The Shutdown

As probably everyone who reads this blog knows, the US government is in a partial shutdown right now. This means that roughly 800,000 federal employees are not getting paid right now, about half of which are forced to work without pay and the other half, the “non-essential personnel,” are furloughed and forced to not do anything work related during this time. It is truly awful for many people on several levels. Let’s hope that it ends soon, and I encourage Americans to write to their members of Congress to persuade them to work (even harder) towards the solution you desire.

This shutdown has negative ramifications for JGR Space Physics and AGU publications as a whole. First off, there are civil servants that accepted reviewing assignments before the shutdown and now cannot legally complete this work. Authors are getting frustrated with the extended timeline to manuscript decisions. Second, there are civil servants who are authors or coauthors on papers, and these are not being submitted or resubmitted into the system. We will patiently wait for these manuscript resubmissions, of course, but it is sad to see them sit in the system “waiting for revision.” Third, civil servants cannot respond to review requests, so the editors are having to rely on others in the community to take on this shifted reviewing workload. Without the civil servant researchers, it is taking a bit longer, on average, to find two reviewers for each new manuscript. Fourth, for those that use research tools that are now shut down or turned off, like government websites, computing resources, office space, or lab facilities, you cannot do that work right now. The shutdown of NASA, NSF, and NOAA, just to name a few agencies, is impairing scientific progress. These impacts alone are significant and having a noticeable negative effect on space physics research.


            For JGR Space Physics in particular, one of the editors, Dr. Larry Kepko, is a civil servant at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center. His editorial duties are part of his official workflow so doing GEMS manuscript processing is off limits for him.   I had a previously declined manuscript, originally assigned to him, just get submitted again, and so I contacted him (outside of his official NASA email address) about editorial work and he explained that he is legally unable to do this work.

Fortunately, this only affects ~10 manuscripts in the GEMS system right now. I have been ramping down his assignments of normal papers has he took on the role of Centennial liaison for the journal, including organizing community invitations for papers to two centennial-related special sections. I see in GEMS, though, that there are some manuscripts “with editor for decision” for the entirety of the shutdown. I am sorry to those authors that have been waiting for decisions on these manuscripts, this is an unpleasant consequence of the government shutdown. If you are one of these authors, I truly regret that this has happened to you and we will get this paper moving through the editorial system again very soon. I have already asked AGU HQ staff to shift some of these manuscripts over to other editors, and will be shifting the rest in the days to come.

For the civil servants and on-site contractors out there – I am wholeheartedly with you in spirit. I was a grad student working at NASA Marshall Space Flight Center during the 1995 government shutdown, locked out of the office for 3 weeks right before that year’s Fall AGU Meeting. It was difficult getting the work done and a presentation put together in time for the conference. This new shutdown is now longer than that one, and the stalemate persists with no end in sight. I am very sorry that you are going through this.

For the rest of you, please remember that we are missing a fraction of our colleagues right now, who are not only locked out of their offices but also technically forbidden to do any work. We, the journal editors, might be asking for another reviewing assignment for you at a more rapid cadence than usual. Please accept our apologies for this inconvenience and please seriously consider taking up the mantle of the extra duty as we get through this tough time. Also, manuscripts might take longer to get through the editorial process right now, as we deal with no US civil servants being available for participation in the publication flow.




My Final Year

I have one more year as Editor in Chief of JGR Space Physics. The initial term was 4 years and then I was asked to extend my stay for an extra two years, which I did. With the change-over of the calendar, I am entering my sixth (and last) year as EiC. This is it.

With this final year, I plan to focus on a few things with this blog. First and foremost, I will continue to keep you informed about new publications policies and practices. That’s the main reason for this blog’s existence and I will continue to post updates from AGU HQ and my editorial team. Second, I will start detailing what I do as EiC. In 300-500 word chunks, I will tell you about my workflow and decision-making process. This will hopefully help the next EiC understand this job, at least as I do it (which is very close to how my predecessors did it). Third, I will be recapping editorials from year’s past. I’ve started this but haven’t written many, so I will be making this one of my priorities for the year ahead.

A good editorial to kick off the new year is the one written by Bob Lysak, Philippa Browning, and Masaki Fujimoto back in 2012 entitled, “How JGR Works.” This, actually, is the brief version of everything I will write for point #2 above. A longer version is Alex Dessler’s editorial from 1972, which I discussed earlier.


            This 2012 version of the workflow is basically what we follow right now. Papers are first checked by AGU HQ staff and perhaps iterated with the author to get it compliant with AGU journal requirements, then it is sent to me where I assign it to one of the 7 editors (including myself). That editor then does a check for appropriateness for the journal, English usage, and cross-check overlap. It could be sent back to the author at this point. If not, then the editor selects several potential reviewers and starts sending emails. Hopefully, two are secured quickly and the reviews come back three weeks later. The editor then makes their first decision on the manuscript. If the decision is to revise, then it comes back to that same editor, and could go back to the reviewers.

A key point from the 2012 editorial is paragraph #7 on the decision-making process. Here is the lead-off text: “It is important to note that the final decision on whether a paper is to be published rests with the editor in charge. Good reviews help us make this decision, but the reviewers do not approve or reject the papers themselves.” We greatly appreciate the work that ~1500 reviewers do for the journal every year, and we usually follow those recommendations. Sometimes, however, two reviewers provide conflicting recommendations, and then it is up to the editor. We have several paths that we take to resolve these discrepancies; I’ll write about those in future posts. Reviewers, please know that your assessments are always taken very seriously but sometimes the editor will decide differently from your recommendation. This can go in both directions, because the editor might eventually side with either the positive or negative reviewer. If you truly dislike a paper that was published against your recommendation, then you are always free to write a Comment on it, to formally air your grievances and give the authors the chance to rebut.

Even More Year-End Stats for 2018

I have one last chart to share from the set for the JGR Space Physics editorial board meeting earlier this month. This is a chart of the authors of JGR Space Physics articles in 2015 and 2016, counting each individual person separately. Two things are shown on this chart: the bars show the number of articles with authors from that country publishing in these two years (scale on the left), while the line shows the citations to papers authored by people from that country in 2017 (the Journal Impact Factor calculation window), with values on the right axis (ICW = in-window citations).


Yes, JGR Space Physics is dominated by authors from the United States. China has about one-third the number of authors and it goes slowly down from there.

What I like about this is the relative flatness of the citations-per-paper line. It’s 3.00 for the US and hovers between 2.5 and 3.0 for all countries in the top 12 (down through Finland). A cynic might suggest that we should publish more papers with authors from Norway and Belgium, as they are near 3.3 average citation value.

Hey, I’m of Norwegian descent. We even made a big batch of lefse this past weekend. I should look into the average citations of my papers and see how they stand up to my counterparts in my ancestral homeland. But I digress…

Note that this chart is for a single year of citations to papers published in the two previous years. The ordering of the countries along the x axis shifts quite a bit from year to year, as does the average citations-per-paper, especially for those towards the right of the scale. This is a snapshot of early citations to recent publications.

In general, I am happy with the flatness of this line. Without doing more analysis into it, I think it means one of two things: (a) we publish with international author lists so these numbers are not independent or (b) we cite papers independent of the author’s country of origin. I hope both are true.

Happy New Year!


More Year-End Stats for 2018

For the 2017 Journal Impact Factor, JGR Space Physics increased ever so slightly from 2.7 to 2.8 (rounding to two sig figs). Remember, this is only the second year of the 7 JGR journal titles having their own JIF scores, before that they all shared one, which hovered in the ~3.3 range. Also remember how the JIF is calculated – it is only citations in 2017 to papers published in 2015 and 2016. So, let’s take a closer look at citations to papers in that window.

Here is a line from a chart that Wiley staff put together for us:


These are citations in 2017 to papers published in JGR Space Physics during 2015 and 2016. By the way, I am not revealing a trade secret about the journal here; you could do this yourself if your institution has a subscription to the Clarivate Analytics Web of Science database.

Just under 20% of the papers had zero citations, over half of the papers had 1-3 citations, just over 20% had 4-7 citations, and ~6% had 8 or more citations. Only one paper surpassed the 40 citation mark within the 2017 JIF window, by Kurth et al.

I am not concerned that 300 papers had no citations. Nearly all of these will get cited. Back at the beginning of this blog, I analyzed the Lost Papers and they are only a few percent, even just 5 years after publication. I am certain that this number will drop dramatically in the next few years for this collection of papers.

While I would like more papers to be in the 4-7 range than the 1-3 range, this will take a monumental shift in how the space physics community reads journal articles and cites them. Look at the chart I had in this post – our research community cites papers an average of ~3 times per year for many years and the citations for an average paper grow fairly linearly. I made that chart in January 2017, so the first column (citations to papers published in 2015) is citations of papers from 1.0 to 2.0 years old (so, on average, papers that were ~1.5 years old). After that, it grows at roughly ~3 citations per year for the next 10 years. Furthermore, JGR Space Physics has a citation half life of over 10 years, meaning that 10 years after publication, the average paper can expect its number of citations to more than double as the years progress, with over 60 eventual citations. That’s a lot!

Special side note if you are feeling bad that your decades-old papers do not have 60 citations: remember that these are averages, not medians, and that citation count is a positive definite value with a long-tailed skew. So, most papers will actually have fewer than 60 citations. I have not plotted the histogram and run the numbers; maybe I’ll do that some time.

My point is that space physicists don’t cite papers the way that the creators of the JIF expect researchers to cite papers. The JIF creators expect researchers to cite a paper soon after publication and then the paper declines in importance and relevance with time, perhaps even being forgotten at some point. This might be true in some fields, but not in space physics. To me, it does not seem that we cite articles that way.

Again, remember how the JIF is calculated: it is citations in the year 2017 to papers published in 2015 and 2016. Take the average: a mid-2017 paper citing a paper published at the end of 2015. It is only 1.5 years past its publication date, the same as the first column in my chart in the previous post. So, the average should be ~3. And guess what? To one significant digit, that is the JIF of JGR Space Physics.

If the journal is growing in size, then the paper count is lopsided towards young papers, reducing the citations from this expected average. So, going all the way back to the number of papers with 1-3 citations versus 4-7 citations, I am not surprised that the numbers are what they are. Let me say it one more time – this is how space physicists cite the literature.

Keep on doing what you do, space scientists. Keep reading the literature and citing those papers most relevant to your work: that is, those that you think build the case for a new study; those that contain the descriptions and example uses of the methodology you choose; and those that place proper context around the significance, originality, and limitations of your findings. If those are new papers, so be it. If those are decades-old papers, that’s fine too.

I look forward to seeing your manuscript submissions in the coming year.


Year-End Stats for 2018

For our JGR Space Physics editorial board meeting that we had during the Fall AGU Meeting a couple weeks ago in Washington, DC, AGU, Wiley, and me compile a bunch of stats about the journal. I’d like to share a few of those with you over the next few posts.

In GEMS, my editor powers allow me to make reports about the journal workflow. This is one of them:


The “2018 to Date” is through today, Friday, December 28, so it probably won’t change by much. Maybe the manuscripts will go up by a few, and I just assigned a bunch of manuscripts to other editors, so the number of reviewers could also go up by several, but the other numbers won’t change much. I took over as EiC of JGR Space Physics at the beginning of 2014, so this shows a quick summary of journal stats during my term.

First, let’s look at the second row, “Number of Manuscripts Received.” Just for perspective, this was under 1000 before 2014. Note that this is the number of “new” manuscripts, not revision submissions with an “R” added to the end of the manuscript number. You were writing many more papers every year, increasing the submissions by ~100 manuscripts a year for several years. This was also due to several large special sections in the journal, with the really big Measurement Techniques in Solar and Space Physics, lots of papers in the ULF special section, several large ones focused on Van Allen Probes results and other inner magnetosphere special sections, a big one for MAVEN, and several on space storms, like the St. Patrick’s Day Storms and storms in the Van Allen Probes era. We had a big one for MMS in 2017 in there too. This last year, we’ve had a few special sections, but so many and not as large.

There are several rows that I really like on this chart. The “Percentage of Manuscripts Sent for External Review” has remained steady, right near ~90%. Similarly, the “Receipt to First Decision” time has hovered near ~40, and the “Receipt to Acceptance” has actually dropped in recent years. Finally, I like that the “Acceptance Rate” has remained steady near ~70% throughout my term.

Note that the “N/A” values for “publication” are because the manuscript shifts to Wiley for that phase and is no longer in GEMS. Those numbers are typically 3-4 weeks.

My last post was in mid-August, four months ago. When I started this blog, I told myself that it was an extra thing I’d do for the community and I would not apologize for a hiatus. So I won’t.