Travel Grants From AGU

As many of you prepare abstracts for the 2015 AGU Fall Meeting, the deadline for which is August 5, I’d like to bring to your attention the various travel grants available from AGU to increase participation at this meeting. The link is here. Here’s a quick overview of what’s available:

  • General Student Travel Grant: all students may apply, but they take into account financial need
  • Lloyd V. Berkner Travel Fellowship: for early career scientists under 35 who are citizens of “low-income” countries
  • David E. Lumley Young Scientist Scholarship: for high school and undergraduate students studying energy and environmental science
  • David S. Miller Young Scientist Scholarship: for undergraduate or graduate students in geo-environmental science or engineering
  • Edmond M. Dewan Young Scientist Scholarship: for graduate students studying topics related to atmospheric sciences and space physics

Yes, that last one is specifically designated for our field. Applications are open and the deadline for submission is August 12. Recipients will be informed September 2.

Not on that page but at the main AGU list of funds is the Carl ‘Max’ Hammond Student Travel Endowment Fund, which specifically funds a space physics student attending an AGU meeting for the first time. Perhaps this is made available through the general travel grant application.

There are also reduced registration fees for citizens from lower-incoming countries, anyone at grad student education level or below, high school teachers, and retirees.

How does AGU afford to offer these discounts and travel support packages? A big part of this funding is from gift giving to AGU. The full range of giving options are described here. If you want AGU to have extra funding to make additional grants and waivers available, then now is the time to give in order to influence the number of awards given by that September 2 announcement date.

Extra giving is actually a minor part of AGU’s overall budget, around 1% of annual income. However, the total budget includes huge costs like the publication and meetings line items, and it turns out that voluntary giving is a significant part of the funding for these grants. Donating to the “annual” funds is an immediate pass-through to the award allocations for that year, while donations to the “endowment” funds are invested and provide support to people over many years.

If eligible, then please consider applying to these travel support opportunities.

If able, then please consider donating to travel support opportunities.

New Info in Reviews

If you have received a manuscript decision letter in the last month or so, then perhaps you have noticed the small augmentation in the information conveyed to you in this email. Specifically, along with the “formal review for authors” text or attachment, we are now including in the answers to the questions that we ask of the reviewers. A few months ago, AGU revised the review submission form to include a few specific questions for the referee to answer about the manuscript. I wrote about them here. The answers must be selected from a pull-down menu, each with 3 to 5 choices. These are supposed to force the referee to think about these aspects of the paper and be a starting place for the details in the report.

AGU is now including the answers to these questions in the decision letters, including for JGR Space Physics. Here is an example of what it will look like in the email:


After this would be the “normal” review text or attachment with which you are familiar.

Yes, that very first answer being revealed is the recommendation of the reviewer. Now you can see when I follow, or don’t, the reviewer’s suggestion.

Since we are asking referees to answer these questions and they are part of our decision-making process, it is appropriate for us to share it with the authors so that they can take this information into account. I guess there could be instances where I delete it but I really can’t foresee the circumstances when I might need to do that. These answers are part of the formal review process and, in general, should be shared with the authors.

So, authors, please look through these Q&A sections of the report and address these items as well as the points in the formal review.

Reviewers: please take note that these answers will be shared with the authors, and try to mention them in your formal review.

More About the 2014 JCR

I’ve looked at the 2014 Journal Citation Report for JGR and wanted to give you a little more information and interpretation. As stated in my last post, the 2-year Journal Impact Factor for JGR for 2014 was 3.4, the same as it was in 2013. The 5-year JIF was also the same, at 3.7.

Both the denominator (number of papers in 2012 and 2013) and the numerator (citations to those papers in 2014) went up by ~5%. The change was about 1% for the 5-year JIF. Overall, JGR published ~280 more papers in 2013 than in 2011, accounting for this rise.

There are lots of other journal metrics in the Journal Citation Report. Here are a few of them:

  • Total cites: went up by ~6% to an amazing 188,000. While Science and Nature get over half a million, this value for JGR is huge for a discipline-specific journal.
  • Self cites: steady at 20% of the total citations to JGR papers, indicative of a journal that is dominant in its field.
  • Immediacy index: dropped ever so slightly to 0.64. Not bad. This is 2014 citations of 2014 papers, so it is highly skewed by early-in-the-year publications.
  • Cited half-life: as in previous years, this is still over 10 years, meaning that JGR papers receive more than half of their eventual total citations a decade after publication.
  • Citing half-life: also as in previous years, it is just under 10 years, this time at 9.3. This is a measure of the “age” of the references within JGR
  • References per paper: holding steady at 55.
  • Eigenfactor score: dropped a bit to 0.32. Remember that this is like the 5-year JIF with the numerator weighted by the strength of the citing journal and with self-cites removed. Most journals are below 0.5.
  • Article Influence Score: also dropped a bit to 1.44. This number calibrates the eigenfactor by the number of papers in the discipline, with values above unity being very good.

So, in summary, I’d say that JGR is doing quite well.

JGR’s 2014 Impact Factor

The 2014 Impact Factors have been released by Thomson-Reuters, and the Journal of Geophysical Research number is 3.4. Yes, to two significant digits, it is exactly the same as last year’s Impact Factor. I hesitate to report anything more than 2 digits, because I don’t feel like the Impact Factor should be reported and used to that fine-scale precision.

Remember how the Impact Factor is calculated, being essentially the average citation in year 2014 of papers published in 2013 and 2012. Thomson-Reuters also calculates a 5-year Impact Factor, as well as some other measures of journal significance, and the 2014 5-year Impact Factor for JGR is 3.7, again identical to the 2013 value to two significant digits.

The flatness of these values reminds of the recruiting poster I received from Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology back in high school:


Yeah, RHIT is in a “zero slope” part of the country. By the way, for the rest of you RHIT alums out there, note that you can purchase this poster through the Rose-Hulman bookstore.

Okay, back to Impact Factor: another point to make about it is that this is still a value for all sections of JGR combined. Each section has its own journal identifier now, though, so, either in 2015 or 2016, the sections will be split and receive individual values. For now, however, all sections are lumped together in a single calculation.

Compared to last year’s 8% increase in Impact Factor, this 0% increase is a bit disappointing. On the other hand, at least it didn’t go down. I’ll download the Journal Citation Report and take a closer look at the numbers behind this index to see if there is something to be learned.

Communicating Science To Scientists

If you haven’t discovered it yet, AGU hosts a bunch of blogs at the AGU Blogosphere.   There are some that are written a specific author and others that are by “AGU Staff and collaborators.” There is one in particular that I would like to point out to you, The Plainspoken Scientist. This blog has regular posts on how to talk to non-scientists and, in particular, the media.

As I sit here at the GEM Workshop in Snowmass Colorado, listening to talks, I am reminded of one recent post on this blog of special relevance to my present situation. It’s the May 28 post by Ilissa Ocko, entitled, “Scientists Should Speak Simply To Other Scientists, Too”. It makes the point that scientists at science conferences should be sure to keep it simple in their presentations. Her three main reasons:

  • The audience is usually hearing the result for the first time
  • The audience only has the short presentation interval to absorb the result
  • The audience is often distracted

I completely agree. She even drew a nice cartoon to go with that last bullet item.


I love this cartoon. Thanks Ilissa!

How does this relate to authors and readers of JGR Space Physics? It reminds me of a mantra that I pass on to all of my students: papers are completely different than presentations. Yes, they contain largely the same information, but in a paper, the reader is in control of the pace of consumption. The reader can take as long as necessary with each section, plot, or nuance of the result. In a presentation, the presenter is in control of the flow of information, which means that the pace cannot be too fast and the slides cannot be too busy. Concepts should be brought out one at a time in a clear format with large graphics and minimal text. I see too many presenters show the same figures that appear in their papers, and this is actually not a good practice. A stack of 10 line plots is fine in a paper, where the reader can spend as much time as needed to understand each panel. In a talk, it’s awful. One, maybe two, plots on a slide is about all you want, otherwise the audience is looking at something else on the screen rather than what the speaker is focusing on at that moment.

I have made this point before, every six months or so, but I am making it again. Please, take Dr. Ocko’s advice, and simplify your presentations. Save the complicated plots and descriptions for the paper or the one-on-one conversation.

Finally, to come full circle, check out the AGU blogosphere. There are lots of great posts there.

Scientific Publishing in The NY Times

Yesterday, The New York Times had two articles on scientific publishing. The first, titled, “Beyond Publish or Perish, Scientific Papers Look to Make Splash” actually made the cover page! The second, “What Happens When Scientists Cheat,” was a short “left-hand column” editorial. Both deserve a comment here.

The article is a bit of bash on Science for being quick in their review process and intent on “bringing more visibility to the work it publishes.” I don’t actually see a problem with either the speed of Science‘s reviewing and decisions or the goal of visibility. Science is published by AAAS, an organization focused on raising awareness about science among the general public. For JGR Space Physics, I am not swayed by pretty pictures and neither, I think, are the other editors or the vast majority of the reviewers. It’s okay to include it, but it doesn’t really help publication. However, I’ll gladly take your “splash” for potential cover artwork for the issue in which your paper appears. So, please be thinking about this. We’re getting some great submissions.

The article concludes with an example of a coding error that wasn’t caught by either the authors or the reviewers prior to publication in Science. I agree with the research article’s author: I don’t think peer review would have caught the error. Unless, of course, the journal enforces open code as part of its Data Availability Policy. It is examples like this that justify AGU’s inclusion of code in its Open Data Policy. At JGR Space Physics, code availability is optional but I strongly encourage it. Code output, however, is “numerical data,” and must be made available to readers.


The editorial is an additional testament to the correctness of AGU’s Open Data Policy. It laments the perceived rise of cheating in scientific papers but goes on to say that cheating by authors cannot be caught by peer reviewers when the data behind the study is not open and available. The main recommendation at the end of the editorial is exactly what AGU is doing (and, it should be noted, what AAAS-Science already does, also).

An interesting side point: the front-page article was continued on a page within the Business section (hmm?!) and under a different title, “Beyond Publish or Perish, Journals Seek Big Splash.” The change from “papers” to “journals” is significant because it completely shifts the focus from the research paper authors to the editors and publishers of the paper. To be fair, both points were addressed in the article. Online, it has yet another title, “Academics Seek Big Splash,” a title that is devoid of a reference to publishing. Finally, the editorial also had a different online title, simply “Scientists Who Cheat,” which isn’t an accurate description of the content, in my opinion. Neither title is good for space physics, though, because they both closely link the words “scientists” and “cheat.” Ugh.

Parentheses Dos and Don’ts

A reader of this blog suggested this Eos Forum article as a possible blog post. The clever title of the piece really says it all: “Parentheses Are (Are Not) for References and Clarification (Saving Space).” It’s a short piece; I highly recommend taking the two minutes to click the link and read it. Yes, it’s five years old but, very alas, it is still as relevant today as it was then, at least in our field.

The basic point is this: parentheses should not be used to point out the opposite case, thus avoiding an additional phrase or sentence. Like this: “Dayside (nightside) values are indicated in red (blue).” The example in the Eos article is superb, with six “parenthetical opposite comments” in a single sentence. Space physicists do this quite a bit, and seeing the article author’s departmental affiliation, “Environmental Sciences,” I think it is ubiquitous across AGU disciplines.

I did a quick search about parentheses usage and, indeed, the Eos article author, Dr. Alan Robock of Rutgers University, is absolutely correct. I could not find any usage definition for parentheses that indicated it is acceptable for opposite meanings to be put in parentheses to save the writing of a follow-on sentence or phrase. The most common usage is to set apart an explanatory side comment, something that the author wants to de-emphasize because it doesn’t really fit the normal flow of the sentence. They are also used for citation call outs by some journals, although AGU uses brackets for this.

There are some that argue parenthetical side comments should be avoided altogether because if the text doesn’t normally fit well in the sentence, it shouldn’t be there at all. That is, the reader will still pass their eyes over the parenthetical text and be distracted by the less-than-fully relevant material embedded in the sentence. I completely agree with this for long parenthetical comments, those are very distracting. I am fine with short ones that provide some quick clarification, but even these could be avoided with a little bit of work rearranging the sentence. I am consciously avoiding parenthetical text in this blog post, actively revising sentences, often with commas, to embed the sidebar text naturally within each sentence. I feel like a Parentheses Ninja.


            I must admit that this was not on my grammatical radar screen and that I am probably guilty of including parenthetical opposite comments in papers. I am not going to embarrass myself and go through all of my published papers looking for this incorrect parentheses usage; I am pretty sure that I will find several instances of it. It has been brought to my attention, though, and now I will be on the lookout for it, as should all of you.

So, to JGR Space Physics authors: please avoid this incorrect usage of parentheses. Take the time to write out an additional phrase or second sentence to explain the opposite case rather than embed it within multiple parentheses. It is not only incorrect English usage but also confuses your readers, making them work harder to understand your study.

In addition, to JGR Space Physics reviewers: please feel empowered to request that this incorrect parentheses usage be changed. You will be doing all of us a favor because it will make the paper better.

Best-Serving The Readers

In the same New York Times op-ed article that I cited last time, Margaret Sullivan boils her analysis of reviewer closeness down to this: “How is the reader best served?” Again, it’s a good question to ask with respect to JGR Space Physics.

One of my recent posts gave the stats on just how many reviewers the journal uses in a typical year. It’s a lot! While a few referees reveal their identity during the review process or click the button to be acknowledged in the printed article, most of these reviewers remain anonymous to the author and the rest of the community. I think that there is a good discussion to have about whether anonymity “best serves” the community. Please feel free to comment on this topic below but I will not really address it in this post.

I think that readers are best served by reviewers objectively, thoughtfully, and courteously identifying the good elements of the paper, pointing out the areas that need to be improved, and offering suggestions for how the paper can achieve a recommendation for publication. There are six phrases in that sentence that I would like to highlight:

  • Objectively: make a strong effort to remove personal bias, positive or negative, towards the topic, methodology, or authors in evaluating the study
  • Thoughtfully: we call on you for your expertise, so please be thorough in your analysis of the paper, going into detail when necessary
  • Courteously: please keep all reviews at a professional and respectful level of discourse, being considerate of how the authors will interpret your comments, and never including ad hominem attacks
  • Identifying the good: an often-forgotten part of the review process, including comments on the strong aspects of the paper will help the editor weigh your review relative to others received for this paper
  • Pointing out improvement: this is what we seem to be best at and what most reviews focus on, which is fine with me as long as the other elements are kept in mind as well
  • Offering suggestions: this is very important as it provides a clear target for the authors to know the “bar” for recommendation towards publication


            JGR Space Physics is different from books in that, being an obscure technical journal, the journal readership is, for the most part, the journal author pool as well. I think that helps ensure good reviews. We want only high-quality studies to be published in the journal, so we are tough on each other, but reviewers also know that someday they will be submitting papers, so we strive for civility in our correspondence.

Reviewers: How close is too close?

The New York Times had an op-ed piece from Margaret Sullivan, the NYT Public Editor, “For Reviewers, How Close Is Too Close?”  The title caught my attention. Alas, she was not talking about scientific peer reviewing, but rather book reviews. Still, it is a good question to ask for JGR Space Physics.

We apply several filtering levels to rule out potential reviewers. Firstly, we never send a paper to people at the same institution. Secondly, if the assigned editor knows of a close working relationship between the author and a potential reviewer, then that person will also not be considered. Thirdly, I will often look at the author lists of recent papers by the corresponding author to get a feeling for close collaborators. It’s not a perfect filter but it’s pretty good and I am not about to institute the NSF rule of every coauthor identifying every collaborator from the last 48 months. Perhaps I should apply the Facebook “close friend” filter, but I don’t.


            The definition of “close collaborator” is rather subjective. I tend to think of it as “coauthor on the other person’s first-author paper in the last couple of years.” Even this definition has the qualitative words “last couple of years” in it, which could mean two or four or ten in this context. I tend to lean towards the “two year” definition of “couple of years” but other editors can apply this a bit differently.

My definition above doesn’t pass muster with U-M’s promotion letter writer regulators, though. For them, “close” includes the authorship lists in which both people were coauthors on a third person’s paper, or even presentation…for the last ten years. Oof da. That’s strict. I am not going to apply that definition to JGR Space Physics.

As much as I would love to have a drink with all of you and get to know your stories, I don’t (yet!) know everyone in the field. Plus, I cannot (will not!) spend all of my time doing editorial tasks, so I can’t investigate every possible conflict of interest or potential bias. I usually, although not always, honor your requests for potential reviewers to whom I should not send your manuscript. To a large extent, I have to rely on you, the potential reviewer, to self identify potential conflicts of interest, both positive and negative. I want you to be an objective evaluator of the paper; if you do not think that you can do that, then please just recuse yourself from the task. It’s okay to say no to a review request for which you don’t feel like you can be unbiased.

Of course, whenever you say no, providing a few names of other potential reviewers is always helpful to us.

Gender-Neutral Responses

As Mother’s Day approaches, here is some good advice: author responses to referee comments should be devoid of gender-specific pronouns. While the majority of the community is male (the 2013 AGU annual report lists the society membership as two-thirds male), there are a lot of females in our field. Please do not assume that the reviewer of your paper was a man. Please refer to this person as “the referee” or “the reviewer” instead of assigning a gender.


            I often see this sentence, or something very similar, in the author responses: “The authors thank the referee for his or her useful comments.” I have never big a big fan of the “his or her” cover-the-bases double specification that we often use in English. The substitutes of he/she or (s)he are no better, in my opinion. I find these to be awkward and I wish that there was a good gender-neutral replacement. Doing an internet search on “gender-neutral pronouns” gets you a long list of pages trying to explain the options out there. Apparently, many alternatives have been invented but, from what I can tell, nothing has caught on in popularity.

One option I have seen in books is to switch gender designations every paragraph or chapter. This doesn’t really work in an author response, because the about the only place a gender-specific pronoun is used is in the first and last paragraphs (at most). Switching gender usage from sentence to sentence is very confusing, in my opinion. The document just isn’t long enough for this technique to work properly.

Another option is to use the grammatically incorrect plural pronoun, “The authors thank the referee for their useful comments.” The Grammar Enforcer inside of me winces in pain but at least it is gender neutral. It seems to be the most popular solution as it mirrors how many of us speak.

Another alternative is to rewrite the sentence to avoid the need for a pronoun. That is, replace “his or her” with another descriptor, like “providing,” “making,” or “these.” Like this, “The authors thank the referee for providing useful comments.” I like this solution the best but it requires extra time and effort to reword the sentence in a way that makes sense.

In any case, please stop using just he/him/his in author responses to reviewer comments. Because AGU keeps the identity of the referee hidden to the authors, the gender of this person is unknown. Using the male pronouns is outdated and sexist. Diction matters.