Peer Review Week 2017: 1. Looking for Reviewers

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It’s natural that AMS–an organization deeply involved in peer review–participates in Peer Review Week 2017. This annual reflection on peer review was kicked off today by the International Congress of Peer Review and Scientific Publication in Chicago. If you want to follow the presentations there, check out the videos and live streams.
Since peer review is near and dear to AMS, we’ll be posting this week about peer review, in particular the official international theme, “Transparency in Review.”
To help bring some transparency to peer review, AMS Publications Department presented a panel discussion on the process in January at the 2017 AMS Annual Meeting in Seattle. Tony Broccoli, longtime chief editor of the Journal of Climate, was the moderator; other editors on the panel were Carolyn Reynolds and Yvette Richardson of Monthly Weather Review, Walt Robinson of the Journal of Atmospheric Sciences, and Jeff Rosenfeld of the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society.
You can hear the whole thing online, but we’ll cover parts of the discussion here over the course of the week.
For starters, a lot of authors and readers wonder where editors get peer reviewers for AMS journal papers. The panel offered these answers (slightly edited here because, you know, that’s what editors do):
Richardson: We try to evaluate what different types of expertise are needed to evaluate a paper. That’s probably the first thing. For example, if there’s any kind of data assimilation, then I need a data assimilation expert. If the data assimilation is geared toward severe storms, then I probably need a severe storms expert too. First I try to figure that out.
Sometimes the work is really related to something someone else did, and that person might be a good person to ask. Sometimes looking through what papers they are citing can be a good place to look for reviewers.
And then I try to keep reaching out to different people and keep going after others when they turn me down…. Actually, people are generally very good about agreeing to do reviews and we really have to thank them. It would all be impossible without that.
Reynolds: If you suggest reviewers when you submit to us, I’ll certainly consider them. I usually won’t pick just from the reviewers suggested by the authors. I try to go outside that group as well.
Broccoli: I would add, sometimes if there’s a paper on a topic where there are different points of view, or the topic is yet to be resolved, it can be useful to identify as at least one of the reviewers someone who you know may have a different perspective on that topic. That doesn’t mean you’re going to believe the opinion of that reviewer above the opinion of others but it can be a good way of getting a perspective on a topic.
Rosenfeld: Multidisciplinary papers can present problems for finding the right reviewers. For these papers, I do a lot of literature searching and hunt for that key person who happens to somehow intersect, or be in between disciplines or perspectives; or someone who is a generalist in some way, whose opinion I trust. It’s a tricky process and it’s a double whammy for people who do that kind of research because it’s hard to get a good evaluation.

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If you’re interested in becoming a reviewer, the first step is to let AMS know. For more information read the web page here, or submit this form to AMS editors.

Looking Back on a Consulting Career

By William Haggard, CCM
(This post is adapted from the Introduction to the author’s new AMS book, Weather in the Courtroom: Memoirs from a Career in Meteorology. You can purchase the book from the AMS Bookstore here.)
I have been very fortunate to have had many wonderful experiences, and to have known at age 4 that I wanted to be a weather man. Being a forensic meteorologist was exciting, challenging and filled with the fun of meteorological detective work. The purpose of writing my new book, Weather in the Courtroom, was to share some of the significant cases in which I played a part. One goal was to choose interesting cases, and another was to show the variety of weather situations that can affect litigation.  weather_courtroom_cover_blog
While serving as the director of National Climatic Data Center (NCDC) between 1963 and 1975, I had been impressed by the large number of attorneys requesting weather data for litigation cases. The center would offer data certified by the Department of Commerce but government meteorologists could not be released from their duties to interpret this data in the courtroom. This void was filled by consulting meteorologists.
I decided that after retirement from the federal government I would become a consulting meteorologist specializing in forensic work. This specialty would allow me to bring weather testimony into the courtroom. In 1976, I formed the Climatological Consulting Corporation (CCC) and sent letters of introduction to lawyers listed in legal directories who appeared likely to need weather testimony in their litigation. They included aviation, marine, and insurance lawyers.
The first response came several months later from Charles Hagan in Anchorage, Alaska, who needed an expert weather witness in a plane crash. Though the weather analysis was complex, I was faced with the great challenge of learning courtroom procedures and the behavioral techniques that would convince the jury that I was a credible witness. I learned the importance of effective visuals with the concept that people retain 80% of visual information versus 20% audible.
When I started in this field, there might have been up to 50 other forensic meteorologists. Few were using visuals to show the details of their analysis and to illustrate the weather to the courtroom. I quickly learned the importance of these images and spent a lot of time trying to improve them. I greatly appreciated the help of my wife, Martina, an accomplished artist, who designed and perfected many of them. We started with hand drawn poster boards and evolved to large, commercially produced color images.
From there, I graduated to carrying an overhead Vugraph projector and screen to display transparencies to the court. I became known as the man with the pictures. My expensive analysis projector in the 1980s, which could project a time-lapse sequence of images, was a great improvement in showing sequential radar images. First used in a case of a ruptured oil tank in Hurricane Alicia, the jury was convinced of my testimony after seeing the rainbands moving over the stationary image of the tank on the screen. With time and technology, televisions were installed in courtrooms, strategically placed before the jury, judge, and council. Computers and computer simulations have now taken over.
After a slow start, word of mouth advertising, attending various lawyer conferences, and hard work all helped increase my business. Meeting and working with so many talented attorneys and staff was a great experience. My staff increased, my travel increased, and my lifelong passion of working with the weather continued. We worked on hundreds of cases varying from simple “slip and falls” to complex weather patterns such as those found in the Perfect Storm of 1991.
I had taken the challenging test and been the 150th to obtain my CCM from the AMS. As the caseload increased, I realized the need for more specialized interpretation of satellite data, hydrology, radar, and severe weather. I began affiliating with other CCMs in these subspecialties to better meet the client’s needs. These associates greatly assisted me in their specialty and enhanced the final work product.
I grew up sailing, served in the navy, and was an oceanic weather forecaster. I had expected marine meteorology to be the cornerstone of my courtroom work, but aviation became predominant until late in my consulting experience. The aviation attorneys that engaged me became frequent clients and spread the word. Approximately 75% of my over 200 cases involved aviation weather. The data required are somewhat different for aviation and marine cases, but were all are available from the National Climatic Data Center.
With these data I began my detective work. Forensic meteorology requires careful and accurate retrospective weather reconstructions. These often required very detailed and small time/space scale analyses—frequently relying on supplemental and/or non-standard meteorological data such as eyewitness statements, photos, police reports, NTSB reports, site visits. The great improvements in meteorological technology, in the resolution of meteorological images, and in the availability of the data all helped in my analyses of the weather.
After I moved to Asheville in 1961, my wife and I had purchased a hilly 100-acre farm east of Asheville. In 1975, we built our dream house there and I started my new company in the den with one secretary and a graphic studio area in the large basement. As the staff grew in size, we moved to a remodeled house near the creek. This location, overlooking large pastures, was a beautiful setting for the next 20 years. When I became frustrated by a technical problem, I would announce to the staff, “I’m going out to mow,” and would climb on my riding mower. Nature’s panorama of blue skies, white clouds, hillside forests and green grass helped clear my mind and was conducive to constructive thinking allowing me to return to the office with a fresh view and a mowed pasture. The five-minute walk from home to the office made it very convenient for me when I was not travelling. And I did travel extensively to meet clients, visit accident sites, testify in court attend depositions and meetings. I became a 1.6 million miler with Delta Airlines.
Writing this book has brought back fond memories of these great 26 years. I hope you enjoy it.

AMS Journals—Better than Ever

by Keith Seitter, AMS Executive Director, and Michael Friedman, AMS Journals Production Manager
It is interesting how quickly bad news travels, isn’t it? Conversely, good news seems to barely propagate at all if left to its own devices. Changing long-held impressions is even harder, and in some cases, even overwhelming evidence can barely make a dent. As an example, let’s turn to the terrific news coming out of the AMS Publications Commission meeting last May that seems to be taking a long time to filter effectively into the community.
The news at the meeting was universally positive and record setting on nearly every front—from the 3,436 manuscript submissions received in 2015, to the 65-day average time to first decision for those submissions, to the time to publication of accepted manuscripts, which has gone from an all-time low of 95 days in 2015 to the 2016 average (so far) of just 74 days. This is a huge improvement (~72%) from the dark days of 2008, when that metric was well over 200 days.
The dramatic recent drop in time to publication is due in large part to the 2016 transition to a continuous publication model in which each individual article is published online when it reaches final form, instead of waiting until there is a whole issue’s worth of material. The AMS Publications staff tries to take advantage of every potential efficiency improvement it can to drive the time to publication even lower.
These records are just the latest data points mapping a trajectory of continued growth and improvement on all fronts over the past several years, thanks to the efforts of many dedicated volunteers and professional staff, along with effective implementation of technological advances. Meanwhile, AMS publications have maintained the very high quality that has always been their hallmark.  AMS journals continue to rank among the best in the world in our subject areas, and their impact also increased as measured by several objective metrics.
We are doing our best to let the author community know about the excellent performance of the AMS journals on all fronts so that they will not avoid publishing their work with AMS due to concerns based on incorrect impressions. As noted above, however, this can be a frustratingly slow process, and overriding long-held impressions is not easy (we still hear from authors who complain about color charges even though those were eliminated three years ago).
Help us spread the good news. If it has been awhile since you have published in AMS journals, you will be pleased with the improved work flow and speed to publication that we currently provide. If you are considering doing so for the first time, know that along with the prestige and quality that have always been associated with AMS publications, we are able to offer a path to publication much faster than ever before.
(A version of this post appeared in AMS Executive Director Keith Seitter’s 45 Beacon column in the August 2016 BAMS)

A Peer Review Conversation

by Jeff Rosenfeld, BAMS Editor in Chief, and Bob Rauber, AMS Publications Commissioner

Since this week has been declared Peer Review Week, the publishing blog, “Scholarly Kitchen,” is devoting a series of posts about the manuscript evaluation process that you might dread or love, depending on where you sit as an author, editor, or reviewer. They kicked off discussions with a round table on the future of peer review. You’ll find in that blog the usual gamut of projections about peer review—from business as usual to wholesale revolution. Given the many innovations in publishing lately, nobody seems to know what will happen next in this centuries-old tradition in science.

One thing the participants all seemed to agree on, however: in one form or another, peer review is here to stay. As Alice Meadows, director of communications for ORCID, the researcher identification consortium, puts it, “It is hard to imagine scholarly communication without some form of peer review.”

Those of us who have served as AMS editors will not be surprised by that sentiment, and not just because we rely so heavily on reviewers to provide their input into the publishing process. We know how valuable peer review is because the authors tell us.

It is not unusual to see an author’s final revisions arrive accompanied by a note to the editor saying ““Please thank the reviewers.” And it is not unusual to find “anonymous reviewers” thanked in the acknowledgements of published papers.

This happens even though not all of these authors have been entirely happy throughout the review process. Reviews usually mean authors spend additional time on a paper they thought was fine when they first submitted it. Despite that, the authors know their reviewers deserve thanks, and the authors freely give it.

They do this because they find that peer review is not just “essential to the communication of science.”  Peer review is, itself, scientific communication of the best kind.

We often picture peer review as criticism. One set of anonymous experts tells another expert how to write their article, what to say, and what not to say.

That’s hardly a model for scientists communicating with other scientists. It sounds downright regressive, actually—an intrusive but necessary form of telling authors what the standards are and where to throw out the junk. Thumbs up, or thumbs down.

But actually, more often than not, the thumb wiggles and points the way to success. Editors notice that when the review process is going well, the reviewers are not simply dictating terms for acceptance for the authors. What happens instead is conversation. It is often an even more intimate and honest exchange than one can get from colleagues down the hall. And like any good conversation, it involves iterations. Reviews go to authors, and the authors who take them seriously often reply unexpectedly, forcing reviewers to think again. In the best cases, reviewers and authors—and the editors who facilitate their two-way exchange—learn from each other and adapt.

The evidence of this conversation is in those citations AMS gives when naming the recipients of our Editor’s Awards each year. Sift through the Annual Meeting banquet programs and you’ll find many words of praise for an iterative communication. For example, the 2016 Journal of Hydrometeorology Editor’s Award went to W. Justin Baisden for “a series of rigorous and detailed reviews … resulting in a substantially improved paper.” Similarly, both Andrew Stewart (for the Journal of Atmospheric and Oceanic Technology) and Matthew Kumjian (for Monthly Weather Review and Weather and Forecasting) were cited for how “constructive” their reviews were. And the Journal of Applied Meteorology and Climatology singled out Tanya Spero Otte for “thought provoking reviews that led to significant manuscript improvements.”

Clearly this is what editors want, and this is what makes peer review a conversation. The manuscripts improve, and both sides learn. People often ask why scientists devote so much effort and time—often unpaid and at extremely inconvenient moments—to formulating reviews and considering authors’ responses. Like any scientific communication, it’s because reviewers, authors, editors, and ultimately readers are all headed for the same goal: learning something new from each other. That’s what makes these conversations so lively, so intense, and so rewarding.

It is striking how frequently the review process in AMS journals becomes a conversation.  It happens so often that it’s the norm, and we sometimes don’t stop to think how extraordinary it is that busy people volunteer their time to contribute so fundamentally to the work of others. Thumbs up, then, for Peer Review Week, for peer review itself, and in particular for the thousands of volunteers who answer the call from editors, day in, day out, to review for AMS journals!

Distinguished Guests

by Gwendolyn Whittaker, AMS Publications Coordinator & Peer Review Support Manager
In October 2015 an AMS delegation that included a number of AMS Publications staff and AMS Publications Commissioner Bob Rauber took part in a symposium in Tianjin, China, on  “The Latest Developments in Atmospheric Science and Meteorological Journals,” hosted by staff from the journals publishing program of the Chinese Meteorological Society (CMS).
The symposium was an opportunity for AMS and CMS staff to share information on their respective  programs, and to share ideas on the common challenges we face: attracting good manuscripts, supporting volunteer editors and reviewers, maintaining rigorous standards for peer review while making that process as efficient as possible, improving the production time to allow accepted papers to appear quickly, and keeping expenses as low as possible to allow a sustainable business model. There was agreement that such exchanges were extremely useful and should continue.
Despite their myriad other duties (the symposium took place during the CMS Annual Meeting), our hosts took marvelous care of the AMS delegation, including making sure we got to The Great Wall, had endless amounts of good food, and had a tour of the CMS campus in Beijing.
The AMS delegation left China looking forward to a chance to return the favor, and during the week of May 23 we had the pleasure of hosting two guests from CMS who attended the annual meeting of the AMS Publications Commission in Boston: Dr. Lan Yi, executive chief editor of CMS’s Journal of Meteorological Research, and Ms. Aidi Liu, executive chief editor of the Chinese Journal of Atmospheric Sciences (published by the Institute of Atmospheric Physics, Chinese Academy of Sciences).


While the week’s activities did not quite reach the fever pitch of either society’s Annual Meeting, it was full enough. In addition to sitting in on the Publications Commission presentations and deliberations, Dr. Yi and Ms. Liu had in-depth meetings with AMS journals and BAMS staff on topics ranging from business models to technologies management to the strategies the various teams within AMS Publications use to manage productivity, priorities, and resources. AMS Librarian Jinny Nathans gave an overview of AMS’s involvement in ASLI (Atmospheric Science Librarians International) and gave a tour of AMS headquarters at historic 45 Beacon Street. She also described the project to digitize the entire run of BAMS (back to 1920) in commemoration of the AMS’s Centennial in 2020. While the formal meetings ended with lunch on Friday, the conversations continued during a boat tour of Boston Harbor.


Pubs Department Gets the Word(s) Out

At last month’s meeting of the AMS Publications Commission–which mostly comprises the Chief Editors of the Society’s scientific journals–many of the attendees were concerned that their fellow AMS members may not be aware of the many recent notable achievements by AMS Publications. So with that in mind, here’s a quick list of some of the accomplishments over the past year:

Of course, all of this was done in addition to the continued publication of AMS’s journals, 6 of which were ranked in the top 20 for impact factor in the most recent edition of the Thompson-ISI rankings.
And out of everything discussed at the meeting, the Publications Commission was perhaps most adamant about publicizing the rapidly improving production time of those journals. Production times for AMS journals (the number of days between when a paper is accepted and when it is published in final form) have been declining for years, and in May of this year the average production time for all journals was just over 150 days. In January of 2008, it was around 280 days. That improvement has been accomplished despite a continuing rise in article submissions, which reached an all-time high of 2,999 in 2012. AMS journals published almost 27,000 pages last year.
“Publishing in AMS journals now is much faster, more efficient, and streamlined than even just a few years ago, and the word seems to be getting out; submissions are at an all-time high and continuing to increase,” says AMS Director of Publications Ken Heideman. “Our goal is not just to get you to publish with us but to keep you publishing with us!”
At the meeting, Heideman underscored the ongoing commitment of his staff to continually reduce production times, and highlighted a number of initiatives for the department in the upcoming year.
Keep an eye out for an article in BAMS later this year with more detailed highlights from the Publications Commission meeting.

More Green for Authors Who Use Color

Good news for authors publishing in AMS journals: starting in April, there will be no extra charges for full-color figures. The change was announced at the Annual Meeting on Monday.
According to Director of Publications Ken Heideman, bringing these costs down to zero has been a major goal since 2005, when it was first proposed by Dave Jorgensen, the outgoing Publications Commissioner.
“We all thought that that was a nice fantasy,” joked Heideman, but he noted that since then the AMS has dropped the prices for color figures several times. “Now we’re using efficiencies and savings in other areas to help subsidize what is the final reduction to zero.”
In the past, several authors had suggested printing figures in black and white but having them in color online, referred to as divergence of content, which is not allowed by the AMS Publications Commission.
“Our print is exactly what is online, including color, and we’re proud of that,” said Heideman.
He also noted that lower overall costs could be a long-term investment in the organization.
“Having zero color charges for full-paying authors will increase submissions, and that’s a positive reinforcement cycle.”
[UPDATE 1/9/13: Note that the new charges apply to articles that are submitted after April 1.]