This morning, with good grace and a reasoned explanation, I declined an invitation to review a paper submitted for publication. The journal the article has been sent to is a good one, serving an international and interdisciplinary readership. I published in there once, and was pleased to have done so. This particular paper (having read the abstract) looked interesting, and broadly put was in my field insofar as it dealt with matters mental health-related.
Peer review is at the heart of academic practice. I wrote about it once, with Philip Burnard, in this paper published in Nurse Education Today. To write articles for publication in scholarly journals, and/or to write grant applications for research funders, is to submit to the process. In return for having other people read what I write I am happy to play my part in the system, and to take my share of papers to review.
It is certainly true that peer review is far from perfect, as the former editor of the BMJ spells out here, and as Stephen Mumford writes here in a recent edition of Times Higher Education. But it might be the best system we’ve got, even if it could be improved. And for me, today: why the refusal to review? Simply put, the article I was invited to give an opinion on was reporting findings from a study using specialised methods in which I entirely lack expertise. Declining was the only way to go. Maybe a better match next time.