To the detriment of promoting excellence in their disciplines:
The fetishisation of theory does have practical payoffs for editors. For one Swedish academic, Pär J. Ågerfalk, the charge of “insufficient theoretical contribution” can be employed as a neat rhetorical brush-off for submissions that editors do not like the look of but “cannot quite put their finger on why”. Judging manuscripts against this vague gold standard renders editorial verdicts simultaneously opaque and irrefutable – and ever more open to professional backscratching.
I remember an article in Times Higher Education back in 2005 that recounted what a journal editor said to someone he had asked to review a submission by a leading light in the field, after being informed that this someone was a close friend of the author. “We both know we are going to publish it anyway. This is really just a formal exercise, so could you just go through the motions?” The luminary’s reaction? “The editor had kind of given the game away. Now I know I can send him any old rubbish and get it in.”Michael Marinetto, “Why are journals so obsessed by theory?” at Times Higher Education
That might explain a lot of the stale Darwinism we see in journals. “Any old rubbish.”