Today a colleague with whom I've collaborated at various times over the years told me he was asked to review one of my manuscripts on a topic completely separate from anything we've worked on together. He declined to review it because he felt it would be a conflict of interest given that we've collaborated on other research projects. A few months ago I wrote about a situation in which I didn't feel I could give an objective review of a proposal, and there certainly are situations in which lack of objectivity requires that one refuse to review a paper or proposal.
I must admit, though, that I have mixed feelings about this situation. I realize that one interpretation of my colleague's refusal to do the review is that he really doesn't like the work and didn't want to be involved in a negative review of a longtime colleague, but I don't believe that is the case here. I think he would give the manuscript a thorough, thoughtful, and overall positive review. And even if he had negative comments and was worried about how I'd react to them, he doesn't have to sign his review, so there would be no risk of my taking any negative comments personally.
I have seen many close and semi-close colleagues review each other's papers. In some of those cases I didn't think that was appropriate, but if we all declined to review the manuscripts and proposals of people we've worked with at one point, the reviewing system would collapse. That, or we'd only get reviews from people who disagree with us. So, where to draw the line?
The colleague who declined to review my manuscript is a very honest and sincere person, so I respect his decision. Part of me can't help feeling regret, though, that the 'old boy' network never seems to work for me.
6 months ago