How citation cartels give ‘strategic scholars’ an advantage: A simple model

Richard Phelps

Sincere scholars work to expand society’s knowledge and understanding. They cite all the relevant research, even that produced by those they disagree with or personally dislike. They encourage debate. For the sincere scholar, a citation is a responsibility, and proper and thorough citations demonstrate research quality.

For the strategic scholar, a citation is an asset to be used career-advantageously. As a certain former governor of the State of Illinois once said about his responsibility to fill an open US senate position, “I’ve got this thing and it’s (expletive) golden. I’m not just giving it up for (expletive) nothing.”

Strategic scholars cite the work of their friends, working colleagues, those they agree with, and those who reference them. Indeed, the most successful career-strategic scholars operate in groups of like-minded colleagues in which they promote each other’s careers together—citation cartels. They draw attention to that other work which supports their own and their careers. 

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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:

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