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.

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Brevity

In his Eos article, Alex Dessler noted the existence of an Editorial about brevity in paper writing. The full article is here but it is, well, extremely brief, so here it is.JGR-Brevity-Editorial

            “The growth of the Journal of Geophysical Research has brought new problems to both authors and readers. Scientific output has increased markedly; yet the amount an individual can read and understand hasn’t. The fraction of papers being read is declining. Authors who wish their work to be read, understood, and referenced would serve themselves well if they would present the results of their research in a clear, terse format. Such writing may require as much thoughtful effort as the scientific investigation itself.

“To quote Charles Darwin, ‘A naturalist’s life would be a happy one if he had only to observe and never to write.’ The writing and polishing of drafts of papers submitted for publication is usually the most distasteful part of a scientific investigation. However, the need for brevity and clarity has never been more acute. In an effort to better assist authors and serve readers, we will ask the Journal’s referees to be particularly alert to both unnecessary materials and digressive prose in typescripts submitted for publication.”

It’s one of the shortest papers I have ever read. Fantastic!

The main point is still true today: there is more written each year than we can possibly hope to read and understand. Being consice and clear is a skill that requires practice to be developed and maintained. It is good advice to authors to strive for brevity, cutting what isn’t necessary to make the point you want to make. It is also good advice to reviewers to look for ways to trim a paper down if it is excessively wordy. For everyone at both ends of the scholarly publishing process, please take Dessler’s advice.

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.”

Platinum_Rule

            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:

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 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.

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.

 

Transparency In Authorship Roles

There is an ongoing discussion about if and how to change the way we attribute authorship on academic publications. I wrote about it long ago but the discussion is still going on. Here is a recent development: AGU Past President Marcia McNutt (the current president of the National Academy of Sciences) and AGU Publications Director Brooks Hanson are coauthors on this paper arising from a recent NAS workshop. Click on the “Preview PDF” button just below the author list to see the full manuscript. It’s not policy yet, but they want feedback, so please feel free to leave a comment on the preprint site or even contact the authors.

The main point: AGU, and many other leading scientific societies and academic publishers, would like to move towards a new model of authorship. Specifically, all authors on a paper would click items in a pull-down list of possible author roles. Even more specifically, the academic publishing leadership is honing in on CRediT, Contriubtor Roles Taxonomy, as the “best available” list of authorship options. More details on CRediT can be found here.

CASRAI-logo

            CRediT was developed by CASRAI, the Consortia Advancing Standards in Research Administration Information, is a nonprofit group with the mission of creating uniformity in academic research, not just standardization in paper authorship roles but CV content, research data management, research output types, and other academic research related activities. ORCID is working with CASRAI and the thought is that your ORCID account would list this information alongside each of your papers.

As far as I know, each author would still get full credit for every paper in their h-index and other such research impact metrics. This makes me like it much better than I used to, because I don’t think that author credit should be reduced when additional authors are added to a paper. That might cause people to omit coauthors that deserve to be listed. However, I like the role designations, as it would hopefully reduce honorary authorship additions, which is a bad practice I hope all of you avoid.

Here is a good article about this proposed change in authorship attribution. I think that this line really clarifies the need for adopting this change: “The project will help to improve accessibility and transparency around who did what to support peer reviewer selection and help researchers identify suitable potential collaborators.” That is, it’s about enabling future work. For example, a reader likes a certain methodology used in a paper, but the list of coauthors alone isn’t that helpful in knowing who came up with this. The reader can look at the CRediT role listings and contact the authors that actually came up with the methodology.

This change is above my pay grade as an editor of a specific journal. So, if you have feedback on the general process of academic paper contributor role taxonomy, then contact the authors of the paper linked above. I do, however, have some small say in how quickly it is adopted at JGR Space Physics. If you have input on this specifically for JGR Space Physics, then let me know.

Take Care With Authorship

AGU has information posted about the rights and responsibilities of authors. I’ve written about this a few years ago, but there is more news to share, so I’m writing another post about it. But first, a recap: at the Author Resource Center there is a link a short Eos article on AGU’s Authorship Guidelines. The main point distills down to two quotes from the article: “only those who have significantly contributed to the research and preparation of the article should be listed as coauthors,” and “all of these coauthors share responsibility for submitted articles.” As a first/corresponding author, it is up to you to decide what constitutes a significant contribution to either the research or the manuscript preparation. As a coauthor, it is your job to read the paper and agree with its content.

I have a cautionary tale for you about authorship. Back in February at the AGU EiC Meeting, we discussed several real (but anonymized) case studies of sticky ethical situations for editors. One of them was about authorship, in which an editor received an email stating that this person saw a draft of a now-submitted paper with additional authors listed on it. Should the editor follow up with this person, with the first (or corresponding) author, or with the now-removed potential author? Or do nothing? An interesting point was made by AGU staff – if the issue rose to the level of a legal proceeding, an unpublished draft of a manuscript is a document that could be subpoenaed as evidence. Woah.

courtroom_evidence

The website from which is came has nothing to do with science; I just like the picture and think its very appropriate for this topic.

So, I have this advice for you: add authors to the manuscript only after they have confirmed their acceptance of such a role. That is, just use “…and possible additional coauthors” in the draft, and as coauthors confirm their role, then insert their name into the list.

Here is another related point about this: if you add or subtract authors after the initial submission of a paper, then you must indicate this within GEMS – there will be a question and a text box specifically about this – and explain why the person’s role has changed. Please don’t just restate that you have added so-and-so to the list, but give a reason. Unfortunately, authorship malfeasance exists and AGU must check this to ensure proper authorship ethics on papers in AGU journals. If you do not adequately explain an authorship change, then either AGU staff or the Editor will send you an email and the paper will be held until this is resolved.

For more on authorship ethics, there is a link at the Author Resource Center to a page about this topic. AGU is also a follower of the standards from the Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE).

 

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.

AJE Technical Editing for AGU

Occasionally, manuscripts need some extra help with English language usage. While it is great when a reviewer takes on the task of copyediting a manuscript, the main request on reviewers is an assessment of the science in the paper, not the grammar, diction, and spelling. As Editor, I sometimes return a paper for English corrections before I will send it out for review. I often just mark up the first couple pages of the manuscript, hoping that the authors see the problems and make similar corrections throughout the rest of the paper. Or, even better, the authors should get a native-English-speaking colleague to proofread the text. Yet another option is to use a technical editing service. AGU used to have a list of such services, but now just lists one: American Journal Experts (AJE). Why the change? Because AGU and AJE have struck a deal so that potential authors to AGU journals can get a 20% discount on AJE services. Details are found here

and here.

AJE-for-AGU

Here is the direct link to the AJE-for-AGU site: http://www.aje.com/go/agumembers/

For a typical JGR Space Physics manuscript in the 5000-10000 word range, their “standard service” costs between $250 and $400. With it, you get an “editing certificate” that verifies to the journal that the manuscript has been edited by a native English speaker and that it is ready for submission. AGU selected AJE for this deal because the AGU Pubs staff and Pubs Committee believe that AJE offers a high quality service at a fair price. This is a small cost compared to the publication fee and I hope that those authors that are unsure about their English usage will opt to use this (or another) service to make the manuscript as clear and readable as possible.

AJE also does illustration formatting to ensure readability, clarity, and compliance with journal specifications, again at the 20% discounted price (if you go through the AGU link).

The “Technical Reports” Paper Type

During our reviewing and publication of the special sections on Measurement Techniques in Solar and Space Physics,

MTSSP_webpage_title

the JGR Space Physics editors sometimes received questions about the appropriateness of “instrument papers” in this journal. The fact is that JGR Space Physics has accepted Technical Reports: Methods and Technical Reports: Data paper types for many years. The fraction of such papers, though, has been small, with most papers in this journal being the Research Article paper type. When we accepted the proposal for the MTSSP special sections, we knew that reviewing the expected ~150 manuscripts on space instrumentation would be a bit different for those receiving the reviews. It’s not a paper type that we normally get, so some in the space physics community were a little confused about this paper type being in this journal.

Paper_Types_banner

            I’ve written about the Technical Reports paper type before, but since we’ve reassessed what we want for this paper in JGR Space Physics, it is good to remind the space science community about the expectations for a manuscript in this paper type. The paper must describe a significant original contribution to the field, but this new contribution is the method, technique, or data set. Yes, that’s right: it does not have to include an original contribution to our scientific understanding of the space environment, as is the case for a Research Article paper type. It has to be applicable to scientific study of the space environment, but does not have to actually include such a study.

That said, the manuscript must have these elements:

  1. A section at the beginning why to I need to study the relevant aspect of space physics. You must motivate the publication of this technical advancement in JGR Space Physics by convincing readers that the science area to which it pertains is interesting.
  2. A series of clear statements about the novel elements of the method, technique, or data set. You must place the technical advancement in the context of existing technology or data in order to convince readers that the report contains an original and significant contribution in this area.
  3. A section on what new science is likely to accrue. You must include “at least one illustrative example,” to quote from the paper type description website above. This section closes the gap between the earlier two “must have” sections. That is, given the the current state of scientific discovery in the relevant subdiscipline of space physics and the cutting edge aspects of this new technique or data set, you must then discuss how this new technique will eventually lead to better scientific understanding.

So, authors: if you are writing a Technical Reports manuscript, then please ensure that it includes these three elements.

Also, reviewers: if you are assessing the publishability of a Technical Reports manuscript, please carefully consider these three elements.

AGU has a relatively new journal that is specifically targeted at this manuscript type: Earth and Space Science. Just entering its fourth year, E&SS spans all of AGU’s scientific disciplines, especially requesting papers on “methods, instruments, sensors, data and algorithms” for our field and across the AGU discipline spectrum. I had a recent blog post about signing up for E&SS table of content e-alerts.

A final point to make: Technical Reports paper types are limited to 13 Publication Units rather than the normal 25 for a Research Article paper type. This is to keep the description of the new method, technique, or data set focused. Extra figures and explanation can be put into the online Supplemental Information accompanying the published paper, if needed. You can go over a bit, though and no one should complain or send it back. That is, this limit is not a strict cutoff but is more like a guideline.