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.

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            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.

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.

Women Reviewers

While there have been a few good-press stories about women in science lately, with the viral blog post about a woman’s experience at Uber and today’s story about this issue in The Conversation, I thought it was finally time to write up another post on the topic of women and bias in publishing.

Specifically for geoscience and readers of JGR Space Physics, there were two recent Eos articles or relevant, one on scientists at the Women’s March on Washington and another on the obstacles facing women in our field and another. This second article is an especially worthwhile read, including parts of particular interest to scientific publishing. AGU HQ staff wrote an article that just appeared in Nature last month about gender bias in reviewing, finding that women do not serve as reviewers as much as they write first-authored papers. For researchers in their 20s, this gap doesn’t exist, but it slowly widens, almost monotonically, with each additional decade of age.

As you can see from the paper title:

lerback_nature_banner

I’ve described the article’s findings too generally. The title nicely links the finding to the cause. That is, the gap is not the fault of the researchers; the review-request decline rate is identical between men and women. It is the fault of the editors, who send out the review requests, and manuscript corresponding authors, who suggest potential reviewers. The proportion of women in these two categories (those getting review requests and those listed as potential reviewers) is lower than the proportion of women in the field. We need to do better. I need to do better.

Science did a related study looking at the proportion of women authors of their papers, finding that it is substantially lower than the proportion of women among potential authors. So, it isn’t just geosciences, but across science as a whole, that a gender bias in publishing exists.

How can we change this? In addition to me and the other editors getting our requests in line with the research population, I have one idea to share here for all of you.

Manuscript corresponding authors: please think about your list of potential reviewers before signing in to GEMS to submit your paper. GEMS asks you for lots of information and you should think about all of these questions before sitting down to submit, but I especially encourage you to put some effort into the potential reviewer list. If we do it “on the fly” while in the process of submitting, then the usual suspects of senior people, often men, will most likely come to mind. These people are often busy and decline. Please spend some time on this list and think about the full range of potential reviewers. It will help you because it helps us find highly qualified reviewers that much faster.

Subscribing to journal e-alerts

Here is one more post in the series about my estimate of the 2015 JGR-Space Physicsspecific Journal Impact Factor and the need for citing recent articles. This could be my last on this for a while. I’m off to the AGU Editors in Chief meeting tomorrow, so there will probably be new topics to discuss here from that meeting.

How do we know about the recently-published literature? How do we put our new studies in the proper context of the latest research in that field? How do we prepare ourselves to be good reviewers and know about the full range of papers that the author should be citing?

Simply relying on our memory will systematically bias our recollection of what papers to cite to the “famous” and “classic” papers, which are usually the older ones. They are the ones we have seen cited more times in the past and the ones we have probably read several times during our career. Unless we make the recent papers fresh in our minds, we will probably not think about them.

On this note, a big thing that I think we can (and should) be doing is subscribing to journal table of content alerts. More than this, we need to be giving them a quick scan for relevant new papers in our fields of expertise and clicking on those articles. I like to download them and collect these PDFs in a “Papers to Read” folder. Most of the time, the contents of this unread-papers-folder expands with time simply expands with time but every now and then I read through one of these papers and move it to my “Electronic Reprints” folder. Okay, clearing out this folder often comes in little binge reading sessions, usually when I am with my laptop but isolated from the internet. At this point, though, I’ve seen the paper at least twice and I hope that something about it sticks in my head, ready to be recalled the next time I am talking about that topic.

Nearly all journals have TOC e-alerts now. At JGR Space Physics, it’s over on the right-hand side on the main website:

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            The other big thing we should be doing is not relying on our memory to populate the cited references in the Introduction and Discussion section of a new manuscript, but conducting a rigorous literature search for relevant papers. I wrote a post on that last fall.

Should we do more for our JIF?

In my last post I presented my estimate of the 2015 Journal Impact Factor for JGR-Space Physics. The number is below the all-sections JGR impact factor by about half a point.   I also showed that this section-specific impact factor has been lower than the all-section value for, well, as far back as I calculated it (~10 years). While I am not that concerned, it is a little troubling to think that space physics, as a field, isn’t as good as other fields, like atmospheric science or astrophysics, at citing recently published papers in our new studies.

The ultimate responsibility for this is with the authors of papers. Each of us should be a conducting literature search with every new paper we write, including citation of relevant papers that either build up to the question addressed or place the findings in the context of existing knowledge, in the Introduction and Discussion sections, respectively. As I have written before, please do this with every new paper you submit.

In addition to this, should we who gate-keep and publish the papers, meaning the Editors, reviewers, AGU, or Wiley, be doing more to increase the impact factor of JGR-Space Physics? I guess we could, but it seems a bit unethical and manipulative, as mentioned in the Physics Today article I highlighted earlier this month. We can do something, though, especially the reviewers.

Reviewers, as the expert assessors of the quality of the work, are the best people to be addressing this issue. They should include an examination of the citations in the manuscript, especially the Introduction and Discussion sections, and determine if the study properly motivates the study with respect to existing knowledge of the topic as well as places the findings into the context of other similar or competing findings from other studies.

At the reviewer instructions at GEMS, AGU brings this up to reviewers in two places. First, it is asked of reviewers in the question set they must answer when submitting their review: “Is the referencing appropriate?” GEMS only provides three answers to choose from: yes; mostly yes, but some additions are necessary; and no. By asking the question, though, it really is just prompting the reviewer to think about this aspect of the paper and encourage suggestions of additional relevant papers to cite. The second place is in the question set for the reviewer to think about in the formal review: ” Does this paper put the progress it reports in the context of existing published work? Is there adequate referencing and introductory discussion?” Again, making sure that the reviewer assesses this aspect of the paper.

See the reviewer instructions for more details on this. There is also a 2011 Eos article about writing a good review. This Eos article has a spiffy flow chart about the review process:

peerreviewguide-flowchart

It suggests that you read the manuscript up to 3 times. The article states that reviewers are not there to catch “to catch every typo, missing reference, and awkward phrase.” I agree. The reviewer should, however, catch glaring omissions of clearly relevant studies.

This idea of you-don’t-have-to-force-citation-of-everything is reflected in the GEMS questions to reviewers. Neither of these questions listed above explicitly ask the reviewer to look for citations to recent articles, nor is there a requirement to cite some minimum number of recent articles. I am glad, because I think that would be stepping over the line of ethical acceptability. In the process of thinking about all relevant literature on which the manuscript builds, though, the reviewer should also consider the recently-published studies as well as the older, and perhaps better known and more familiar, studies.

Plain Language Summaries

Since early fall, all AGU journals, including JGR Space Physics, now have the option at submission of including a Plain Language Summary of the work. This is intended for promoting the work to those beyond the specific discipline. I hope that you write one for every new submission. I mentioned this yesterday as one of the submission details that you should add to your manuscript template. This will make you think about it long before you are halfway through the submission process at the GEMS website and reach this text box and suddenly have to come up with words for it. Do it as your write the paper, and have the coauthors critique it and hone the wording of this paragraph. I think that this is an important development for AGU journals.

My unscientific reading of a bunch of manuscripts tells me that most Abstracts in JGR Space Physics are written at a level that can be understood by most others who conduct some kind of research across the broad field of space physics. That said, I think that not many beyond this discipline would really understand most of our Abstracts. AGU has recognized that this is a problem; scientists often write with themselves in mind for the readership, and this means that Abstracts contain too much detail and field-specific technical content for others to truly understand the work. This is a particularly acute problem for space physics, but even for other science disciplines within the AGU umbrella, various reasons (terminology, methodology, or the nuances of what is meaningful and important) make cutting edge scientific results difficult for the non-expert to decipher.

For most journals, this isn’t a big problem, as the readership often includes only those in the field. For journals like GRL or Earth and Space Science, however, which include papers from across all AGU sections and science disciplines, this poses a problem for the full journal audience (i.e., all of AGU) to at least get the basic premise and major findings of those papers not in their specific field.

In addition, AGU would also like to promote the papers in its journals beyond the normal intra-discipline readership circles. For a long time, AGU staff have been writing Research Spotlight articles about a few selected papers from each journal each month. This is time-consuming for them and they don’t have the budget to increase the workforce dedicated to it. The Plain Language Summary is a way for the authors to provide a concise write-up of the work for people outside of the immediate field. This promotion of papers goes beyond the scientist membership of AGU, too. It extends to science writers and journalists, science enthusiasts, and even science skeptics.

AGU has put a length limit of Plain Language Summaries: they can be 200 words maximum. This is a bit less than the 250-word limit on the “regular” Abstract for a manuscript in JGR Space Physics. You should strive to remove jargon and technical terms, remove complicated phrasing, leave out the details, and focus on the big idea of the paper. In this short write-up of your work, convey the reason you conducted the study, one or two key points about the methodology, one or two key findings, and a quick summary of the implications. A sentence or two per section of the paper, tops.

This isn’t just extra work for you, greater reach for our science results and helping scientists communicate their findings more broadly is something that AGU is actively promoting. Note that AGU has a blog dedicated to this topic called “The Plainspoken Scientist.”

plainspokenscientist

            Plain Language Summaries just became available for JGR Space Physics a couple of months ago and I haven’t actually seen one in print yet. I hope that they clearly display it with the paper, near or even above the technical Abstract. In my quick survey of recent submissions, it looks like over half of new manuscripts are including something in this GEMS text box during submission. That’s great! I hope that you will take this seriously and write well-crafted summaries of your work for the non-expert. I welcome this addition to the overhead of submitting a paper to an AGU journal because, over the long term, I think that it will help our field and the science literacy of the world.

 

More Manuscript Template Tweaks

This year, AGU released new manuscript templates in Word and LaTeX for paper authors to use, which I wrote about this summer, and in September I had a post on some easy tweaks to make them a nicer for reviewers and editors. This month, I had the opportunity to work through the GEMS system as an author and I thought up a few other beneficial tweaks to the templates. These are things that GEMS asks of you, so you might as well be thinking about it before you at the online submission site.

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            Here are the 4 additional items that I encourage everyone to start including in your template so that you think about it before you are at the GEMS the submission page. I would insert them before or after the Abstract, below the title and authors but above the main article text.

Paper Type: acceptable paper types for AGU journals are found here. By far the most common for JGR Space Physics is the Research Article, but we consider all of the other paper types (except those reserved for GRL, as indicated). Because the reviewing criteria are different for each paper type, it’s very helpful for reviewers and editors to see the paper type right there, embedded near the top of the article file.

AGU Index Terms: You have to select a primary index term for your paper, plus up to 4 additional index terms. These must be chosen from the official AGU index term list.

Keywords: These are free-form words or phrases that help your paper be electronically discoverable. They can be words from the index term, from the title, or from the main text. You can enter up to 8 words or phrases.

Plain Language Summary: up to 200 words describing your work to those not in space physics. That is, this text should explain the work to a science reporter or scientifically-literate layperson. It should minimize jargon and acronym usage and focus on one or two key points that a smart non-specialist can understand.

This last thing, the plain language summary, is a new request in GEMS as of October. I’ll write more on this in a separate post.

Finally, note that AGU has shuffled the website for author resources content a bit and the manuscript templates now have their own page. This site has checklists for new submissions and revision submissions as well as the template files and instructions on using them. The LaTeX template is also available on Overleaf.

Happy writing!

Defining Plagiarism

Happy Halloween; one of the most bizarre holidays ever invented (in my opinion).

To go with my last post, I’d like to continue the conversation on plagiarism. Lots of people are talking about this topic, , and I have several times before. Here’s a graphic on the usage of the word “plagiarism” in the last 200 years:

plagiarism_usage_googlebooks

How did I make this plot? Google has a site that does this.

Here’s a definition of plagiarism from Dictionary.com:

plagiarism: an act or instance of using or closely imitating the language and thoughts of another author without authorization and the representation of that author’s work as one’s own, as by not crediting the original author:

            It is not just “language” but “thoughts” as well. AGU can and does check for language overlap, and I and the other editors of JGR Space Physics occasionally send manuscripts back to authors for revision before review to have them rewrite text that is too close to already published papers.

Checking for “idea overlap” is very difficult. The closest that we can come to this is if an editor or reviewer notices that references are missing to key studies of direct relevance. If it is published, then you should give those authors credit for the ideas that they have discussed.

So, I have two pitches to the community.

Authors: please include references all relevant papers. Conduct a literature search at AGU’s EASI database, Harvard’s ADS astronomy abstract service, or Google Scholar. You have lots of resources for this. This is an important step in the scientific method that greatly helps to refine your message to what it truly new and original in your study.

Reviewers: please scrutinize the references, especially in the Introduction and Discussion sections, to ensure that key papers are being cited. It’s one of the questions we ask of you (“Is referencing appropriate?), hoping that this spurs you to read the manuscript with this issue in mind.

Because it’s almost election time here in America, grabbed some hat images and I made up some baseball cap designs that I think we all should be wearing, figuratively if not literally.

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