Data Policy Update

Because we all love talking about AGU’s data policy, you should know that when you go to the JGR Space Physics GEMS manuscript submission site, in fact the GEMS site for any AGU journal, you will see this notice above the login fields:


I don’t actually know how long it has been there. I go to this login page a lot but often fail to spend any time on it, quickly zipping to the login fields and moving on to my editorial tasks. I posted last summer about this change that “data available from authors” is not allowed, with a list of available generic data repositories that will mint a digital object identifier for your data files. I keep getting comments and some pushback from the community about this, and now I just noticed and carefully read this “Important” statement on the GEMS login page! So it is a convenient time to have a blog post about it.

This has been slowly changing throughout my time as EiC. When I had just started, AGU was in the process of fully implementing its stated data policy. I then had a couple of other posts in 2014 about how the editorial board for JGR Space Physics this policy, and then another in 2015 on supporting information. That one actually stated that it was okay to have the digital values stored as supporting information along with the paper but this is no longer allowed. Well, please upload it as supporting information for review purposes, with a note to the editor that this is what you are doing, but upon acceptance, upload those files to a DOI-minting data repository for permanent archiving.

Authors: please plan accordingly with your digital data, both observational and numerical. AGU wants all of the numbers behind the figures available to reviewers and readers. Please include data sets as supporting info during submission but have a statement about the repository to which it will be uploaded in the Acknowledgments section, and include all weblinks to existing data repositories.

Reviewers: please check data availability for the manuscripts that you review. This should now be part of your checklist. AGU HQ staff and the editor should also be checking this, but you are critical to this process too.

Note that this supersedes the posted Data Policy at the AGU Author Resources pages, which still describe the policy enacted in 2014. I hope that this webpage is updated soon.

More about FAIR data policies can be found at the COPDESS website.



Time to restate it: Science loves diversity

With the sad news coming out of my country this weekend, especially the racially motivated shooting in El Paso, Texas, I feel that it is time to once again state that science loves diversity. I attended a local March for Science rally in April 2017, carrying this sign:


It is still true today and I stand by my DEI pledge.

It has been shown that diverse teams lead to better solutions to complex problems. People from different backgrounds bring unique perspectives to the group, seeing the available information in new ways that a homogeneous group might not notice. Statistically, diverse groups are “smarter.” It is perhaps natural to surround ourselves with people like ourselves, but this is not what is best for science. The next time you are assembling a team, strive to make it diverse.

In addition to diversity, we also need inclusivity. That is, those from backgrounds not in the majority demographic within a group need to feel welcomed and that their contributions are appreciated and worthwhile.  Too often, the majority demographic can dominate the discussion, effectively making others feel sidelined and dismissed. Creating an inclusive environment means actively seeking everyone’s contribution, dissuading overbearing speakers from dominating the conversation, and being considerate and compassionate towards the needs of all of those in the group. This also encompasses confronting the tendency to drift into bro culture talk and action when white men dominate a group, and not assuming that an unknown colleague is male. It means being cordial in your correspondence.

Finally, we need to do the heavy lifting of equity. This is creating systemic change within your organization to bring about long-lasting diversity and inclusivity. This means developing policies, practices, and perhaps even physical spaces that promote diversity and inclusivity. This means training staff about unconscious bias, by-stander intervention, inclusive conversation strategies. And much more.

I am saddened and sickened by those that think violence is the way to create their vision of the future. I am saddened and sickened by those that think one group of people is intrinsically better than another. I am saddened and sickened by those that spew hatred for others just because of the demographic group to which they belong. Push back against this intolerant mindset.

EiC App Window is Closing

I am not on the search committee, so I don’t know if they will extend it, but as of right now, the application deadline is tomorrow, July 31, for submitting a cover letter and CV to be considered for this job as EiC of JGR Space Physics. Have I mentioned everything that I do? I have written quite a few posts about this over the last two months. Why not one more as the window closes.

I want to talk about one more thing that editors do – writing Editor’s Highlights and Editors’ Vox articles. It’s not specific to the EiC, except perhaps the coordination of these across the journal and encouraging the other editors to write them, too. I listed this in my first post in the series above, very briefly as part of an EiC’s “promote the journal” activities, and I’ve written about the Vox in detail before, but really this is a separate task that I should give special attention here.


            AGU created the Editors’ Vox, a blog within the scope of AGU’s Eos new magazine, back in late 2015. Vox articles are essentially blog-length (300-800 words) perspectives on whatever the editor wants to write about, often on science results but also publication policy, scientific ethics, or life as an editor or scientist. I wrote my first one, on Saturn’s periodicities, in July of 2016 and another in August on a JGR Space special section. Neither of these was the first for JGR Space, that honor belongs to Editor Yuming Wang, who wrote one in March 2016 about solar eruptions, and Larry Kepko followed up with one on the slow solar wind in June 2016. I was coauthor on a couple Editors’ Vox articles in 2017, one for the cross-journal special issue on societal impacts of science, timed with the March for Science that spring, and another on Cassini’s legacy, timed with the end of that mission in September, as well as one of my own on a series of Voyager data reanalysis papers. I also had one more in 2018 on the bolide over Michigan. Overall, there have been over 220 Editor’s Vox articles published with Eos, averaging better than one per week.


            In late 2017, AGU created another class of promotional material for research articles, the Editor’s Highlights section of Eos. These are very short pieces, typically a paragraph or two (so, perhaps only half of a Vox article), and are focused on a single paper. They are nearly always written by the editor to which that manuscript was assigned, during the time that the paper is going through production and proof-check, so that the Highlight article in Eos is timed with the release of the “in print” version of the article. I have written 10 of these, well, 11 if you count the one that is about to appear within the next week or so.

Note that both the Vox and Highlight articles are different from the Research Spotlight paper-promotion articles that have appeared in Eos for many years. Research Spotlights are written by AGU HQ staff, often in cooperation with the author of the paper, and are essentially one step below a press release. They are longer than an Editor Highlight and appear higher up in the Eos table of content email alerts. Based on editor suggestions, AGU selects about 200 papers, from the more than 6000 papers published across all 20 journals, for Research Spotlight write-ups every year.

Both of these, Vox and Highlight articles, are extra writing assignments that editors do, especially EiCs. While it is extra work, these are great ways to share space science with the rest of the AGU research community, and with the Eos readership, which is an even broader audience. These are important to do, and I strongly encourage the next EiC, and the new editors selected to work with that person, to devote time to these promotional articles and regularly contribute to both the Vox and Highlight content in Eos. I actually include all of these on my CV in a section I call “Other Technical Reports and Publications,” along with weblinks, mainly so I can find them again later – like when I want to write a blog post about them!


Writing Plain Language Summaries

Today, on the 50th anniversary of the first human moon landing, I’d like to state how important it is to clearly convey our science to the general public. One way to do that is, with your next manuscript submission to JGR Space Physics (or any other AGU journal), to include a Plain Language Summary. These have been around now for about 3 years and I have written before about how to craft a good one. Today, being a significant anniversary of a momentous space event, is an excellent time to revisit this topic of how well we communicate space physics to people beyond our scientific niche.


            From my notes from the EiC meeting last March, Jenny Lunn, one of the Directors of Publications for AGU, gave a presentation that included a concise listing of the elements of a good PLS:

  • Understandable to non-specialist
  • Free of unexplained scientific jargon
  • Narrative that sets the scene for the research
  • Concise explanation of the article’s main aims and results
  • Discussion of the broader relevance of the findings

A big concept that summarizes these points: do not simply change a few words in your technical Abstract and paste that into the PLS text box at AGU’s GEMS site for manuscript submissions. This might actually do more harm than good.

This process of science communication to non-specialists is not an easy task for most space scientists. We are not trained to write this way. Instead, we have been trained to do the exact opposite of the first two bullet points. As we work towards brevity in our manuscript prose, we intentionally include jargon, which, by definition, is a shortcut word for something that researchers in the field would already understand. We often skip the longer definitions of the field’s common terms, and sometimes even have reviewers or editors telling us to remove verbose definitions. Writing for the non-specialist is systematically pounded out of us as we publish more scholarly articles.

It takes significant effort to rework our research article into something understandable for someone that might have had one physics or chemistry class in high school. And it takes practice, too. Do not be discouraged if your first attempt is not that good. Keep reworking it. This is definitely a skill that can be learned.

AGU has resources for you. One is their Sharing Science page, where there are many resources, such as a page on writing a PLS, another on avoiding jargon, advice for devising a good elevator pitch, and a science communication tips&tools PDF. On avoiding jargon, a question they prompt for us: would a ninth grader understand you? That’s hard to do with ultra-low-frequency pulsations of the Earth’s magnetosphere, or counterstreaming Alfvén waves in the solar corona, or the thermospheric quasi-six-day-wave. Your PLS needs a good introduction, yet it is mandated to be shorter than your regular Abstract (200 words for the PLS, instead of 250 for the Abstract).

At the same time, don’t overstate your findings in the PLS. It’s okay to state that “this study addresses a small part of this bigger picture.” Claiming that every paper is “a fundamental advancement of profound impact” will give the public discovery fatigue. I encourage you to write a PLS with every paper, but not all PLSes need to worded as a breakthrough moment for the field. Do it when it is appropriate, but save it for those times, and use less haughty wording for your other papers.

Finally, I’d like to say that takes a sustained and concerted effort to be good at conveying space science to the general public. So, start with the small stuff, like a PLS, that can be rewritten, revised, and honed as much as you need before it is released. The more you do it, the better you will become at it. The more of us that do it, the better we as a research community become at raising awareness of our field to the general public. And today is a great day to remember that most people love outer space and that our work has a pretty high “cool” factor in most people’s minds.

One Small Step

As the 50th anniversary of the first moon landing rapidly approaches, I would like to repurpose Neil Armstrong’s legendary words to, instead, refer to the Journal Impact Factor of JGR Space Physics. Yes, the 2018 JIF scores are out, and I could have written this post three weeks ago, but I was on travel at the GEM Workshop and didn’t take the time. By waiting, however, I get to use a funny but appropriate quote.

The new JIF score for JGR Space Physics is, to 4 digits, 2.821, up 0.069 from last year’s 2.752, which was up ever so slightly from the year before. So, it is climbing, very slowly, each year since the big split when each of the JGR titles received its own score. In fact, all of the various metrics that Clarivate Analytics calculates have been steadily on the rise for JGR Space Physics the last few years.

This is an excellent time for us to remember DORA, the Declaration on Research Assessment, which is publishing-community effort to deemphasize quantitative metrics like the Journal Impact Factor (JIF).

The basic message is that we should consider the stature of a journal based on how it fits within the landscape of journals publishing articles in that field. The DORA statement points out that is especially true when considering an individual researcher for hiring or promotion and assessing their contributions to their field. Instead of relying on metrics about the entire journal, you should consider the person’s individual papers for outstanding singular contributions as well as all of their papers as a collection, assessing their overall impact in the subject. The quality of the journals in which someone publishes matters, and it should be a considered, but the quantitative metrics about the journal should be only one part of that journal quality assessment. Perhaps another thing to consider is the retraction rate, as it has been shown that high JIF scores correlate with higher retraction rates, at least in one field (very interesting that this is a research highlight in Nature, a journal with a high JIF).

Remember that the 2018 JIF is calculated by dividing the citations in 2018 to papers published in 2016 and 2017. As a mean of positive definite values, it is susceptible to a few papers with very high citations, especially for smaller journals. Quoting 4 significant figures for the JIF is not meaningful. Really, we should say that both this year and last year were 2.8.

In other JIF news, Space Weather continues its climb to ever-higher scores, breaking the 3.0 barrier with an astonishing jump from 2.9 to 3.7. Outstanding! This is awesome news for that journal.

There are other journal metrics that take into account other values. One is the Article Influence score and another is the Normalized Eigenfactor Score, both of which take into account the “network” of the journal by considering the JIF of the journals citing a particular journal’s articles. The Article Influence is normalized by the number of papers in the specific journal of interest while the Normalized Eigenfactor Score is normalized by all journal eigenfactors so the average of the normalized scores is one. These are both calculated over a 5-year window, instead of the 2-year window of the JIF. For 2018, JGR Space Physics as an Article Influence score of 0.80 (an “okay” number in the middle of the pack) and a Normalized Eigenfactor Score of 4.8 (well above average).


            Journal size matters when considering these metrics. JGR Space Physics published over 800 papers in each of 2016 and 2017. Our JIF score is barely altered by a few papers with high citations, and it really reflects the baseline trend across the research community in how we cite recent articles. To continue using our sibling journal, Space Weather, as a counterexample, it published 79 and 109 papers those two years, so it can vary substantially more based on the citations to its top-most articles. Because of this size difference, Space Weather’s Article Influence Score is 0.92, slightly higher than that for JGR Space Physics, but its Normalized Eigenfactor Score is only 0.55, an order of magnitude smaller.

The take-away point is that it is really hard to create a fair and comprehensive metric that accurately reflects the importance of a journal. So, feel free to look at the numbers, but don’t put too much weight into any single score, because it was designed in a particular way to highlight a particular aspect of the journal.

Overall, JGR Space Physics is doing very well. Thanks for you continued support of this journal and space physics publishing in general. It could not be done without the army of peer reviewers, and our thank you editorial just appeared in print. Thank you very much! And, of course, I must make the plea, you can still apply to be the JGR Space Physics Editor in Chief.