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:

WorkHardAndBeNice

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 Sarah 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:

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.

EiC for RoG

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

AGU_Editor_Searches

            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.

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RoG-image-banner

            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.

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            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-building-renovation-leaders

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):

AGU_temporary_workspace.jpg

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.

gender-neutral-pronouns-singular-they

            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.

The March for Science

Aasd

The March for Science is tomorrow, April 22, 2017. This is happening on Earth Day 2017, along with many environmental events like local cleanups, tree planting, and park restoration. It’s going to be a big day for getting out and doing something for the planet. Yesterday, AGU released their cross-journal Earth Day Special Collection of Commentaries on the value of science for society, so this is a follow-on to my post on that, discussing something that you can do, this weekend, to help promote science.

march+for+Science+logo

            I’m participating in the Ann Arbor satellite version of the March for Science. We’ll meet at the University of Michigan “Diag” at noon, hear some speeches, and then walk a circuitous path through campus and downtown Ann Arbor. Here I am with my sign and my AGU-sanctioned March for Science T-shirt:

Mike_with_MfS_sign_cropped

Yes, as a sponsor of the March for Science, the organizers made shirts with the AGU logo on the back. Sweet!

I really hope that it will be a good day. As outlined in the Marcher Pledge, the organizers are putting the emphasize on the positive benefits that humanity gets from scientific advancement. In addition, the Principles and Goals page is definitely worth the read and goes into even more detail about the objectives of the march. This is the right place to put the focus. Science does a lot for making life better, plus there is just the cool factor of learning something new about the universe that we, as a species, didn’t know before.

If you couldn’t tell from my sign, I really like that the March for Science takes diversity and inclusion seriously and has even issued a statement reinforcing this position. Science is better when the group tackling a problem comes from a broad range of backgrounds and perspectives. While the institutions where they got their PhD is one form of diversity in the group, this isn’t what I’m talking about. I’m talking about people of different genders, races, ethnicities, religious affiliations, hometowns, home countries, and different personal histories. We need to be inclusive of this wide spectrum of people in our research groups and help each member to fully participate and contribute to the solution. This is something that strive to achieve in my research group and with editing JGR Space Physics. I am glad that this is one of the core principles of the March for Science.

You can still sign up to walk on Saturday, either in DC or at one of the more than 600 other Marches for Science around the world. You don’t have to do this step but it really helps the organizers know what kind of crowd to expect and therefore plan a better event.

Finally, if you were still waffling about whether to go to the March, PHD Comics has a flow chart to help you decide.

 

Addendum:  here is a picture of me at the March for Science with the final/augmented version of my sign:

Mike_at_MarchForScience

Get TOC e-Alerts From Earth and Space Science

Three years ago, AGU launched a journal called Earth and Space Science. If you haven’t already, it’s worth the time to sign up for table of content alerts from E&SS. This is easily done by clicking on the link in the in the upper right corner of the journal webpage, here:

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            E&SS is a journal that spans the entire AGU scope of disciplines, a lot like GRL but not at that very high, cutting edge, must-publish-immediately level. It serves several functions but here are the top two: (1) it is a place for the publication of cross-disciplinary studies that don’t quite fit the scope of other AGU journals; and (2) it is a place for sharing and describing data sets, methods, and tools that might be of interest to those in more than one discipline.

It just released issue 1 of volume 4, which has a space physics paper in it. Not every issue has a space physics paper, but the others are often worth a perusal. One of my favorite recent articles is this one on the “geoscience paper of the future,” addressing the often-neglected topic of documenting your research, methods, and data. Yes, I have submitted to E&SS and it was published. This two-year-old paper already has 7 citations, so I am going back; I am closing in on completion of another manuscript for this journal.

It’s a fully Open Access journal, which means all papers are free to all readers. The nominal publishing fee is a bit higher than that of JGR Space Physics, $1800 instead of $1000 for a ≤25 Pub Unit Research Article, but this isn’t a fair comparison. JGR Space Physics actually charges $3500 for a new paper to be Open Access. So, really, E&SS is not twice but half the cost of publishing JGR.

I am not trying to persuade you to submit all of your space physics papers to E&SS instead of JGR Space Physics. For one, it doesn’t yet have an Impact Factor and its brand recognition is not fully established. It is a place for publishing descriptions of new methods and data sets for which the paper doesn’t have a substantial new science component. While JGR Space Physics will consider such papers, E&SS allows for an expanded readership beyond just our field, and many methods and data sets have a broader appeal, making E&SS a good journal for such articles. Similarly, if your study crosses over into other fields and doesn’t naturally fit in any particular section of JGR, then E&SS is a good place for that.

So, let me say it again: I highly encourage you to sign up for TOC e-Alerts to Earth and Space Science. It’s relevant and its paper titles are worth the glance each month.

Why Extend My Term?

As I stated in a post a couple weeks ago, I am extending my term as Editor in Chief of JGR Space Physics for two additional years. So, I have 3 more years as EiC, not just one more. We’ve reset the hourglass back to the halfway point of my term.

hourglass_refill

            The primary motivation for continuing to do this job is that I would like to see the project through on a few initiatives that we have started. One is an assessment of the common qualities of highly cited papers. One such study of citations to JGR Space Physics papers is well under way and, while I am not ready to reveal results (mainly because they are still in flux), a manuscript on our findings should be ready in the coming months. At the Fall AGU Meeting, I requested an additional study of this type to be conducted by Wiley staff, and I look forward to seeing their findings some time in 2017. Really, though, I want to develop a strategy based on these data and findings and see it through to implementation and eventual success. This will take longer than a year. So, when Brooks Hanson (AGU’s Director of Publications) asked me to extend my term, my initial thoughts were positive because I was already wishing for more time to see things through.

Another initiative I would like to bring to closure is this experiment in cultivating a relatively large number of special sections. We had 11 special sections that closed to submissions in 2016, a number that has been steadily increasing during my term as EiC. I would really like to assess the influence of these special sections on the Journal Impact Factor (JIF). Do they have any influence at all, or do papers in special sections receive more (or less!) citations than a “regular” paper. The same can be said for Commentaries, of which we had a special section consisting almost entirely of this paper type. Commentaries are short perspective articles that hopefully stir discussion, debate, and action in the scientific community. Again, I would like to assess the influence of such papers, in particular the number of studies that each one inspires, measured not only by citations to the Commentary but also by the number of “similar-field papers” within the “keyword” or “index term” category. However, because they are so new to the journal, we will have to wait a year or two to even conduct this assessment.

I am told that in 2017, Thomson Reuters will issue separate JIFs for each section of JGR. I have been forewarned that ours is below the all-section average. Because 2016 is done, the next release of JIF numbers are already set (although not calculated); we cannot change the initial set of values that we’ll have. I don’t want to hand off the journal to a new EiC who will have to deal with this step-function shift in JIF for the journal. I want to start now on influencing future year JIF values, and a couple more years as EiC will all me to properly assess and address this shift before handing the reins to the next EiC.

Finally, I’m having fun with this blog. I regularly receive positive feedback about it, which I greatly appreciate. I am glad that so many of you find it to be useful and informative. Yep, I’m going to keep writing these posts for three more years.

Not One But Three

As I went to the Fall AGU Meeting this month, it was finally hitting me that I was entering the final year of my Editor-in-Chief term for JGR Space Physics. At the meeting, however, Brooks Hanson, the Director of Publications for AGU, asked me to extend my term for an additional two years. After a few days of thought and conversations with my wife, I said yes.

So, you have me here for not one but three more years as the EiC of JGR Space Physics.

three-fingers

            I asked all 4 of my Editors if they wanted to continue, and they also all said yes. You have all 5 of us for 3 more years.

The main reason that I am accepting this extension is that I think that there is still multi-year work to do to improve the quality and impact of the papers in the journal.  We had a great discussion at our JGR Space Physics editorial board meeting in San Francisco, and I would like to see the outcome of the analytics we requested and the implementation of strategies to maximize journal influence. More on this in the blog posts to come over the few days or weeks.

AGU Giving Day 2016 is Thursday

AGU Giving Day is upon us again. They did this last year about this time, too. This year it is this Thursday, December 15, during the #AGU16 Fall AGU Meeting.

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Look for the volunteer brigade in green T-shirts for more information and directions to the kiosks:

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            I make a donation to AGU every year. Specifically, I really like to support the SPA section as well as several of the student and international travel grant funds. Yes, you get to choose the specific funds into which your gift is credited. AGU has a long list of funds, so have a look; I hope that there is one that catches your interest as a place where you can help our community. When you are ready, visit one of the kiosks in the various Moscone Center lobbies on Thursday, or go online to the campaign website.  I love my job and I am glad that AGU exists as a scientific society within which space physics has found a good home. I love the international flavor of the meetings and the fact that so many students can attend.  So, I give to AGU to help create the community in which I want to participate.

Note that when you give as an individual, you are helping out the AGU section with which you are primarily affiliated. AGU has a Section and Focus Group Incentive Program to encourage member giving. As the percentage of SPA membership that participates increases, AGU makes a larger contribution into the section-specific account. Of AGU’s 60,000+ members, ~2800 have SPA as their primary affiliation. So, it only takes ~140 people for the kickbacks to start kicking in.

In addition, AGU is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization, and while I am not qualified to give tax advice, this designation makes it eligible for tax-deductible gift contributions. If you are working in the US at a level above postdoc, then my guess is that your income is such that you are able to make a $50 or more donation to AGU (and therefore count in the incentive program). I hope that you are also willing.

As a special incentive this year, a gift of $20 or more will secure a vintage AGU t-shirt (while supplies last). They will have these at all of the donation kiosks around the Moscone Center.

givingdaytshirt

Pretty fun, eh? I’ve already given this year but I might give again on Thursday just to get one of these.