Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Policy question

I've just turned down a request to referee an article submitted to a journal because the (helpful) abstract made it clear that much of the argument was aimed at refuting something I wrote. Is that the right decision?  I was concerned I was precisely the wrong person to give the submission a fair assessment because, although I wrote about this stuff a long time ago, I wasn't sure I could give the criticisms a fair hearing. 

Does anyone else have a policy/view/thought about this?


mjaugustin said...


Well, if possible, I would like to hear more about why you think that you would not have been able to give the article a fair hearing.

James Warren said...

I suppose it is because of having something of a stake in the debate I might be inclined to think that my own position is stronger than it genuinely is and that criticisms of my own position are weaker than they really are. If I still feel committed to my published position then that predisposes me to think that any contrary position must be wrong. I also didn't relish the thought of being an anonymous assessor of a submission on those terms. Perhaps I just don't trust myself to be a disinterested seeker after the truth!

Maximus said...

I would probably have acted as you did. We should consider the matter also from the viewpoint of the paper's author, who presumably hoped and expected that the journal would not send the paper to you, of all people. On the other hand, some very selective journals actually look, as it were, for reasons for rejecting papers; so the editor's idea may have been 'If Warren says it's bad, then so much the worse for it; if Warren says it's good, then it must be really good".

mjaugustin said...

Ah, I see.

Well, those are reasons to be concerned. However, it seems to me that if you have something of a stake in the debate, you might look more closely at the position being argued for. As a result, you may (unintentionally) deliver better comments than someone who does not have a stake in the debate. This same sort of benefit may also follow from your possible commitment to a previously published position. Being a disinterested seeker, then, may not be the best possible position for a referee.

In any case, there seem to be reasons in favor of and against refereeing a paper in such a scenario. But given your awareness of possible negative consequences (and, perhaps, a willingness to attempt to avoid them), I am inclined to think it would be fine for you to referee the paper.