Dismissive Reviews in Education Policy Research – A List
Richard P. Phelps
The celebrity professor is a new phenomenon and not a good one. In celebrity-driven academia, “getting ahead” means beating other people, which means establishing a personal reputation and denying it, to the extent possible, to rivals. (Harry Lewis*, in Russell (2007))
In scholarly terms, a review of the literature or literature review is a summation of the previous research conducted on a particular topic. With a dismissive literature review, a researcher assures the public that no one has yet studied a topic or that very little has been done on it. Dismissive reviews can be accurate, for example with genuinely new scientific discoveries or technical inventions. But, often, and perhaps usually, they are not.
Included in these web pages are the statements—the dismissive reviews—of some prominent education policy researchers. Most of their statements are inaccurate; it is possible that all of them are. Certainly, all of them are misleading. Each linked file includes the dismissive statements, the names of the lead authors (in bold when known) and co-authors, title, source, date, and, page numbers for the statement and hyperlink to the source, when available, all listed in reverse chronological order.
“Dismissive review” is the general term. In the “type” column of the files, a finer distinction is made among simply “dismissive”—meaning a claim that there is no or little previous research, “denigrating”—meaning a claim that previous research exists but is so inferior it is not worth even citing, and “firstness”—a claim to be the first in the history of the world to ever conduct such a study.
When a group of dismissive reviewers joins to support each other, they form a “citation cartel”. Essentially, they cite and reference each other and dismiss or denigrate all other research. Citation cartels can advance researchers' careers substantially. Each member of the cartel gets more exposure in general. Universities consider the numbers of citations as evidence of research productivity and influence, and use those numbers in appointment and advancement decisions.
For the most part, I have included statements made by “serial dismissers”, researchers who dismiss repeatedly on a variety of topics. This is done to help counter the argument that they might be innocent, actually did make an effort to look for previous research, and simply could not find it.
In most cases they dismiss a research literature that is hundreds or thousands of studies deep. And, when they do that repeatedly across a variety of topics, the odds that their dismissive behavior could be innocent fade to miniscule.
Moreover, I have restricted the list to the statements of those whose dismissive reviews can inflict real harm. If a master’s student at a middling, not particularly well known college writes a dismissive review in his or her thesis, the effect on the world may not even be noticeable. But, the people included here, as some of them are fond of telling us themselves, are “influential” (e.g., Edu-Scholar Rankings ). They rank among the most widely quoted and cited researchers in education policy. They advise presidents, international education organizations, federal education secretaries, and legislators. Journalists have their telephone numbers on speed dial. They have been profusely awarded with professional sinecures, prizes, titles, and other manner of prestige. What they say and write matters even when it is accurate, but probably even more so when it is not.
Finally, I stick with topics with which I have some (usually a lot of) familiarity. I have become skeptical of most dismissive reviews, but I will not include those on topics I simply do not know. Even then, I only have time to read so much, and only so much money to retrieve documents from behind paywalls, so many possible sources of dismissive reviews are not included here. Had I read everything these people have written, I would imagine that these lists would be much longer.
The dismissive review files linked below are:
Martin R. West PhD graduate of Harvard’s Government program with Paul Peterson as his advisor. He has held faculty positions at Brown University and, more recently, at Harvard’s Graduate School of Education. He is also a nonresident senior fellow at the Brookings Institution.
Matthew M. Chingos Another PhD graduate of Harvard’s Government program with Paul Peterson as his advisor. He has worked at and published with the Brookings Institution and the Urban Institute.
Brian A. Jacob PhD graduate of the University of Chicago. He taught at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government for several years before accepting a tenured faculty appointment at the Ford Public Policy School of the University of Michigan. He continues his affiliation with the Program on Education Policy and Governance at Harvard, which is led by Paul Peterson.
Frederick M. Hess A PhD graduate of Harvard’s Government (i.e., political science) program with Paul Peterson as his advisor. After working as a college professor for a few years, he has settled in as the chief education policy researcher at the think tank, the American Enterprise Institute (AEI).
Jay P. Greene PhD graduate of Harvard’s Government program with Paul Peterson as his advisor. After working as a college professor for a while, he published for several years from the think tank, the Manhattan Institute. In more recent years, he has chaired the Walton-funded Department of Education Reform at the University of Arkansas.
David N. Figlio Received a PhD in economics from the University of Wisconsin. He has held faculty appointments at the Universities of Florida and Oregon and, more recently, Northwestern University, where he directs the Institute for Policy Research. He has also served as president of the Association for Education Finance and Policy.
Other Think Tank Elite Includes the statements of other prominent think tankers and economists who often work with the individuals listed above and share similar backgrounds, funding sources, and affiliations.
Daniel M. Koretz A longtime associate of the federally-funded Center for Research on Educational Standards and Student Testing (CRESST) while working for the Rand Corporation and, subsequently, as a professor of education, first at Boston College and now at Harvard University.
CRESST_BC Statements from researchers affiliated with the federally-funded Center for Research on Educational Standards and Student Testing (CRESST) and their occasional junior partners, the faculty of the testing and measurement program at Boston College.
*Russell, J. H. (2007). A million little writers: Welcome to the world of celebrity academics, and the behind-the-scenes scribes who help make their fame and fortune possible. 02138 Magazine (November/December). Retrieved from http://velvelonnationalaffairs. blogspot.co.uk/2007/11/read-em-and-weep-for-harvard.html
For more on dismissive reviews, see:
Dismissive reviews: Academe's memory hole, Academic Questions
Worse than plagiarism? Firstness claims and dismissive reviews [slide show]
The dissolution of education knowledge, Educational Horizons
Think tanks, celebrity research, and the dissolution of education knowledge, Nonpartisan Education Review