The Seismo-gram

Issue SIX: 6 JUNE 2018

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Inside the May 2018 Publishing Workshop

Missed the Getting Published workshop at this year’s Annual Meeting? Don’t worry, we took notes! Read on for the top questions that emerged during the lively discussion led by Roland Bürgmann of the University of California, Berkeley, BSSA associate editor emeritus; John Ebel of Boston College, founding editor-in-chief of SRL; and Brent Grocholski of Science, who edits all seismology papers for the journal.

Which is the best journal for my paper? The best journal for your paper, said Bürgmann, is the one “that makes your paper noticed the most, seen the most and cited the most.” The editors suggested that authors familiarize themselves with what a journal has published previously on their topic, and to check a journal’s list of keywords. Early-career researchers often hear that publishing in a journal with a high-impact factor score is important for tenure and promotion, but Ebel said the emphasis on impact factor in universities varies significantly among departments and individual evaluators.

What if English isn’t my first language? The participants shared several ideas for non-English speakers looking for ways to write papers that would be easier for English-speaking editors to read and review, including the use of free online sites such as Google Translate, Linguee and Grammarly to develop a more colloquial English style. Others asked for tips on the best paid translation services, and wondered if this would be a service that journals might someday offer to potential authors. Grocholski asked about participants’ experiences with pay translation services, saying that Science received many papers from them “and it seems that there is a pretty large variation in quality” of the services.

What are the advantages of blinded and anonymous reviews? Some journals now allow authors to request a double-blind review, in which the authors remain unknown to the reviewers and vice versa. The hope, said Grocholski, has been to eliminate some of the implicit bias that may exist when it comes to reviewers rejecting papers from foreign-name authors and women, or giving too easy of a pass to well-known researchers in a field. Without a requirement to do this for all papers submitted to a journal, he added, it has been difficult to measure whether these kinds of reviews are successfully eliminating some biases. Bürgmann said he has never reviewed a paper anonymously: "To me, the review process is not to have some papers that never see the light of day, and some papers to automatically go through … it’s all in the aid of better papers to published, and that should be something that everyone can agree on."

How do I write an engaging abstract and introduction? The abstract and introduction are key to a submitted paper, the workshop leaders agreed. They again suggested that authors look carefully at similar papers in a journal to understand how to structure an abstract. Grocholski recommended writing the entire paper before writing the abstract. Ebel said that he recommends an “hourglass structure” to his students writing scientific papers. “The top of the hourglass is where you write about the most general questions being addressed, and you then go from the more general to the more specific, where the middle of the hourglass is where you get into your data and what exactly you have done.”

Advocate for the Geosciences

Apply for the 2018 Geo-CVD Student Travel Grant Program by July 6!

Graduate student SSA members interested in advocating for the geosciences in Washington, D.C. are encouraged to apply for the Geosciences Congressional Visits Days (Geo-CVD) Student Travel Grant Program by the 6 July 2018 deadline.

Geo-CVD, which takes place 12-13 September 2018, brings the geosciences community together on Capitol Hill to raise visibility and support for the geosciences. For graduate students, it’s an opportunity to join researchers, professionals, educations, engineers and executives in discussing the importance of geoscience research with policymakers. 

“Geo-CVD is an excellent opportunity for students to come to D.C. to interact with their Congressional offices and impact science policy,” says Elizabeth Duffy, SSA’s representative in Washington, D.C. “Graduate students are excellent advocates for their science. They have oftentimes worked with different federal agencies, like the NSF or USGS, in pursuit of funding, they have firsthand knowledge of the process and they can passionately convey the value of their work.”

Fransiska Dannemann (Southern Methodist University) and Nathan Lindsey (University of California, Berkeley), the 2017 Geo-CVD recipients, learned about the legislative process, discussed geoscience concerns with members of Congress and their staff, and interacted with other geoscience researchers.

“As an early‐career scientist, I enjoyed the opportunity to hone my communication skills and practice condensing my long dissertation topics into digestible and relevant points for various audiences,” said Dannemann. “Meeting several Congressional fellows with advanced degrees in the geosciences showed me additional impactful career opportunities beyond academia and opened my eyes to the possibility of a career in public policy.”

Funded through contributions by SSA members, the Geo-CVD program provides up to $2,000 for each selected applicant to spend on travel.

Apply online today at

Plagiarism: A Discussion with the Editors-in-Chief

Plagiarism, as defined by the U.S. Office of Research Integrity, is “the appropriation of another person’s ideas, processes, results or words without giving appropriate credit.” In scientific circles, plagiarism may arise from the pressure to publish frequently in high-impact journals and the ease of copy-and-paste from electronic sources, among other factors. We asked BSSA Editor-in-Chief Thomas Pratt and SRL Editor-in-Chief Zhigang Peng to explain how SSA’s journals detect and deal with plagiarism.

Q: What do you consider to be plagiarism in scientific journals?

Pratt: We look for significant amounts of text that duplicate text in other publications—enough that it is obvious that the text was copied and is not just a phrase that remained in the author’s head after reading another paper. Every paper contains occasional phrases or sentence fragments that duplicate those in other papers; what we look for is full sentences or multiple instances of duplication with only minor changes such as inserting or changing a word in an apparent attempt to disguise the copying.

There are also cases of “self-plagiarism,” in which the author is copying text from a previous paper he or she wrote. The issue here is that we have to assume that the author does not own the copyright to the text because he or she has transferred that copyright over to the other journal. Substantial amounts of self-plagiarism also raises the question of whether the paper really is a significant contribution, or just an incremental change from the previous paper.

One exception is that it is common for a student to have his or her thesis or dissertation posted on a university’s public website, and then to submit chapters of it to a journal. We do not consider submission of these chapters unethical, as long as the student retains the copyright to the thesis or dissertation.

With proper referencing and permissions, we allow authors to quote others and to re-use figures and tables, as long as they are properly cited. 

Q: How do BSSA and SRL check for plagiarism?

Peng: We check every paper submitted to us for plagiarism. When a new manuscript is submitted to BSSA or SRL, we use an online software program called iThenticate to detect text that is similar to other published papers available online. We investigate text that is flagged as being similar to that in published papers. 

Q: If you suspect plagiarism after this analysis, what are the next steps that you take with the authors?

Pratt: In cases where the author has copied significant passages from papers written by other people, we consider that unethical and will reject the paper without allowing for resubmission.

Peng: In the case of self-plagiarism, we may return the manuscript back to the authors and ask them to re-write that portion and resubmit. But if we see that a significant portion of the text is copied, we would automatically reject the paper and do not allow the author to resubmit.

Q: Do authors have a process for appealing a decision of plagiarism?

Pratt: I have not run into a situation where an author has appealed a rejection decision, mainly because the plagiarism in papers we reject is quite obvious, and we clearly state the rules. 

Q: Is plagiarism becoming more common in seismological publications such as BSSA and SRL?

Pratt: I think the cross-check services [such as iThenticate] are becoming much better at identifying copied text and are searching more and more sources. I suspect the incidence of plagiarism is being reduced because authors now have to assume they will get caught.

Peng: I don’t think this is a main issue for seismological publications, as I am only aware of a small number of severe cases. However, as more papers are submitted from international authors—especially those whose first language is not English—I see an increasing trend for certain manuscripts with portions of text, mostly in their Introduction or Method sections, taken directly or with small modifications from other published texts. 

For places outside the U.S., some researchers may not be taught properly on what constitutes plagiarism. I gave presentations on how to write papers in English—including information on plagiarism—when I visited several institutions outside the U.S., for example, and they were well received. I think that proper education along with providing additional information may help some authors come up with better manuscripts with original texts.

Q: What do you see as the biggest harm that comes from scientific plagiarism?

Pratt: Copying text is a lazy way to write a paper. It wastes editors’ time to examine the flagged versions of text and to deal with the issue, and it is a form of theft of text and ideas.

Peng: It is an issue of scientific integrity. Conducting scientific research and writing papers should be original work, rather than copying or stealing other people’s idea, work or text. It is a waste of resources—not only for the editors, but also for the reviewers and readers, and eventually the authors themselves.

A Little Bird Told Us You Had Fun in Miami 

Tweets from Seismology of Americas (#SSA2018) shared fun facts about the Society (President Herbert Hoover was a member of the Seismological Society of was his wife, Lou), kudos for engaging talks (Campos is wonderfully clear about what people needed and what they didn't in response to Hurricane Maria... ) and even one shout-out for the seating arrangements (This is how you organize chairs in a talk. No more than 3 together before a walkway.)

Other parting thoughts, included:

Wishing I were still playing fancy on the #SSA2018 cruise! 

Women of Seismology reception is one of the best networking events I've ever been to, thank you organizers!! 

...This community is amazing. 

Thank you to everyone who shared their thoughts on social media!

Global Travel Grant Application Period: 1-31 July 2018

Students who have been SSA members for at least one year are invited next month to apply for Global Travel Grants to attend any workshops or small conferences in the U.S. or abroad that support their study of earthquake science or seismology.

SSA will accept applications during the month of July for travel between October 2018 and March 2019. Stay tuned to the SSA website for more details. 

Please note: this travel grant does not provide funds for SSA’s Annual Meeting.

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