Reviewer Selection Editorial

The Editors of JGR Space Physics just published an Editorial on our reviewer selection process. The big point in this article is that we often use the Areas of Expertise, a menu of space physics topics within GEMS specific to this journal, for identifying experts within the community who might serve as qualified reviewers of a manuscript.

I wrote a month ago about our expansion of this list. We now have 18 more items in the list, bringing the total to 73. These new Areas of Expertise will only help us if members of the research community update their GEMS profile and click on whichever of the new topics falls within their specialty. Here’s the full list, with the new ones in green:

Areas of Expertise v3.jpg

            Updating your Areas of Expertise selections in GEMS helps you as a reviewer because the Editors will be better at sending you papers within your specialty. Without this, we either have to know you very well or we have to guess a bit based on the papers that you have authored or reviewed in the past. Filling this out will hopefully cut down on the number of times we request a review from you for something outside of your comfort zone.

Also, from a communal perspective, the more people that fill out the Areas of Expertise, the higher the quality of reviews that you should have on your submitted manuscripts. With high participation of researchers selecting their Areas of Expertise, then all of the manuscripts will be better matched with specialists in that field.

Yes, filling this out means that you might get asked to review more often. But, as seen in our statistics for 2015 and for 2014, the average number of reviews per reviewer per year is ~2.5, so we are trying not to overwork you. If you feel overworked as a reviewer, then you always have the option to decline our request.

So, I encourage you read the Editorial and then log in to GEMS for JGR Space Physics and check out the new Areas of Expertise.

Decision Notifications

For a few months now, GEMS has been sending final decision notifications to reviewers. As of this month, GEMS is now including coauthors on final decision emails for all manuscripts. I just got one (as coauthor of a now-accepted paper in JGR Space Physics), so I know that the new feature is working. Both of these are small changes but ones that hopefully will allow the reviewers and coauthors to be aware of the final decision on a manuscript with which they have been involved.


            For the reviewers, you are providing expert advice for the editor to take into account in the decision about the manuscript. Your recommendation for that decision may or may not be heeded. And, while your review comments are always forwarded, your decision recommendation is usually conveyed to the author, as that line in the review can be deleted by the editor if desired. Plus, we usually get two or even three reviews for each paper. While we greatly value your input, it is our responsibility to make the judgment on the fate of each of our assigned manuscripts. So, my comment to the reviewers: if you have any questions about the final decision on a manuscript for which you served as a reviewer, then please reply to that notification email (i.e., to and ask us. Without revealing names of other reviewers, we will fill you in on the rest of the story about the manuscript.

For the coauthors, you should be in contact with the corresponding author and should normally be aware of the current status of all papers on which you are listed as an author. However, we understand that sometimes the corresponding author forgets to forward the final decision letter to the coauthors, leaving them in uncertainty about the status of the manuscript until they perhaps see it in the table of contents alert. Except under unusual circumstances, coauthors should not contact the Editor. Rather this should be done through the corresponding author. So, my comment to coauthors: if you have any questions about the final decision on a manuscript, then please contact the corresponding author and direct all questions back to the editor or the journal through that person.

I hope that you find the additional communication from AGU to be useful.



Highlighting Papers

At the JGR Space Physics homepage, there are several ways in which we promote papers. Here’s a snapshot of the website, as of this morning:


The most prominent way that we highlight papers is with the Image Carousel. I select 5 to 7 figures from papers published each month for eye-catching displays of the science that we do.

to the right of the Image Carousel is the current issue cover art. This is sometimes a figure, or composite of images, from a paper published that month, but more often these cover graphics are author-supplied enhanced artwork to their study. The one circled above was produced for a JAXA press release about this paper on Jupiter’s aurora. Some think this image looks like a Flutterbye Fairy but, hey, I’m okay with science having similarities to popular toys. Please keep submitting your author-supplied graphics for consideration as cover art, they are very impressive and I usually select one of those.

Just above the Image Carousel is a link called Highlights. Here are paragraphs describing an interesting science nugget from some of the papers in JGR Space Physics. Studies are selected for this page by reviewers or editors. Yes, reviewers, clicking that radio button indicating that a paper is worthy of a highlight will often get it promoted on the journal website with a highlight on this page. These paragraphs are written by freelance writers hired by AGU to help convert from the text we write in the editorial/review process into something that a broader audience might understand and find interesting. These people are often young scientists with a desire to promote space physics both within and beyond the research community. Note that if an article is lucky enough to get a Research Spotlight article in Eos, it will also have a highlight paragraph on this page.

Finally, there are the two tabs below the Image Carousel, Most Cited and Most Accessed. For both of these, you can filter these “top paper” lists over an interval back in time. For Most Cited, that interval range is years, for Most Accessed, the range is months. It’s a way for you to see what other people are reading.

Happy reading!

New Areas of Expertise in GEMS

In the JGR Space Physics GEMS manuscript submission and review system, each person can select “Areas of Expertise” within their profile settings. The entries in this list have been developed over the decades, with each editorial board tweaking them a bit. They are not quite the same as AGU Index Terms, but most map pretty closely to that other list. Editors use this list to help find appropriate reviewers for manuscripts. That is, in the editorial section of GEMS, there are search tools for finding people registered in the GEMS system that have selected one or more of these Areas of Expertise. It’s a nice way to filter prospective reviewers based on self-provided information, rather than simply authorship of similar papers.

The editorial board of JGR Space Physics has recently finalized additions to this list of Areas of Expertise. We have added 18 new listings, which we think fills in some holes in the previous list, especially regarding the upper atmosphere and the various research techniques that we employ.

To really make these Areas of Expertise work, space physics researchers need to update their profile in GEMS, so that there are people associated with these new Areas of Expertise. We now need everyone in the space physics community to log in to GEMS and click on the “Modify Profile/Password” link, near the bottom of the page:


I encourage you to update any aspect of your profile that needs revision, but my special request is that you scroll down near the bottom and update your selections of Areas of Expertise:



There is a second field, very similarly titled as “Area of Expertise,” which is a free-form keyword entry. This is also searchable by editors to help them find potential reviewers.

Like I said above, JGR Space Physics Editors use these Areas of Expertise for searching/filtering the database to find potential reviewers for papers. Selecting these Areas of Expertise is a huge convenience for us, but it is also a convenience for you: hopefully this will reduce the number of times that we send you papers outside of your comfort zone and speed up the flow of your manuscripts through the editorial/review process. So, we would greatly appreciate it if you could please log in to GEMS and scan through the new list of Areas of Expertise and click any updates to your selections.

No More Editorial Thank Yous

I mentioned in a post a couple of months ago that the editorial thank you to reviewers has stopped being added to the Acknowledgments of papers, as of the fall of 2015 (about 6 months ago). That’s right, this little sentence:


is now no longer added to papers in AGU journals.

As an author: if you think the reviewers deserve a thank you for their suggestions to improve the paper, then please add that to the Acknowledgments section yourself.

Some people have asked me about this, so it is a useful to clarify the reasons for this change. The main points:

  1. They were written individually by AGU staff, requiring a couple of minutes to dig up this information for each paper. That doesn’t seem like much but it adds up for the more than 5000 papers in AGU journals each year.
  2. Many reviewers choose to remain anonymous, so most of these statements were simply identifying the assigned Editor for the paper.
  3. It was decided that the Acknowledgments section is for the authors to thank those who helped make the study possible, including funding sources and data providers, and not an AGU or editorial comment.
  4. In searches of paper content, the editor’s name would be found, lessening the usefulness of some search tools.

JGR Space Physics was one of the last to discontinue this editorial acknowledgment line. AGU had already stopped doing it for most other journals by the time it ended in JGR Space Physics last fall.

The omission of this sentence means that there is no archival record of which Editor handled the paper, nor is there any acknowledgment of the reviewers if they indeed wanted their names known to the community. For the first point: it is not about the Editor. Our names become well known to the space physics research community over the course of our term and that is enough credit (or infamy) for the task. For the second point: authors should include this thank you, if they so choose, and ORCID will now cover the task of public (but aggregated) recognition. By signing up for an ORCID number, the reviewing assignment tallies will be pushed to your ORCID account. The specific papers you reviewed will remain confidential, but the total number per year for each journal will be made public. This is a way for others to independently verify service activities listed on CVs and resumes.

Note that the information is not lost. The Editor and reviewers associated with a manuscript are kept in GEMS. At this point, all information since the beginning of GEMS (in 2002) is still available. This comes in very handy when papers in a series from an author are submitted over the course of several years. Whatever editor is assigned to each paper, they can look up the history of the paper series and see who has served as editors and reviewers in the past, and even read the reviews of those previous papers. This can be tremendously helpful for selecting the right people to serve as reviewers of the new manuscript.

Furthermore, the editorial “thank you” to the reviewers is not lost, either. From now on, AGU will be sending thank you emails to reviewers with a courtesy notice of the editorial decision about the manuscript. For public recognition, we also are now publishing an annual Editorial thanking all reviewers by name, as I mentioned in my last post on reviewer stats. Finally, there is the annual selection the Editor’s Citation for Excellence in Scientific Refereeing. Last year’s names (for 2014) are here, but this year’s Eos article is not out yet, so I will wait on posting the names for 2015. AGU allows us to select a number of reviewers equal to 0.1% of the number of new manuscripts submitted. For 2015, we were able to select 12.

As always, please feel free to comment below, or at Twitter to @liemohnjgrspace or on Facebook (I always post a link to these blog articles at the “AGU Space” page). We look forward to hearing your feedback on this issue.

Reviewer Statistics for 2015

We, the five Editors of JGR Space Physics just published an Editorial thanking the 1,506 scientists that served as peer reviewers in 2015. We greatly appreciate all that is done by the research community members to make this journal what it is. Thank you!


This is a photo taken at our editorial board meeting at AGU HQ in July 2014.

This is an increase of about 100 people from last year. The total number of reviews conducted was 3,592, also about 100 more than last year. We sent out 7,660 requests to review last year, which is up about 300 from last year, so our response rate dropped just slightly, down to 47%. Still, a great number, since this includes the “not needed” designation when others fill the two reviewer slots before the rest of the requests are answered. If you remove this category (1755 requests that were “not needed”), then the acceptance rate jumps up to 83%. Awesome!

A value I reported last year is the accept-to-decline ratio. There were 1884 declines, therefore this ratio is 1.9, just slightly lower than last year but still very high. Thanks for saying yes so often to our requests.

Yet another number for comparison with last year’s reviewer statistics: there were 341 times that a request was designated as “no response.” This is when the potential reviewer didn’t answer repeated requests and so we moved on to others. This is different than “not needed,” which is when other potential reviewers filled all of the desired slots before that person found time to answer. With a better than 10-to-1 ratio of acceptances to no responses, I think the community is doing very well. So, thank you, again!

Other 2015 stats from the Editorial: (a) the average number of manuscripts reviewed for each reviewer that served last year was 2.4; (b) 277 people did 4 or more reviews in 2015; (c) the total number of manuscript final decisions in 2015 was 1,147; (d) the acceptance rate was 67%; (e) there were 1,334 revision decisions; (f) on average an Editor makes 2.2 “decisions” for every assigned paper; (g) there are 3.1 reviews needed per manuscript, including reviews of revisions.

Again, thanks for all of your hard work for JGR Space Physics. We really appreciate the community support for this journal.


Photos During Talks

I occasionally spend my leisure time thinking about scientific ethics. Don’t you?

Before the Fall AGU Meeting, I received regular emails from the Union preparing me for attendance at the conference. Several of these notices included a link to the AGU Meetings Code of Conduct. The page has several bulleted lists. It starts off with one on expected behavior, and these are common-sense rules that I hope we can all agree to adhere to. This list is immediately followed by a list of unacceptable behavior, and again most of the points are general rules for getting along in modern society. What piqued my interest, and why I am writing about it here, is item #4:

  • Recording or taking photography of another individual’s presentation without the explicit permission of AGU is not allowed.

I have seen it many times at recent science meetings, in particular the Fall AGU Meeting, where someone holds up a tablet or phone in a darkened room and takes a picture of a slide during an oral presentation. They are clearly not doing it on behalf of the speaker, as there is often no attempt to include the speaker in the image frame. They are capturing the slide for their records and later use. Another time when I see this is someone perusing the poster hall at an off-peak time, stopping at a poster for a bit, and then clicking a snapshot of it with a mobile device. The presenter is almost never around at such times, and is unaware that a picture has been taken.

AGU’s policy is very clear: don’t do it. The only time it’s allowed by the code of conduct is when AGU has given permission. Here’s an image of Elon Musk giving a talk about the Sun:


He broadcast it on Twitter so I think it’s okay to resuse here.

My hope in the goodness of humanity is that most people that do this to remind themselves later of an interesting point that a particular speaker made so that they can contact that person later or give them credit for a great idea. My cynicism about an evil world makes me suspect these people of stealing the idea for their own research investigations.

How is this different from simply taking copious notes of the presentation? It’s far less obtrusive, for one thing. Taking a picture with a mobile device, especially at an oral presentation, is disruptive and inconsiderate to the audience behind you. Yes, we see you doing it! If noticed by the speaker, then it can be unnerving and make them think about you and your picture instead of the words they wanted to say about the material on the screen. But most importantly: hand-written notes are your thoughts, and the words that go on your note page are your distillation of the speaker’s words. Note taking is not copying, as least that’s not the way I was taught to take notes. You can still plagiarize the speaker’s idea, but you have, at least, put it in your own words.

I have no way of knowing if a manuscript submitted to JGR Space Physics was derived from a plagiarized idea taken from a presentation someone saw at a meeting (or took a photo of). I have to trust the authors that it was not. While I don’t know the exact numbers, I think that AGU has remarkably few ethical violations with its journals. I hope that the space physics community maintains this outstanding track record. I also hope that photos during presentations do not contribute to a rise in publication concerns.

If you really want to have a copy of a slide or even a whole talk, then I strongly recommend that you go ask the speaker for the presentation file. Usually, they will send it to you, because they are happy that someone is so interested in their work that they want a copy of the presentation. In addition, they then know that you are interested in the work and perhaps a collaboration can begin.

LWS TR&T Input Request

NASA’s Living With a Star (LWS) program has an annual call for proposals for the Targeted Research and Technology (TR&T) element. The word “targeted” is important and the call changes every year, based on the recommendations of the TR&T Steering Committee. That committee bases their recommendations in large part on input from the research community. The deadline is coming up: April 26th.

Alexa Halford, a member of the LWS TR&T Steering Committee, has written a guest blog post for soliciting input, based on her longer post at her blog:


Urgent! New LWS TR&T research topic proposals (and comments upon them) are due April 26th 2016

The LWS TR&T advisory committee actively seeks more community involvement. If you think your ideas will be ignored because you are “just” a young scientist, that it will take too long to write them down, or that we won’t listen because your voice hasn’t been heard in the past, then PLEASE think again. Your voice will be heard!

This year the process will be a bit different. During Stage 1 (now), we are asking for community input by April 26th 2016. Something/anything is better than nothing. If you don’t have time to write your own topic, then please comment on the topics proposed by others.

Now that you’ve decided to become involved, 1) Go here. 2) Type your name, but don’t worry, it won’t appear on the web with your topic. 3) Select the LWS strategic science area (SSA) to be addressed. 4) Select possible types of investigations. 5) Create a title. 6) Describe the topic; it can be as long or as short as you like. 7) List potential impacts to the SSA goals. 8) State why it’s timely 9) State what knowledge gaps this fills. 10) Submit. Congratulations! You are done.

As a new feature this year, you can view and moderated comment on the proposed topics. Comments can range from “Like” or “:-)” for minimal effort to extended edits on proposed topics. Comments will be anonymous, just like the proposed topics.

Stage 2 After the deadline, the committee will meet to collate the suggestions and comments. We will work with the material that you have sent in. So please be sure to tell us how incredibly cool and important your topic ideas are, how essential it is that they be studied now without any delay, and how vital they are to the rest of our discipline.

Stage 3The goal is to have Stage 2 done prior to the summer conferences so that we can present them, get comments from you, and revise the drafts.

Stage 4 – The LWS TR&T committee will get back together to finalize our report.

If you have ideas on how to improve this process or questions about the process, let us know.


AGU Ethics for Editors

At the AGU Ethics website, there is a section on Publication Ethics with a link to a detailed page about this topic. I’ve written a post about author ethics and commented on reviewer ethics, but it is interesting to note that the very first section of this page is Ethical Obligations of Editors.


They list 8 points for editors to follow:

  1. Provide unbiased consideration to all manuscripts offered for publication.
  2. Process all manuscripts promptly.
  3. Take full responsibility for the integrity of the peer review.
  4. Ensure the peer review process is objective, fair, and thorough.
  5. Maintain peer review confidentiality.
  6. Respect the intellectual independence of authors.
  7. Avoid conflict of interest.
  8. Quickly facilitate publication of errata to correct erroneous information in a published report.

It’s good to know that there is a publicly available list like this. I think that we (the current editorial board) uphold all of these obligations and sincerely hope that we will for the rest of our tenure as editors.

If at some point you think that we don’t maintain these responsibilities, then please let us know. I would rather be confronted with an issue and get it addressed than let it fester and foster resentment. I don’t want a disgruntled community. If it something you feel is too sensitive to bring up directly with me or the editor assigned to the paper in question, then please feel empowered to contact AGU directly at This address goes to AGU HQ staff, who are very professional and would handle the complaint discreetly.


Rejection Without Review

The Editor’s of Global Biogeochemical Cycles published an Editorial last summer, “Criteria for rejection of papers without review.” In this article, they state that the Editors reject 25-30% of submissions because they are out of scope for the journal. That journal is rather specific and the boundaries of its scope can be unclear to authors. Thus, the GBC Editors felt the need to clarify their scope to the community.


            Similarly, Geophysical Research Letters rejects a rather high percentage, over two-thirds, of papers submitted to it. I don’t know the exact breakdown, but a significant fraction of those rejected by GRL are not sent out for review because they do not fit the scope of the journal. In GRL‘s case, the scientific scope is very broad, and probably very few are rejected because the topic is not appropriate. Rather, that journal’s Editors reject without review because one or more of them found the paper to not meet the criteria of significant new results worthy of consideration for rapid publication. That is, “significance” is one of GRL‘s major limiting “scope” criteria. For some GRL papers, the Editors send it out for review and then, based on the comments of the reviewers, the Editor will decide that the manuscript doesn’t meet the significance criterion for GRL and reject it at that point.

I see examples of “significance” rejections from GRL in the submissions we get that were initially submitted to that journal before being submitted to JGR Space Physics. Some were rejected without review by that journal while others were sent out for review and then rejected on significance based on the reports.

At JGR Space Physics, we reject less than one-third of submissions, and around 11% of new submissions are rejected without review. Less than one percent of submitted manuscripts are rejected for being “out of scope.” We just revised the journal’s full aims and scope last fall, which can be found at the JGR Space Physics website. Therefore, JGR Space Physics does not suffer scope uncertainty like GBC. In addition, unlike GRL, we do not, at the moment, apply much of a filter on the significance of the results. As long as the findings are within the subject of space science, we will most likely send it out for review. We rely on the community to provide the initial assessment of the significance of the findings, and if it is rejected for this reason, the assigned Editor will read through the paper to be certain about this decision.

That is, the Editors of JGR Space Physics apply the “significance” criterion after review rather than before sending it out. This brings up the concern of burdening the community with refereeing assignments of papers with marginal new results. That is a consequence of our editorial practice, but I think that it would take a very large editorial board to make such decisions before sending them out. It would require more Editors for a few reasons, not only because the average editorial time commitment per paper would increase, but also in order to adequately cover the range of topics within the scope of the journal. Even with more Editors, it would, in my opinion, result in many good-quality papers being turned away from JGR Space Physics, perhaps to be published elsewhere.

If you would like to read other opinions about rejection without review in scientific publishing, then here’s perspective on it from the editors of a nutrition journal, another from a technical editing service, and yet another from a science writer. That last one is where I grabbed the graphic above.