|SCHMELZ, ERIC - US Department Of Agriculture (USDA)
|POLAND, JESSE - US Department Of Agriculture (USDA)
Submitted to: Science
Publication Type: Peer Reviewed Journal
Publication Acceptance Date: 5/7/2016
Publication Date: 1/1/2016
Citation: Cohnstaedt, L.W., Schmelz, E., Poland, J. 2016. Review articles and the depreciation of scientific currency. Science. https://doi.org/10.1093/aesa/saw061.
Interpretive Summary: Scientific success is often quantified by the number of times the published results are cited by other manuscripts. The more frequently an article is used the greater the impact. However, with the advent of review articles that summarize a large number of manuscripts, citation numbers have started a disturbing trend. Review papers are being cited at a frequency on par with novel discoveries that indicates they revolutionized the field. Although review papers are valuable contributions which summarize previously published data in a novel way or offer a new perspective, they are being cited instead of the original works, which causes a confusing and unusual paradox where the impact of a review article may be higher than the original research cited in the review. Several explanations for the over citation and overreliance of review papers are addressed and authors, reviewers and editors are encouraged and challenged to confront citation misuse. The trend of overcitation of review articles must change because currently if one aspires to be a “citationally successful” scientist, a logical strategy would be to forgo original research and focus on writing review papers summarizing the research of others.
Technical Abstract: Since 1921, citations have been used to quantify the impact of scientists, research institutions and journals. While problems with using citation counts to assess the quality of research are widely recognized, it is clear that important papers and authors are indeed cited more heavily. However, a deeper issue of scientific ethics should be broadly recognized in paper citations. Although review articles do not advance the scientific endeavor with novel research findings, review papers are more commonly cited than original manuscripts in all fields of research. This is not a debate over the use of biliometrics to assess scientific quality, rather the repercussions of inappropriate citation and over-reliance on review articles. The issue surrounding citations of reviews has many analogies to a black market. In unregulated economic environments, sales flourish with a demand for cheap goods; citations of reviews similarly increase with easily accessible summarized results. A lack of consumer integrity and regulatory enforcement promotes the consumption of these products, similar to authors that make little effort to consider original papers and reviewers and editors that fail to properly check citations. The problem arises after publication of data, when a subsequent author, often one not involved in the original research, summarizes the findings in a review paper. Subsequent authors cite the review, which then credits a different author and diminishes the credit given to the original researchers. Review papers are valuable contributions to summarize previously published data in a novel way or offer a new perspective; however they are being cited at a frequency on par with novel discoveries that indicates they revolutionized the field. To this end, review papers are not advancing the frontier of science and should not be cited as such. Currently, if one aspires to be a “citationally successful” scientist, a logical strategy would be to forgo original research and focus on writing review papers summarizing the research of others.