New Cover Look

AGU has been changing the design of the cover layouts for all of its journals over the past year. Perhaps you’ve noticed. The cover of JGR Space Physics now looks like this:


Just for reference, the outgoing format looked like this:


There are some differences to notice. One is that the name of the journal is bigger – JGR Space Physics stands out better with a lot of white space around it. They have changed the dimensions of the cover art graphic, too – instead of a portrait-shaped block between two blue bars, it is now a landscape-style block with a curved upper limit. They have also moved the AGU logo from the footer to the header, making it more visible. They have also eliminated the “swoosh” logo from the upper right.

This is not only the cover art but also appears as the thumbnail graphic in the electronic alerts for the monthly issue table of contents, the early view notices, the accepted article announcements. If you don’t already get these alerts, it is easy to sign up or manage them across all AGU journals.

I have been picking the cover art since the beginning of my time as EiC, that is, since January 2014. This is a bit ironic because they stopped printing and mailing the paper version of JGR Space Physics just a year or two before this. Before that, it is was the monochromatic cover, giving JGR Space Physics its other name as JGR Blue.


I think it’s nice to have cover art. I keep track of what I pick in order to try to balance disciplines and image styles on the cover. Of the 61 selections I’ve made so far, the breakdown is 19 for ionosphere-thermosphere, 17 for magnetosphere, 14 for planetary space environments, and 11 for solar-heliosphere topics. Of the image style, I’ve picked 20 model output graphics, 26 data figures, 12 schematics, and 3 photos. Yeah, we don’t have many photos to choose from.

Each month I quickly glance at every figure in every paper in that issue, downselecting to a few (usually 5-10) and then somehow choosing from there. The runner-up images go on the image carousel on the journal webpage. I also carefully consider all of the author-contributed graphics. The acceptance letter informs you that you can submit a specially-made image for consideration as cover art. Some months I don’t get any such submissions and other times I get several. I think the most I’ve ever had is four, which makes the decision very hard because those are usually the really good ones. If you want to just submit one of the graphics from the paper, that’s fine. I will see it regardless in my quick search but your submission will ensure that it gets my attention. These author-submitted graphics do not have to be something from the paper, though, just related to it. It can be a completely new graphic that more artistically presents what is in your paper, or even just highlights the scientific topic.

We don’t take a lot of photos with our work but perhaps we should, because other journals have a lot more of those on the cover. GeoHealth, AGU’s newest journal, has had nothing but photos on its cover since its initial issue. I don’t know if a picture of “Dr. Space Scientist” sitting at their desk is compelling cover art, but GeoHealth regularly has people on its cover, like this:


I would think seriously about putting such images on the cover of JGR Space Physics, so please think about those field or lab photos the next time you get a paper accepted, and submit a good one for consideration as cover art. Or any graphic that you want to submit – I will consider everything you send.



The Shutdown

As probably everyone who reads this blog knows, the US government is in a partial shutdown right now. This means that roughly 800,000 federal employees are not getting paid right now, about half of which are forced to work without pay and the other half, the “non-essential personnel,” are furloughed and forced to not do anything work related during this time. It is truly awful for many people on several levels. Let’s hope that it ends soon, and I encourage Americans to write to their members of Congress to persuade them to work (even harder) towards the solution you desire.

This shutdown has negative ramifications for JGR Space Physics and AGU publications as a whole. First off, there are civil servants that accepted reviewing assignments before the shutdown and now cannot legally complete this work. Authors are getting frustrated with the extended timeline to manuscript decisions. Second, there are civil servants who are authors or coauthors on papers, and these are not being submitted or resubmitted into the system. We will patiently wait for these manuscript resubmissions, of course, but it is sad to see them sit in the system “waiting for revision.” Third, civil servants cannot respond to review requests, so the editors are having to rely on others in the community to take on this shifted reviewing workload. Without the civil servant researchers, it is taking a bit longer, on average, to find two reviewers for each new manuscript. Fourth, for those that use research tools that are now shut down or turned off, like government websites, computing resources, office space, or lab facilities, you cannot do that work right now. The shutdown of NASA, NSF, and NOAA, just to name a few agencies, is impairing scientific progress. These impacts alone are significant and having a noticeable negative effect on space physics research.


            For JGR Space Physics in particular, one of the editors, Dr. Larry Kepko, is a civil servant at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center. His editorial duties are part of his official workflow so doing GEMS manuscript processing is off limits for him.   I had a previously declined manuscript, originally assigned to him, just get submitted again, and so I contacted him (outside of his official NASA email address) about editorial work and he explained that he is legally unable to do this work.

Fortunately, this only affects ~10 manuscripts in the GEMS system right now. I have been ramping down his assignments of normal papers has he took on the role of Centennial liaison for the journal, including organizing community invitations for papers to two centennial-related special sections. I see in GEMS, though, that there are some manuscripts “with editor for decision” for the entirety of the shutdown. I am sorry to those authors that have been waiting for decisions on these manuscripts, this is an unpleasant consequence of the government shutdown. If you are one of these authors, I truly regret that this has happened to you and we will get this paper moving through the editorial system again very soon. I have already asked AGU HQ staff to shift some of these manuscripts over to other editors, and will be shifting the rest in the days to come.

For the civil servants and on-site contractors out there – I am wholeheartedly with you in spirit. I was a grad student working at NASA Marshall Space Flight Center during the 1995 government shutdown, locked out of the office for 3 weeks right before that year’s Fall AGU Meeting. It was difficult getting the work done and a presentation put together in time for the conference. This new shutdown is now longer than that one, and the stalemate persists with no end in sight. I am very sorry that you are going through this.

For the rest of you, please remember that we are missing a fraction of our colleagues right now, who are not only locked out of their offices but also technically forbidden to do any work. We, the journal editors, might be asking for another reviewing assignment for you at a more rapid cadence than usual. Please accept our apologies for this inconvenience and please seriously consider taking up the mantle of the extra duty as we get through this tough time. Also, manuscripts might take longer to get through the editorial process right now, as we deal with no US civil servants being available for participation in the publication flow.



My Final Year

I have one more year as Editor in Chief of JGR Space Physics. The initial term was 4 years and then I was asked to extend my stay for an extra two years, which I did. With the change-over of the calendar, I am entering my sixth (and last) year as EiC. This is it.

With this final year, I plan to focus on a few things with this blog. First and foremost, I will continue to keep you informed about new publications policies and practices. That’s the main reason for this blog’s existence and I will continue to post updates from AGU HQ and my editorial team. Second, I will start detailing what I do as EiC. In 300-500 word chunks, I will tell you about my workflow and decision-making process. This will hopefully help the next EiC understand this job, at least as I do it (which is very close to how my predecessors did it). Third, I will be recapping editorials from year’s past. I’ve started this but haven’t written many, so I will be making this one of my priorities for the year ahead.

A good editorial to kick off the new year is the one written by Bob Lysak, Philippa Browning, and Masaki Fujimoto back in 2012 entitled, “How JGR Works.” This, actually, is the brief version of everything I will write for point #2 above. A longer version is Alex Dessler’s editorial from 1972, which I discussed earlier.


            This 2012 version of the workflow is basically what we follow right now. Papers are first checked by AGU HQ staff and perhaps iterated with the author to get it compliant with AGU journal requirements, then it is sent to me where I assign it to one of the 7 editors (including myself). That editor then does a check for appropriateness for the journal, English usage, and cross-check overlap. It could be sent back to the author at this point. If not, then the editor selects several potential reviewers and starts sending emails. Hopefully, two are secured quickly and the reviews come back three weeks later. The editor then makes their first decision on the manuscript. If the decision is to revise, then it comes back to that same editor, and could go back to the reviewers.

A key point from the 2012 editorial is paragraph #7 on the decision-making process. Here is the lead-off text: “It is important to note that the final decision on whether a paper is to be published rests with the editor in charge. Good reviews help us make this decision, but the reviewers do not approve or reject the papers themselves.” We greatly appreciate the work that ~1500 reviewers do for the journal every year, and we usually follow those recommendations. Sometimes, however, two reviewers provide conflicting recommendations, and then it is up to the editor. We have several paths that we take to resolve these discrepancies; I’ll write about those in future posts. Reviewers, please know that your assessments are always taken very seriously but sometimes the editor will decide differently from your recommendation. This can go in both directions, because the editor might eventually side with either the positive or negative reviewer. If you truly dislike a paper that was published against your recommendation, then you are always free to write a Comment on it, to formally air your grievances and give the authors the chance to rebut.

Year-End Stats for 2018

For our JGR Space Physics editorial board meeting that we had during the Fall AGU Meeting a couple weeks ago in Washington, DC, AGU, Wiley, and me compile a bunch of stats about the journal. I’d like to share a few of those with you over the next few posts.

In GEMS, my editor powers allow me to make reports about the journal workflow. This is one of them:


The “2018 to Date” is through today, Friday, December 28, so it probably won’t change by much. Maybe the manuscripts will go up by a few, and I just assigned a bunch of manuscripts to other editors, so the number of reviewers could also go up by several, but the other numbers won’t change much. I took over as EiC of JGR Space Physics at the beginning of 2014, so this shows a quick summary of journal stats during my term.

First, let’s look at the second row, “Number of Manuscripts Received.” Just for perspective, this was under 1000 before 2014. Note that this is the number of “new” manuscripts, not revision submissions with an “R” added to the end of the manuscript number. You were writing many more papers every year, increasing the submissions by ~100 manuscripts a year for several years. This was also due to several large special sections in the journal, with the really big Measurement Techniques in Solar and Space Physics, lots of papers in the ULF special section, several large ones focused on Van Allen Probes results and other inner magnetosphere special sections, a big one for MAVEN, and several on space storms, like the St. Patrick’s Day Storms and storms in the Van Allen Probes era. We had a big one for MMS in 2017 in there too. This last year, we’ve had a few special sections, but so many and not as large.

There are several rows that I really like on this chart. The “Percentage of Manuscripts Sent for External Review” has remained steady, right near ~90%. Similarly, the “Receipt to First Decision” time has hovered near ~40, and the “Receipt to Acceptance” has actually dropped in recent years. Finally, I like that the “Acceptance Rate” has remained steady near ~70% throughout my term.

Note that the “N/A” values for “publication” are because the manuscript shifts to Wiley for that phase and is no longer in GEMS. Those numbers are typically 3-4 weeks.

My last post was in mid-August, four months ago. When I started this blog, I told myself that it was an extra thing I’d do for the community and I would not apologize for a hiatus. So I won’t.

Editor Preference Selection

When submitting a manuscript to JGR Space Physics, one of the optional steps is to indicate a preference for editor.


I am writing this post to tell you a few things about this selection:

  1. After the manuscript goes through its quality control and compliance checks with an AGU HQ publications staffer, it appears in my GEMS workflow. I see every paper submitted to JGR Space Physics. After I read the author list, key points, and abstract, I then assign it to an editor. If I assign it to myself, then it stays in my workflow. If I assign it to someone else, then it is out of my hands. This takes somewhere between 30 seconds and a few minutes for each paper. Sometimes I follow up with an email to the editor, if I saw something about the manuscript that I think the editor really needs to know.
  2. You don’t have to pick anyone from the list. Just leave it at “none/no preference” and I will assign the editor based on the topic and the relative workloads of the editors.
  3. Selecting someone is no guarantee that I will assign it to that editor. I could give it to someone else. I consider each request seriously but cannot always honor them.
  4. Please don’t pick an editor at the same institution as you or any of your coauthors. And yes, I treat all of Goddard Space Flight Center as one very large institute, so he is conflicted with everyone working there. And also yes, if you work for one of the usual contractors at GSFC, then I will check your address to see if you are there or somewhere else. If you work at Goddard, then please do not pick Kepko as your preferred editor; I will ignore that request.
  5. The two new editors, Drs. Viviane Pierrard and Natalia Ganushkina, are available for selection. I am slowly ramping up their assigned-paper rate to match that of the other editors, so please feel free to select their names.
  6. Please don’t select “Test Editor” from the list. This is there for, well, testing, as well as for Editorial manuscripts involving all of the editors, like the annual Reviewer Thank You. This is an obvious statement, but just to be clear: if you choose it, then I will ignore that request.

There is also an optional step for selecting an editor with whom you are conflicted. Those I nearly always honor. The conflict can be institutional (you or a coauthor are at the same place as an editor), professional (that editor has criticized your work in the past), or personal (you have had a bad experience with that editor). Please leave a note about the conflict. Only an AGU staffer and I will see those notes; please know that we keep them confidential. If you indicate that you have a conflict with me, well, then just leave the notes section blank!