Heliophysics Division Director

We need a Heliophysics Division Director at NASA HQ. The application submission deadline is October 13, just under two weeks away. I would like to urge solar and space physicists that are senior to me to seriously consider this position.


            I know what you are saying to yourself: why would someone from outside of NASA HQ ever consider this job? Over the last ~6 years, we had two such people go to HQ from the outside only to have them not last through their Senior Executive Service probationary first year and leave the post. The most recent holder of this position, Steve Clarke, came from within NASA HQ and, while doing a great job for Heliophysics, only stayed a couple of years (he is now at OSTP).

One key difference is the presence of Thomas Zurbuchen at NASA HQ. He has been the NASA Associate Administrator in charge of the Science Mission Directorate for a year now. According to his recent Facebook post, he loves his job and fully appreciates the high quality team running the SMD activities at NASA HQ. He is committed to the success of NASA, which includes the success of the Heliophysics Division, and wants a qualified expert and leader in that post.

When he was a professor here at U-M, I worked regularly with Thomas on a number of academic and research activities. I told you a bit about that when Zurbuchen left for NASA HQ last year. If you would like to know more about my experiences working with Thomas and my perspective on what I think it would be like to have this position working with him at HQ, then please contact me. One email address for me is just below my picture in the right-hand column, and my office contact info is here.

We need a strong and capable solar and space physicist in this post. I urge those qualified for the position to think about this opportunity. Don’t let the past dissuade you; whoever is selected, Zurbuchen will want that person to thrive.

Here is the ad as it appeared in one of our e-newsletters:




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.


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.


            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:


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.

EiC Life: Alex Dessler’s Editorship

Alex Dessler was the editor for JGR from 1966-1969, back when it was only split into two sections, each with a single editor covering many disciplines of AGU. My post last week inspired Dessler to post a Comment on this blog. His words are:

            “Many, many years ago, I was editor of JGR – Space Physics. I had many of the same problems that you face. But I had advantages: I had more power than editors do now, plus JGR was, of course, smaller. If you are interested in how it was handled in the good old days, see: Dessler, A. J., Editing JGR – Space Physics, EOS, 53, 4-13, 1972.”

The link to his Eos article is here. It’s 10 pages of triple-column small font of varying resolution (some pages are quite poor quality), but it is well worth the read. It includes a few photos of him and his staff, like this one:


            Alex Dessler’s Eos article covers the full sweep of editorial activities. If you don’t have access to it, don’t worry, because I am going to start going through it with you. This Eos article on the details of being an Editor is inspiring me to write my own thoughts on this topic. I will be starting a series within this blog, with “EiC Life” in the post titles, essentially walking through the points in Dessler’s article. Some things are still very similar, some things have drastically changed, so it is worthwhile to create an updated version of his explanation of his editorship. I’m making this post the first of the series, so readers can easily find Dessler’s Eos article.

A year ago, I thought to myself to start just such a series of posts, probably in early 2017, my fourth and supposedly last year as EiC of JGR Space Physics. When I agreed to a two-year extension, though, the impetus was removed and I have not started it yet. With Dessler bringing this article to my attention, this is as good a time as any to start this series. It will take me many months and I will interrupt it regularly with unrelated posts on journal news, writing and reviewing tips, and other topics that I write about here. The “EiC Life ” series will serve, though, as a good discussion point for anyone interested in knowing the thought processes and inner workings of being an editor. Like Dessler states in his article, hopefully it will dispel the mystery around journal editing and will inspire the next generation of editors.

And, of course: thank you, Alex Dessler, for your years of service as JGR, Reviews of Geophysics, and GRL editor and, among your many other scientific contributions, for that handy relationship between inner magnetospheric plasma energy content and ground magnetic perturbations!


The Platinum Rule

Happy Great American Eclipse day! My kids invited some friends over, eventually peaking at 14 high schoolers at our house. We ordered pizza, the clouds mostly cooperated, and we watched the progression (the eclipse was ~85% total here).

Because the news remains crazy here in America with people planning to be mean to others, I feel the need to follow up on my thoughts from the book Filter Shift by Sara Taylor. We had our dinner group/book club last night talking about this book, an evening which included ~30 minutes of Facetime chat with Ms. Taylor. It was a great discussion.

In addition to assuming positive intent that I discussed in my last post, a second big point that this book makes is that we should switch from the Golden Rule to the Platinum Rule. The Golden Rule, as you hopefully know, is “treat others the way you want to be treated.” The Platinum Rule goes a step farther, “treat others as they want to be treated.”


            This is not a new concept but one that hasn’t gotten nearly enough traction, in my view, and deserves a post. It’s kind of like the old saying, “walk a mile in someone’s shoes before you judge them.” Everlast has a great song about that. It goes beyond not judging others, though, because it means taking a step back from your own world view and to consider how others might perceive what you are writing, saying, or doing. That is, it involves some thinking and reflection before you move on to action. Different cultures and backgrounds lead to different perspectives and interpretations

For JGR Space Physics readers, authors, and reviewers, this has direct application to your written correspondence. I wrote a bit of advice to you last time. Here’s some more. As you prepare your review or your response, think about how this other person will react to what you writing.

For reviewers, feel free to look up the author. It might help you understand why certain things were written in the paper a certain way. You might realize that your particular word choice will be especially provocative to the authors. I think that it means to remember to mention the good things about the manuscript, especially if the paper is by an early career author. I think it means to remember to offer constructive suggestions for passing the bar of acceptability for the journal; the authors might not have thought to do that analysis yet.

For authors, it’s harder because the reviewer is usually anonymous, unless they have revealed themselves in the review. For one, do not assume a gender of the reviewer. I think it also means that you should remember that the reviewer did their assessment of your manuscript as an unpaid service to the research community, which means that you should not get belligerent with them.

It also applies to your in-person conversations. We can raise the level of our discussion and debate, from international science meetings to group meetings. For me, the biggest thing that we can do is to catch ourselves before jumping into “bro culture talk” and realize that not everyone in the room is a white male and will find bro culture comments amusing or even acceptable.

In short, I strongly encourage you to think about where the other person is coming from before you write, speak, or act. Then, act with positive intent toward others and assume positive intent in others.



Be Cordial in Your Correspondence

I took in this weekend’s news from Charlottesville, VA, and read about the vitriol from the white nationalist protesters. While not anywhere near the same level, I occasionally here from JGR Space Physics authors and reviewers that a piece of manuscript correspondence lacked professionalism. Sometimes I see comments in reviews and responses getting a bit too negative and personal, and ask them to be changed. More often, I don’t catch them and the offended person let’s me know about it after I have sent it on.

This is, I think, an excellent time to remind all of you: please be cordial in your correspondence. I want you to work hard on your reviews and responses, yielding the best science advancements that we can achieve, and that could include being critical of a manuscript or refuting a potential concern raised by a reviewer. We should not forget, though, to also be nice. I keep this sign on my shelf:


Yeah, that’s my office carpet. This is not a small request; I want everyone to take it seriously.

One example of this that I have seen a few times is a reviewer making inappropriate comments about poor English usage. Yes, you can and should point out a need to improve English usage in a manuscript, but please don’t berate or belittle the authors for it. On a related note, please don’t assume that the English-speaking authors did not read the paper if there are English usage errors in the manuscript. I occasionally see lines like “clearly, Dr. XYZ did not see the manuscript” or “the English-speaking authors should know better.” Please remember that the authors have to initial a box in GEMS stating that all authors agree to the submission and then all authors get an email about the submission, so the corresponding author cannot submit without all authors knowing about it. I think nearly all authors take this seriously and wait for input from all coauthors before submission. That is, the hostile reviewer is usually wrong about the involvement of the English-speaking coauthors. Plus, not all native English speakers are good writers; it’s a learned skill that takes many years of practice.

Let me tell you a personal story about this. Before assigning reviewers for a manuscript submission to JGR Space Physics, I always read a couple of randomly-chosen paragraphs to decide if I should be sending the manuscript back to the authors for English language improvement before peer review. This catches most of the manuscripts with pervasive grammar or spelling mistakes. If I am sending it back, I usually mark up the Abstract (maybe even more) to show the kind of changes needed throughout the paper. On one recent paper, I just kept going and copy-edited the entire thing. The authors implemented all of my changes and sent it back in, at which time I assigned reviewers and sent it out. Yeah, you guessed it: both reviewers commented on the need for significant English usage improvement in the paper! I looked and, sure enough, the reviewers were right (and they were cordial in their requests, if I am remembering correctly). I consider myself pretty good at English usage, yet the paper still needed improvement even after my “thorough” read-through and mark-up.

My point with this story is that manuscripts are relatively long documents (especially compared to this blog post or a typical email) and often require multiple readings to eliminate all English usage errors. Authors: please read through the text several times to minimize errors. Reviewers: please understand that even a conscientious reader who is adept at English grammar can miss numerous mistakes in a manuscript.

Another example that I want to mention involves correspondence with student authors. Reviewers, if you don’t recognize the first author’s name, a little investigative internetting will usually reveal the person’s job status or title. If the first author is a student, then please strive to be helpful, not hurtful, in the tone of your review. Students are learning the art of scholarly writing, but like English usage, this process takes years of practice to master. Similarly, some features of academic writing that come naturally to the seasoned researcher are subjective or even vaguely defined, and are therefore often not caught on the first read-through. I am willing to bet money that every academic adviser is working closely with all of their students to teach them our unique method of writing. Mistakes will get through to submission, though. Please use the opportunity to mentor that student and show this new member of our community that we know how to treat each other with respect and tactfully offer criticism to improve one another’s work.

There are many other examples that I could list, but let me just say that nuance and subtlety are sometimes lost in written correspondence. So, it is important to write very clearly to convey your meaning, while also maintaining professional courtesy. I am asking that you go through multiple drafts of your review or response text to make sure that the snippy or combative phrases are removed. The extra effort will be worth it. If you feel like venting, then please feel free to spout off in the “Notes to the Editor” text box.

Readers of such documents should also take a new view of text that they find offensive. I recently read the book Filter Shift by Sara Taylor. Ms. Taylor is a management consultant specializing in effective leadership, a big part of which is getting people to talk nicely to each other. The book has an excellent recommendation related to this topic: assume positive intent. When you read something offensive, take a breath and think to yourself that the writer probably did not mean to make the text quite as bitter as you perceive it to be. Assuming positive intent helps you ignore your irritation about the delivery and reduce the comment to the nugget of change being requested.

In summary, please approach work correspondence, especially peer review with its one-way anonymity, with extra care and consideration about how the other person will perceive and interpret your written words. Leave the spiteful rhetoric (and tiki torches) behind.

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:


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.

EiC for RoG

AGU regularly has several open editor searches going on. You can find the announcements here.


            Right now there is one of relevance to our field: Editor in Chief of Reviews of Geophysics. The ad for this post is about halfway down. Yes, after ~8 years, Mark Moldwin is stepping down from this position. The search committee is formed (no, I am not on it) and they are actively pursuing potential candidates for this job. The application deadline is May 31, so you still have ~2 weeks to put together a compelling letter of interest about why you want the job and would be a good EiC for that journal.



            Reviews of Geophysics is entirely by invitation only and, as the name implies, the portfolio is entirely comprised review articles. Note that JGR Space Physics occasionally publishes topical review articles, like this one or this one, written last year for the MTSSP special sections. There is an important difference between the reviews in the two journals. The reviews in JGR Space Physics are written for experts in the field, while the reviews in RoG are written for everyone in AGU. The level of detail and use of jargon is different, or at least should be. RoG only publishes a couple papers per month and spans the entirety of the AGU discipline breadth, so the number of space physics papers is perhaps one or two a year. Being its EiC will definitely stretch you beyond your normal scientific boundaries. Also, RoG‘s Journal Impact Factor has been above 10 for quite a few years running, now; it is the top AGU journal in this metric. So, the search committee is looking for a rather special and dedicated leader to take over this post.

Mark is quite willing to talk about his experience as EiC of Reviews of Geophysics, so if you have any questions about it, then please contact him directly. If you have general questions about editing an AGU journal, then feel free to contact me. To submit your application, follow the directions in the link above.

The AGU Building

My job as EiC of JGR Space Physics occasionally takes me to AGU headquarters, including this week. The meeting, however, was not at the normal AGU HQ facility at 2000 Florida Avenue, but was at the temporary home of AGU off Thomas Circle (about a mile south, a few blocks northeast of the White House). That’s because they have started the renovation of the AGU HQ building. They have set up a special website where you can learn about the project and follow the progress. For even more info, last year AGU CEO Chris McEntee wrote several From the Prow articles about the building renovation project.


            They are making it a “net zero” building with 100% of the building’s energy needs created on site. That’s pretty cool, especially for a climate science society. It will also have better meeting facilities and “sunlight penetration” than the old version. There will even be an “AGU member lounge” in the building, so that whenever you are in DC, you can stop by and have a place to sit and work.

Here’s a picture (from the website) of the crew of architects, engineers, and contractors leading the renovation project:


AGU is happy to say that this group is ~50% women, a rarity in the construction business.

For those of you concerned about the solar system inlay on the sidewalk outside the building: they have to dig up some of the planets, but they will all be replaced. The solar system sidewalk will still be there.

The temporary space is smaller than the normal facility, by about a third. The staff is kind of crammed in to Cubicleville right now (that’s a word):


It’s quite a bit tighter than they are used to. Wish them luck as they get through this. They hope to be back in the renovated building by this time next year.

More Acceptance of Singular They

Two more writing style guides have officially accepted the usage of “they” as a replacement for “he/she” and all the other singular gender-neutral pronouns out there. In their newest editions, both the Chicago Manual of Style and the AP Stylebook include this usage of “they.” The main usage for the JGR Space Physics crowd is in responses to anonymous reviewers. Manuscript authors can and do guess, but the when it comes down to writing the responses to the referee reports, please do not assume a male reviewer. Using “they” instead keeps is free of sexism.


            The “singular” adjective just means that “they” is standing in for an individual person, and because you do not know their gender (hey, see, I just used it!), “they” is becoming an acceptable pronoun choice in this context. Furthermore, even though it’s being called the “singular they,” you still use plural verbs with it. This is what we do with “you.” We don’t say “you is” even when referring to a singular you, we still say “you are.” The same is true for “they.” Please make it plural and write “they are” or “they were” or whatever verb you choose.

I’ve written about the singular they before and several other times about gender-neutral wording. Please don’t assume the masculinity of your reviewer, or in any writing where the person’s gender is unknown. This is offensive to me and, probably, to most women in space physics who don’t need the bro culture bias.

Once again, I have to thank Grammar Girl for letting me know about this. I often listen to podcasts when I jog and earlier this month she had one devoted to this topic. In fact, most of the content of this post is straight from her podcast. It’s worth repeating here. I’m even reusing her very nice graphic.