Consider these two examples of a certain type of reviewer:
A few years ago, I wrote a paper that added some new information and discussed new ideas about a phenomenon that was discovered by others decades ago and that has been much discussed in the literature. This phenomenon is related to the observation that purple kangaroos can leap extremely high. Before the initial discovery, it was thought that only green kangaroos could leap extremely high, but now it is well established that both types of kangaroos can do this. The early inferences, which were quite compelling, have been confirmed by observation.
In my paper, I wrote a few context-establishing sentences in the introduction, mentioning the high-leaping by purple kangaroos [citation] before moving on to set up the particular focus of the paper. One reviewer of the paper wrote in their review "What is the evidence for high-leaping purple kangaroos?" and went on to express great doubt that this ever occurred.
The reviewer was unable to get over his/her shock and disbelief about the purple kangaroo phenomenon and recommended rejection. The paper was initially rejected, but was ultimately published.
Another example: A proposal involving a recently developed but well-known (and trendy!) method -- the kind that you could only not know about if you had not read any journals and not gone to any conferences in the past 5 years -- got this review comment: "I have never heard of [that method] so I am not sure if this research is [doable/worthwhile]." The grant was awarded anyway; lucky for us the other reviewers were up on the topic and liked our ideas.
Such comments are not rare, although I thought these particular incidents were extreme. This post is not, however, a rant about how some editors and program directors must look under rocks to find certain reviewers (perhaps that is what it takes to find enough reviewers in some cases). Instead I want to muse about other aspects of the phenomenon of Hard-Core Ignorant Reviewers.
I know the answer to the obvious question:
Don't these reviewers know they are ignorant? No, they don't. Anything they don't know is not worth knowing, or doesn't exist.
Why don't these reviewers know they are ignorant? This is a rhetorical question. Nevertheless, I wonder if these people are never told that they are ignorant by anyone, or whether they have repeated evidence (director or indirect) of this but ignore this, as they do many other things. Both are likely. In the examples described above, the reviewers did not hesitate to admit their ignorance in their reviews, and they interpreted their lack of knowledge as a problem with my work. These people are very comfortable in their ignorance.
Which leads me to my real question: Can someone become like these reviewers, or is it an inherent trait that is evident early-on, or at least by mid-career?
Worrying about this would have been unimaginable to me in my academic youth, but as I get older and more established, I see more examples of situations in which I previously would have been held to a higher -- perhaps even an impossible or unfair -- standard of proof for statements I make or ideas that I propose. So perhaps encountering reviews from the hard-core ignorant serves a useful purpose of keeping me from becoming one of them. Maybe it keeps me on my toes and prevents complacency (?). This is a hypothesis. Feel free to reject it.
For me, the prospect of becoming like these militantly ignorant reviewers is one of those "Shoot me if I ever get like this" kinds of things. Or at least tell me. But would I listen?