My Top Posts of All Time

It is almost the end of December, when the mantle will be passed to the incoming Editor of Chief of JGR Space Physics, Michael Balikhin. This blog will end soon. So, it is time for a little nostalgia. One of the features of WordPress is that it collects page view statistics. Overall, the total page view count is over 120,000, for an average of something like 56 page views per day, which seems like a pretty good number over and 6-year run of this site. Thank you for reading.

It also tells me the page view stats on each post. The lowest count is 14, for some of my latest ones. For others, the count is over 1000 views. Here’s the list:


            Yes, my two posts on deciphering the manuscript status tables in GEMS have tallied the most hits, over ten thousand each. There is a serious demand for understanding those tables, probably well beyond the space physics research community. Similarly, the next one on the list is my post about Publication Units. Again, this is an AGU-wide policy and people submitting to any AGU journal need to know about calculating Pub Units.

The fourth entry on the list a curious one to me, on acronyms in titles. Over 4000 views. Hmm. I guess people are interested in acronym usage. This goes with entry #13 (the last on this list of post with > 1000 views), on scientific presentations. It is good to be clear in our correspondence with each other.

There are several on this list about the Journal Impact Factor, including two posts on this from 2014, another one from 2016, and my JIF score post in mid 2017 . That’s a lot of top-viewed articles about this one topic. We like journal metrics.

Number #6 on the list is about AGU’s manuscript templates.  Note that the specific Word and LaTeX template links in there are now old; the better page to bookmark is this one, which is updated with links to the latest templates. If you notice issues with these templates, please email AGU pubs staff and let them know. These templates are regularly updated, both as the AGU publication style changes and as corrections are pointed out.

In late 2014, I had a whole series of posts on revision, rejection, and the editorial decision-making process. Entry #9 is the first of these posts, and apparently the most-read of them.

Which brings me to #10, my rather long post about my PhD student leaving space physics, including some advice on combating microaggressions. I especially love the comments that people wrote on this post (scroll down on that linked page), and I have written several other times about sexism, racism, and the need for diversity and inclusion in the space physics workplace (see the pingback links on that page).

Only one more to talk about, and that was about AGU’s data policy. This policy has slowly evolved throughout my term as EiC, or more precisely, as enforcement of this policy has evolved and become stricter. My most recent post on this was in August of this year.

I could keep going, but the 1000 views mark seems like a nice (yet arbitrary) cutoff for this list.

Recapping my Editorials

In an earlier post, I mentioned how Gombosi wrote several editorials during his time as Senior Editor (the former title for Editor in Chief). I could not find an editorial written by the next EiC after Gombosi, Janet Luhmann, and then I found only one editorial each for the next three EiCs – Art Richmond, Amitava Bhattacharjee, and Bob Lysak. The first two are introductory articles at the beginning of their terms, while the third is a detailed exposition of “how JGR works” that I have written about before.


Like my predecessor, I did not write an introductory editorial. In 2015, however, AGU started encouraging editorial boards to write an annual reviewer thank you editorial, which I have done each year starting in 2016 (four, so far). In 2016, I included an extra listing of the Associate Editors whose terms were ending, thanking them for their service to the journal and the community. In 2017 and 2018, I included a table of reviewer statistics within this thank you editorial. In 2019, AGU created a standard template for this thank you editorial and so it has a very short introductory paragraph of thanks and praise before the listing of reviewers.

I have published one other editorial along the way. In 2016, soon after the first thank you editorial, we wrote one on the reviewer selection process and the new “Areas of Expertise” categories within GEMS. More details of this are also given in this earlier blog post.

I have two more editorials coming out soon. One is on the impact of special collections. I made it one of my initiatives to solicit more special collections for JGR Space Physics. I succeeded in doing this, especially in the middle of my term as EiC. We now have the statistics to see if this experiment was worth it, addressing the question, should we even have special collections in journals anymore? I think the answer is yes. I will have a full post on this paper when it is accepted, but the preliminary version of this manuscript is available at ESSOAr, the Earth and Space Science Open Archive. If you don’t know what that is, then read more about it here. I used the new automatic transfer feature now in GEMS to send a new submission directly into the ESSOAr system.

The next one, which could be my last, is on reviewer statistics. This will be similar to what I have shown in previous years but in this editorial the yearly numbers are all given together (as figures), showing the progression over time in the various values and metrics. I am about to finalize it and submit. Again, I’ll have a blog post dedicated to that one when it is accepted.

Too Many Papers?

Senior Editor Tamas Gombosi’s second editorial, published in November 1992, just a month after his first introductory editorial that I wrote about last week, is a fascinating fulmination about a perennial topic – too many papers of too little scientific value. He even touches on the larger issue of being “expected to do more science with fewer resources,” which perhaps drives the first problem of publishing incremental advancements in order “to create the appearance of increased scientific productivity.” He also laments a decline in subscriptions as the journal gets bigger each year. Remember that this came at a time before online publishing, when journals were physical magazines and took up space on your shelf. Finally, he notes that more papers means more refereeing work for the community.


JGR Space Physics has exceeded 10,000 pages for all 5 years that I have been Editor in Chief, and is on track to do this again in 2019. Its page count had not broken into the 5-digit realm until then.

Gombosi concludes like this:

“I would like to convince all of you to write concise papers with clear scientific motivations, papers which not only are interesting to read but also address and advance the subject in a meaningful way…I hope that as a community we will reverse the present trend and will find reading papers almost as enjoyable and rewarding as writing them.”

Did we reverse it? Are we reading more than we used to? I have no hard evidence easily available on this point, but I suspect not, even with the advent of online publishing and the digital availability of everything we write.

This article was followed, just a month later, by a guest editorial by George Withbroe from NASA HQ. He wrote to concur with Gombosi’s assessment of the issue and voice concern about measuring productivity with the number of papers from a person or group rather than the quality of those papers. The quantity versus quality issue runs parallel to the debate over the growing physical expansion of the journal on people’s office shelves. Withbroe highlights his own experience being faced with a choice of publishing one large paper or several shorter ones. He would have us choose one comprehensive paper, but urges us to write it in as concise a manner as possible to minimize the page count.

This all goes with the Brevity editorial of Alex Dessler twenty-four years earlier. Apparently, the issue of publishing more than any one person can read has been an issue for many decades.

The question begs to be asked: do we have a problem?

I agree in general with the “brevity” mantra and being “concise” in your writing. I think that removing excess verbiage is a skill that we need to hone. Some will argue that disk space is cheap, so why not write verbose papers? Why not include everything relevant, and even some parts that are only marginally useful? Why have a Publication Unit limit on JGR Space Physics articles, above which fees kick in? Someone might want to read it, so it should be there, right?

I think that we should strive for being as focused as we can. You will engage better with your readers if you keep the writing targeted at a central theme.

Which brings me to the other point – I disagree that there are too many papers published. Yes, JGR Space Physics publishes more papers than I want to read in a year, but this is not a problem because the journal spans more than any one person’s specific research interests. With the current editorial workload and workflow, there is always the chance of a few LPUs getting through to acceptance (the LPU, or “least publishable unit,” is a term I have heard Andy Nagy say, and warn against, since my first year in grad school). Could we be more selective in what we accept for publication at JGR Space Physics? I leave that to the next EiC (rumor is that the announcement is close).

I do not think that we want to go the other extreme from LPUs and publish only long treatises with so many findings that they risk becoming confusing, rambling, and tedious. Furthermore, very long papers with many findings make it difficult to summarize the key take-away points. Personally, I really like the length of paper that we typically publish. Furthermore, I really like AGU’s adoption of Key Points because I think they help us focus each paper on only a few significant new findings.

A final comment: I find it interesting that these editorials were written many years before Hirsch proposed his famous h-index (in 2005). Although it has its drawbacks, the h-index attempts to balance quality and quantity to assess a person’s productivity and impact on a field. It seems to be the dominant metric for this task right now. The h-index does not penalize you for publishing lots of short papers, but a long and comprehensive one might accumulate more citations because its numerous findings have a multi-faceted appeal. Which path is best to bump up your h-index? There is probably a study in existence about which of these styles (many short papers versus fewer but more robust ones) will optimize your h-index, but I don’t have it handy.

Feel free to comment below on these topics.


Letters and Commentaries

I recently reread Tamas Gombosi’s inaugural address to the space physics community when he became Senior Editor (the old term for Editor in Chief) of JGR Space Physics in 1992. He lays out several new initiatives that he wanted to or did implement with the journal during his term.

One of the things that he mentions are Letters to the Editor. He can correct me if I am wrong but I could only find three examples of “guest editorials” in JGR Space Physics during his tenure. The first was by George Withbroe in December 1992, just two months after Gombosi announced the new policy, offering praise for Gombosi’s Editorial in November on JGR publishing too many papers. I’ll write a separate post on that pair of editorials in the near future.


The second was by Philip Abelson in March 1993, which I wrote about a couple months ago, recounting the early history of JGR, from its inception as Terrestrial Magnetism and eventual adoption by AGU as its flagship journal. The third was really by Gombosi, in January 1995, in which he reprinted L. Bauer’s initial editorial in the first issue of the first volume of Terrestrial Magnetism. This was done in honor of the 100th volume of JGR, published that year. Appropriately, the citation for this reprinting lists Bauer as the author, not Gombosi, so I’ll count it as a “guest editorial.”

It appears that other editorial teams after him did not continue this practice. I cannot find a guest editorial appearing any time after the Bauer reprinting. Actually, we won’t have “letters to the editor” and “guest editorials” anytime soon, either. It’s not because this is a bad idea; quite the opposite! It’s because AGU has formalized this type of contribution as its own paper type, the Commentary. The official description is here (scroll down to Paper Types and click on Commentaries), but I will reprint it because this is just a short paragraph:

Commentaries provide readers with context on a recent publication or meeting, a notable anniversary or event, an update on a paper of importance, or special collection in an AGU or other journal. Commentaries are submitted to a specific journal but the audience is the broad Earth and space science community. The maximum length is up to six publication units and up to two tables or figures. Read our author guidelines on commentaries.


The full details are in the guidelines PDF at the link above. While Commentaries are short (capped at 6 Pub Units), they are less of a letter or editorial and moreso a perspectives article, making a pitch to the scientists in the field. They should inspire us towards some action or research focus, with just a bit of background detail. In fact, making it even more paper-like, AGU requires a short Abstract and highly encourages a Plain Language Summary, so that its message can be understood not only by the readership of the specific journal to which it is submitted (like JGR Space Physics) but also by the broader Earth and space science research community. AGU even posts them all together in a special all-journal collection, in addition to being on the specific journal website.

Note that submitting a Commentary requires approval from the journal’s Editorial Board. You do this by sending an email with a brief description of your article concept (a paragraph or two is enough). For JGR Space Physics, any editor can approve the submission of a Commentary, but sending this inquiry email to will ensure that gets to all of us. Note that approval to submit does not guarantee publication; these articles are sent out for review. The acceptance criteria are different than a Research Article paper type, because they do not have to contain a significant new advancement of knowledge but rather they need to contain something significant for the community to know. So, sometimes, Commentaries are declined publication, even though they were invited to be submitted.

This is the modern “letter to the editor,” and I think that most AGU journals (except GRL and Reviews of Geophysics) are now open to the submission and publication of Commentaries. If you are interested and feel compelled to do so, then please think about sending us an inquiry pitch for a Commentary idea.

Abelson’s Editorial

I have a folder on my computer of most of the editorials published in JGR Space Physics (hopefully all, but I might have missed a few). Today I’d like to recap one from Philip Abelson from March 1993, on the history of the journal into what it was when he was editor. Abelson served as co-editor of the Journal of Geophysical Research (yeah, just JGR, before the disciplinary splintering in the early 1970s) starting in 1958. This is, apparently, when AGU acquired JGR as its primary scientific publication.

Do you know the original name of JGR? Abelson reports that it was Terrestrial Magnetism and Atmospheric Electricity. It was started in 1896 by the Carnegie Institute of Washington. Actually, Abelson isn’t quite right, the original name was just the first part, Terrestrial Magnetism, as noted in this editorial marking the 100th volume, and it gained the extra words in its title three years later. It wasn’t until 1949 that it was renamed JGR and then another 9 years before it became associated with AGU. Yes, JGR has its beginnings in space physics. This is our journal.

One thing I really like about this editorial is the number of famous names mentioned in it. I learned that one of the long-time editors of TMAE was John Fleming, who has an AGU-wide medal named after him that Michelle Thomsen was just awarded about a week ago. Several others with AGU prizes and medals named after them are also discussed in this article.

When it became part of AGU, JGR had just two editors, one for the Earth’s surface and below and another for the atmosphere and above. Wow. My colleague down the hall, Andy Nagy (the 2015 Fleming Medal winner), tells of the time when he was the sole editor of GRL, handling manuscripts from all disciplines. I realize that AGU has journals that span the full range of its scientific fields but these journals have editorial teams. I am amazed that a single person would take on responsibility for deciding the acceptability of papers across such a wide breadth of topics.

My favorite quote from this editorial is this line: “One of the most difficult tasks of an editor is dealing with people.” Classic! My second-favorite quote is his answer to dealing with the “clamor of competing demands,” to which he is reported to have quipped: “I adjust matters so that the howls from all directions are approximately equal.” That’s worthy of an accompanying graphic:


This is a life mantra for all editors out there and the underlying theme, that you make few friends as a journal editor, is one that I have echoed. Anyway, this is a great article, and at only a page and a half, is a fast and easy lesson not only in the history of JGR but also in the human condition.

One last thanks: to Tamas Gombosi, the EiC of JGR Space Physics in 1993, for soliciting this guest editorial and capturing the story of the journal’s formative years for posterity.