for his surname. This article uses the spelling in one of his scientific papers. As part of his credentials, the publicity stated that he was on the editorial board of three journals: Ecology Research, Journal of Applied Biochemistry and Biophysics and International Journal of Neuroscience.

As Ian Plimer
[1] has pointed out on pages 202-204 of his book Telling Lies for God, these claims have not been substantiated. Kuznetsov was, indeed, on the editorial board of the International Journal of Neuroscience.  However nobody has been able to verify that the other two journals even exist. Checking on the existence of periodicals is easy if you are in the neighbourhood of any reasonable reference library.

The regularly updated work Ulrich's International Periodicals Directory
[2] lists almost all periodicals published in the world, apart from daily newspapers. For example, for our male readers, it lists Playboy, and our female readers are catered for by its listing of Cleo. In the section headed "Parapsychology and Occultism" it lists the Skeptic, and our American counterpart The Skeptical Inquirer , and the entries clearly indicate that these two periodicals are devoted to attacking parapsychology and occultism. It includes (under the heading of religion) the weekly Australian fundamentalist newspaper New Life, and our old friends Creation Ex Nihilo and Ex Nihilo Technical Journal. So if there was any substance in the claim about Kuznetsov being on the editorial boards of Ecology Research and Journal of Applied Biochemistry and Biophysics we would expect to find these journals listed. Unfortunately for our creationist friends, they are not included. Thus they must either fall into the category of paranormal objects, or else are so obscure that nobody outside the creationist community has read them. It is, of course, possible that the titles have been misquoted. We all know how difficult it can be to track down creationist quotations, given their free and easy way with citations.

Despite these problems, one correct out of three is a considerably better track record than we have come to expect from creationists. They must be evolving into more accurate reporters of information.

Recently my attention was drawn to a paper by Kuznetsov
[3] in International Journal of Neuroscience. How this came about, and the consequences, are covered later in this article. The title of the paper is - take a deep breath here:

"In vitro studies of interactions between frequent and unique mRNAs and cytoplasmic factors from brain tissue of several species of wild timber voles of Northern Eurasia, Clethrionomys glareolus, Clethrionomys frater, and Clethrionomys gapperi: a new criticism to a modern molecular-genetic concept of biological evolution."

Phew! I don't remember coming across a title as long as that in any of the reading I have done. Usually authors try to find a fairly short, pithy, title to attract attention; it is not usual to be long-winded and run the risk of turning prospective readers off right at the start. And there is something a bit amiss with the grammar of the title. Despite that I waded on. Following the title, and the name and institutional affiliation of the author, came the Abstract. Now neurochemistry and molecular biology are not fields in which I claim any expertise, so I found reading the abstract somewhat heavy going. Perhaps the author should have found someone a bit more competent in the use of English to polish up his style and remove some of the obscurities.

Nevertheless, some quite good scientific papers have been poorly written, so let us pass on. We will even overlook the queries raised by his use of quotation marks in the first sentence where he wrote about "... the brain cells of three conventionally 'phylogenetically related' species of wild timber vole...", and the concluding sentence "All findings and ideas of the paper are under discussion."

It is common to find, on the first page of any scientific paper, some acknowledgments of assistance, financial or otherwise, provided to the author. Kuznetsov's paper follows this hallowed tradition. In a footnote at the bottom of the first page he thanks Professors Leonid Korochkin and Kirill Gladilin "for their helpful remarks and participation in discussion of the data". He then goes on to thank various other people for assistance in different ways. The second paragraph of the footnote is somewhat out of the ordinary for learned journals. It reads, in full:

"I am especially, deeply and sincerely grateful to the Moscow Baptist Church and the Slavic Gospel Association, IL, for supporting most of our research program. In part, I am greatly indebted to Dr Henry Morris and Mr Eugene Grossman for concrete participation in supporting our program."

Moscow Baptist Church? The Slavic Gospel Association? Henry Morris? Here, just what is going on? I thought I was reading a scientific paper, not a bit of religious propaganda! And what about the plural "our research program"? If more than one person was involved their names should have been included in the list of authors. And just what form did the support take, anyway? Was it anything more than moral support from one creationist to another? There seems to be something a bit unusual about this paper.  Do we have a genuine case of a recognised scientific journal publishing a creationist work? It seems so.

This impression is strengthened by the last paragraph of the footnote. This indicates that requests for reprints should be sent to the author's private address, rather than the institution at which he works. This is most uncommon in the scientific community. The paper itself is not well written. The author's familiarity with English seems to be somewhat limited, and there are a number of obscurities throughout the paper. But it clearly comes across as anti-evolution in tone. Thus the last sentence of the second paragraph reads:

"To be exact, it seems a mistake to consider that the fact of origin of a new, 'useful' and replicable gene is a quite sufficient condition for the renovation of the phenotype, for the formation of a new form of life."

And at the end of the fourth paragraph, after talking about looking for evidence, he wrote -

"If such evidence is obtained, the general creationist concept on the problems of the origin of boundless multitudes of different and harmonically functioning forms of life, will be supported by a new argument."

This sentence raises some interesting questions. Do these "harmonically functioning forms" have anything to do with the "harmonic convergence" we have been hearing about from New Age circles? Do we perhaps have an example of convergent evolution, with these two fields of pseudoscience using similar terminology?

But I digress. So is there any validity in Kuznetsov's arguments? This paper was published over five years ago, and nothing seems to have emerged from the creationist community hailing it, and any further evidence turned up, as the final death-blow for evolution. Could it be that the paper was faulty in some way? Were Kuznetsov's arguments not quite as good as he thought?

Which brings me to how I heard about the paper. On 18th October 1994 Peter Drake, a postgraduate student in Artificial Intelligence at Oregon State University, posted a four line message to the Internet newsgroup talk.origins. This is a newsgroup devoted mainly to creationism and creationist claims, though other nuttery such as Velikovskyism also crops up with monotonous regularity. Experts in all fields of science, and many areas of theology, are quick to respond to creationist claims. There have been a few cases where creationists have withdrawn their claims, but most creationists who post messages retire quickly when they realise that they are up against experts.

Peter's posting read (with the spelling as in the original) -

"I finally went and looked this up: International Journal of Neuroscience, v. 77, p. 199-201. It's a letter nailing Kouznetsof for fabricating several references. Great fun!"

Fabricating references? A creationist caught in the act? This I'll have to check! Unfortunately that issue had not arrived at the University of Queensland library, so over the next couple of weeks I had to be content with reading postings from other people to talk.origins. But it certainly seemed to be the case that Kuznetsov was guilty as charged.

Eventually the relevant issue arrived, and I was able to read the article for myself. It is by Dan  Larhammar
[4] of the Department of Medical Genetics, Uppsala University, Sweden. The article is headed "Letter to the Editor", and entitled "Lack of experimental support for Kuznetsov's criticism of biological evolution." And does Larhammar get stuck into Kuznetsov! He was doubtless restricted by the canons of letters to a scientific journal. No matter how bad some other article is, in general the editor will not allow accusations of deliberate falsification to be printed.

So Larhammar had to be content with some observations that he was unable to verify Kuznetsov's claims. Why couldn't he do this? Surely the point of writing an article in a scientific journal is to present your evidence to other scientists, and let them try to find any weak points. If they succeed - well, back to the drawing board. But if the work stands up under criticism, it can serve as a starting point for the next advance in that area of science.

The problem that Larhammar encountered was that he couldn't check some of the crucial papers Kuznetsov had referred to. Worse than that, he couldn't find the journals listed in a couple of on-line databases of work in the biological area. To give the first example, one vital piece of evidence was in a paper cited as being from Acta Allergologica. Larhammar wrote -

"This journal is neither included in Medline nor in CASSI  (Chemical Abstracts Service Source Index). A journal called Allergologica Acta exists but its volume-year assignments do not match those ascribed to Acta Allergologica by Kuznetsov."

Now if it was just one journal there might be some excuse. Maybe Kuznetsov had mixed something up, and it hadn't been detected during the refereeing process. Or maybe a typographical error had gone undetected. But it isn't a case of a single error. Five more times Larhammar writes, about other citations given by Kuznetsov, "this journal, too, could not be found", or "this is another unidentified journal or book."

But the most scathing item comes in the second last paragraph of the letter. Larhammar had been trying to track down an article attributed to HV Hyden, and allegedly published in Scandinavian Archives of Molecular Pathology in 1988. Now there are not a great number of people working in molecular biology in Scandinavia, so it is not too difficult to do a bit of checking on names. In Larhammar's own words -

"After unsuccessfully having sought this reference I contacted    Prof. Holger V Hyden (Gothenberg, Sweden) who is a member of the Editorial Board of The International Journal of Neuroscience. Prof. Hyden states that he has written no such article and that he, too, is unaware of the journal Scandinavian Archives of Molecular Pathology." 

This would seem to be conclusive. Of course, there is the remote possibility that there are two people with the name HV Hyden, living in Scandinavia, who write learned articles on molecular biology; one in respectable journals, and the other in extremely obscure journals. After all, do we not have the case of two Dr Andrew Snellings in Australia?

Now it is just possible that the on-line databases may be defective, and that the seven journals which Larhammar failed to track down do exist somewhere. And this is where the Internet and the speed of modern communications comes to the rescue. Not to the rescue of Kuznetsov, I hasten to add - all the evidence posted to talk.origins backed up Larhammar. I checked in Ulrich's International Periodicals Directory
[2] mentioned above. No trace of the journals could be found. Chris Nedin, research student in the Department of Geology and Geophysics at the University of Adelaide, who has been criticised by our good friend Dr Carl Wieland of the Creation Science Foundation (AiG), could find no listing of these in another reference work Periodical Title Abbreviations , 1994 edition. [5]

Various people in overseas countries checked the largest library in the world, the Library of Congress in USA, to no avail. Nor could any trace of them be found in the British Library, or in the Bodleian Library at Oxford University, or in any other place people looked.

So it looks very much as though Chris Owen, in a message from the Oxford University Computer Service, was correct when he said "I think Kuznetsov is telling porkies here." Larhammar was rather more restrained in his choice of words, but the final paragraph of his letter expresses the same sentiment.

To summarise, Kuznetsov's experimental concept is obscure, his approach goes against established scientific experience and his claimed results are not qualitatively demonstrated. The key methodological references cited by Kuznetsov have not been published in journals listed in Medline or CASSI. These, as well as many other, references are afflicted with complications: some authors could not be found, one author has not written the article ascribed to him, many articles have obvious grammatical errors in their titles, etc. I conclude that Kuznetsov's critique of "a modern molecular-genetic concept of biological evolution" has no scientific basis whatsoever.

One wonders how this paper managed to make it through the refereeing process with citations from at least seven unknown journals. Part of my job as Assistant Editor of the Bulletin of the Australian Mathematical Society has been to check that authors use the correct abbreviations for journals. Normally this is a simple task, since most citations refer to the most widely known and circulated journals. Occasionally I have had to revert to the library to check on a less well-known journal. In a few instances I have not been able to find the reference, and have asked the author for clarification. This has always been forthcoming, as either a correction to the citation, or a photocopy of the article cited. No author who cited unknown journals would pass the refereeing barriers, at least for publications of the Australian Mathematical Society.

So how did Kuznetsov's paper get through? The most likely solution would appear to lie with Kuznetsov's position at the time. He was on the editorial board of the journal. It seems possible, or even probable, that the article received only a cursory review, if any. After all, if a scientist is sufficiently eminent to be placed on the board of editors one naturally assumes that he is cognisant of the canons of scientific writing. One does not normally expect that such a person will fabricate references in support of his case.

Well, where does this leave Kuznetsov? On page 253 of his book
[1] Ian Plimer has something to say about scientists who fabricate results -

"Disclosure of scientific fraud keeps science honest. Financial fraud sometimes results in a short prison sentence. With scientific fraud, it is a life sentence. Those guilty of scientific fraud are banished for perpetuity from the corridors of science in a blaze of publicity."

Whether Kuznetsov will continue to travel the creationist lecture circuit remains to be seen. But his career in science has come to an inglorious end, with the documentation of his fabrications. I wonder what the reactions of people associated with the Moscow Baptist Church and the Slavic Gospel Association, not to mention the Creation Science Foundation, will be when this news reaches them. The Bible has nothing to say specifically about fabricating references in a scientific paper. But it does say some things about ethical behaviour in general. Perhaps a sermon based on Numbers 32:23, "Behold, you have sinned against the Lord, and be sure your sin will find you out", would be appropriate.

I have no expectations that anything I write will affect them, but perhaps members of the Creation Science Foundation (AiG) might like to do rather more checking on the credentials of any other creationists they invite to Australia. I am sure they wish to insist that any speakers at meetings they sponsor adhere to high ethical standards.


[1]     Plimer, Ian, Telling Lies for God: Reason vs Creationism , Random House Australia Pty Ltd, Sydney, 1994.  [Return to Text]

[2]     Ulrich's International Periodicals Directory, 33rd edition, 1994-95. Bowker, New Jersey. [Return to Text]

[3]     Kuznetsov, Dmitri A." In vitro studies of interactions between frequent and unique mRNAs and cytoplasmic factors from brain tissue of several species of wild timber voles of Northern Eurasia, Clethrionomys glareolus, Clethrionomys frater, and Clethrionomys gapperi: a new criticism to a modern molecular-genetic concept of biological evolution," International Journal of Neuroscience, vol. 49 (1989), pp. 43-59.  [Return to Text]

[4]    Larhammar, Dan, "Lack of experimental support for Kuznetsov's criticism of biological evolution", International Journal of Neuroscience, vol. 77 (1994), pp. 199-201.  [Return to Text]

[5]     Alkire, Leland G., (ed.), Periodical Title Abbreviations . Gale Research, Detroit, Michigan, 1994  [Return to Text]

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