Speaking Beyond the Science Conference

While I am on the topic of presentations (and fresh out of a very full week of siting through them), I’d like to take the chance to let the space physics community know about a relevant article on the AGU Blogosphere.

Yes, AGU has a blogosphere at which several people regularly express their opinions on a number of topics. One of them is “The Plainspoken Scientist” blog:


This is an excellent series of posts on how to engage the public about the coolness of science. One recent post is about giving a TED-style talk:



It’s a great read. I hope you enjoy it and the rest of the blog, too.

This blog hits on a very critical point for us: talking about our work to those outside our work sphere. It’s a different style of speaking that takes practice, but personally I think it is something that we should embrace. In fact, we ignore the development of this skill at our own peril. In an age of budget pressures and increasing demands to be relevant to Jane the Plumber, we need to learn how to tone the jargon and speak in terms that everyone can understand.

Don’t get me wrong: we still need the jargon or else science conferences like the Fall AGU Meeting would be far less informative to experts in the field seeking to learn about the latest new results. In addition, we still need nerdy journals in which to publish those results and make them part of the peer-reviewed, archival literature and long-term knowledge base. However, to keep our funding going, we need to expand our comfort zone beyond the lecture hall to the library foyer, the middle school classroom, and even the local brew pub stage.

Figures in Talks Versus Papers

I am coming the realization that not everyone in space physics reads my blog and adheres to all of the advice that I sometimes dispense. I could be sad about this, but then I remember that I don’t read everything that all of you write, so we’re even. :)

Seriously, though, as I attend the Fall AGU Meeting this week, I have to bring up a point I made 6 months ago that the method of conveying your study to the community is very different between publication and presentation formats. In a publication (like a paper in JGR Space Physics), the reader controls her own pace through the material and can dwell on any paragraph, equation, or figure as long as she likes. In a presentation, especially an oral talk under a strict time constraint, like we have here at the Fall AGU Meeting, the speaker controls the pace and viewers have to pay attention to absorb the information. Therefore, the style has to be very simplistic compared to the presentation format and content level in a paper.

Concept image of a lost and confused signpost against a blue cloudy sky.

When a presenter blasts through slides with multi-paneled figures, the audience does not get the speaker’s point. The author will lose the attention of many people in the room. So, please get this message: you are not doing yourself any favors by cramming lots of plots on the same slide and then going through them at a breakneck pace. In addition, when the labeling is small or faint, the linestyles are too thin, or main features are not highlighted, it is difficult for the audience to quickly grasp the significance of the content. The laser pointer doesn’t actually help much, either, because it is often too bright to see the content exactly where it is focused and whipping it around blinding and confusing. In addition, the inclusion of multiple panels usually just distracts the viewers from keeping their attention on what you are talking about at that moment. Crowded, complicated figures in a talk are not beneficial and are actually detrimental to getting the message across to the audience.

Instead, please keep it simple. Put only one panel on the screen at a time, fill the whole screen with it, and make the labels as big as possible. Add circles, arrows, and annotations to keep eyes on what you are currently talking about. When it is time to talk about another panel, start fresh on a new slide. Maybe you can have two panels on the same slide, but more than that and you are risking obfuscation. Please, keep it clear and easy.

That is, it is often not a good choice to use the exact same figures in both the paper and the talk on some topic. I encourage you to remake everything for the presentation so that it can be understood at the cadence of a fast-paced science talk. For the paper, feel free to cram it in. In fact, it is cheaper: with the current publication fee system of one figure equaling one Publication Unit, it is useful to create multi-paneled figures to save money. The readers can stare at it as long as they wish, so as long as the font is readable, it’s fine to be complicated. In an oral presentation, however, please show them one at a time.

A New Look for Eos

In case you haven’t noticed the writing on your Fall AGU badge lanyard (or the emails from AGU), Eos, the weekly newspaper of the American Geophysical Union, has just undergone a complete revamp of its content presentation and dissemination to the world. There are two big changes: the online version is enhanced and much better than it used to be, and the print version will now be in magazine format.

First off: the online content it is now at Eos.org. AGU has fully embraced the online distribution of news and information to the scientific community. I, for one, really like the new format and enhanced online interactivity of the content. Up until now, the only Eos content online were PDFs of the “print” newspaper, either as a whole issue or piecewise as individual articles. These PDFs however, looked exactly like the print version and were not dynamically hyperlinked or easily viewed on mobile devices. The content is all in “blog” format allowing comments and discussion for each article. They have also converted all content back a few months into the new format, so there is already quite a large body of news, opinion, blog posts, etc available for readers. In short, the new Eos.org website is a “real” online news site, and I hope that you all bookmark it and sign up for content alerts from it. Plus, it is completely free and open to the world, so please feel free to share its content however you see fit.

Secondly: the weekly newspaper is ending, and in early 2015, AGU is switching to a semi-monthly (1st and 15th) magazine format for the print version of Eos. This will also be available in a “tablet-friendly format” (i.e., scalable content and graphics). When you renew your AGU membership, you will be asked if you would like the print version of Eos mailed to you or if you prefer to just receive the digital version.

Finally, for those on Twitter, there is a new feed to be aware of: @AGU_Eos, which will tweet new content at the Eos.org website.

While this new website for Eos is fully launched and ready for use, AGU knows that it is the first version of this new platform for this publication. That is, they are very willing to hear your feedback on how it is working (positive feedback is always welcome!) and will seriously consider any suggestions for improvement. So, please look at it with a discerning eye and provide comments back to AGU; I am sure they will appreciate your assessment and input of the site.

Question to Consider at the AGU Meeting

If you see me at the Fall AGU Meeting, then please feel free to come up and say hello. Even if I don’t know you, then please be bold and introduce yourself. I am looking forward to meeting as many authors and potential authors of JGR Space Physics papers as possible this week.


If you are at a loss for a conversation topic, then please consider this: should JGR Space Physics send out emails to referees about the fate of the manuscripts they review? There are pros and cons to this and I want to poll the community about whether it is a good idea.

One of the arguments for sending out such emails is that it is a courtesy to the referee. You have invested time in serving the space physics community by reading a manuscript and offering your objective assessment and comments/suggestions for improving the paper. Therefore, it is only fair to be told about the eventual editorial decision regarding this manuscript.

A negative aspect of receiving such emails is that it might annoy referees. It would be one more email from JGR Space Physics in your inbox and I don’t want to spam you with extraneous tidbits of information. Another annoyance would be learning that the editor didn’t follow your advice and made a different decision than what you recommended. This could be in either direction; perhaps you liked it and the editor rejected it, or perhaps you disliked it and the editor accepted it. So, the question should be asked…would you want to know the fate of papers you have reviewed?

Another negative would be that it would be one more thing for the AGU publications staff to do with each manuscript. While these would be form letters, it would probably require a human to click the button and initiate the emails going out, as the AGU staff do with all of the request emails you receive regarding manuscripts in GEMS. They click a lot of buttons sending out emails to the community! This would be another set of emails they would have to manage and could, however minor, delay the processing and flow in GEMS due to this added workload.

I am told that JGR Atmospheres started sending out these emails earlier this year. They send out a very short form letter that simply thanks the referee for their time and effort reviewing the paper and informs the person of the decision regarding the manuscript. There is no explanation about how that decision was reached, how many referees were involved, etc. Would you find that useful, or annoying?

Think about it, and if you see me this week, then please feel free to use this topic as a conversation starter. Alternatively, please feel free to bring up whatever topic you like.

EASI Search Tool Has Moved

In case you had it bookmarked, the AGU’s Earth and Space Index (EASI) search tool has moved to a new web location:



This is part of the ongoing transition of publication-oriented web content from the AGU site over to Wiley. The page still looks exactly the same and, as far as I can tell, works exactly the same way.

I noticed the change of address right away because I use this search tool regularly to help identify potential reviewers for papers. While I use other broader-ranging sites like ADS or ISI or Google Scholar, I like this search tool because it is AGU specific. I know that when I find a reference in the EASI database, it is (a) a paper rather than a presentation or non-reviewed conference proceeding and (b) published in an AGU journal. This is very helpful for me, as an editor of an AGU journal, to find researchers that have recently published in an AGU journal on a similar topic. I can tailor the search to be as complicated as I feel like making it and it has proven to be extremely valuable to me in my role as editor of JGR Space Physics. The space physics community is fantastic at affirmatively responding to requests to review papers, and I am amazed and thrilled to be part of such a field where people unselfishly agree to assess each other’s work. That said, if I can hone the search to those that might be even more willing to say yes to a review request for JGR Space Physics (because they have recently published on that topic with AGU), then I’ll take any advantage that I can get. So, EASI has been invaluable to me as an editor.

I would like to note that there are nice search tools within GEMS that I also use. In fact, AGU has just completed an upgrade to GEMS with even more editorial tools for helping us find potential referees. These are parts of GEMS to which regular authors and reviewers do not have access, but they allow me to search for people and see that person’s availability and expertise. The new features make it closer to the EASI search tool in functionality, but not quite, so I still go to the EASI website for those tough papers that require a little extra time to identify potential reviewers. Therefore, I was a bit concerned when my link to EASI stopped working. I soon found the new location, though.

I’d also like to say that AGU staff has been very attentive to listening to the editors about possible improvements to GEMS. They are responsive to our suggestions and quickly address any questions that we have. I am very impressed with the Publications crew at AGU HQ and greatly enjoy working with them. If you in the space research community have suggestions for improvements to GEMS, please pass them on, either through a journal editor or directly to AGU staff.

JGR Space Physics Mugs

I love handmade pottery. I especially like funky mugs, and I have about a dozen in my office. I also get paid to be your Editor in Chief for JGR Space Physics, and so I thought I would share my love of crafted mugs with the space physics community.

Behold, the inaugural “JGR Blue” mug:

JGR mug with copyright

I commissioned a local potter, Autumn Aslakson (silent “s” near the beginning, so it is pronounced Alexson), to make the mugs. They were made at The Potters Guild of Ann Arbor, Michigan:


and Autumn’s other work can be seen here:



She had to work hard to get the glaze correct for the logo, but I think they turned out very nicely.

I felt the need for a hand-crafted JGR mug and, well, it would be a travesty to have just one mug specially made. Plus, I think they make great gifts for all of those that make JGR Space Physics such an incredible journal. Initially, I am sending them to AGU HQ publications staff, the other Editors, and the big crew of Associate Editors.  For those of you in this recipient list: the first wave is going out tomorrow. We’ll see how else I feel like distributing them; perhaps to top authors or outstanding referees, I don’t know. With my plan to spread them across the globe, I will probably be back to order more from her in the future.

As a final, tangential, but related request: please support your local artisans this holiday shopping season!

Policy Change Regarding arXiv

I don’t usually (ever?) make two posts in a single day, but this breaking news deserves immediate dissemination to the space physics community. The AGU Council Leadership Team has approved a revision of the publication policy to allow preprint postings on arXiv! Please read the full policy statement here:


The revision is in the third paragraph, which now reads as follows:

“Previously published explicitly does not include oral or poster presentations, meeting abstracts or student theses/dissertations. AGU does allow posting of preprints and accepted papers in not-for-profit preprint servers that are designed to facilitate community engagement and discovery across the sciences.  Any other online publication with a service that provides archiving with citation protocols and public retrieval capabilities constitutes prior publication.”

By “not-for-profit preprint servers” they specifically mean arxiv.org and subservers related to it, like /astro-ph and /space-ph.

This change is, I think, being implemented because of feedback from the space physics community, in particular solar physicists. The message came through loud and clear that arXiv is a useful tool for sharing pre-publication science results, much like a conference but in written form, but that it is clearly understood by its users that it is not a replacement for publication in an archival, peer-reviewed journal. In fact, I am told that regular arXiv users know that if a preprint record is not eventually updated with a link to a final version in an archival journal, then the results should be treated with suspicion. Therefore, we should trust the community to use arXiv only as a preprint exchange of ideas and to keep sending manuscripts to peer-reviewed journals.

I especially like that it is open to upload at any time relative to submission/acceptance. I think this is critical because papers can be rejected from one journal and then resubmitted to another. There was discussion of allowing upload to arXiv only after submission (but still before acceptance). Uploading to arXiv at this point would be risky, then, if there is some chance that the initial journal could reject it. Subsequent “initial submissions” to a new journal would be after the arXiv upload. We have a hierarchy of AGU journals, where authors will first submit to GRL, then if rejected, modify it and submit it to JGR or Radio Science, and if rejected again, then they can now submit it to Earth and Space Science. The new policy allows upload to arXiv prior to initial submission because the submission might not actually be the first journal submission for that manuscript.

With a lot of input from you, the AGU Publications Committee heard the case for and against allowing preprints at arXiv and voted for full openness at this and similar not-for-profit, non-DOI-issuing sites. This was passed up the committee chain to the AGU Council, who approved it late last week. I would like to extend a special thank you to Brooks Hanson for shepherding this policy change request through the committee tree; it couldn’t have happened without his support. I would also like to thank all of you that responded to the calls for input on this subject, emailed me directly, or talked with me in person. The overwhelmingly positive feedback on arXiv usage made a significant difference in persuading people to vote for this change.

So, the ban is lifted! Please feel free to make full use of arXiv and submit preprints that have been uploaded to that site to JGR Space Physics.

Keeping Up With Special Collection Submissions

We have several open or just closing calls for papers for special collections right now. You can see the full list in the Call for Papers link in the right-hand column at the JGR-Space Physics website. There are actually 6 on the list right now. Some are recently closed, like the one on kappa distributions, which is turning into an excellent collection spanning across all realms of space physics. Then there is the Van Allen Probes prime mission collection, for which the deadline just went by this last weekend but it is still open at the GEMS website for a short bit longer. There were a lot of submissions this past week because of this deadline! Oh my goodness! There is another collection on the Cluster close separation campaigns that has a rapidly approaching deadline at the end of this week. I expect an influx of manuscripts for that in the days ahead. After that, we have a collection on long-term changes in the stratosphere, mesosphere, thermosphere, and ionosphere, joint with JGR-Atmospheres, due at the end of the year, another on low-frequency waves in space plasmas due by the end of January, and a final open call right now on pulsating aurora that will be open through March. I look forward to seeing papers for these special collections come through the system.

This last week was a particularly heavy week for us with the Van Allen Probes special collection deadline. It was so much that it interrupted my own paper writing and I did not get a manuscript submitted to it by last Friday. I’ll have it ready soon and I still plan to submit it.

I got a bit behind this weekend because of computer issues. I bought a new iMac for my wife and it worked fine for the first few days. Then I powered it down to move it to a different location in the house, and upon restarting it, the computer refused to connect to the internet. It could see the Wifi network and, through the terminal prompt, could remotely connect to a laptop in the house, but could not see anything beyond that. Saturday and especially Sunday became a nightmarish struggle to think of new ways to test the problem and try to fix it. We searched for answers online and tried a number of different proposed fixes and nothing was working. Finally, late last night, we came across a terminal-prompt commanding sequence to “unload” and then “load” again this particular “plist” file buried in a system library. And it worked! Restarting the machine causes it to forget how to connect but now we have a two-line solution. I gave a big sigh of relief but also an angry growl at Apple. Their new operating system, Yosemite (Mac OS 10.10), is apparently not quite ready for full usage. The unload/load commands are not something we would have ever thought to do, and we are very grateful that we had another computer in the house to surf for this solution. I wasted a lot of time this weekend trying to get this working. Anyone else have problems with Yosemite?

Anyway, thank you for all of your submissions over the last week. There has been a steady uptick of new submissions in the last few months and, while I have not analyzed it thoroughly to directly link this to the calls, I am glad that the community is responding to our special collection calls for papers. Keep them coming!

Figure File Transfers in GEMS

There is a cool new feature in the GEM manuscript submission system of which I think people should be made aware. A quote from the page: “You are now able to transfer files from the previous version of your manuscript. If you have already uploaded individual files in publication-ready formats, you may bring them over to the revised submission.”

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When authors are submitting a revised version of a manuscript, the “Upload Files” tab at the GEMS submission site will now have a table of files available for transfer from the previous version of the same paper. This list will include essentially everything except the manuscript text and responses to reviewers. The big things it will include are the figure files and the auxiliary material files. If the figure files are not being modified in the new version of your manuscript, then this new feature should save you time in uploading the revision.

Even if the figures are being renumbered, you can still transfer those that did not change. For instance, if you are inserting a new “Figure 1″ into the methodology section of your paper, but otherwise keeping all of the other figures the same, then you will only need to upload that new figure and not all of the others. The others can be transferred from the earlier version and simply renumbered/relabeled in the GEMS system.

I am rather excited about this new feature. Considering that I just had a paper go through the system with 28 auxiliary files, none of which changed from initial submission to final acceptance, this would have been highly convenient for me to simply click the button and propagate the original upload from version to subsequent version. I hope that you find it a useful new tool when submitting revised manuscripts to AGU journals.

I say “to AGU journals” because this new feature has been installed across all of the GEMS submission sites. So, whether you are submitting to JGR Space Physics, JGR Planets, GRL, Space Weather, Reviews of Geophysics, Radio Science, or Earth and Space Science (I think I covered all of the AGU titles in which space papers appear), you have this option to transfer unchanged figure files from one version to the next.

I’d also like to point out that this feature is being added, at least in part, because of the space physics community’s conversational engagement with me about improving AGU journals. This feature in GEMS was requested by space physicists and I passed it on to AGU HQ. In their latest round of GEMS upgrades, they put it in. Now, perhaps AGU received many such requests, or perhaps they were already thinking of doing this. I have no idea if we can take full credit for its implementation, but I think that we can take a little bit. Thank you very much for your input! I appreciate it, I pass it on, and it has an effect. Keep it coming!

Women In Science

My colleague, Dana Hurley, wrote an Eos forum article, “Women Count,” published last week, addressing the issue of the underrepresentation of female scientists on planetary mission teams. This is an important reminder of a rather sad state of affairs in space and planetary science: a dearth of women in leadership positions. I highly encourage you to read it.

A main point of the article is that this imbalance is probably not overt sexism, but rather a subconscious instinct to surround ourselves with those very similar to ourselves. At the formation of a team for an upcoming mission, the mission PI chooses instrument PIs that he knows, who in turn form a small science team for that specific instrument. Because the field was historically dominated by men in the senior positions, this system of team formation leads to selection of more men on the instrument teams, which aggregate into a mission team that is seriously out of balance with the gender proportion of the community. This imbalance applies far beyond the specific example of planetary mission teams analyzed in the article. This is true across many leadership positions across a number of scientific communities.

Then, of course, there is the bigger issue of recruiting and retaining women in science, let alone being in a leadership position. The article cites a number of 27% for the female population of the American Astronomical Society’s Division of Planetary Science. AGU’s membership is about the same: according to the 2012 AGU Annual Report, it was 65% male, 22% female, and 13% not reporting (so, ~25% of those reporting were female). We shouldn’t be satisfied with these numbers that are so out of line with the general population.

The article ends with a call to action: count. Pay attention to the number of women “on the team” or “in the room.” Even more importantly, ask the leaders about how the team is being formulated, and pose the question: “Are there candidates for this team who are female/early career/international/minority?” We should all, men and women alike, feel empowered to ask this question and offer suggestions for improving team diversity.

Furthermore, we should expand our usual definition of “team” and “room” here to include any group or cohort, be it a research project investigator team, an advisory committee, a special session organizing crew, a proposal review panel, or a dinner group at a conference. It would be great to be blind to gender in our professional lives, but until we have equity, it is important to follow Dr. Hurley’s advice and take it into account.