How do you and Susan divide your responsibilities?

July 10th, 2014

[Another in my series on editing.]

JAWRA Managing Editor Susan Scalia and I have worked together for almost nine years, so we’ve carved out our responsibilities pretty well. Basically, anything having to do with the science is my bailiwick, while everything concerning the mechanics of submittal and publishing is Susan’s. Whom should you contact if you have a question and are not sure? Both of us! ( We’ll work it out ourselves in answering.

15 years of editing

July 1st, 2014

Conference sessionI’m out in Reno, Nevada this week, at the AWRA Summer Specialty Conference, “Integrated Water Resources Management: From Theory to Application.” I had the opportunity to have lunch with my predecessor, John Warwick. Now at the University of Southern Illinois, John has been a little distant from AWRA, but it was nice to see him coming back to this meeting. It was so good to catch up with news of John and his wife, Laura Helsel, who once held Susan’s position.

A  conversation with John at a Florida meeting led to my becoming Editor. I told John I heard he was leaving, and asked what we would do without him. He said, “Have you thought of the job?” I hadn’t, up to that point, but I thought, if John felt I was qualified, maybe that was a possibility. One thing led to another, and here I am!

I give John credit for starting the idea of Featured Collections, something I picked up on and developed very successfully. FCs have provided some of our best and most popular papers over the years. So, it was a rare occasion to talk with someone who has figuratively walked in my shoes and had the same experiences. A lot has changed with JAWRA — Wiley, ScholarOne, just to name two — but much has remained the same.

The photo shows one of the conference sessions. The current and five past AWRA Presidents are in the room, along with two Editors representing 15 years of JAWRA!

How does the JAWRA cover photo get chosen?

June 25th, 2014

[With my departure coming closer, I'm going to post a series of articles commenting on and explaining my editorial practices. I hope these will  be helpful.]

When former Editor Chris Lant changed our name to Journal of the American Water Resources Association (JAWRA) he also redesigned the cover to include a photo of water. Prior to 2006, Charlene Young chose a stock photo from a commercial source. Realizing AWRA was blessed with a number of good amateur photographers, I began the tradition of “in-house” cover photos in 2006. You can see these photos at .


April 2010

It’s the Editor’s prerogative to pick the photo. By pure coincidence, mine get chosen fairly often. However, other fine photographers also make contributions. Tom Ring (December 2007, December 2008, October 2011, and August 2012) has provided us with several wonderful cover photos. Other covers have come from contests by local AWRA chapters, such as that by Brian Walsh (April 2010).


April 2008

The primary requirement is an attractive water scene. I try to select a seasonal theme, or, if we have a Featured Collection, one that pertains to the collection. One of my favorites is Katey Walter’s cover for the April 2008 Artic Lakes collection. It shows a scientist counting methane bubbles on a frozen lake, with an immense expanse of tundra in the background.

Some good ideas don’t make it. The organizers of our Featured Collection on Golden Alga provided me with a number of photos of fish kills from algal blooms. Good science documentation, but I invoked the “attractive water scene” rule, saying we were NOT going to put dead fish on our cover!


October 2008

The organizers of our Featured Collection on Chinese Forest Hydrology (October 2008) provided a number of shots, but none of them had anything clearly identifiable as Chinese. I went to my local camera club, and Helen Goodrum, who recently had traveled to China, provided a wonderful shot of junks on a river bank, a shot that just screamed, “China!”


August 2012

Our covers do not show identifiable people, since I don’t want to deal with model releases. For the June 2006 issue, I actually had to “clone” some water droplets to obscure the face of a man running by the fountain. In August 2012, Tom Ring sent me a number of photos of boats running the Snake River, but I finally chose one in which the faces were turned away from the camera.

The format requirements for a JAWRA cover photo are very strict: 6.75 inches wide by 4.75 inches tall, at 300 pixels per inch. Sometimes this requires some very careful cropping. I use a calibrated Photoshop system and work closely with the contributing photographer to achieve a suitable cropped image. Curiously, our printer does NOT want color calibration information included in the image file; apparently they do things the old fashioned way, with a test print and a light table.

And, yes, I have a slide show of all the covers since 2006. Come to our 2014 Annual Conference in Virginia this November to see it.

Duplicate submissions

May 29th, 2014

When you submit a paper to JAWRA, we require you to check the box that  it is NOT being considered elsewhere. Why?

Besides the ethical problems of a author getting two publication credits for the same work, there are practical reasons. First, we do not want to waste our resources on a paper you may ultimately decide to publish elsewhere. It’s just not fair to our reviewers. Equally important, we need to be sure we have clear copyright permission to publish your paper; involving a second publisher could bring this into question.

Duplicate submissions, whether through intent or carelessness, are a form of author misconduct. When found, they result in serious sanctions, the least of which is summary rejection. If discovered after publication — search engines make this easier than you may think — there could be legal consequences as well, as those copyright forms mean something. Following advice in the Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE) forum, I believe I have an ethical obligation to advise other editors when I discover an author has submitted duplicates to both our journals.

We do our best to review papers and make publication decisions as quickly as possible. Should we reject your manuscript or return it without review, you are only then more than welcome to submit it to another journal.


May 2nd, 2014

Dear JAWRA Authors, Readers, and Reviewers,

AWRA_HFD13_0900I set two goals for myself when I assumed the Editorship of JAWRA in 2006: (1) make JAWRA the journal of choice for top authors doing important research; and (2) quit while I’m ahead. History will have to judge the first goal, though I think I’ve given it a good shot. Regarding the second, it’s time.

And how time has flown! This is my ninth year as Editor, the second longest in tenure only to Randy Boggess’ 10 years. I’ve approved publication of about 1,000 articles, and rejected an equal number. Our Impact Factor has tripled and our circulation has increased eightfold. Manuscript submissions are way up, and, thanks to ScholarOne Manuscripts™, our median time-to-first decision remains a very respectable 90 days.

I’m not burned out … yet. I still read every article and give each the thoughtful decision it deserves. But, there are some mornings my processing queue seems frightfully large, and the temptation to set my editing on “cruise control” looms greater. I don’t want to reach that point. Randy Boggess once said a journal periodically needs a new outlook. Not for the first time, I find myself agreeing with that wise gentleman. It’s time to pass the baton to another.

President-Elect John Tracy is heading an all-star search committee. Please see the AWRA website for an announcement of this opening. Given JAWRA’s status, I think we will draw many fine applicants for the job. I have the utmost confidence they will pick a fine successor to continue our wonderful journal.

There are many people for me to thank, and I certainly will do so before I depart at the end of December. Meanwhile, I still have issues to get out, and I need to keep the work queues filled to get the next Editor off to a great start.

– Ken

Boggess 2014 Finalists

April 29th, 2014

I am pleased to announce the finalists for the 2014 Boggess Award. All are really excellent papers, and represent the best of the multidisciplinary science JAWRA brings to its readers. The winner will be selected by the JAWRA Editor and Associate Editors, and announced by the AWRA President.

Using Multiple Watershed Models to Predict Water, Nitrogen, and Phosphorus Discharges to the Patuxent Estuary (pages 15–39) FEB, Kathleen M.B. Boomer, Donald E. Weller, Thomas E. Jordan, Lewis Linker, Zhi-Jun Liu, James Reilly, Gary Shenk and Alexey A. Voinov

An Assessment of U.S. Stream Compensatory Mitigation Policy: Necessary Changes to Protect Ecosystem Functions and Services (pages 449–462) APR, Colleen E. Bronner, Amy M. Bartlett, Sarah L. Whiteway, Douglas C. Lambert, Sean J. Bennett and Alan J. Rabideau

Computing Atmospheric Nutrient Loads to the Chesapeake Bay Watershed and Tidal Waters (pages 1025–1041) OCT, Lewis C. Linker, Robin Dennis, Gary W. Shenk, Richard A. Batiuk, Jeffrey Grimm and Ping Wang

The William R. Boggess Award is given to the author or authors of the paper, published in the Journal of the American Water Resources Association during the preceding year, that best describes, delineates, or analyzes a major problem or aspect of water resources from either a theoretical, applied, or philosophical standpoint. Established in 1973, the Award honors William R. “Randy” Boggess, a member of AWRA, one of the first Directors, and a former President of the Association, who has also made significant contributions to AWRA as an Editor of JAWRA.

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.