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Journal of Geodesy: editorial policies in view of increased new paper submissions

The Journal of Geodesy, merger and continuation of Bulletin Géodésique and Manuscripta Geodaetica, represents the oldest and most venerable international geodesy journal. As the official journal of the International Association of Geodesy (IAG), its mission is to disseminate high-quality papers on scientific problems of geodesy and related interdisciplinary sciences, concerning the entire range from theoretical and modeling studies to results of experiments and interpretations. In addition to regular research papers, the Journal also publishes topical collections (special issues), short notes (brief papers that are of exceptional significance to a broad readership), occasionally review papers, and reports on IAG-related activities. With a Journal Impact Factor (JIF) of 4.806 for 2019, it is among the top-cited geosciences journals.

As with any journal, editorial policies and workflows need to be adjusted from time to time. Whether this is initiated by the publisher, by IAG or by authors and reviewers, it is always the result of discussions in the Journal’s editorial board (EB). At this time, we feel that it is appropriate to review some recent changes and inform the readers of the Journal of Geodesy about developments that may, in the future, lead to modifications.

There is a single question that our editors receive most often from authors: Why does it take so long until the reviews and a decision are provided, when the nominal review time is supposed to be only four weeks? In fact, the average turnaround time, from submission to the first decision, has been 65 days in 2020 (it was 89 in 2019 and 75 in 2018), and authors are entitled to ask how these days were spent. As may be expected, many factors contribute to delays: although editors and reviewers generally strive to handle manuscripts efficiently and in due time, they are humans, go on vacation, become sick, get entangled in institution lockdowns and teaching chaos, face malware attacks, or simply overcommit themselves. Yet the most important reason is that the number of manuscripts submitted to the Journal has steadily increased over recent years by about 10% p.a. on average. We have tried to stay on top of this by enlarging the EB and currently 24 colleagues serve in this function, the largest ever editorial board in the history of the Journal. And the second reason is that since geodesy is a relatively small community, for some subjects it is difficult to obtain a sufficient number of qualified reviews without adding too much burden to always the same reviewers. Third, some papers ask for disproportional time resources, for example additional inquiries may be required. Finally, even the Editorial Manager (EM) is not perfect and in rare cases papers fall through the cracks of the system and get lodged in a place where no reminders are sent.

In a move to further improve turnaround times, the IAG Executive Committee (IAG EC) decided in October 2020 to establish the position of Assistant Editor in Chief (AEiC) in line with the IAG Bylaws. Regular papers will, in future, be assigned on a 1:1 basis to EiC and AEiC, respectively. The AEiC has full responsibility of making final decisions. Following a finding and voting procedure, the IAG EC has now adopted the nomination of Dr. Peiliang Xu (Kyoto University) to the AEiC for the Journal. All topical collection papers and all special type of papers like comment, discussions, replies, editorials, letters to the editor, etc. will continue to be assigned to the EiC.

The Journal introduced, as per January 2019, two new policies—authors have to provide an Author Contribution Statement (ACS) and a Data Availability Statement (DAS). The ACS clarifies the authors’ contributions to the manuscript. This has been desired by many as with cumulative theses, and the research output assessments present nowadays in many institutions, an authoritative and unambiguous clarification seems necessary. It has been a step to enhance scientific ethics of authorship and to meet the desire of authors to claim credits for their research output to be assessed most properly. And from the editor’s perspective, introducing the ACS has clearly reduced the number of pre- and post-submission authorship conflicts that need to be resolved. The ACS does not and will not intend to require co-authors to quantify their contributions to the overall effort e.g., in terms of percentage.

The DAS is meant not only to clarify the sources and the accessibility of data used in producing the results of the manuscript (input data), but also to avail the data generated as a result of the analysis (output data). Its purpose is thus to improve research transparency and to offer the opportunity of checking the repeatability of results whenever necessary and desirable. Reviewers and any other researchers should be able to generate the same result with the same data. The EB supports the concepts of open and FAIR data, but it also recognizes that in geodesy not all data sets are open to the public and that in some cases, major scientific results can only be validated by certain groups. The EB will need to balance repeatability and scientific innovation and continue to make decisions on a case-by-case basis.

Then in December 2019, the Journal switched to Continuous Article Publishing (CAP) mode. Some may not yet notice it but pagination is gone for good. From an editor’s point of view, this transition has worked exceptionally well. No complaints have been received so far. As a result of this move, an accepted paper now receives immediately its citation in the final published form once on-line.

There are a few things that we would like to remind our authors, since we feel adhering to them could further contribute to reducing turnaround time and improve the standing of the Journal in the geoscientific community, and with this also the standing of geodesy as a discipline.

The Journal received, over the last few years, submissions from about 70 different countries, addressing, next to methodological studies and problems of global geodesy, experimental work performed in and referring to these countries and to many other regions of the world. This diversity is reflected in the Journal’s EB and reviewer community. To minimize potential misunderstanding of a publication and to focus on its scientific merit, the EB feels it is prudent to recommend the use of internationally agreed geographical names (like those documented e.g., in the UN data bases or by the International Hydrographic Organization IHO). This may seem to be a minor issue to many of us. But, science does not and should not stop at borders of those regions of the world which are disputed.

It was mentioned above that the EB had to spend disproportionate time in investigating the whereabouts for a small share of manuscripts. Like any other journal, the Journal of Geodesy does receive a certain share of pseudoscience and fraud attempts, i.e., double submissions, copies of earlier published papers, or fake papers generated by computer programs. But what eats up time are less clear-cut cases such as manuscripts that border on self-plagiarism or salami-publishing, which require investigation, e.g., by contacting other journals. We therefore ask all authors to simply disclose unusual circumstances, and when in doubt, to possibly seek advice with an editor or the EiC or AEiC before submission. A particular source of confusion is the question of “what counts as prior publication”, and this could be easily discussed before submission. In fact, it is known to most authors that in line with the long-standing editorial policy, conference publications, including the IAG proceedings, do count as prior publications. Nowadays we get many questions about pre-prints on publically accessible servers; a simple answer is that uploading a manuscript to e.g., Arxiv does not count as a prior publication. Nevertheless, also a substantially enhanced conference publication, i.e., with significant new materials added that were not published before, can be treated as a new submission. Another question is “my paper was rejected in another journal; am I allowed to submit it to the Journal of Geodesy now nevertheless?”. The simple answer is yes, but the resubmission must in this case be accompanied by the previous reviews to demonstrate the authors’ efforts to make it publishable. Authors should be aware that reviewer time is precious, and that it happens quite often that a resubmission ends up with the same reviewers as before.

We mention the JIF of the Journal of Geodesy in this editorial. In fact, while the JIF has drawn criticism from many sides when misused in the assessment of individual researchers, it continues to be important for promotions, tenures, and even PhD defences. Whether this is justified is not of our concern here; the Journal should simply be a home for important original contributions and findings in geodesy and related interdisciplinary sciences and improving the JIF is not a goal in itself. Nevertheless, we are aware of the facts that (1) the metric system of JIF is granted by a commercial entity (Clarivate Analytics), (2) only journals included in the Clarivate Journal Citation Reports obtain a JIF, (2) the total number of citations used for the JIF computation also includes and counts self-citations for each journal (self-citations at a journal level are citations to the papers published in the same journal in the past two years), and (3) the way of computing the share of self-citations changes over time. Although the EB maintains a neutral position on citations in any manuscript as a disciplinary journal, we have been made aware that the self-citation rate for the Journal of Geodesy was slightly high. We do not encourage nor discourage citing papers from the Journal. But this remains a concern since journals with somewhat higher self-citation rates have been removed from the JCR, and the EB wishes to avoid this situation, even though we do not know the exact circumstances for such removals. Ultimately, as a basic ethic of scientific research, we would like to point out that all important and essential papers must be given proper credits, no matter where they are published. On the other hand this should mean that manuscripts should not be overloaded with references to non-essential papers.

The Journal of Geodesy will continue to strive to publish top-quality papers in geodesy and related interdisciplinary sciences.

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Open Access funding enabled and organized by Projekt DEAL.

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Correspondence to Jürgen Kusche.

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Kusche, J., Xu, P. Journal of Geodesy: editorial policies in view of increased new paper submissions. J Geod 95, 61 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00190-021-01515-7

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  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s00190-021-01515-7