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.

Advertisements

EiC Life: Alex Dessler’s Editorship

Alex Dessler was the editor for JGR from 1966-1969, back when it was only split into two sections, each with a single editor covering many disciplines of AGU. My post last week inspired Dessler to post a Comment on this blog. His words are:

            “Many, many years ago, I was editor of JGR – Space Physics. I had many of the same problems that you face. But I had advantages: I had more power than editors do now, plus JGR was, of course, smaller. If you are interested in how it was handled in the good old days, see: Dessler, A. J., Editing JGR – Space Physics, EOS, 53, 4-13, 1972.”

The link to his Eos article is here. It’s 10 pages of triple-column small font of varying resolution (some pages are quite poor quality), but it is well worth the read. It includes a few photos of him and his staff, like this one:

Dessler_editing_JGR

            Alex Dessler’s Eos article covers the full sweep of editorial activities. If you don’t have access to it, don’t worry, because I am going to start going through it with you. This Eos article on the details of being an Editor is inspiring me to write my own thoughts on this topic. I will be starting a series within this blog, with “EiC Life” in the post titles, essentially walking through the points in Dessler’s article. Some things are still very similar, some things have drastically changed, so it is worthwhile to create an updated version of his explanation of his editorship. I’m making this post the first of the series, so readers can easily find Dessler’s Eos article.

A year ago, I thought to myself to start just such a series of posts, probably in early 2017, my fourth and supposedly last year as EiC of JGR Space Physics. When I agreed to a two-year extension, though, the impetus was removed and I have not started it yet. With Dessler bringing this article to my attention, this is as good a time as any to start this series. It will take me many months and I will interrupt it regularly with unrelated posts on journal news, writing and reviewing tips, and other topics that I write about here. The “EiC Life ” series will serve, though, as a good discussion point for anyone interested in knowing the thought processes and inner workings of being an editor. Like Dessler states in his article, hopefully it will dispel the mystery around journal editing and will inspire the next generation of editors.

And, of course: thank you, Alex Dessler, for your years of service as JGR, Reviews of Geophysics, and GRL editor and, among your many other scientific contributions, for that handy relationship between inner magnetospheric plasma energy content and ground magnetic perturbations!

 

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.

 

Comparing the Impact of Journals

Yesterday the JGR Space Physics editors had their quarterly telecon and we talked a bit about the new Journal Impact Factor (JIF) that was just released. We want the journal to be very high quality but we do not want to be metrics manipulators. We agreed to monitor it for the next few years.

The topic of metric reliability is on the minds of many journal editors. Martyn Clark, the Editor in Chief of AGU’s journal Water Resources Research, just published an Editorial entitled, “The citation impact of hydrology journals,” coauthored by Brooks Hanson, AGU’s Director of Publications. It analyzes several metrics for 6 hydrology-related peer-reviewed journals for the past ~20 years. It’s a very nice examination of journal metrics for a geophysics field. I encourage you to read it.

Let me summarize the key findings. They show that all of the journals have the same temporal trend in their metrics, with the JIF steadily rising, in general, for all hydrology journals over the last 15 years. They also see significant variability in the JIF of smaller journals (i.e., those that publish < 200 articles per year) as a few highly-cited papers skew the JIF upwards for a year or two, quantified by resampling the articles to create a uncertainty spread on the metric. All of the journals had Lost Papers with zero citations and Super Papers with >100 citations. They find hydrology papers taking a relatively long time to “mature” and reach full influence on the field, a similar trend as in space physics, as evidenced by most citations occurring after the 2-year window of the JIF (compare their Figures 6 and 7 with a similar plot for JGR Space Physics here). The main finding of the article is that journal metrics, in particular the JIF, are temporally variable, have relatively large spreads of uncertainty, and are not representative of the influence of a specific paper on its research field.

The JIF is reported to 4 significant digits, but this Editorial clearly demonstrates that this level of precision is overkill. Here is a plot of the spread of JIF values for 3 of the journals:

Clark_WRR_2017_Editorial_Fig4

JHM is the smaller of these 3 and the uncertainty in its JIF is > 0.5. The other two journals publish 500-800 articles per year, so their uncertainties are lower, but they are still several tenths of a point.

They bring up a fantastic point that I want to repeat here: citations to a paper do not necessarily measure the quality of the paper, but rather represent the utility of the paper. Citations show that others are building on the findings of the paper but the number of citations does not capture the robustness of the analysis within the paper. I don’t think that we have a good measure for that yet.

If you look at the Acknowledgments, Jennifer Satten at Wiley provided the bibliometrics data for this article. She has given me much of the same information for the field of space physics. I could work up a similar article for our discipline. It’s on my to-do list. Maybe I will, or perhaps I’ll just show some plots in this blog as I make them.

JGR’s 2016 Impact Factor

Clarviate Analytics, the new company name for the part of Thomson Reuters that makes the Journal Citation Reports, just released the 2016 Journal Impact Factors. As expected, they separated the sections of JGR into different journals, giving each one its own JIF. And the value for JGR Space Physics is … wait for it … 2.7.

ClarviateAnalytics

            As I wrote back in January his is what I was expecting. Actually a little higher, which is nice. While this is a big drop from last year’s “all sections of JGR” value of 3.3. The JGR Space Physics JIF score is the lowest of the JGR family, just below JGR Oceans (at 2.9) and a full point below JGR Planets (at 3.7).

I am not that concerned about it. I gave several reasons for this back in January, especially the fact that we have a near linear growth in the average citations per paper for the first decade after publication. That is, the average citations per 10-year-old paper is right at 30. On average, we cite each paper ~3 times per year, every year, for a long time after publication. Here’s the graph I showed in January supporting this:

avg_cites_per_paper_by_year

This is not the only good news about the longevity of JGR Space Physics papers: the cited half life is over 10 years (the maximum that Clarviate Analytics posts, “>10.0”). So, on average, a 10-year-old paper has yet to reach half of its total citations over its lifetime. This means that the average JGR Space Physics paper will eventually reach a total citation count of over 60.

Another bright spot: our Immediacy Index is 0.71, which is second among the JGR family. This is the number of citations in the year 2016 to papers published in the year 2016. For reference, a quick scan over the last 5 years of values reveals that only one AGU journal, Reviews of Geophysics, has an Immediacy Index over one (it jumps between 1 and 3, with its 2016 value being 2.3). I have not analyzed whether this is from a few papers getting many citations or a broad spectrum of papers getting a few, but either way, I’d say that we’re doing pretty well at reading the new literature. Way to go!

Our field of space physics has a particular way of citing publications. Some papers get immediate attention resulting in citations within the first year but most papers take a while to be absorbed by the community and achieve their full impact on the field. In the long run, JGR Space Physics papers are highly cited.

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).

 

Postcards from the Field of Space Physics

AGU has a blogosphere, of which I have written about before.

AGU_Blogs-banner

            There is one that I didn’t write about in that post, however, because it didn’t exist then: The Field. These are blog posts in the 300-500 word range written by those who are “doing their science thing” away from the office and, well, out in “the field.” By field here, I think they really do mean anywhere outside of your normal office or lab, because the posts cover a wide range from Antarctica to the journey out to a remote field site to a classroom for outreach activities.

TheField1-1

            There seems to be a dearth of space physics posts on this site. We do lots of cool “out of the office and lab” work, so I highly encourage you to think about stretching beyond writing articles for JGR Space Physics and try a submission to The Field. If you feel the urge to contribute a story to this blog, then please click on the “let us know” link near the top of the right-hand column of that blog’s main page and send them your idea for a post. They (the AGU staff in charge of this site) will work with you to get your story polished for posting. Be sure to take lots of pictures. The posts on this page are full of them.

Intimidated by writing a full page or two about your journeys? There is a similar yet even easier version, which has been around for ~3 years now: Postcard From The Field, AGU’s Tumblr account. Here you can submit your photo and caption. It’s short, it’s easy, and there are precious few space physics “postcards from the field” on this site. A different blog, The Plainspoken Scientist, had an article about the Tumblr account, in case you want to know more details.

AGU_on_Tumblr

            Yet another AGU blog venue for your non-JGR-Space Physics writing is GeoSpace. This site posts articles about cool science topics across Earth and space science. Again, we could use some more space physics posts in this stream.

GeoSpace1

            Happy writing!