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Reader Comments (15)
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Irrelevant and culturally biased?
Posted by ramy on 27 Sep 2010 at 23:56 GMT
Previous researchers have suggested wind setdown as a possible hydrodynamic explanation for Moses crossing the Red Sea, as described in Exodus 14
I find this statement irrelevant to the scientific topic and also culturally biased.
Here is my reasoning:
1) Normally, the Abstract should summarize the paper and not advance a new (here pivotal) idea that is not explicitly mentioned in the paper (or that was perhaps removed in the peer review process?).
2) While about 50-60% of the world inhabitants (perhaps?) may be familiar with "Moses," because of their religious or cultural background, billions in the world are not familiar with that story and do not share the same cultural background as the middle-eastern or Greco-Roman cultures that may have dominated the Western world until recently. I find it unprofessional to mention this story in an international journal with neither a footnote or reference (not even a reference to the original text or its translation). Such issue could have best been discussed in a blog post or a news feature about the article, but having it in the heart of a scholarly document is unusual.
The Abstract Background refers to Exodus 14, which looks like a reference to a translation of the original text. Or do I misunderstand your second point?
1) The PLoS ONE Guidelines for Authors state: "Please do not include any citations in the abstract." The Abstract briefly introduces the paper. The Exodus text is mentioned there in the context of previous research. Nof & Paldor  were quite clearly investigating the Exodus story, as were Voltzinger & Androsov . Their research is discussed in detail in section 1.1 Research Background.
2) The sentence about Moses and Exodus gives the context of the earlier publications. If readers are interested in investigating that context further, I encourage them to read those prior papers. Since Moses is mentioned here only in the context of prior research, the "missing" background material should not affect anyone's comprehension of this paper.
I agree that the abstract is not supposed to include citations (in accordance with PLoS style), which is one more reason to explain the context of this tory in the Introduction; however, the point I was trying to make is that the abstract should faithfully summarize the paper and should not include a major idea that is absent, omitted, or concealed in the body of the paper. As far as I understand, the line we're discussing is part of the paper's goal: to test the hypothesis that wind setdown is a possible hydrodynamic explanation for a biblical story. I have failed to find another goal of the paper: I have searched the entire document for the terms "goal", "aim", "purpose," "motivation", "we set out to", "we aimed", "to this end", and have not found any. I am surprised that the author states that the sentence about Moses is related only to "earlier publications" and not this one. On the other hand, the context of this study is explicitly stated in the UCAR/NCAR press release about this paper http://www2.ucar.edu/news... as follows:
"By pinpointing a possible site south of the Mediterranean Sea for the crossing, the study also could be of benefit to experts seeking to research whether such an event ever took place. Archeologists and Egyptologists have found little direct evidence to substantiate many of the events described in Exodus."
The incidence of including an additional statement in the abstract is not uncommon since sometimes the abstract is written before the paper itself (like in a conference) and, in other instances, some material is removed from the paper during the revision process but could remain in the abstract (intentionally or unintentionally). It is possible that the reviewers have focused on the text but not the abstract.
The danger is obvious. Indexing services (such as PubMed, Science Direct, and ISI Web of Science) include the abstract only. Many students and scholars are likely to judge the entire paper based on the abstract. In this particular case, I believe that much of the debate and the misconceptions about this article in the media arose from a hasty reading of the abstract.
Finally, I still think that even if "Moses" was mentioned in the context of prior research, it is always recommended to cite the original references within references. The lack of space is not a reason since Tulloch's account is quoted and detailed over 15 lines of the Introduction. Moreover, there are numerous translations and interpretations of Exodus 14 and there are many popular folkloric stories about it. Giving a more specific reference and explaining the impact of this story—regardless of its historicity—would have benefited everybody, which is something the first author did very professionally in the master's thesis mentioned in the press release linked above.