Bio-complexity And Incest

Shocking title for a blog post, isn’t it? Don’t worry, this isn’t about what you may think. It’s about a journal called “bio-complexity”.
( On the About page for this journal, we find the following statement under “purpose and scope”:
BIO-Complexity is a peer-reviewed scientific journal with a unique goal. It aims to be the leading forum for testing the scientific merit of the claim that intelligent design (ID) is a credible explanation for life.

Ok, fair enough. It’s even peer reviewed! That’s great; peer review is very important. But in looking at some of their papers, I noticed something odd – many of the authors are on the editorial board. So, I decided to look at every paper (there’s only 8 as of this writing, and their archives go back to 2010). Here is what I found:

The Case Against A Darwinian Origin of Protein Folds
author: Douglas Axe (managing editor)

Reductive Evolution Can Prevent Populations From Taking Simple Adaptive Paths To High Fitness
authors: Ann K Gauger, Stephanie Ebnet, Pamela F Fahey, Ralph Seelke (2 on editorial team)

A Vivisection of the ev Computer Organism: Identifying Sources of Active Information
authors: George Montañez, Winston Ewert, William Dembski, Robert Marks (2 on editorial team)

The Limits of Complex Adaptation: An Analysis Based on a Simple Model of Structured Bacterial Populations
author: Douglas Axe (managing editor)

Can the Origin of the Genetic Code Be Explained by Direct RNA Templating?
authors: Stephen C Meyer, Paul Nelson (0 on editorial team)

The Evolutionary Accessibility of New Enzymes Functions: A Case Study from the Biotin Pathway
authors: Ann K Gauger, Douglas D Axe (2 on editorial team)

A Stylus-Generated Artificial Genome with Analogy to Minimal Bacterial Genomes
authors: Douglas Axe, Philip Lu, Stephanie Flatau (1 on editorial team)

Climbing the Steiner Tree–Sources of Active Information in a Genetic Algorithm for Solving the Euclidean Steiner Tree Problem
authors: Winston Ewert, William A Dembski, Robert J Marks II (2 on editorial team)

So, something to point out here: out of 20 total instances of authors of papers for this journal, more than half of them work for the journal (11 out of 20)! It’s also worth pointing out that 7 out of 8 papers have at least one author on the editorial team.

This is what’s known as an incestuous journal, meaning that it creates and reviews its own work. Of course, this sometimes happens with other journals which we all consider reputable, especially ones dedicated to very narrow fields (Bio-complexity is quite broad – check their purpose and scope), but never with this frequency. The problem with this is simply that people are often biased in favor of their coworkers as well as their own career affiliations; and thus we should at the least be wary of the strength of Bio-complexity’s peer review process.


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2 responses to “Bio-complexity And Incest”

  1. Tom B says :

    Really informative analysis. This sort of practise makes a mockery of the phrase ‘peer-reviewed journal’, and damages the credibility that phrase implies. I take it that these authors couldn’t get their articles published in a proper journal!

    Also, this reminds me of the ‘Synthese scandal.’

    • Robert says :


      Another red flag is that despite the extremely broad scope of the journal, which pretty much amounts to “science”, they have only 8 publication since their first paper was received on 16 Dec 2009 (and published on 15 Apr 2010).

      The really funny thing is that some of these authors have been published in real journals! Or at least google scholar seems to indicate that they have. I think what’s going on is a bit more specific – they have some pet idea that a real journal won’t accept, so they publish it here, where the peer review standards are more lax.

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