Because the sheer volume of published journal papers overwhelms even the most diligent scientist, review articles play an increasingly important role in a researcher's life. Want to brush up on a new topic? Reading two or three review articles will give you a good overview of the current status of a field, including some historical perspective and a point-counterpoint of controversial ideas and emerging hypotheses. Trying to glean the same information from dozens of abstracts is simply impossible.
"Review articles are becoming more popular," says Sam Enna, professor of pharmacology, toxicology, and therapeutics at University of Kansas Medical Center in Kansas City. "To keep up with those things that are peripheral to your own specific expertise and interest, there's just no way you can go to the primary literature, wade through every single article and make any kind of judgment about the quality of the work."