On a note related to the previous post, Lance Fortnow has a recent post (“Editors Needed”, Nov 17, 2003) suggesting ways in which researchers can help make the best ideas in a research field more prominent.
One idea Lance suggests is for researchers to take time out to write review papers.
I’d like to add that not only is this a very helpful thing to do, sometimes it’s critical to the survival of a field.
I suspect there’s many once-thriving subdisciplines of science essentially lost to humanity because no well-written comprehensive review distilling the major ideas of the field was ever written.
In my own field, there’s an example where this could conceivably happen: the so-called “theory of entanglement”. This topic was very fashionable from 1996-2001 or so, with hundreds of papers, but lately interest seems to have cooled. Some reviews of parts of the field have been written, but no comprehensive, well-thought out review exists that I know of. I wonder what will survive in ten years time?