Archive for May, 2013

Cover letters

Thursday, May 30th, 2013

It’s probably a good time to review some of my notes on cover letters. In the days of paper, the cover letter was literally what its name implies, the first piece of paper on a package to the editor. It’s still one of the first things I look at, but its function now is different.

Forget about including stuff like, “this manuscript has not been published elsewhere yada, yada, yada.” ScholarOne asks you those questions elsewhere when you submit a manuscript. By the time it gets to me, Susan has checked everything over.

What I’m looking for is for you to tell me why we should publish your manuscript. What value, what creative ideas should I look for when I read it? I see a ton of submissions every year, and we can’t even send every one to review. Here is your chance to sell your work to me. Don’t blow it!

Also, please tell me anything else I should know concerning related papers, previous work, etc. Telling me at this point counts as honest disclosure. Waiting until reviewers find it counts as a nasty surprise. ‘Nuff said!

Trusted sources

Thursday, May 23rd, 2013

There’s a really good entry in the Scholarly Kitchen Blog: “CC-Bye Bye! Some Consequences of Unfettered Reproduction Rights Become Clearer.”  Some journals are reproducing papers published in others. If you see your work appearing in a journal where you did not submit it, this concerns you. The journal may be using your good name for publicity purposes. There is no guarantee these copies don’t distort your message.

Let me make it clear, every paper in JAWRA is original. All JAWRA papers in the Wiley Online Library since 2007 are the copy of record, and earlier papers are a faithful reproduction of the (printed) copy of record. They are what the authors gave us and approved, following our strict review process. Errata, Discussions, and Replies are available and easily found. We are the real deal.

The more things change, the more they stay the same. For serious researchers, reputation still counts.

Boggess 2013 finalists

Friday, May 17th, 2013

I am pleased to announce the finalists for the 2013 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.

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.

Dealing with reviews.

Thursday, May 16th, 2013

When you review a manuscript, – Thank you! – how does a journal deal with your recommendation? Can a bad review really vote an author off the island?  What happens when reviewers differ sharply? How many reviews are enough? Does someone actually read your full comments? These questions critically affect what you see in a journal.

Some journals, particularly newer ones offering open access, handle reviews with a point system. Gather enough accepts and you’re in, though negatives can kill you. In my view this is a cop-out for the editor. Why even bother to read the reviews, if all you have to do is tally up the points? A point system fails in two very significant ways: inconsistency of reviewers in assigning ratings, and, more importantly, inability to deal with genuine scientific controversy.

For reviews, the devil is in the details. I have seen a manuscript get rankings from accept to reject, yet all reviewer comments were almost the same. Some reviewers check “minor revisions” when those revisions are anything but minor. Others recommend rejection when all that’s needed is a good copy edit. Admittedly, these are extremes, but they happen often enough to matter. There is no substitute for a good editorial team carefully considering the reviewers’ comments.

Controversy is where editors earn their keep. A lot of good ideas started out controversial: evolution, plate tectonics, and climate change, to name a few. Bad ideas, too: cold fusion, anyone? Eminent scientists sometimes disagree emphatically, each genuinely feeling they are absolutely right and the other folks absolutely wrong. Ideas can take time to mature, and open discussion is a key process for science to reach a widely accepted opinion. Allow an absolute reviewer veto, and the next Origin of Species never gets published.

So, what to do when an author and reviewer are at loggerheads over some issue? First, we see what other reviewers say, maybe add more reviewers. Are both sides supporting their points with evidence and reason? Has the author resolved those comments that can be resolved? At some point, it becomes clear the debate needs to go to a larger community than the small group of reviewers and authors involved with a paper. (I like to use the term, “agree to disagree,” though the “agree” part sometimes is dicey.) We usually require a contested paper to at least acknowledge the existence of different opinions, and invite the dissenting reviewer to prepare a Discussion or their own opposing paper. Some debates are best held in an open forum

Publishing can be a messy process. I make around 500 editorial decisions a year. I know some are wrong; just don’t know which! The only thing you have the right to expect is that every decision will be made honestly with the facts at hand. And, yes, we at JAWRA read all those reviewer comments!

AE Water Quality Monitoring

Thursday, May 9th, 2013

I am delighted to announce the appointment of Cole Rossi, BOR/BLM Utah, as JAWRA Associate Editor for Water Quality Monitoring. Cole brings to us a strong background in laboratory and sampling procedures as well as in modeling. Please join me in welcoming Cole to the JAWRA Editorial Team!

USGS Reviews

Tuesday, May 7th, 2013

Like many research agencies, the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) requires all its reports, including draft manuscripts for journal submission, to undergo internal peer review and agency approval.  The USGS’s review works very much like a journal’s, except the identities of the reviewers are known. (Most journals, including JAWRA, use a “single-blind” process where the authors do not know reviewers’ identities.) The USGS review obviously takes more time than sending a raw draft to a journal, though some time is made up by the journal seeing a better quality draft.

Foregoing the reviewer protection of a single-blind process is troublesome to some outside of USGS. However, thorough and even contentious reviews are a USGS tradition honored for over a century. In my career at USGS, I saw junior scientists rake over the coals manuscripts of senior scientists who got careless! Doesn’t necessarily work everywhere, but it works at USGS.

This week, JAWRA began review of the first manuscript to follow a new USGS review policy in which the USGS review may proceed concurrently with the JAWRA review, and both use our ScholarOne™ system. Necessary USGS reviewers will be named by the author; other reviewers, unknown to the author, will be selected by the Associate Editor. When the reviews are finished and the paper (hopefully?) tentatively accepted, the USGS author will present their USGS supervisor with the JAWRA review record and request formal “Director’s approval” to publish. At this point, the USGS reviewers’ identities may be disclosed to comply with USGS policy; other reviewers remain anonymous.

I think this system is win-win in terms of timeliness and paper quality. The Associate Editor and I will see all reviews. It’s a little more reading, but it will give us even more confidence in our decisions. The author need only go through one set of reviews, not two, and conflicts among reviewer opinions can be resolved directly.

There’s always a risk, after the manuscript has gone through all our reviews, some bureaucratic bigwig will refuse to grant USGS publication approval. But, USGS has a good record of not letting politics override science. It’s a chance we’re willing to take.

[Update. There is a way for the USGS reviewers to be anonymous, provided we select from a pool of approved reviewers. This would not meet the full requirements of single-blind review, but would allow for some degree of anonymity should a situation require it. We will always make clear in advance to a reviewer if their identity may be disclosed.]

Seasonal phosphorus losses

Wednesday, May 1st, 2013

Early View Article:Spatial Considerations in Wet and Dry Periods for Phosphorus in Streams of the Fort Cobb Watershed, United States,” by Dorcas H. Franklin, Jean L. Steiner, Sara E. Duke, Daniel N. Moriasi, and Patrick J. Starks

(Abstract:) The Fort Cobb Watershed in Oklahoma has diverse biogeophysical settings and provides an opportunity to explore the association of water quality with a diverse set of landscapes during both wet (April 2007-December 2009) and dry (January 2005-March 2007) periods. The objective of this work was to identify spatial patterns in phosphorus (P) (soluble reactive P [SRP] and bioavailable P [BAP]) associated with landscape metrics for two distinct streamflow regimes. Spatial autocorrelation of P was evaluated using contiguous (side-by-side) and upstream (upstream:downstream) connectivity matrices. Biogeophysical metrics were compiled for each contributing area, and were partitioned based on association to P concentrations. Results for both SRP and BAP indicated that spatial autocorrelation was present (p < 0.05). There was more spatial autocorrelation and stream P concentrations were three to five times higher in the Wet phase than in the Dry phase (p < 0.05). Analysis with recursive partitioning resulted in higher R2 with spatial autocorrelation than without spatial autocorrelation and indicated that lateral metrics (topography, soil, geology, management) were better predictors for SRP than instream metrics. During Wet phase, lateral metrics indicative of rapid surface and subsurface water movement were associated with higher P stream concentrations. This research demonstrated that we can detect landscapes more vulnerable to P losses and/or contaminations in either drought or very wet periods.