Volumes 1 and 2

April 4th, 2014

This year, JAWRA is publishing its 50th volume. But, if you go to our Wiley website, you won’t see the first two. What’s going on? It’s not some mistake. All papers in back issues were scanned when we partnered with Wiley in 2007. But, Wiley only shows technical papers and similar materials, and our first technical paper was published in 1966, Volume 3.

To see Volumes 1 and 2 you have to go to AWRA Headquarters, where a full set of paper copies exists, or to a repository library holding a similar set. I wouldn’t be surprised if one of our charter members still has a set in their basement!

At Headquarters the other day, I looked up Volumes 1 and 2 of Water Resources Bulletin, JAWRA’s original name, to resolve a question of who was the first editor. The Answer? The four issues of Volume 1 do NOT list an editor on the inside front cover masthead. The first page contains a message from “The Secretary,” but does not list this person by name. (Sandor C. Csallany served as General Secretary at this time.) Volume 2, Issue 1, lists Randy Boggess as Editor on the masthead. Ico Iben is incorrectly listed in some accounts as WRB’s first Editor, but — I checked! — he actually was the first editor of Hydata. Taking the masthead as the authoritative source, Randy Boggess was the first Editor, and I am the eleventh.

I’m a little concerned Volumes 1 and 2 never were digitized. As the above account shows, they have some historical value. Perhaps I may take on this task.

Publishing Big Data

April 3rd, 2014

Science lives and dies by data. Today, the field of water resources is in the era of Big Data. Most published research papers contribute a small amount of data in the form of field observations, etc., but many also rely on other large, usually public datasets and data services. What regional watershed study, for example, does not use standard GIS datasets of basin boundaries, elevations, and streams distributed by data services, i.e. Big Data? Ongoing initiatives may produce Big Data “apps” to examine critical issues such as climate change. How good is this Big Data? Should we trust it? Can we make it better? This is where peer-reviewed journals come in.

Critical though Big Data may be, its creators are not well recognized in published journals. Important insights learned in building Big Data often remain in the minds of its creators, and users are left to discover strengths and weaknesses for themselves. With peer-reviewed journal articles, the developers of Big Data have a chance to explain the role of their data services in furthering science. A journal also provides the opportunity for discussions and replies, which contribute to greater understanding of Big Data.

Writing about Big Data

So, how does one write about Big Data? The typical research article format of hypothesis-testing-conclusion is not a good fit for describing data services. Moreover, most Big Data already are documented with users guides and with metadata, such as the Federal Geospatial Data Committee’s “Content Standard for Digital Geospatial Metadata (CSDGM).” User guides primarily are “how to” instructions with little nuance. The CSDGM is intended more for description and documentation than for evaluation and discussion. If you need to know the coding for the attributes of a data set, the CSDGM metadata is the place to look. If you need to see how and why these codes were used, it can be less helpful.

In thinking about how to write a journal article about your Big Data, I take it for granted you already have user guides and CSDGM metadata. These should be referenced, but need not be repeated except as an introduction. What more do you need to say to help researchers understand your Big Data? I see these four questions as critical:

  1. What was original about constructing your Big Data, and what lessons were learned?
  2. What assumptions did you make, and how might they affect using Big Data?
  3. How did you test Big Data?
  4. What are the known strengths and limitations of Big Data?

Every Big Data effort is original. If it were easy, someone already would have done it! The tipping point for proceeding typically is a new technology (e.g. LiDAR) or a pressing need that finally makes available the necessary resources. The mechanics of construction usually are described elsewhere. But all Big Data efforts involve design choices. Why did you choose the resolution you did? Why was a particular range of attributes chosen? Why does the interface work this way and not that way? The reasoning behind these decisions may help users a little, but they could be invaluable for later developers working on the next generation of Big Data.

I might call assumptions, “Where the bodies are buried.” All data systems are compromises. Time and resources always force developers to accept some things as “givens.” To use the National Hydrography Dataset (NHD) as an example, one big assumption of the early versions was that streams began with the “blue lines” of USGS maps. This was not a very good assumption, but there was nothing better available. Much of the subsequent criticism and misunderstanding of the NHD might have been softened had this point been made clearly in a journal article.

Most Big Data is tested extensively in the planning and development stages. The journal article should reference pilot studies or anything that gives an insight into how the Big Data can be used in practical situations. Keep in mind, testing information often resides in the “gray literature” of contractor reports; the journal article can be key in finding this information.

Finally, you need to be honest about the strengths and limitations of your Big Data. Nobody knows these better than the developers! What uses did you have in mind for Big Data, and how does it fulfill these hopes? Give potential users a reasonable expectation of how Big Data can help them. Don’t be afraid to advise on what should be made better in future versions of Big Data.

Technology for Technology

The text of a journal article may not be a very good venue for demonstrating a data system. The best user manuals today incorporate video. Somebody sits down in front of a computer and, with the video camera running, goes through an example application. Please note the online version of JAWRA articles can link to such demonstrations.

The Role of Peer Review

The role of the journal article is to describe and critically examine Big Data. Once Big Data reaches the milestone of journal article preparation, the data system is pretty much is what it is. Recommending major changes may not be helpful, with the exception being where Big Data simply fails to do what it is claimed to do. The focus of peer review, therefore, should be on how well the article answers the four questions I raised earlier.

Concluding Thoughts

Big Data has many elements that require the explanation and reasoned discussion a peer-reviewed journal provides. The format may differ from that of traditional articles, but it is science nonetheless. JAWRA will welcome articles on Big Data.

Journal Of Knowledge Environment

March 31st, 2014

This April 1, we are pleased to announce the launch of a new Gold Open Access, self peer-reviewed publication: The Journal Of Knowledge Environment (JOKE). One of the biggest problems in editing a journal is finding peer reviewers and then getting the authors to respond to their troublesome comments. JOKE solves this by having the authors themselves provide peer review. However, we are going to be strict. Each manuscript must be accompanied by a thorough and unbiased review by the authors. No exceptions!

Thanks to the wonders of the Internet, our time-to-first “decision” is only 30 minutes, longer if your credit card fails to process. Can’t write in English? No problem! Our only readers probably will be clueless members of your tenure committee mindlessly counting your publications. JOKE’s Impact Factor is 392.15, but that’s only our estimate. (Actual IF may vary.)

Did we mention cost? Publication in JOKE is yours for only US $9,999.99 per article. For an additional US $3,000.00 we will provide an online certificate for the “Best JOKE Paper Award.” There’s a 10 percent discount for each additional manuscript, provided it has a different title. Ask about our boost-your-CV group rates!

The Editor-in-Chief for JOKE will be Dr. E. T. Alia, the most cited author in history. He will be assisted by an Editorial Board so distinguished we cannot disclose their names.

Send in those manuscripts now!

Predatory OA Journals

March 28th, 2014

Unintended consequences can be killers! The Open Access (OA) movement, begun for economic and idealistic reasons, now faces a huge and unanticipated crisis: Predatory OA Journals.

An OA journal offers its content for free on the Internet, thus offering the widest possible distribution. Even after eliminating paper, though, publishing is not free. Most OA journals keep their lights on using an “author pays” business model of assessing Author Publishing Charges (APCs).

Let me state upfront, I do not believe OA is inherently flawed. Many reputable journals now offer some form of OA. (JAWRA uses a hybrid model of subscriptions plus OA for authors who require it.) If a journal’s rejection rate is high enough, an editor has no temptation to accept an inferior article just to get the APC.

“Author pays,” unfortunately, opens the field to predation. It’s easy to build a fancy journal website and promote it with blast emails inviting submissions and membership on a “distinguished editorial board.” Quickly “peer review” all submissions, put the articles online, and collect your fee.

Think predatory OA is not a problem? Read Jeffery Beall’s blog, “Scholarly Open Access.” The brazenness of these publishers is astonishing! It’s not unusual for a predatory publisher to launch 40 journals at once. All have prestigious titles. Editorial boards are populated by distinguished scientists, most of whom don’t realize they are members. To appear  established , some journals simply steal papers from other journals and place them online as back issues. Impact factors are based on meaningless metrics or just plain made up. Peer review involves little more than making sure your credit card is accepted. Complaints? Good luck in tracing through a web of redirected addresses! The list of offenses goes on and on.

Why would a reputable scientist publish in these journals? These folks are smoother than that Nigerian finance minister who needs your help. A flattering invitation arrives in your email, the website looks good (if you don’t check too closely), and before you know it you’ve submitted a manuscript or agreed to be on a “Distinguished Editorial Board.” Sadly, those most vulnerable to this kind of pitch are young scientists in developing nations, who have neither the experience nor the mentoring to avoid such traps. Regrettably, some AWRA members have inadvertently aided these predatory publishers by passing around their tables of content, or forwarding their fraudulent email pitches.

Besides taking your money, predatory journals do real harm. Tenure committees are getting wise to predatory OA, and publishing in these outlets is not a good career move. Prominent scientists have been embarrassed for, knowingly or not, taking a short cut to publication. Worse, by presenting themselves as legitimate, predatory OA journals lend an air of respectability to “science” papers that have received little or no peer review. The public may not understand the difference between JAWRA, now on its 50th volume, and a predatory OA journal that began last year.

How can you protect yourself against these predators? Always be skeptical of email requests. Keep in mind how easy it is to set up a slick web site. Beall’s blog includes lists of known offenders, and checking it is a good start. Google searches also help. If you know somebody listed on an editorial board, check by contacting them directly. Most importantly, deal with people and organizations you know and trust. It’s a dangerous world out there on the Internet.

Associate Editor, Water Quality Monitoring

March 24th, 2014

I am pleased to announce the appointment of Dr. Jaehak Jeong, currently of the Blackland Research & Extension Center, Texas A&M, as Associate Editor for Water Quality Monitoring. We had a good talk earlier this afternoon, and I am confident Jaehak is a fine selection. Jaehak is a young professional and very active in a number of fields. He also has good connections with the Korean Water Resources Association, which could be helpful in future collaborations.

Please join me in welcoming Jaehak to our JAWRA Editorial Team!

AE for Forest Hydrology

March 19th, 2014

I am pleased to announce the appoint of Dr. Alicia Kinoshita, currently of the Colorado School of Mines, as Associate Editor for Forest Hydrology. We had a good talk earlier this afternoon, and I am confident Alicia is a fine selection. With growing interest in the effects of climate changes, I think her experience with western forests will be particularly valuable.

Please join me in welcoming Alicia to our JAWRA Editorial Team!

Writing a Decision Letter

March 11th, 2014

Counting manuscript revisions, my job requires me to write about 500 decisions letters each year. Although these letters start as templates, most include words from me specific to the manuscript. Here are a couple of rules I’ve learned for giving this advice.

Remember the “Washington Post Rule.” Never write anything you would not care to see in tomorrow’s Post! Cutting, cruel, or sarcastic words are more likely to reflect badly on you than on the subject. You are not showing off your creative writing skills; you are trying to inform an author.

Be direct. If you like or don’t like something, say so and explain why. Say exactly what must be done to revise a manuscript, and don’t make the author guess. If the author has options, make that point clear. If a reviewer has raised a question that must be answered, state this clearly. Wishy-washy wording can encourage revisions of a hopelessly poor manuscript, or give an author the idea reviewer comments can be safely ignored.

Don’t send the author on a wild goose chase. Reviewers sometimes go overboard with advice that would send a paper way beyond its original scope. If you don’t agree with a reviewer, let the author know.

Do not tolerate unethical conduct, but be open to an explanation. This doesn’t happen often, but when it does, your position must be firm. While summarily dismissing problematic manuscripts, I always leave the door open a crack for the author to tell me I’ve got it all wrong.

Proceedings and Journals

March 3rd, 2014

A recent thread in The Scholarly Kitchen brought out some interesting differences between Conference Proceedings and Journals. Here’s my (edited) entry:

I’ve chaired conferences before. Let me assure you that producing a proceedings is vastly different from editing a peer-reviewed journal.

1. Time. The schedule for a conference is set in stone. At best, you have time for one round of reviews and revisions. In our journal, we can keep going until we get it right.

2. Reviewer qualifications. Proceedings typically are reviewed by one or two members of the conference technical committee, who may or may not have all the requisite skills. Journals choose reviewers from a large pool.

3. Responsiveness of authors. Without a second round of reviews, what the author sends back usually is what is published, even if the author blows off the comments. Don’t try this with a journal.

4. Direct feedback. The conference session often generates comments from the audience. Unfortunately, proceedings typically have no way of capturing this interaction. Journals have Discussion and Reply.

5. Consequences of rejection. Rejecting a proceedings paper often means having at least one less attendee and an open slot in the program. Rejecting a journal paper typically opens space for another.

With all these limitations, it’s hard to justify calling the proceedings of most conferences peer reviewed in the same sense as a journal is peer reviewed. AWRA now requires only abstracts from presenters. The conference committee typically works with me to select the most promising presentations and encourage full JAWRA submittals following the conference.

Dealing with Rejecting

February 21st, 2014

[This is one of a series of entries I will be writing about the job of editing a peer-reviewed journal.]

Sometimes at a conference, I joke that if you hear maniacal laughter coming from my room, JAWRA’s rejection rate is going up again. Joking aside, turning down manuscripts is an unpleasant necessity of my job. We got 248 submittals last year, and have room to publish about 117. You can do the math.

Many manuscripts sail through reviews and on to acceptance. A sound first draft draws constructive review comments which the authors incorporate into their next draft. Others travel a much more difficult path.

A few reject decisions are easy. The manuscript may be on an unsuitable subject or execrably poor. Sometimes, reviewers find a fatal flaw and save the author public embarrassment. Foolish or arrogant authors may do themselves a disservice by ignoring their reviewers. I read ‘em so you don’t have to!

Nevertheless, some manuscripts invariably come down to a tough decision. Looking at all the recommendations, I have to weigh the potential value of the science against the likelihood of the authors fixing all the problems. Can this marginal manuscript be upgraded to a publishable paper our readers will treasure? Remember, we only have room for so many articles.

I realize authors have worked hard to produce a manuscript up to this point. What do I really owe the authors? Nothing more or less than an honest, informed decision. Honest means I take the manuscript at face value looking how it would stand as an independent article. Informed means considering all the available information from reviews and Associate Editor recommendations. If I’ve done all my homework in this regard, I make my best decision and move on.

Maybe it’s a defense mechanism, a way of coping with the necessary bad news I have to deliver, but I sometimes surprise myself with how little I think of past decisions. Lest I give the impression editing is gloomy, one of joys is seeing solid reviews turn a good manuscript into a great paper!

I know I don’t get all the calls right. But, if I follow good practices, I don’t worry about it.

Update: AE for Water Quality Monitoring

February 18th, 2014

Because the inclement weather in the eastern US has made a mess of just about everybody’s schedules, we are leaving this announcement open until March 14th. So, if you’ve not had the time to send me your CV, please do so now!