More Acceptance of Singular They

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


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

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

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

The March for Science


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.


            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:


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:


Want Some Salt With That Metric?

I’ve become a fan of the Scholarly Kitchen. It’s a multi-author blog produced by the Society for Scholarly Publishing. They have daily posts about academic publishing across a wide range of topics, including some useful categories for JGR Space Physics readers, like peer review, discovery and access, and a category simply called academia.


While at the AGU EiC meeting this week, a link to a just-posted Scholarly Kitchen article was circulated on the trustworthiness of journal metrics. The author rates the various journal metrics according to their completeness, transparency, and veracity. She uses a clever scale…the “grains of salt” with which you should take each of the metrics. It goes well with my recent posts on metrics.

And the winner is…CrossRef, which only requires a pinch of salt. ISI and Scopus should be taken with a cup of salt, Download Statistics with a bathtub of salt, and Google Scholar and Research Gate with a classroom full of salt. Yeah, she really doesn’t like Google Scholar for scholarly metrics.

The author is Angela Cochran, who is the Journals Director for the American Society of Civil Engineers and a Past-President of the Council of Science Editors. She knows what she’s talking about on this subject.

I like one of the comments on the article about defining a new SI unit for skepticism, the pinch. A cup of salt is then a kilopinch, a bathtub a megapinch, and a classroom is a gigapinch. Clever.

CrossRef is what is used by Wiley for the “Cited By” link on each paper for all AGU journals, including JGR Space Physics. Here’s a recent example article with a healthy number in the “cited by” tab. When a publisher prepares a paper for production, they check the references for compliance with the database of known scholarly literature. Once published and online, that paper’s link is sent to CrossRef, which resolves the reference tags against its vast database, ensuring that the citation from the new paper is counted in the “cited by” list for each cited reference in it. The system is fast and the linkages are automatically made. CrossRef is a non-profit organization to which nearly all publishers contribute and subscribe, meaning that the database is as robust as possible and yet focused only on scholarly content.

CrossRef does not take the next step of generating an Impact Factor or CiteScore, which are proprietary creations of Thomson Reuters and Elsevier, respectively. What you get with CrossRef is a near-instantaneous update of the “cited by” number and paper listing at the Wiley site for your papers in AGU journals, and you can trust that it is the most accurate count of citations to your paper from other scholarly publications. That’s okay with me. We need to be dishing out kilopinches (or more) of salt with those other metrics, anyway.

JIF and CiteScore

This week, Physics Today published an article on the Journal Impact Factor and the new CiteScore index. Both are average citation values within a certain year to papers published in a few preceding years. The main difference between the two are that the JIF uses citations to papers in the prior two years while CiteScore includes citations to papers in the previous three years. The other main difference is that Elsevier, the creator of the new CiteScore index, is making everything about the creation of the values open, while Thomson Reuters only makes the formula and numbers used available to subscribers, and the actual list of citations is kept proprietary.


            As the Physics Today article notes, the values are similar for most journals between the two indices, but some shifting is evident, especially among the top titles. For JGR (all sections combined), the values are almost identical, with the 2015 Impact Factor being 3.32 and the CiteScore being 3.39 (to two significant digits, which I don’t like to do).

Also as noted in the Physics Today article, the similarity in how they are calculated suggests that the complaints about JIF are largely applicable to CiteScore. Okay, it includes another year, but Thomson Reuters already produces a 5-year Impact Factor, so CiteScore splits the difference. Both are susceptible to the size of the “highly cited tail” of the paper distribution in a journal, especially if the number of citable items is relatively small. Also, both are susceptible to manipulation, if publishers were to unethically push authors of new manuscripts into citing papers in their journals.

I find it bewildering that there are ~5% of journals in existence with a CiteScore of zero (as reported in the Physics Today article). This means that there was a year in which there were no citations to any of the articles published in that journal for the prior three years. I have not looked up the names of these journals to look for a trend or commonality but, regardless…wow. Thanks again for reading and citing the papers in JGR Space Physics!

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.


            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.

Pubs Booth at Fall AGU

I’ve gone through the schedule for the Fall AGU Meeting, and once again it will be a full week where I am occasionally supposed to be in several places at once. There is one place where I know I will be a couple of times, and that is the AGU Publications Booth.

Last year the Publications Booth was in the poster hall in Moscone South. Note that this booth is different from the AGU sales display in the main exhibitor hall. The Pubs Booth is a smaller, single countertop stand and banner with no books or journals for sale. It is set up and operated by AGU Pubs staff specifically to answer questions about publishing scientific results with AGU.


            They ask the Editors in Chief of all of the AGU journals to sign up for times when they will be at the Pubs Booth. Here are the times for the space physics EiCs:

  • Me (JGR Space Physics): Tuesday 11 am – noon and Wednesday 11 am – noon
  • Delores Knipp (Space Weather): Wednesday 8-9 am
  • Phil Wilkinson (Radio Science): Monday 11 am – noon and Thursday 10-11 am
  • Mark Moldwin (Reviews of Geophysics): Monday 1:30-2:30 pm

Stop by and say hello!

I look forward to seeing you at the Fall AGU Meeting, which is now less than a month away.

Finally, join the meeting on social media: #AGU16

Women in Planetary Science Blog

Well, the USA just had its Brexitesque upset vote. Good luck, America. Good luck, World. The one good thing for me last night was that, as I was staying up late anyway, I decided to worked on manuscripts in my queue. It turned into a productive time as I occasionally glanced at the TV, watching the election results come in.

In support of scientific inquiry and in honor of great women, I’d like to share with you the Women in Planetary Science blog. In particular, I would like to point you to the “51+ Women in Planetary Science” list. The first name on the list is my personal favorite, Claudia Alexander. I overlapped with her as U-M PhD students back in the early 1990s. She was assigned to be my grad student mentor, something the departmental grad student organization arranged at that time. It was great talking with her and knowing her over the years. The community suffered a loss with her unfortunate death 16 months ago.


            There are many other great names on the list, and the links on their names take you to a post of their story and their words of wisdom and advice for others. I encourage everyone to take some time today and read through these articles. They are amazing.

Three Sigma People

This afternoon I attended Thomas Zurbuchen’s “Take Off Reception” at the University of Michigan. In case you didn’t know, he was selected by NASA as their next Associate Administrator for Science, and starts at NASA HQ next Monday (October 3). This is a pretty big deal for space physics and I thought that readers of this blog should know about it. There is a nice write-up about it here.


            I knew far less than half of the people in the room. Thomas made many friends across campus during his time as the Director of the Center for Entrepreneurship and then as Associate Dean for Entrepreneurship of the College of Engineering. He inspired and ignited change for the better at Michigan, and, if today was any indication, I think that he will be missed by a lot of people.

Maybe 10 years ago, we were walking back from lunch one day and he asked me, “What is the most compelling question in your field right now?” I hadn’t thought about that topic very much, at least not recently, and I stumbled out some answer. The two inferences I made later that day still stick with me: know the big questions in your field and work towards answering one of them. There is a broader piece of “life advice” in there, too: have a plan for greatness and strive towards achieving it.

Some time after that, we were again walking back from lunch and he made a comment along these same lines that profoundly struck me. I don’t remember the exact words, except for these: three sigma people. The comment was this: be one. Again, I clearly recall the inference I made later: work towards being one of those people that sets the top end of the curve. In whatever endeavor you choose to undertake, make it count and make a difference.

On the Solar and Heliospheric Research Group poster board outside Thomas’ office, there was (is?) a Wanted poster for “Discontented People.” He didn’t want to work with people who were content. Content to slide by. Content and comfortable in their current level. Content in what they know. No, not for him. He wanted people who were yearning for something, had ambition, were energized and enthusiastic, and eager to take on a challenge; people who are working to make the world a better place.

He knows that he had fantastic teams around him in his various roles here at U-M and appreciates their commitment and effort. In his farewell remarks at the reception today, he mentioned it again: a diverse team leads to excellent solutions. There are some people that think that bringing together people from many backgrounds leads to destructive interference, but that’s wrong; very often diverse perspectives yields synergistic results. Thomas saw this happen many times. I agree wholeheartedly.

Have I told you that I love my job? I do, and a big reason is that I get to meet amazing people along my journey. People like Thomas Zurbuchen. I will miss seeing my friend in the hallways of the Space Research Building.

Good luck, Thomas, and may you continue to succeed in your next adventure.


AGU’s Blogosphere

Have you discovered AGU’s blogosphere?  It’s part of the new look and feel of the online version of Eos. I mentioned the blogosphere in a post about a year ago on communicating science, and the Editors’ Vox I pointed out in my last post is an AGU blog, but I haven’t really promoted the full blog suite here yet, and I should, because there is lots of good stuff there for JGR Space Physics readers.


I’d like to take this post and go through the list.

  • GeoSpace: basically about any science topic within the AGU umbrella, this is the closest one to a space physics blog in the list. It occasionally has a post about our field, and you can contribute ideas for posts to the writers.
  • The Plainspoken Scientist: tips on how to be a better scientist, especially how to be a better communicator of your science, both to other scientists and to the general public.
  • The Bridge: connecting science and policy, this blog is not by a single person but a team, including guest contributors. Yes, you too and write a blog post!
  • GeoEd Trek: an education research specialist talks about geoscience education and outreach, science communication, and technology tools in the classroom and in research.
  • Dan’s Wild Wild Science Journal: written by an on-air meteorologist, he has new content every few days covering the gamut of AGU disciplines.
  • From a Glacier’s Perspective: a glaciologist professor talks about her work, with lots of amazing pictures of ice formations.
  • The Martian Chronicles: a few people associated with Mars missions post here several times a week on what’s up at the Red Planet.
  • Magma Cum Laude: can you guess? A volcanologist tells us about her adventures in work and life.
  • Terra Central: by “an environmental scientist working in the private sector,” his job sounds very close to what my wife used to do, helping industry and government clients comply with environmental regulations.
  • Georneys: covers a wide spectrum of geology topics, including some fun themes like “Bad Geology Movies.”
  • The Landslide Blog: his summary captures the content very well: “commentary on landslide events occurring worldwide, including the landslides themselves, latest research, and conferences and meetings.”
  • Mountain Beltway: by another prolific poster, this one on structural geology usually has many photos and graphics, often including his lens cap for size perspective.
  • The Trembling Earth: again, can you guess? Right, earthquakes!

And one more, not officially part of the Eos blogroll but from AGU HQ:

  • From the Prow: articles from the AGU chief executive officer, Chris McEntee, the AGU president, Margaret Leinen, and others from the top layers of AGU.

Happy reading!

PhD Comics Rejection Letter

Some midsummer editorial humor for you.


            Does ours sound like this? Do people read our “decline” letters with this red text commentary running through their heads? Even if they do, it’s a funny comic. I smiled at it, and I hope you do too.

I like PhD Comics but I don’t subscribe or visit the website very often, so thanks to all of those that pointed it out to me (okay, there were two of you).