Dismissive reviews: A cancer on the body of knowledge

Richard P. Phelps:

Observers describe the quantity of research information now produced variously as “torrent,” “overload,” “proliferation,” or the like. Technological advances in computing and telecommunication have helped us keep up, to an extent. But, I would argue, scholarly and journalistic ethics have not kept pace.

As a case in point, consider the journal article literature review. Its function is twofold: to specify where new information fits within the context of what is already known; and to avoid unknowingly duplicating research projects the public has already paid for. Paradoxically, however, information proliferation may discourage honest and accurate literature reviews. Research information accumulates, which increases the time required for conducting a thorough literature review, which increases the incentive to avoid it.  

Most dismissive reviews that I have encountered are raw declarations. A scholar, pundit, or journalist simply declares that no research on a topic exists (or couldn’t be any good if it did exist). No mention is made of how or where (or, even if) they searched. Certain themes appear over and over, such as:

The root of the problem: Many editors do not review literature reviews for accuracy. As a result, an author can write anything about earlier work on a topic — including misrepresentations of the work of rivals.