Disputing a Rejection

Over the more than year of being Editor-in-Chief, I have had several authors contact me about their paper that was rejected. These authors want to argue the case that the rejection was not justified and are asking that me (or another Editor) reverse or at least reconsider the decision. Luckily, these emails are nearly always polite and respectful; you are a great crew of people that know how to be tactful and considerate. Thank you!

Quick-writing-makeovers

Let me reassure all of you about your rejected manuscript: if you submit a well-reasoned rebuttal to the points made in the reviews, then your paper will always be thoughtfully reconsidered by the JGR Space Physics editorial board. If you put in the time to write a response and appropriately revise the manuscript, then we will carefully and thoroughly read that response and examine those changes to the paper. You always have the option of resubmitting a rejected paper back to JGR Space Physics.

Our “full consideration” of the manuscript might lead to several outcomes. We might decide that it is still not appropriate or ready for the journal and reject it again without even sending it out for review. More likely, we will send it out for review to the same set of referees. We’ll put a special note in the review request letter to note that this is a resubmission of a rejected paper and that we would very much appreciate their assessment of the new version. Furthermore, depending on the nature of the rebuttal you have provided or the scientific controversy being debated in the paper, we will solicit additional referees for it. When a paper is in this situation, we like to have a consensus view about it, so we will send it out to more than just the standard two referees.

If we decide to reject the manuscript again, then we will give you a full explanation of our position about the paper. Even after a second (or nth) rejection, you still have the option of resubmitting to JGR Space Physics. However, at this point, arguing your position is a harder task and it is a far better decision to choose to revise the manuscript according to the referee or editorial suggestions and concerns.

I have found, though, that occasionally it was a misunderstanding on the part of the referees and/or me about the content of the paper. In these cases, the resubmitted paper sails through review and is accepted within a round or two. Yes, I have seen papers accepted at “round 1″ of reviewing; these are invariably resubmissions of rejected papers where the authors either made all requested changes or offered such a convincing counterargument that the reviewers (and me) were convinced.

Everyone is frustrated when they get a rejection letter from a journal editor. Here at JGR Space Physics, we have high standards for the journal that we are trying to upload and we implicitly trust our reviewers to do a thorough and competent assessment. After that initial emotion passes, though, think carefully about the comments we provide and, if you think resubmission is warranted, then please feel encouraged to do so.

Revised Reviewer Instructions

To continue with the changes at GEMS, the reviewer instructions are also a bit different than they have been in the past. At the GEMS login page, there is a link across the top called “Reviewer Instructions.” I encourage everyone, no matter how experienced you are with reviewing papers for JGR Space Physics, to visit this page and get up to speed on the latest reviewing criteria, guidelines, and tips.

To quickly summarize, referees are now asked to answer four questions with drop-down menu options. They are:

  • Is the paper significant and convincing?
  • Do the methods and analysis support the conclusions?
  • Is the referencing appropriate?
  • Is the presentation high quality?

For each of these questions, there are several possible answers ranging from a strong “yes” to a definitive “no.” You will also be asked for your overall assessment and recommendation regarding the paper (from “publish as is” to “reject”). There are several other questions you also need to answer about whether the paper is worthy of highlight in the Research Spotlight section of Eos or if a figure in it is worthy of the Image Carousel at the top of the journal home page.

After this, you will see two comment boxes for uploading your formal review. You can still upload a file, if you so choose, rather than cutting and pasting into the text box. The Reviewer Instruction page lists a series of questions that we would really like you to address in your formal review. In addition (or as part of these answers), please elaborate on your answers to the four questions listed above, whether complimentary or critical, in your formal review.

We really appreciate your time and effort to referee papers for JGR Space Physics. We love to get thorough and thoughtful reviews and they help us tremendously in assessing the paper and making a decision on publication. Furthermore, we really like to get details about what you liked in the paper. While the criticisms and suggestions for improvement are essential, pointing out the good aspects of the paper and providing supporting text to defend that appraisal is also very useful to us.

Awesome Author Instructions

AGU has been making changes to the GEMS system over the last few months, and I’d like to let you know about one thing that I find very cool: the author instructions page. At the GEMS login site, there are several links along the top, and one is Author Instructions. This page gives you lots of information detailing what you need to know for submitting a manuscript to JGR Space Physics (or whatever AGU journal, this is available on all of the journal GEMS pages).

The “links” on the left expand into text right there on the page: “Journal Specific Requirements” discusses publication fees and paper types; “Initial Submissions” lists all of the information and files you need for the first upload of a paper; “Resubmissions and Revisions” tells you what you need for the subsequent uploads, which are slightly different because they want to streamline the transition to publication; and “Submission Process” gives you a heads-up on the order and format of the steps to submission.

On the right are links to other pages with information about the journal and some more detailed information about formats, guidelines, requirements, and available templates. While I like this entire page and think that AGU did a fantastic job laying out for easy use, the coolest thing on this page, in my opinion, is the Submission Checklist. This downloads a PDF with the full listing of all manuscript parts, submission steps, and file requirements. Perhaps its just me because I am huge fan of checklists, but this distills the entire process into a single sheet. Furthermore, if you need more information, the checklist includes many hyperlinks to the original documents with the full details on that topic.

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Okay, I might be a little weird to be so excited about author instructions, but I find this page, and especially the checklist, to be a one-stop-shopping treasure trove of information that I hope makes your lives as JGR Space Physics authors much easier.

Come to the TESS Meeting

The Triennial Earth-Sun Summit, or TESS, is rapidly approaching. This is a new meeting for the space physics community: a joint venture between the Space Physics and Aeronomy section of AGU and the Solar Physics Division of AAS. I am sure that many people have been involved in planning this new conference, but I know that Jim Klimchuk, a solar physicist who has just served as AGU’s SPA President, was instrumental in bringing the leadership of the two communities together to make this meeting happen. I would like to strongly encourage everyone in space physics to attend TESS this year and help make it a great meeting. It’s not too late to decide to go, either: the abstract submission deadline was shifted to February 24, so you still have time!

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There are a lot of common physical processes between solar research fields and those of the rest of the SPA scope of subjects: plasma physics, the transition from collisional to collisionless transport, ion-neutral interactions, energetic particle acceleration, magnetic reconnection, wave excitation and wave-particle interactions, and the relationship between plasma, currents, and magnetic fields, just to name a few. Not to mention the traditional “one-way” interactions of solar EUV/X-ray impacts on planetary upper atmospheres and solar wind influences on planetary magnetospheres and ionospheres; a meeting like this can help Earth and planetary scientists better understand the origins of these driving phenomena on the systems they study.

To relate it to JGR Space Physics, I really hope that this meeting spawns new collaborative investigations and eventually papers submitted to the journal. I think that this meeting will be a fantastic opportunity for cross-disciplinary discussions that hopefully will lead to new insights and research initiatives. I am greatly looking forward to this meeting, not only for myself as a researcher but also in my role as Editor-in-Chief. I will have my eye out for special section opportunities, but if you would like to suggest one as a follow-up to this (or any other) meeting, then please feel free. The form is here.

As the “triennial” in the name implies, the SPA and SPD leadership would like this meeting to become a regular every-third-year event on our schedule. However, I think that “Earth-Sun” is a little limiting…I don’t think that the plan was to exclude planetary space environment scientists from the exchange, and in fact a number of the invited speakers are planetary experts who will almost certainly discuss the connection to planets other than Earth. So, I would like to make a special call to planetary scientists to consider attending TESS: please feel welcome to submit at abstract.

Note that TESS is organized a little differently than a “normal” AGU meeting. With this first one being managed by AAS, they are largely following their format of not scheduling special sessions but rather having “open” abstract submissions. The conference organizers will sort the submissions into sessions and produce a meeting plan based on what people will talk about. I think it will work out just fine and allows a lot of flexibility to organize cross-cutting sessions that hopefully serve the purpose of bringing the communities together.

Finally, I’d like to make a plug for the location. Indianapolis is a enjoyable city with a great walking downtown area with lots of restaurants, shopping, and local attractions. I visit Indy occasionally and I like it a lot. I hope that you do too. SPD apparently had a meeting there recently and liked it so much that they suggested it for the inaugural TESS conference. Good choice!

Editing While Ill

Oof da, this has been a tough week. I don’t get sick very often, and when I do it usually passes pretty quickly, but this cold has lingered all week long. Most days I come home and crash, sleeping for 10 to 12 hours, and still not feeling very rested. I have managed to keep up with the essentials at work: keeping my classes going (yes, plural); attending and leading a few committee meetings; meeting with students; getting a few letters of recommendation written; and assigning editors to the new manuscripts submitted to JGR Space Physics.

The rest of it, though, has suffered greatly this week. This includes a slowdown of some of my editorial duties. I haven’t let it all slide; I have been occasionally plugging away at it and keeping the volume under control (sort of), but my red arrows in GEMS are more numerous this week than usual because I haven’t been able to devote as many hours to editing as I usually do. I’m feeling better today and I hope to catch up.

Especially ignored this week has been email. I apologize to all I have offended with my silence or delayed response. It’s not you, it’s whatever virus is putting up a fight in my body and taking away all of my energy and ability to concentrate.

So, like I have written before, email correspondence is often not my highest priority and sometimes, when life limits my work hours (like this week), unanswered emails back up in my inbox to embarrassingly high levels. Please be patient and feel free to resend something to me. I am not annoyed by reminders…on the contrary, I appreciate the fact that you care enough to politely prod with a follow-up. They elevate your note to page one of my inbox and I will hopefully respond to it quickly.

There is no image with this blog post…I don’t think you’d want one.

So, like I have said before (link: late June post on emails), email correspondence is often not my highest priority and sometimes, when life limits my work hours (like this week), unanswered emails back up in my inbox to embarrassingly high levels. Please be patient and feel free to resend something to me. I am not annoyed by reminders…on the contrary, I appreciate the fact that you care enough to politely prod with a follow-up. They elevate your note to page one of my inbox and I will hopefully respond to it quickly.

New Year’s Resolution

Welcome to 2015! It’s going to be a good year.

I am making a New Year’s Resolution: writing every workday. Let me be even more specific: In 2015, I resolve to spend at least 30 minutes each workday on writing scholarly papers.

Most people I know that are willing to admit their scholarly writing habits are “binge writers.” That is, they don’t write every day but rather block out a chunk of time every now and then, perhaps even weekly, for paper writing. In recent years, I fit into this category as well.

I am not an expert in the subject of the most effective method of academic writing but every expert that I have heard on this topic says that binge writing is not particularly effective. While people think that it is more effective to “get in the zone” and spend a whole day writing, research shows that binge writers end up writing significantly fewer pages over the course of a year.

It is much better to write a little bit every day, preferably at the same time and place, to establish a long-lasting habit. The rhythm of daily writing will make it so that getting in the zone is very quick, therefore allowing meaningful progress even with only a few minutes of writing.

Here is a website where you can learn more about the trade-off between binge writing and daily writing:

http://www.academiccoachingandwriting.org/academic-writing/academic-writing-blog/ii-challenge-common-assumptions-against-daily-writing/

So, I am making a resolution to spend at least 30 minutes a day on paper writing. Not proposal writing, email writing, other people’s papers, or blog posts, but first-author papers. Some of the time could be spent outlining a paper; I am one that always starts with a full outline and convert each bullet point into a sentence or paragraph. This time might include reading journal articles relevant to an Introduction section, as long as I take notes in the paper outline and use the time to help fill in at least a few words towards a manuscript. I am not going to count initial plot-making time but it might include a small modification of a plot now and then just to touch it up for a paper. Mostly, though, it will entail writing. I have four partially written manuscripts that I would like to get submitted this year. I hope that I can make it within the first six months of 2015 but that’s not in my resolution. For my resolution, it’s just the writing part.

Power of Words

Please feel free to join me in making a pledge to focus on writing papers in 2015.

Author Survey Results

At the Fall AGU Meeting, there are several meetings, meals, and receptions that I get to (have to?) attend in the role of Editor in Chief. One of these is our JGR Space Physics business luncheon, at which we (the editors, associate editors, and several AGU staff) get together at a meeting room in the Marriott and talk about the state of the journal and brainstorm about future directions. This year, it was a very well-attended meal, with over 20 in attendance and requiring a few extra chairs to be brought in.

Some of the things we cover are some statistics about the journal for the year. Today, I’m sharing one of those statistics…from the author surveys. Actually, I have two numbers for you, one for “the production process” and the other for “the editorial process.” Many of you have probably received these surveys, because they are sent out soon after the final accept/reject decision. Most of the questions are on the 5-point Likert scale with a few open response questions.

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For the statement: “Average of overall satisfaction with the AGU publication process,” the mean score is 4.3. That is, for the most part, space physicists are quite satisfied with the production process for JGR Space Physics. I was very glad to learn this. While there are anecdotes about production horror stories, such problems seem to be very rare. Most of you are very happy with the AGU-Wiley partnership for getting the accepted papers into “print.”

For the statement: “Average of overall satisfaction with the AGU peer review process,” the mean score is 3.4. Hmm. This concerns me.

One explanation for this is that the question is asked of all authors, i.e., those of both accepted and rejected papers. I don’t have this statistic broken down by editorial decision outcome. The default for every author, of course, is that they think they have written a worthwhile paper that deserves to be published, otherwise they wouldn’t have written and submitted it. The editors and referees, therefore, are seen as obstacles. Anything less than a quick acceptance is likely to annoy the authors.

JGR Space Physics has an acceptance rate of roughly 70%. This is true not only for 2014 but also for the time-extent of the GEMS manuscript processing system, which is over a decade (back to 2002). Bad rating scores from 30% of respondents could be seriously deflating this statistic.

Similarly, it could also be skewed by the voluntary nature of the responses: perhaps those that are disgruntled with the system and want to voice a concern to AGU are more likely to fill out the survey. This could be part of it, too.

Interestingly, nearly all survey respondents, 96%, answered yes to the question, do you expect to submit other papers to JGR-Space Physics?” So, even those that were neutral or dissatisfied with the peer review process will most likely submit another manuscript to the journal. I hope this is a better indicator of how you feel about the job we’re doing.

If you have any feedback, good or bad, about the editorial or review process, then please feel free to contact me. You can do it either publicly with a comment on this blog or the corresponding Facebook post at our AGU Space page or privately via email or some time when you see me in person.

Speaking Beyond the Science Conference

While I am on the topic of presentations (and fresh out of a very full week of siting through them), I’d like to take the chance to let the space physics community know about a relevant article on the AGU Blogosphere.

Yes, AGU has a blogosphere at which several people regularly express their opinions on a number of topics. One of them is “The Plainspoken Scientist” blog:

http://blogs.agu.org/sciencecommunication/

This is an excellent series of posts on how to engage the public about the coolness of science. One recent post is about giving a TED-style talk:

http://blogs.agu.org/sciencecommunication/2014/11/21/thinking-giving-tedx-style-talk-plenty-preparation/

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It’s a great read. I hope you enjoy it and the rest of the blog, too.

This blog hits on a very critical point for us: talking about our work to those outside our work sphere. It’s a different style of speaking that takes practice, but personally I think it is something that we should embrace. In fact, we ignore the development of this skill at our own peril. In an age of budget pressures and increasing demands to be relevant to Jane the Plumber, we need to learn how to tone the jargon and speak in terms that everyone can understand.

Don’t get me wrong: we still need the jargon or else science conferences like the Fall AGU Meeting would be far less informative to experts in the field seeking to learn about the latest new results. In addition, we still need nerdy journals in which to publish those results and make them part of the peer-reviewed, archival literature and long-term knowledge base. However, to keep our funding going, we need to expand our comfort zone beyond the lecture hall to the library foyer, the middle school classroom, and even the local brew pub stage.

Figures in Talks Versus Papers

I am coming the realization that not everyone in space physics reads my blog and adheres to all of the advice that I sometimes dispense. I could be sad about this, but then I remember that I don’t read everything that all of you write, so we’re even. :)

Seriously, though, as I attend the Fall AGU Meeting this week, I have to bring up a point I made 6 months ago that the method of conveying your study to the community is very different between publication and presentation formats. In a publication (like a paper in JGR Space Physics), the reader controls her own pace through the material and can dwell on any paragraph, equation, or figure as long as she likes. In a presentation, especially an oral talk under a strict time constraint, like we have here at the Fall AGU Meeting, the speaker controls the pace and viewers have to pay attention to absorb the information. Therefore, the style has to be very simplistic compared to the presentation format and content level in a paper.

Concept image of a lost and confused signpost against a blue cloudy sky.

When a presenter blasts through slides with multi-paneled figures, the audience does not get the speaker’s point. The author will lose the attention of many people in the room. So, please get this message: you are not doing yourself any favors by cramming lots of plots on the same slide and then going through them at a breakneck pace. In addition, when the labeling is small or faint, the linestyles are too thin, or main features are not highlighted, it is difficult for the audience to quickly grasp the significance of the content. The laser pointer doesn’t actually help much, either, because it is often too bright to see the content exactly where it is focused and whipping it around blinding and confusing. In addition, the inclusion of multiple panels usually just distracts the viewers from keeping their attention on what you are talking about at that moment. Crowded, complicated figures in a talk are not beneficial and are actually detrimental to getting the message across to the audience.

Instead, please keep it simple. Put only one panel on the screen at a time, fill the whole screen with it, and make the labels as big as possible. Add circles, arrows, and annotations to keep eyes on what you are currently talking about. When it is time to talk about another panel, start fresh on a new slide. Maybe you can have two panels on the same slide, but more than that and you are risking obfuscation. Please, keep it clear and easy.

That is, it is often not a good choice to use the exact same figures in both the paper and the talk on some topic. I encourage you to remake everything for the presentation so that it can be understood at the cadence of a fast-paced science talk. For the paper, feel free to cram it in. In fact, it is cheaper: with the current publication fee system of one figure equaling one Publication Unit, it is useful to create multi-paneled figures to save money. The readers can stare at it as long as they wish, so as long as the font is readable, it’s fine to be complicated. In an oral presentation, however, please show them one at a time.