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Revisiting Rivista

February 7, 2007

The following post first appeared at my old blog on June 2nd 2005. I’m reposting it here, not just because PZ recently linked to it, but because it remains a relevant examination of the sorts of venues anti-evolutionists choose for their “scholarship”.

Today, the DI proudly announced that “[f]or the second time in nine months, an article explicitly applying intelligent design theory to scientific research has been published in an internationally respected biology journal — despite Darwinists’ claims that this never happens.” This leads one to wonder about the status of Rivista within the biological community? While it may be “one of the oldest biological journals in the world” (1919), I would argue that it is neither “internationally respected” nor influential.

GIUSEPPE_SERMONTIRivista is edited by Giuseppe Sermonti (pictured) on whom I have commented before. In the past, it has provided an outlet for work by Søren Løvtrup, Brian Goodwin, Gerry Webster, René Thom, Mae-Wan Ho, Francesco M. Scudo, and Rupert Sheldrake – hardly representatives of mainstream (evolutionary) biology. But to see the nature of this “internationally respected biology journal” you can consider the past nine years. Since 1996, the journal has published articles by individuals such as Richard v. Sternberg (1996, 1998), John A. Davison (1998, 2000, 2004, 2005), Rupert Sheldrake (1998, 1999), James Barnham (2002), Jerry Bergman (2002, 2003, 2005), Brian C. Goodwin (1996), Gerry Webster (1996), Leendert van der Hammen (1997a, 1997b, 1998, 1999, 2000), Francesco M. Scudo (1997), Armando Aranda-Anzaldo (2000, 2002), E.K. Balon (2004), Wells (2005), and of course, Sermonti himself. We see a mixed batch of YEC‘s (Sermonti, Bergman), process structuralists (Beloussov, Goodwin, Webster, Sternberg, Van Der Hammen, Aranda-Anzaldo), ID supporters (Barnham, Wells), generic anti-Darwinists (Scudo, Balon) and cranks (Sheldrake, Davison). While there may be interesting ideas here, there is no indication that they represent mainstream thought in biology. And while this might be an ‘internationally respected biology journal” within certain (anti-Darwinian) communities, it cannot be considered so among the majority.

Rivista has consciously been providing an outlet for the Osaka Group for the Study of Dynamic Structures (which was co-founded by Van Der Hammen). The group has a goal of providing a post-Darwinian biology:

The term post-Darwinism, in the sense of ‘biology which comes after the period of Darwinism’, was first used not later than in 1986, at the meeting on structuralism in biology in Osaka. That meeting, which recognised a clear opposition to the ‘mainstream’ theoretical biology, also admitted its historical continuity as concerns the ‘marginal’ tradition in theoretical biology coming from J. H. Woodger, C. H. Waddington and other members of the Cambridge Club of Theoretical Biology. The conference in Osaka promoted the setting up of the ‘Osaka Group for the study of dynamic structures’ in 1987. On the other hand, it is clearly noticeable that the nomogenetic approach in Russian biology, represented by L. Berg, A. A. Lyubischev, S. Meyen and others, which has taken its tradition back to K. E. v. Baer and his criticism of Darwinism, in many aspects resembles above-mentioned structuralistic biology. Via L. Beloussov, an embryologist from the Moscow University, who participated in both, there is also a personal link between
the Russian-Estonian nomogenetic conferences and Osaka group meetings. G. Sermonti, the editor-in-chief of the Italian journal ‘Rivista DI Biologia’, is also one who has attempted to tie together the Russian, Japanese and West-European structuralistic trends in biology. [link – I have removed citations]

Interestingly, Van Der Hammen has endorsed (the YEC) Sermonti’s new book (Why is a Fly Not A Horse?) which is being published by the DI, and states that “[t]he fallacious character of the current neo-Darwinian dogmatisim is clearly demonstrated” in Sermonti’s work. Readers familiar with Davison’s writings will also recognize some names in the above quote.

Turning to the influence of Rivista, we see that – as one would expect from the above – the journal is of negligible importance at best. Impact Factor is a “measure of importance of scientific journals. It is calculated each year by the Institute for Scientific Information for those journals which it tracks, and are published in the Journal Citation Report.” The IF for Rivista (in 2003) was 0.500. We need some comparative numbers to guage the meaning of that number.

I have been publishing scientific research on and off since the mid-1990’s. My work has been in a relatively minor field (morphometric analysis of cranial variation in mammals), and certainly is not by any means “a new science for a new century“. Below, I list the IFs (2003 numbers) for journals that I played a part in choosing the journal and submitting/revising the published paper;

  • American Journal of Physical Anthropology (2005) 2.052
  • Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (2004) 10.272
  • Journal of Anatomy (2002) 2.072
  • Journal of Zoology, London (1997, 1996, 1994) 1.175
  • Journal of Biogeography (1996) 2.097
  • Biological Journal of the Linnean Society (1995) 1.661

My point here is simple; the impact of Rivista is neglible compared to the outlets that my (admittedly old-school and somewhat boring) research has been published in. Interestingly, the IF for Proceedings of the Biological Society of Washington – the outlet for the first “article explicitly applying intelligent design theory to scientific research” (Meyer 2004) – was 0.506, and publication was also with a sympathetic editor. Do we see a pattern here?

Bruce Chapman notes:

The interesting thing here is that scientists are applying intelligent design theory to cancer research. Who knows what new avenues of research and experimentation this could open up. I think you will see more and more scientists applying intelligent design theory to their research in coming years.

No quite. We have two scientists (Wells and Meyer) “applying intelligent design theory” (but see here) and publishing in low-impact journals that, in the case of Rivista could not reasonable be called “internationally respected”. Yet the DI public relations machine will make much of this and the public and policy makers will be fooled into imagining what’s going on here is a fertile scientific
program. Nothing could be further from the truth.

  1. sparc
    February 8, 2007 at 7:12 am

    Maybe Rivista should be re-evaluated by the Literature Selection Technical Review Committee (LSTRC) of Medline. You will find the criteria for indexing journals in medline here:
    According to their FAQ page ( http://www.nlm.nih.gov/pubs/factsheets/j_sel_faq.html ) journals indeed can be deselected:

    11) How are titles deselected from MEDLINE?
    Titles may be brought to LSTRC for review for possible deselection through a comprehensive subject review, extremely late publication patterns, major changes in the scientific quality or editorial process, etc.

  2. MH
    December 6, 2007 at 6:00 am

    Not only is Rivista di Biologia’s impact low, it’s also decreasing, according to eigenfactor.org

  3. cm
    February 6, 2008 at 12:58 pm

    Rivista di Biologia published my favorite kooky neuroscience paper of all time:
    “The role of synaptic junctions in the identification of human consciousness.” Bondì M, Bondì M. Riv Biol. 1998;91(2):329-34.
    Here’s the abstract:
    Consciousness rests on a complexly regulated mechanism (comprehending the stages of exocytosis and active transport) of projection of sensorial inputs, which can be assembled in quantic sources and then processed along the USC (Unified Synaptic Channel). Such a channel runs in loops all along the labyrinthine structure of the cerebral cortex and constitutes an anatomical-histological structure on its own along which the flow of molecular neurotransmitters determines a sort of constant low-noise effect.

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