Declining to review

The start of me putting online the huge amount of content I generate on email and in portals. I need a place to paste it, to then use it again. And release it.

The first half of the writing below is from a reply I made when declining doing a review of a journal article on alcohol and drug use among young Aboriginal people submitted to an international journal. There’s no option to just decline to review; the decline has to have a reason added in. Usually I’d just write a few words but this time thought to add the multiple and compounding reasons why – or, why not. Here goes…

Dear blah blah, I decline your review for several reasons, some of which relate to my scope of work, and some to yours.

I am currently behind on my workload. I can’t take on a new task such as reviewing without finishing exiting tasks I’ve already committed to first.

Our team is understaffed with no new funds identified yet for hiring additional staff to meet staff targets.

From your invitation to review, it is not clear if the first author of the paper is an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander person. The invitation does not include people’s cultural identifiers. I know journals generally haven’t made processes for that yet. However, this is one essential step in ascertaining and ensuring alignment in worldviews between what is being written about why, and by who.

It is hard to know positionality of the researchers in relation to the population or to the data, or the extent to which content will be drawing on our strengths as Indigenous people.

It is often an awful experience engage with content that non-Indigenous people have written about us, without us being involved as leaders in the writing. I’ve reviewed countless articles and therefore been over-exposed to stereotyping, racist remarks, the under-use of Indigenous knowledges and ignorance about protocols, ethics, Elders and organisations that contribute to the topic at hand.

In the context of being understaffed with a heavy workload, I couldn’t do the searches on the author names to inquire, and to check with their other work to see what their tone is and experience is when writing about Indigenous people.

Its do factor exposure to potential misalignment in positionality and tone into my decisions about reviewing because in the past. Reviewing and giving constructive feedback on making improvements takes a lot of concentration, solid rationale, the sharing of resources and insights, and exposure to negativity and poor scholarship. Then, the risk that authors decline to make changes required, with their counter-arguments about why, which can convey further ignorance and arrogance.

In my experience abstracts can be well written but not the article body, or the discussion, or the conclusions drawn. Argument development which privileges ‘interventions needed’ and ‘more research’ rather than processes for decolonisation is agonising – demonstrating lack of criticality or critical self-reflection, or quality partnerships with Indigenous leaders. These do stem back to positionality and experience of authors. Again, without cultural identifiers of authors it is especially difficult to understand what to expect.

One fix is cultural identifiers, and another is a reflective statement from authors explaining the extent of engagement with Indigenous knowledge systems, ethics guidelines and local cultural protocols – if they are going to talk about Indigenous people. Current ethics guidelines expect this anyway, and so it comes back to Editors to desk reject articles that do not demonstrate this, rather than impress unethical scholarship onto Indigenous people through invitations to review.

It’s as if non-Indigenous Editors want Indigenous people to accept or reject articles that include Indigenous people as authors, because they as non-Indigenous people are worried about doing this. Well, I know they think this – a few have told me.

Knowledge and power – all still wrapped up in that.


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