Preprint Servers: Challenges

A third (and probably final, for now) post on of ESSOAr, AGU’s new preprint server for Earth and space sciences. The first described it, the second touted it, and now this one is the ethical scold of how best to use it.

The biggest point to remember is that preprint servers are not peer-reviewed journals. Yes, there is an editorial board that checks submissions for scientific scope, but there is no vetting of the accuracy of the content. The editorial check takes a day or two, maybe a week max, but it is not a real review process. Yes, content here gets a DOI, but we should all remember that content on preprint servers are essentially just a step above “private communication” in terms of referencing authority. That is, it could be wrong.

We hope that content on ESSOAr, and any other preprint server, will eventually be published in a scientific journal. Researchers are putting their reputation out there with each new post on one of these servers, so the content is, for the most part, respectable. Go ahead and use it to learn what is being done by your colleagues. Because preprint server content has not been through the peer review process, though, it should be replaced with the “final” version of the study from whatever journal it eventually appears in.

To summarize in a graphic:

Caution-preprints

            Peer review should still be the standard for what is accepted as “knowledge” of the subject. Even this can be wrong but at least it has been thoroughly scrutinized by experts. You should be very skeptical of older preprints on the server (say, more than 2 years since original posting) that lack a link to a final published version of the paper. That work either was not submitted or did not pass peer review. If the former, then it is perhaps the case that the authors found a problem with the study and therefore never submitted that version of the paper. If the latter, then perhaps the editor or referees found a problem with the study and declined publication of it. Either way, the study did not reach its “final” form in the literature.

The advice to the community about older preprints can be summed up like this:

  • Authors: use caution when citing an older preprint.
  • Reviewers: pay extra attention to citations of older preprints.
  • Editors: ask reviewers to check the appropriateness of older preprint citations.
  • Societies: set policy about citing older preprints.

I am told that the astrophysics community, which regularly uses the arXiv preprint server, understands this difference in “publication” levels. That is, research communities can learn to use preprint servers and make it their go-to place for the latest content across a number of journals, as I am told that many in astrophysics do. They also know, however, that when it comes time to write your own paper, don’t rely on preprints as your main entries in the reference list. The astrophysics community, I am told, understands the guidelines about preprint servers and only uses it for finding the latest work on a topic.

We, the Earth and space science research community, should adopt this same mentality about preprint servers, not only ESSOAr but any server (and there are several being created). Such servers should be a place to get the latest studies from across a variety of journals, learning about content as the manuscripts are submitted rather than months later when they are accepted and eventually published. We should only use it for the latest work, though. A preprint server is not the place for full literature searches – those should be done in Web of Science, Google Scholar, Scopus, ADS, or other services that scan the published, peer-reviewed literature. And, as an editor, I strongly urge you to please conduct a full literature search, because a recent study by Mark Moldwin and me showed that the more complete your reference is, the more citations your paper will get (on average).

Use ESSOAr, but know its purpose within the hierarchy of scientific publications.

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Preprint Servers: Benefits

With the launch of ESSOAr, AGU (and all of the other supporting societies on the advisory board) has entered the market of posting scholarly content prior to official acceptance by a peer-reviewed journal. Yesterday I discussed the “how” of ESSOAr, here I discuss the “why.”

The big reason is to increase scientific communication and collaboration. AGU’s mission is to promote discovery in Earth and space sciences, and many of the society’s honors, medals, and awards cite “unselfish cooperation in research” as a primary criterion for selection. Posting scholarly work to a preprint server increases its visibility and, hopefully, impact within the research community. It gets your findings into the hands of other scientists a bit sooner than normal – a bit closer to when the work was done rather than after months of reviews and revisions. It helps increase the “speed” of scientific discovery, as we learn about what’s new a little bit earlier than we would have from journals alone.

Here is the “why” answer from the ESSOAr FAQ page:

ESSOAr_banner_and_benefits

In addition to a lot of the same arguments I write above, there is an interesting comment in the middle of the paragraph, “You can establish priority.” Rather than the publication date being your time stamp laying claim so some finding, posting on a preprint server establishes that claim a bit sooner.

In a somewhat selfish consideration, the anecdotal evidence that I have heard is that posting your work on a preprint server increases the “early lifetime” citations to the paper. That is, it is thought that the page views and downloads of the preprint leads to faster incorporation of your findings in the work of other scientists, and citations to it therefore should begin a few months sooner. I am not sure how true this is, because the citation rate with year since publication is fairly constant at ~3/year in JGR Space Physics. Furthermore, I am told that the solar physics community extensively uses the arXiv preprint server, yet the journal Solar Physics has a Journal Impact Factor about the same or even slightly lower than JGR Space Physics. In support of preprint servers, I am told the astrophysics community uses arXiv even moreso that solar researchers, and The Astrophysical Journal has a JIF several points higher that the JIF for JGR Space Physics. So, perhaps my awareness of the solar community’s usage of that server is overestimated. This is all speculation, though; we need some quantitative statistics on usage and eventual citations to robustly claim anything. My point is that, while the evidence is mixed about the effectiveness of preprint servers, there is a plausible argument that they should lead to higher citations soon after publication.

Because it s really very little time and effort to upload, I think that it is worth it to do so. I suggest doing this when you submit to the peer-reviewed journal. I haven’t gone through it yet to see it for myself, but I am told that there is a link within the GEMS process for automatically sending the newly-submitted manuscript over to ESSOAr. The trickiest thing about submitting to ESSOAr was the license agreement. There are 4 levels of user licenses available to you. The most lenient is “CC-BY”, for which the only restriction is that users must properly cite it. For my Fall AGU poster, I selected the second level, “CC-BY-NC,” which places the additional constraint of no commercial reuse without my permission. The next level adds a restriction on “derivative use” without permission of the authors. The fourth one is the most restrictive and basically says it can be here on ESSOAr with no other use allowed. Aside from this, the process is very straightforward and easy.

The second step to achieving the full benefits of a preprint server is using ESSOAr as a place to learn about the latest results in your field. This requires signing up for new content alerts. Once you have logged in, conduct a search with some keywords of relevance to you. Once the results are up, then in the upper right area of the page is this:

ESSOAr_followresults

The first link, the magnifying glass with the plus symbol, will “save the search” for you. This opens up a new window where you can name the search and indicate how often you want it to automatically run this for you and send you an alert about it. It looks like this:

ESSOAr_savethissearch

The second symbol opens a page for setting up RSS alerts for the individual posters and preprints found in the search. Actually, both of these links are there regardless of whether you have signed in, you just can’t actually save the search until you log in.

On the page for each poster or preprint in the database, there are two links, “Track Citations” and “Add to Favorites.” The first allows you to get alerts on citations to that specific post, while the second just provides a quick link to that post. These settings, and the saved searches, can all be managed from your profile page. To get there, click on your name in the upper right corner and then on the “Profile” tab. On the new page that loads, the left-column menu has Alerts, Favorites, and Saved Searches.

There isn’t much content available yet – a handful of manuscript preprints and about 50 poster PDFs. If we all collectively start using it, though, then ESSOAr will blossom into a place where space scientists go to learn about the latest work being prepared for publication.

New JGR Space Physics Editor Search

We seek two new Editors to join the board of the Journal of Geophysical Research Space Physics. These are additional positions that will expand the editorial board from five to seven. The deadline for application submissions is 23 February 2018.

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            Applicants should be dynamic, well-organized, independent-minded, and even-handed scientists with robust knowledge of space physics. As editor you should be committed to further strengthening JGR Space Physics as a leading journal in this field and be proactive in attracting innovative contributions in traditional disciplines and in emerging areas. Applicants from all fields of space physics across the journal’s full aims and scope are welcome.

Editors have several job duties. First and foremost is handling the reviewer assignments and decisions for manuscripts submitted to the journal. You could also be called upon for consultation about manuscripts assigned to other editors. There is an expectation of promoting the journal, especially at conferences you attend, and helping to write highlights of selected papers published in the journal. We hold regular teleconferences throughout the year, as well as a full editorial board meeting at the Fall AGU Meeting, to discuss management and strategic goals of the journal. The expected time commitment of a JGR Space Physics editor is ~5 hours per week.

The term for these new editors would be 4 years with a flexible start date soon after selection. This term extends past the end date of the other editors, creating a bridge to the next Editor in Chief and board. Questions regarding the scope of work and editorial philosophy should contact me. AGU has written guidelines to editors. The search committee is committed to diversity and highly encourages women and minorities to apply. The journal serves a world-wide community of space physics researchers and international applicants are welcome.

If you would like to be considered for one of these Editor positions with JGR Space Physics, please send your curriculum vitae with a letter of interest via email to pubmatters@agu.org. If you would like to nominate a highly qualified colleague, then please send a letter of recommendation to the same email address. Please make sure that you specify “JGR Space Physics Editor Search” in the subject line of the email.

      Review of applications will begin immediately after the submission deadline. Again, the deadline for applications is 23 February 2018.

TESS-2018

TESS is back! Yes, it has been 3 years since we had the first Triennial Earth-Sun Summit and, in order to keep the name true, it is time for the next one.

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The official website of the meeting is here, and abstract submissions are now open, with a deadline of Tuesday, February 20.

TESS is a meeting designed to directly appeal to the readership of JGR Space Physics. Organized as a joint meeting of the AGU’s Space Physics and Aeronomy section and the AAS’ Solar Physics Division, it is a chance for our community to have our own meeting that spans the full range of space sciences within the solar system.

There are a lot of special sessions for TESS-2018. There are sessions focused on the Sun and solar atmosphere, the heliosphere, on geospace and near-Earth space weather, some on planetary space environments, and still others that cut across these “regional” boundaries and focus on a fundamental physical process or universal phenomenon. This last group of sessions seeks to draw together the various sub-field communities. There was a big emphasis on this cross-disciplinary theme for the first TESS meeting, and while the speaker lists were great at that conference, the attendance was relatively small (about 400) compared the full number of researchers in our field (several thousand, counting everyone from around the world). One drawback was that the only pre-arranged special sessions were these cross-disciplinary ones. This time, TESS-2018 has many discipline-specific special sessions already on the schedule, which I hope will excite the community and yield a large attendance at the conference. There will also be plenary session talks every morning, with no concurrent sessions in parallel with them. We’ll all be in the same room together for at least part of the every day.

If you are an organizer of one of these special sessions for TESS, then please think seriously about submitting a proposal to JGR Space Physics to organize a special section. I will probably be checking in with you about this before or after the conference.

The meeting is the last full week of May, with sessions scheduled Monday – Thursday, May 21-24 and an icebreaker on Sunday, May 20. The venue is a nice resort hotel in Leesburg, Virginia, a historic town just northwest of Washington, DC. I plan to attend, at least for the first half and perhaps for the full meeting, depending on family travel plans.

Heliophysics Division Director

We need a Heliophysics Division Director at NASA HQ. The application submission deadline is October 13, just under two weeks away. I would like to urge solar and space physicists that are senior to me to seriously consider this position.

NASA-meatball

            I know what you are saying to yourself: why would someone from outside of NASA HQ ever consider this job? Over the last ~6 years, we had two such people go to HQ from the outside only to have them not last through their Senior Executive Service probationary first year and leave the post. The most recent holder of this position, Steve Clarke, came from within NASA HQ and, while doing a great job for Heliophysics, only stayed a couple of years (he is now at OSTP).

One key difference is the presence of Thomas Zurbuchen at NASA HQ. He has been the NASA Associate Administrator in charge of the Science Mission Directorate for a year now. According to his recent Facebook post, he loves his job and fully appreciates the high quality team running the SMD activities at NASA HQ. He is committed to the success of NASA, which includes the success of the Heliophysics Division, and wants a qualified expert and leader in that post.

When he was a professor here at U-M, I worked regularly with Thomas on a number of academic and research activities. I told you a bit about that when Zurbuchen left for NASA HQ last year. If you would like to know more about my experiences working with Thomas and my perspective on what I think it would be like to have this position working with him at HQ, then please contact me. One email address for me is just below my picture in the right-hand column, and my office contact info is here.

We need a strong and capable solar and space physicist in this post. I urge those qualified for the position to think about this opportunity. Don’t let the past dissuade you; whoever is selected, Zurbuchen will want that person to thrive.

Here is the ad as it appeared in one of our e-newsletters:

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