First, the tricky issue of phrasing. In the past, I was known, perhaps even disliked for my blunt and critical opinions on technical matters. It's what I personally still expect others to do with me, and consequently, what I delivered to others. Not personal, just technical. But obviously, the whole fist-to-the-face criticism can only take you so far. Consider a paper that isn't marvellous. Consider a paper that has several referrable, crucial holes in it's arguments. What is the nice way to communicate this to the author in a public forum without using the verbal equivalent of a kick in the nuts? There can be no nice reply (after brief consideration, "you sux. k thx, bye" was discarded from the shortlist). For all I know, this guy could well be just like me, a mere fledgling in the academic world. Do I want to risk mortally wounding this stranger's sense of self worth by the blunt rejection that I feel the paper deserves? Dang it all.
Then take the even more farcical situation of another paper. I made the serious, potentially fatal error of Googling the author before I actually finished reading the paper. Unintentionally, because I was corroborating his references, like a good lil reviewer tyke. As it turns out, the man had earned the right to be called Doctor from about the time I was learning my ABCs. Now, I'm all for the young blood standing upto the old farts and all that (conveniently ignoring how close I am to being one of those said old farts in certain company), but christ. Gimme a break. I'm intimidated.
Do I really want to mess up and potentially look like an idjit ?
Concentrate on technical merits, not personalities. That's the mantra that I chant to myself (I've even delegated a separate voice in my head for that job). But my problem is, it's really hard to not think about personalities in considering how to phrase responses. I've ignored that too many times in the past to easily be able to push it aside now. Hmm, it becomes easier if I just view it as a management thing or a teamlead thing rather than a more personal academic review. Sometimes, you just have to wield the axe. Doesn't mean you like it or get used to it, but it's necessary.
Jay-sus, why me ? 4 down, another 3 papers to go. Seems like the view of the Everest summit from the foothills.