Free e-Book on Scientific Writing

I have a free e-book for you: Writing Scientific Research Articles by Margaret Cargill and Patrick O’Connor.

Cargill_Writing_Book_Cover

I am not the source, just the conduit. This is compliments of AGU and Wiley. They have little credit-card-sized “coupons” for downloading and accessing a copy of this book. There is a special code on the back of each card coupon, so each person needs their own card. I think; I haven’t actually tested this, because I only needed one copy.

They actually offered this e-book a couple of years ago. I read it, liked it, and took a bunch of notes. I should pass some of the key points on to you here in this blog. Well, I have, but not specifically as a recap of this book. If you would like the full version from the original authors, then please find me here in New Orleans at the Fall AGU Meeting. I have a small stack of these cards in my pocket. I can probably get more if I run out.

As a teaser, the section headings:

Section 1: A framework for success – typical research article structures

Section 2: When and how to write each article section – a method for writing the first draft

Section 3: Getting your manuscript published – submitting and resubmitting

Section 4: Developing your writing and publication skills further – specialized writing topics, strategies, and advice

Section 5: Provided example articles – for reference, called out throughout the book

I liked the book a lot and found myself agreeing with nearly everything they suggest. I highly recommend it. Find me and I’ll give you a coupon card.

Advertisements

Giving Tuesday 2017

Today has been designated Giving Tuesday, at least here in the USA. This comes on the heels of Thanksgiving Thursday, Black Friday, Small Business Saturday, and Cyber Monday. I’m not quite sure why Sunday was skipped over; a leftover from a bygone time when stores were not open on Sundays, I guess.

Many non-profit organizations are using today as a special 24-hour publicity campaign to raise funds. AGU is one of those organizations. You can find out more about their particular campaign here.

AGU-givingday2017

That link takes you to the main page about the Giving Day campaign; the direct page for individual donations is here.

I am not paid by AGU to make this announcement; I do it because I believe in what AGU does for our research community. I personally like to give to several of the accounts listed in the “student” and “special” funds categories on the “donate” page. Unfortunately, the website is set up to select only one fund from each category, so if you want to give to more than one fund in a category, then you have to do a separate order for each. It’s fast, though.

I’ve talked about this a number of times. AGU used to have it on the Thursday during the Fall AGU Meeting, but now they’ve moved it to align with the national Giving Day event. There are lots of good funds to which you can designate your donation, including some specifically for space physics, like the new Maha Ashour-Abdalla Scholarship. And yes, AGU still has the incentive program that provides extra funds to the section leadership, depending on the percentage of membership in that section that make above-normal-membership donations to AGU (of any size into any fund).

Donating to AGU doesn’t influence the publications process; it will have essentially no effect on JGR Space Physics. It will not help your paper get published. It does, however, have big importance to the “extra” things that AGU does for our community, like travel grants for students and those in developing countries, outreach and public engagement to increase scientific literacy and awareness, and prize money like the Basu, Scarf, and OSPA awards.

CRediT Is Here

Contributor Roles Taxonomy, CRediT, is now implemented for new submissions to AGU journals. I had a post on this a few months ago and it’s been in place with Water Resources Research for a year or so, but now it is implemented for all AGU journals, including JGR Space Physics. They have a page listing the various CRediT author roles but a much better description of them is in this Google doc. Here is the main chart from that document:

CRediTlistofroles

Corresponding authors, when submitting their manuscript through GEMS, now have the option to fill out these contributor roles for all coauthors on the paper. You don’t have to do it, at least not yet. Also, the current plan is to start displaying these contributor roles as part of the paper’s online information in January 2018, or whenever Wiley completes its software upgrade enabling display of these contributor role designations.

You don’t have to worry about the film credit model of authorship; that is not being implemented anytime soon. We will still have an ordered listing of authors, we will still be citing multi-authored papers by the first author’s last name, and all authors will still be getting full credit in their CVs and h-index calculations. This is just an extra layer of information about the study that will not only increase transparency about the contribution of each author to the study but also make corresponding authors aware of the different roles within a study and think about who should be an author of the eventual paper.

Trip to China

In mid-October I went to China on a publications-awareness-building trip with AGU CEO Chris McEntee, AGU Senior VP for Pubs Brooks Hanson, JGR-Atmospheres Editor in Chief Minghua Zhang, and GRL Editor Andrew Yau. It was a full week of visiting universities and research institutes; 4 in Shanghai and then 3 more in Wuhan. We met many people conducting research in the broad swath of “geoscience” fields from students just beginning their projects to well-known senior members of the community.

I’d like to say thanks to all of our host institutions. The people we met were fantastic and it was a pleasurable week talking with so many researchers at all of these locations. I had a wonderful time visiting your country and your workplaces, I was well fed at every stop, and the hospitality was excellent. Shanghai and Wuhan are delightful cities and I highly encourage others to visit when given the opportunity. It was a really nice week.

Mike_with_SJTU_mug-cropped

Me and my new Shanghai Jiao Tong University mug

 

I’d also like to thank my travel buddies. Minghua, Andrew, Brooks, and Chris, you are an excellent human beings. I am really glad that I got to spend that week with the four of you.

At each institute, Dr. Hanson would give a talk about publishing in AGU journals. This would start with a few slides about the scope of AGU and its 20 journals, author demographic info, and some updates about AGU’s latest endeavors in scientific publishing. Then we transitioned into more of an author workshop mode, discussing the desired elements in a manuscript submission to an AGU journal. This is where the presentation gave way to conversation, with questions from the audience and with the editors chiming in with stories and advice. We spoke with full rooms at every institute, with the crowd varying depending on the size of the room, from ~30 to ~200.

Here are a few of the key highlights that kept recurring in our “advice to authors” tips:

  • Talk to an editor. If you are unsure of whether your paper is suitable for a particular journal, feel free to contact an editor of that journal and ask. Some studies fall on the borderline between journals, or you might be questioning whether your result is significant enough for a particular journal. Either meeting an editor in person at a conference or sending them an email is a way to help you sort out which journal is the most appropriate for your work.
  • Write a cover letter. For AGU journals, this is just a text box entry during the GEMS submission process, so it is straightforward and easy. This is a great opportunity to explain why your study should be in this particular journal. Less than half of submissions include a cover letter, which is a missed moment to positively influence the editor’s assessment of your manuscript.
  • Write a clear Abstract and Key Points. Editors send the Abstract to potential reviewers, so this is a paragraph used to entice these people to accept the reviewing assignment. I strongly recommend making the finalization of the Abstract as one of the last things you do before submission, ensuring that it clearly yet concisely conveys the motivation for the study, the highlights of the methodology, the key findings, and mention of the significance of the results for the field. Similarly, the Key Points are displayed on the journal website table of contents, so these are one of the first things that potential readers will see, using their clarity and significance to assess whether to read the full article. Please make the drafting of the Key Points an element of paper writing, not something done at the last moment as you upload the paper into GEMS.
  • Have a friend critically read the manuscript. Coauthors should be stepping up to this role, but even beyond that, it is highly encouraged to form a small group of “writing buddies” who will read each other’s papers. Getting feedback from someone not intimately involved in the research is usually highly beneficial to the paper’s chances of eventual publication.
  • Spend time on the Discussion section. This is where the results of the new study should be placed in the context of what is already known, making the case that the new findings are a significant original contribution to the field. Far too many papers cut this section short, instead jumping straight to the summary and conclusions. A weak Discussion section can sink an otherwise compelling study.
  • Scholarly writing is hard, so practice it. Academic writing for journals is a learned skill; no one has a natural-born talent for this task. Just about everyone struggles with scientific writing, has had to completely rewrite whole paragraphs or even sections in the editing process, and has had papers rejected. Even experienced writers get forgetful of the proper technique for good science communication. Do not be discouraged; you are not alone in your pain. What helps? Practice. Making scientific writing a regular habit will improve your ability to write well.

That’s a good start. I’ll write more on this in the coming weeks.

AGU’s Reddit AMA Series

For about a year now, AGU has been promoting and sponsoring its members to conduct Ask Me Anything sessions on Reddit’s Science page.

Reddit-1

This activity of AGU-arranged AMAs is part of their Sharing Science program. This page has many good resources for AGU members to learn how to connect with the public and policy makers, and I encourage you to join the Sharing Science Network.

AGU has arranged a couple of space physics AMAs so far, as well as a few planetary science ones. I am also aware of another AMA by one of our own, Liz MacDonald on Aurorasaurus.

AGU’s next AMA is with…yeah, you might have guessed…me. Next Thursday (October 5) I will be fielding questions from, well, whoever out there posts a question. I am told that it is a few hours of constant typing, so I should warm up my fingers with lots of paper writing over the next few days. I’m looking forward to it.

Liemohn_AMA_Fall2017

            As you might have seen in xckd this week, space physics and space weather has some societal appeal right now. We should take advantage of this traction with the public and do what we can to make our field better known to the world.

The Film Credit Model of Authors

AGU is moving towards the adoption of a new step in paper publication, assigning contribution roles to the names in the author list. At some point in the “near future,” you as an author will be asked to go through your author list designate who did what for the study. I don’t know when this will happen, but Brooks Hanson, a Senior VP of AGU, is a coauthor on this paper and AGU is gearing up to implement contribution designations. I also don’t know if this will be requested as optional metadata, perhaps as a mandatory submission step. I expect that the research community will have plenty of lead time before it becomes required.

As of now, AGU will still have author lists associated with each paper. There will simply be an extra set of information that provides details of the roles for each author in the list. For a single author paper, this is, of course, overkill, but most papers have more than one author and this extra information could be very useful.

But, what if we didn’t have the list anymore?

I was recently told about a rather radical yet intriguing extrapolation of this process. The original article is here describing the problem of paper authorship and the potential for frustration and annoyance at the placement of names in the list. The author notes that the issue is the fact that the authors names appear in a list and that we as a research community ascribe certain meaning to people’s placement within that list. The suggested solution is summed up in this graphic:

Papers_wo_authorlists_cropped

No more first author. No more last author.

They call this is the film credit model of authors. Names are listed next to the roles, jobs, or functions they performed to contribute to the final product. Who is first author of a film? As an example, for The Martian, is it Damon et al. (highlighting the lead actor), or maybe Scott et al. (highlighting the director), or perhaps Goddard et al. (highlighting the executive producer)? We never say any of these. Could that be the case with scholarly articles someday?

This would change the in-line citations of references, because there would no longer be a first author to name in the text. Reference list formatting in papers would also need to be revised because there would not longer be a clear order for the authors. CVs would change, as we list our contributions rather than just our placement in the author list of our publications. Like I said, this is a radical suggestion. It is also, though, a natural progression along the path that AGU is now undertaking.

I’d like to say thanks to Dr. Shane Hanlon at AGU HQ for pointing out this Medium article to me, via a response to my post at AGU Connect. This website, especially the “AGU Community” discussion page for everyone in AGU, is a place for geoscientists (including space physicists) to engage in conversation about scholarly topics. You can sign in with your AGU username and password. There are some topics, like paper authorship, that span well beyond the scope of JGR – Space Physics. Sometimes, I will be posting on such topics over there instead of here, especially if I pose my thoughts as a question rather than a comment. So, look for those discussions and, if interested, then please start responding and posting on that site.

Hurricane Special Session

I am very saddened to hear about the loss of life in Texas, the Caribbean Islands, Puerto Rico, and Florida as Hurricanes Harvey and Irma made landfall this past month. There is also tremendous loss of life in Bangladesh due to the severe flooding happening there. And we can’t forget the huge earthquake off the coast of Central America. I hope that survivors can find a way to make their way through the chaos left behind from these disasters.

We can already be thinking about what to learn from these beasts of nature. Specifically, AGU has created a late-breaking session for the Fall Meeting about these large and devastating hurricanes. Originally, it was just about Hurricane Harvey, but the scope has been expanded to include Irma.

harvey-image-960x630

            The first author rule is relaxed for late-breaking sessions. Even if you have submitted one already, you can submit another to this (or any other) session created after the original submission deadline.

Space physics can participate in this session. Storms in the troposphere produce atmospheric gravity waves that break in the lower thermosphere, heating this region and creating ripples in ionospheric density. Sometimes magnetic fields are shaken, creating ULF waves that propagate into the magnetosphere. Harvey is particularly intriguing because it parked itself for such a long time, allowing this energy coupling to influence a particular spot for an unusually long time. There are probably other lower-upper atmospheric connections of interest.

The deadline for this session is October 31, so you have time to do some preliminary analysis before making a decision about an abstract submission.

AGU HQ staff and the journal EiCs are already discussing the possibility of a joint special section about new science findings from these hurricanes. I have no details on that yet but, if you pursue a study on this topic, then please keep an eye out for this special section. Even if it doesn’t materialize, then please consider submitting such papers to an appropriate journal, like Space Weather, Geophysical Research Letters, Radio Science, or JGR Space Physics.

New AGU Style Guide

As reported by Brooks Hanson in his Editors’ Vox article last week, AGU is unveiling a new style guide for papers next month. The last major change was in early 2014 when AGU dropped the print version of nearly all of its journals and then made the switch from double to single column in the PDF formatted version of each paper.

The major change is the adoption of and adherence to APA Style. I had to look it up, too: APA is the American Psychological Association. It is already used across quite a few scholarly journals, including most of those published by Wiley, so this will help their production staff and reduce the inadvertent errors sometimes introduced in this final publication step.

apastyle_header_tcm11-193894

            For you, the authors of AGU papers, the biggest changes are with citations and references. First, the adoption of APA style means that AGU is making the switch from brackets around citations to parentheses. Second, we get to use an ampersand, &, when citing a paper with only two authors. Third, when a paper has 8 or more authors, the reference list should include the first 6 names, then an ellipse, and then the last author’s name. Yes, that’s right, if there are only 8 names, then just the seventh name in the list is replaced with a series of dots. There are a few other small changes, but these are probably the most notable ones. Okay, one more little thing: APA style recommends usage of the serial comma, so I am happy guy.

AGU as two useful websites for you on this, the brief guide and the full style guide. I think that it should be an easy transition.

One notable deviation from APA style: the use of “et al.” for citing papers with 3 or more authors. AGU will continue its custom of using “et al.” after the first author’s name for all citations to such papers. The official APA style, however, says to list all coauthors on first citation of each paper. I am glad that AGU is not following this formatting rule.

New manuscript templates are not yet available. I’ll have another post on this when they are ready and online, which should be later this month. Wiley staff will start implementing the APA style on papers accepted in AGU journals starting September 1.

Remember, AGU accepts initial submissions in just about any format so you don’t have to switch right away. At some time in the near future, though, these new guidelines will become the norm. So, you should try to follow them as soon as you can.

 

Comparing the Impact of Journals

Yesterday the JGR Space Physics editors had their quarterly telecon and we talked a bit about the new Journal Impact Factor (JIF) that was just released. We want the journal to be very high quality but we do not want to be metrics manipulators. We agreed to monitor it for the next few years.

The topic of metric reliability is on the minds of many journal editors. Martyn Clark, the Editor in Chief of AGU’s journal Water Resources Research, just published an Editorial entitled, “The citation impact of hydrology journals,” coauthored by Brooks Hanson, AGU’s Director of Publications. It analyzes several metrics for 6 hydrology-related peer-reviewed journals for the past ~20 years. It’s a very nice examination of journal metrics for a geophysics field. I encourage you to read it.

Let me summarize the key findings. They show that all of the journals have the same temporal trend in their metrics, with the JIF steadily rising, in general, for all hydrology journals over the last 15 years. They also see significant variability in the JIF of smaller journals (i.e., those that publish < 200 articles per year) as a few highly-cited papers skew the JIF upwards for a year or two, quantified by resampling the articles to create a uncertainty spread on the metric. All of the journals had Lost Papers with zero citations and Super Papers with >100 citations. They find hydrology papers taking a relatively long time to “mature” and reach full influence on the field, a similar trend as in space physics, as evidenced by most citations occurring after the 2-year window of the JIF (compare their Figures 6 and 7 with a similar plot for JGR Space Physics here). The main finding of the article is that journal metrics, in particular the JIF, are temporally variable, have relatively large spreads of uncertainty, and are not representative of the influence of a specific paper on its research field.

The JIF is reported to 4 significant digits, but this Editorial clearly demonstrates that this level of precision is overkill. Here is a plot of the spread of JIF values for 3 of the journals:

Clark_WRR_2017_Editorial_Fig4

JHM is the smaller of these 3 and the uncertainty in its JIF is > 0.5. The other two journals publish 500-800 articles per year, so their uncertainties are lower, but they are still several tenths of a point.

They bring up a fantastic point that I want to repeat here: citations to a paper do not necessarily measure the quality of the paper, but rather represent the utility of the paper. Citations show that others are building on the findings of the paper but the number of citations does not capture the robustness of the analysis within the paper. I don’t think that we have a good measure for that yet.

If you look at the Acknowledgments, Jennifer Satten at Wiley provided the bibliometrics data for this article. She has given me much of the same information for the field of space physics. I could work up a similar article for our discipline. It’s on my to-do list. Maybe I will, or perhaps I’ll just show some plots in this blog as I make them.

JGR’s 2016 Impact Factor

Clarviate Analytics, the new company name for the part of Thomson Reuters that makes the Journal Citation Reports, just released the 2016 Journal Impact Factors. As expected, they separated the sections of JGR into different journals, giving each one its own JIF. And the value for JGR Space Physics is … wait for it … 2.7.

ClarviateAnalytics

            As I wrote back in January his is what I was expecting. Actually a little higher, which is nice. While this is a big drop from last year’s “all sections of JGR” value of 3.3. The JGR Space Physics JIF score is the lowest of the JGR family, just below JGR Oceans (at 2.9) and a full point below JGR Planets (at 3.7).

I am not that concerned about it. I gave several reasons for this back in January, especially the fact that we have a near linear growth in the average citations per paper for the first decade after publication. That is, the average citations per 10-year-old paper is right at 30. On average, we cite each paper ~3 times per year, every year, for a long time after publication. Here’s the graph I showed in January supporting this:

avg_cites_per_paper_by_year

This is not the only good news about the longevity of JGR Space Physics papers: the cited half life is over 10 years (the maximum that Clarviate Analytics posts, “>10.0”). So, on average, a 10-year-old paper has yet to reach half of its total citations over its lifetime. This means that the average JGR Space Physics paper will eventually reach a total citation count of over 60.

Another bright spot: our Immediacy Index is 0.71, which is second among the JGR family. This is the number of citations in the year 2016 to papers published in the year 2016. For reference, a quick scan over the last 5 years of values reveals that only one AGU journal, Reviews of Geophysics, has an Immediacy Index over one (it jumps between 1 and 3, with its 2016 value being 2.3). I have not analyzed whether this is from a few papers getting many citations or a broad spectrum of papers getting a few, but either way, I’d say that we’re doing pretty well at reading the new literature. Way to go!

Our field of space physics has a particular way of citing publications. Some papers get immediate attention resulting in citations within the first year but most papers take a while to be absorbed by the community and achieve their full impact on the field. In the long run, JGR Space Physics papers are highly cited.