New Scope for JGR Space Physics

We have a new “aims and scope” statement for JGR Space Physics. It reads:

JGR: Space Physics is dedicated to the publication of new and original research in the broad field of space science. This embraces aeronomy, magnetospheric physics, planetary atmospheres, ionospheres and magnetospheres, solar and interplanetary physics, cosmic rays, and heliospheric physics. Science that links interactions between space science and other components of the Sun-Earth system are encouraged, as are multidisciplinary and system-level science papers.

JGR: Space Physics welcomes theoretical, numerical, or observational manuscripts as well as submissions on new instrumentation, numerical models, or analysis methods, as long as such papers include an illustrative example demonstrating direct and timely relevance to space research. Authors are strongly encouraged to make very clear in their manuscript the new science or technology contribution to the field.

JGR: Space Physics also encourages the members to the space science research community to submit proposals for topical reviews, commentaries, and special collections to the Editors.


The old scope was quite brief, basically a short version of the second sentence. This new scope clarifies the full range of topics included in the journal as well as the types of papers that can be submitted. Here are some notable changes from the old version.

We have dropped the word “external” in front of “solar physics.” We are encouraging the submission of papers that span the entire breadth of phenomena that influence interplanetary and planetary space environments. This includes processes within the convective zone of the Sun that influence the solar magnetic field and solar atmosphere.

We have included explicit mention of multidisciplinary, cross-disciplinary, and system-level science studies. As long as there is relevance to a core discipline within space science, then papers including connections to other fields, or even focused on something beyond the normal scope, are welcome.

Not every paper has to have a significant original scientific contribution to space science. JGR Space Physics accepts submissions of several other types of papers for which the publication criteria do not include this “high bar” of original research. First, there are Technical Reports, oriented towards either “data” or “methods,” that should describe a new resource or capability that others in the community should find useful. These papers must include a discussion that demonstrates how it could be used to advance understanding of space physics but it does not have to include the scientific advancement in the Technical Reports paper.

Another paper type in this category is the Topical Review. Again, this does not have to include an original research component, in fact they shouldn’t, but it should include a discussion of the relevance and timeliness of compiling the review now. Note that these are not meant to be as lengthy as a Reviews of Geophysics article, nor written for the broader audience of that journal, but rather focused on a particular issue and written for those in the field. Note that these need editorial board approval before submission; please send us an email.

Finally, there are Commentaries, about which I have recently written. A Commentary is a short “perspectives” article that addresses a particular space science topic and does one of the following: explain the importance of that issue, synthesize recent developments, discuss a controversy, or provide context around an unresolved mystery. They can also be used to provide a scientific evaluation on a recent meeting, a classic paper, or a notable anniversary or event in the field. Until we see how they work in this journal, we are requiring editorial board approval before submission. Like topical reviews, send us an email.

The last thing mentioned in the new scope are special collections, also known as special sections or special issues. These also require editorial board approval, but there is actually an AGU form available for these. The list of published special collections is here and the list of open special collections is here.

Initial Submission Can Be Any Format

Yes, you read that headline correctly: for JGR Space Physics, and I think any AGU journal, the initial submission of a manuscript can be in any reasonable format. As long as the paper has all of the essential elements (title, authors, abstract, main body, affiliations, references), it will be passed on by AGU HQ staff to the editors for consideration. We really like line numbers, too, as that greatly helps the editor and reviewers comment on specific text within the manuscript.

What does this mean for you as an author? It means that if you usually submit to a different journal, for example Annales Geophysicae or ApJ, and you prefer to prepare your manuscripts in that journal’s style format, then please, by all means, do it. Even if you intend to (or eventually) submit it to JGR Space Physics, you can feel free to prepare and submit the initial version in another journal’s formatting and referencing style.

So, here is some advice:


I don’t care which style guide you pick, at least for the first submission of a manuscript.

If it is not declined for publication, then for the second submission of the manuscript, it will have to be converted to comply with AGU formatting standards. This is the point at which publication is becoming much more likely and we need you to make it ready for the production staff.

Note that the second submission is also the point at which you need to upload the figures as individual files. For the first submission, this is not required. A single PDF of the manuscript, with figures either embedded throughout the text or clustered at the end of the document, is all that you need to upload.

Finally, for any submission version number, you can replace the GEMS-generated PDF with your own PDF. I find this especially helpful for the resubmissions when the figures have to be uploaded individually. GEMS does not annotate the figures and therefore they are unlabeled and not numbered, with either figure numbers or page numbers, in the GEMS-generated PDF. Uploading your own version of this PDF, with the figures numbered and paginated and perhaps even embedded within the main text, is not only allowed but also beneficial and appreciated.

We hope that this makes it more convenient for everyone to submit papers to AGU journals. I think that this loosening of the initial submission rules will most directly help those who only usually published in other journals and occasionally publish in JGR Space Physics.

Reviewers: Look Up Papers

A solution to the issue of self-plagiarism in the Methodology section is to write up the method thoroughly in the first paper of the series and then only have a couple of sentences in subsequent papers with a reference back to this full-length description. I like this solution, as long as the subsequent papers include the key elements of the methodology that are essential for understanding the results of that new study. Maybe nothing needs to be highlighted beyond what was in that initial full description paper, but sometimes the follow-on study focuses on a particular aspect of the full methodology and therefore it is useful to remind the readers about that specific point.

For this solution to work, it takes an effort on the readers of the papers to look up the initial paper with the full description. With the push towards Open Access, including the availability of past papers, this is rather easy. Given the full citation in the reference list, I can usually have electronic access to the paper within minute. I don’t need the authors to repeat verbatim a methodology description they have already published.

While some researchers prefer to give a complete methodology description in every paper, this idea of citing published work and just giving a sentence or two about the relevant points to the new study has a long tradition in scientific publishing. This about the Introduction; it’s entirely written this way. Sometimes a published study gets a full paragraph, but usually they get a sentence at most, and sometimes just inclusion in a listing along with other similar papers. This style is fully acceptable in the Introduction and we need to start embracing it in the Methodology section as well.

This requires a change of mindset for some reviewers. Something like this:


A cool graphic I grabbed from here.

When a manuscript has only a short methodology section and instead refers to previously published papers for these details, reviewers should look up these papers for those details. Only the elements of the methodology that are critical for understanding the new work needs to be included in the new paper. Reviewers should not demand a complete description of the methodology in every manuscript when it is already available in another paper.

As an Editor, I will try to spot requests for more methodology and make a judgment call on whether the authors need to adhere to the reviewer’s request. I might not catch such requests, though, so authors should feel empowered to push back on such requests from reviewers when there is a complete description of the requested details already in print. This will bring the issue to my attention when I read your responses (or entered in the cover letter text box during submission) and I can arbitrate at that point. Sometimes, the extra text is needed because the detail is essential to properly understand the new work; other times, though, it is extraneous.

Let’s all help to make the world a place with more concise writing.

Levels of Rejection

I was at the “Unsolved Problems in Magnetospheric Physics Workshop” in Scarborough, England this last week. It was an excellent meeting and I highly commend Mick Denton and crew for putting on a brilliant conference with lots of time for discussion. In case you were wondering, yes, I think that even my talk went well, as it prompted a lively debate.

Here is Editor Larry Kepko’s hand holding aloft a bottle of “magnetosbeer,” specially labeled by a local brewery just for the conference:


He carried that bottle a couple of miles and up a hill in order to get that photo!

Something came up in conversations during the week: it was lamented to me that JGR Space Physics has gone the way of GRL in sending authors “reject with encourage to resubmit” decision letters. Yes, we do send out such letters. It was brought to my attention that these letters are worded rather nicely, indicating that the paper is being “declined publication” (i.e., rejected) but that the Editor would like to see it resubmitted to JGR Space Physics when it is suitably revised. We even ask for responses to the reviews. This sounds a lot like a major revision decision, except that it is assigned a new paper number upon resubmission. The complaint is that this decision is done simply to increase our rejection rate and submission-to-decision time. Perhaps others of you feel the same way as those that expressed this to me directly. Therefore, I would like to directly and openly address it.

First of all, I’d like to acknowledge that this opinion of the “reject and encourage resubmission” decision is a valid complaint. At first glance, it certainly does look like a major revision decision, just with a new paper number next time. That is not our intent.

I use this option when two conditions are met. The first condition is that the reviewers noted numerous and substantial concerns about the study. Therefore, I am judging the paper to be demonstrably not ready for acceptance and publication. I have written a couple of times about why I reject papers. The paper needs an overhaul and I am making the judgment call that it will be a significantly different paper upon resubmission, therefore making it a new submission and invalidating the original initial submission date. There second condition that must be met is that I think the core elements of the study are worthy of eventual publication in JGR Space Physics. The decision letter, therefore, not only informs about rejection but also indicates my eagerness to see it again. Yes, it was rejected, and I think you have a lot of work to do, but yes, I also want you to give it another chance in JGR Space Physics.

Asking for responses to the reviews actually helps you speed your previously rejected paper towards acceptance. That’s why we ask you to do it. If you supply them, then we will definitely seek out the original reviewers. You can also ask for us to not send it to those reviewers. In the end, we may or may not use the original reviewers.

We have another decision-to-reject letter does not include these words of encouragement. In that letter, we state that we are providing the reviews in case you want to consider them as you mull your options of sending the paper to another journal. You can still resubmit a rejected paper for which I sent such a letter, but my experience tells me it will be a challenge to get through the reviewers.

I would also like to acknowledge that I believe that no one likes to receive a rejection letter. Here’s a website I found with a graphic that pretty much sums it up:


You spent time on the study and writing the paper. Rejection stinks. It’s okay to wallow in misery for a day.

Finally, I would like to dispel the erroneous notion that I am under pressure to achieve a particular rejection rate or time-to-publication interval. AGU places no pressure on us to hit any targets with either of these statistics. We do our best to keep JGR Space Physics a high-quality journal that publishes significant new contributions to the field, while also moving your papers along through the editorial process as smoothly and quickly as possible.

Commentaries in JGR Space Physics

JGR Space Physics has a new paper style: Commentaries. These are very short articles providing context on some timely topic of general interest to the space physics research community. Example topics might include the following:

  • A recent publications or set of publications, or special issue/collection in JGR Space Physics or any other journal
  • A recent meeting, session, or workshop (without being a report of that workshop)
  • An update of a classic, historical, or highly cited paper (can be the same or a different author) or group of papers
  • A notable anniversary or other event

The emphasis for Commentaries is on context and perspective. It should discuss the broad, important questions of the topic and set the background for the readers. It is essentially an opinion piece, giving the perspective of the author on the chosen subject. For example, regarding special sections, the organizers have the option of writing an Introduction, which is essentially an invited Commentary. This new paper type allows for anyone to provide a similar type of viewpoint paper on the matter addressed by the special section.

The key point is providing context to the rest of the space physics community, addressing the question, “what should we care about this topic?” So, on that note, I am including the graphic from the AGU Space Facebook page site as a multipart image that captures the scope of our discipline:


            What is a Commentary not? It should not be a listing of papers in a special section and a recap of findings. It should not be a reporting of session or presentation titles from a meeting. It should not be a repeat of conclusions from a classic paper. It should not an announcement for an upcoming event or an account of what happened at some event.

Furthermore, a Commentary should not be confused with a Comment. A Comment is a critique of a single paper and is usually accompanied by a Reply from the authors of that original paper. A Commentary should not be so specific as to call into question the methodology or findings of just one paper. In general, a Commentary is not a critique of individual work but a defense of a whole subject; providing additional thoughts on why a particular topic is interesting for community consideration and investigation.

The basic format, as specified by AGU, is as follows:

  • There is a strict limit of 6 Publication Units, a typical length might be ~2000 words and 1-2 figures/tables
  • The first paragraph of two identify the key issue and provide context on its importance
  • The main body should give the details of the chosen topic but remain at a level that provides broader impact and awareness of the issue
  • The final paragraph should identify still unresolved questions and ideas for future work
  • Jargon specific to a small sub-discipline should be avoided or explained

I have three other points to make about Commentaries. First, there are no publication fees for Commentaries. That’s right; they are free to the authors. AGU would like to launch this new paper type and get us thinking about big-picture context and communicating personal perspectives on timely issues in our field.

Second, they should be submitted through the GEMS site and will go through the regular review process. We might opt to send it to only one reviewer, as we often do with Comment-Reply pairs and special section Introductions. They will be sent out for peer review, though.  Select “Commentary” in the paper type pull-down menu.

Finally, Commentaries, at least those submitted to JGR Space Physics, require approval by the Editorial Board. Please email me or any other Editor of the journal and we will discuss it and get back to you with our decision and possibly feedback and guidance about it.

Avoiding Plagiarism in the Methodology Section

For a couple of years now, AGU has been running a “similarity check” on every new manuscript submitted to one of its journals. I’ve written about these Similarity Reports, also about how to understand one of these reports, and how we as Editors interpret these reports. I’ve also written about self-plagiarism. I’d like to write a bit more about self-plagiarism, because it still comes up as an issue, especially in the Methodology sections of papers.

In short, you cannot cut and paste from a previous paper. Once it is published, that text belongs to that paper and you cannot reuse it. AGU leaves it to our discretion to monitor the exact amount of overlap, but a full paragraph of verbatim text is too much. You have to change it in some way.


            There are several ways to get around the similarity problems, with varying degrees of work on your part. Perhaps the easiest is just to put the entire verbatim text in quotes, citing the paper in which the text originally appeared. When we see something quoted we ignore it as “overlap.” Space physics hasn’t usually gone the way of paragraph-long quotes in papers, but it is an allowable option and something we might see more of in the near future because of the similarity checking.

Another thing is to do is to provide a sentence or two with references, stating the model is exactly the same as was described elsewhere. I can cut-and-paste a reference into Google Scholar and it gives me the link to the original paper in seconds. I actually see little need to repeat text when it is so easy these days to pull up a published paper.

A third option, and the one that will take the most time, is slightly rewrite the text from the previous paper, adding or rearranging words here and there so that the similarity software doesn’t report it as a solid block of text with exact overlap, but rather as a section with a lot of little bits of overlap.  This is much better and usually acceptable, as the meaning is the same but the text has been revised into an original wording.

And then there is this…


Happy writing.

AOSS is now Climate and Space

On a personal note, my department here at the University of Michigan has just changed names, as of today. I am now a faculty member of the Department of Climate and Space Sciences and Engineering. Over the last few decades, we have been slowing changing scope among our faculty research interests and course offerings. We were also the only department in Michigan’s College of Engineering without the word “engineering” in its name. In the end, this change was brought about by forces both internal and external. We’ll be known simply as “Climate and Space.”

CLaSP logo

We are still all of the same people here, just a different name. Same email addresses, since they were just “” without the department name included in them. I get to order new business cards and make a new letterhead template, though. For any alumni or friends out there wanting new Climate and Space swag, or nostalgic for collectible AOSS swag, we’ve got some trinkets and other items to give away over the coming months.

This should in no way affect my role as JGR Space Physics Editor in Chief, but it has been a bit of a distraction over the last year. I am glad that it is finally here and happening and we can just adopt the new name and move on.

JGR Space Physics Cover Art

In case you didn’t notice, JGR Space Physics has had cover artwork since its January 2014 issue. While this coincides with me taking over as Editor in Chief, it is purely by chance; I had nothing to do with the decision to begin cover art for the journal. In fact, at that time AGU started cover art for all journals that didn’t already have it. At first thought, this might seem like a strange time to start cover art, because the journal had dropped the print version at the end of 2012. It makes a lot of sense to have cover art, however, because of the ramp up in table-of-content email alerts and the increase in digital availability of the journal. Here is June’s cover:

Issue Information

            The cover art appears as the front page of the “issue information” PDF for each monthly compilation of the papers published with JGR Space Physics. An example of one of these documents is available here, and it appears as the first paper listed on the issue contents page. On the second page of this PDF is a caption for the cover artwork, including the authors and DOI of the paper with which it is associated. In addition, the issue cover appears as a small image on all JGR Space Physics emails for the next month, so people that subscribe to such alerts will see this image quite a bit in their inbox. Brief side note: getting these alerts is easy, just click the “Get Content Alerts” button in the upper right corner of the journal homepage. Finally, the issue cover appears next to the title on every article page for those papers in that issue, which means it is around “forever.”

I have not checked the statistics on whether selection as cover art increases the downloads of or citations to the associated paper. I’ll do that some time and post my findings. I hope that it at least builds awareness for that particular topic of space physics, with people being curious about the details of the image and the science behind it.

I am the one that selects the cover art each month. I just did this for the August issue. About this time of month, AGU staff compile a list of papers either already published that month or expected to be through production and “in print” by month’s end. I look at every figure from every paper in the issue. Yes, every image, from 70 – 90 papers. It takes me 1.5 – 2 hours to do this. Luckily, most are in the online “image viewer” system, and I can quickly scroll through all of the figures for that paper. Sometimes this production step isn’t completed yet and the link in the spreadsheet leads to a PDF download of the paper. I pay special attention to those figures called out by a reviewer or editor as a candidate for the Image Carousel. These nearly always make the short list. I try to pick one quickly so that AGU and Wiley can finalize the issue and get it released as soon as possible. The monthly issue is usually ready by the middle of the following month.

In choosing a cover image, I look for both aesthetic value as well as scientific value. Usually the former plays the bigger role, but sometimes the latter will sway me to pick a less exciting or colorful image because I think the topic or finding is worth highlighting. This gets me to a short list of perhaps 10-15 images. In addition to these two criteria, I also attempt to balance scientific discipline, choosing roughly equal numbers of images, over the long term, among four areas: solar-heliosphere, magnetosphere, ionosphere-thermosphere, and planetary-cometary. I am also keeping track of the type of image, whether it is data, simulation, schematic, or photograph. I try to keep it about even between data and simulation, with a few of the other two styles.

After selecting a cover image, I then go back through the short list and pick a few to be highlighted on the Image Carousel on the JGR Space Physics main page. The website can only handle up to 7 images in the loop, so I usually have to downselect from my short list to finalize the set for the carousel.

Note that when you have a paper accepted to JGR Space Physics, you have the opportunity of suggesting images for consideration as cover art. This can be either one of the figures in the paper or a completely new, original image related to the paper. I always look at these suggestions and give them special attention in the process.

Podcasts and Outreach

I have started listening to podcasts in my free time. I especially like to listen to something while jogging. I even listen to them when I jog with others, because all of my family members, including my 11-year-old daughter, are considerably faster than me. Music is very good, but I have switched to podcasts of various topics to get me through the workout. While I have a couple “current events” podcasts, I prefer “educational” podcasts. Here are a few of them. And yes, this does have something to do with JGR Space Physics, or at least space physics as a field.

the world is listening

Probably my favorite is Radiolab. They take a topic, often a recent scientific advancement, and explore in depth how this nugget of information intersects with humanity. My local NPR station airs it, but not a convenient time for me to hear it. Another excellent one I listen to regularly is Science Vs by Wendy Zuckerman, an Australian science journalist. Her relatively short (~15 minute) episodes compare “fact against fad” on a broad scope of topics in a witty presentation full of interviews with scientists working in that field. Yet another is The Infinite Monkey Cage, put on by the BBC in which the hosts convene a panel in front of a live audience. I’ve heard Carolyn Porco speak about Cassini a couple of times on this show. They make it fun by always including a comedian as one of the panelists; they’ve had Eric Idle on a couple of times this year. A final group I’d like to tell you about is the crew at Quick and Dirty Tips. One of my favorites is Grammar Girl, but I like the science podcasters as well. Explore the site; there is a lot on it.

First off, I would love to hear about your favorite podcasts. Feel free to comment below with names and/or links to the podcasts or video/audio productions that you enjoy.

Second, though, I wonder how to get our science of space physics covered more regularly on these types of shows. Sometimes the aurora is mentioned and planetary science occasionally makes it onto one of these shows. It’s a very small percentage of the content, though. Perhaps that’s the best we can hope for, but I think not. Going back to my earlier post on preparing your own Ted-style talk, I think that space physicists should take a more active role in promoting our science beyond the lecture halls of space physics conferences. Public awareness is a critical foundation to public support; the more we advertise the existence of our field to those beyond ourselves, the easier it will be to make the case that our science is important and contributes to the betterment of society. I think it’s a topic that we should be considering and taking seriously within our community. One place in which this conversation has been going for quite some time is the SPA-EPO committee. This committee organizes a number activities to promote education and public outreach for our discipline. If you have an interest, then I urge you to contact the AGU staff listed on the page to get info about the monthly telecons.

Supporting Information

AGU allows authors to upload Supporting Information along with a manuscript to one of its journals. The description about it is here. It is to provide a digital archive of information that is not essential to the study but readers might find useful for a deeper understanding of the topic, methodology, underlying data sets, software, or results.

This used to be called an “electronic supplement” but that name is outdated now that the paper itself is electronic. Thus the new name, supporting information. Another change from the recent past is that it now should be uploaded as a single file, if possible. Yes, a single file, with embedded figures, tables, video, audio, or code. You can use multiple files for the different pieces of supporting information, but AGU greatly prefers for it to be embedded/concatenated into a single file. The link above is a short description of Supporting Information; the more detailed site is located here.

There are templates for the supporting information file in Word and LaTeX formats. The file should contain header information to identify the original article, introductory text to give an overview of the content, detail the source of the material, list any known caveats to usage of the information, and explain its potential usefulness to the research community. A caption should be written for each piece of supporting information.

Note that this has to be uploaded as part of the submission process and that it undergoes peer review scrutiny just like the rest of the article. Its existence has to be justified and appropriate. It also has to be deemed nonessential to the main findings of the study. So, like I recently advocated, think carefully about which figures below in the main article. Perhaps some of them could go in the Supporting Information instead.

On the plus side, supporting information does not count towards the Publication Unit count and is therefore “free” content to the author. Or, more appropriately, it is built in to the base publication fee, which is $1000 for JGR Space Physics. Also note that color figures are the same price (free!) as black-and-white images, and, at least at this point, there is no size limit to audio or video.