Consider the following hypo:
Let’s say I accept the request from a journal to review a particular book. I know the author, I might consider him a friend, but he is hardly an intimate (I would say there is/should be an absolute ban at least on reviewing books by one’s close personal friends and one’s departmental colleagues; this hypothetical person is neither). Having read the book, however, I think it’s positively awful, with few if any redeeming qualities. If I write the review, be polite but honest and say what I mean it is likely that I will lose or offend a friend. If I blunt my remarks and write something anodyne, I will have kept the friend but I will have failed my professional duty to give the audience my full and honest opinion.
Would it then be ethical for me to tell the journal that I’ve decided not to write the review at all, and renege on my previous commitment? In other words, is it right to have a policy whereby I refuse point-blank to write a review when there is a real conflict of interest, but at the same time write reviews, but only (honest) positive/mildly critical reviews, for people who I’m on friendly terms with? Or should I simply have a policy not to write reviews at all for books by people who I’m friends with – a commitment which obviously gets harder as one’s circle of colleagues expands?
Comments by readers most welcome.