New Chief Editor for the International Glaciological Society
Q: What is the best way to chief-edit a journal like the Journal of Glaciology?
A: I’ll let you know … .
One good provisional answer – and I am relying on it heavily just now – is “Like Jo Jacka”, because he has been outstanding at steering the Journal forward through times of rapid growth and change and at maintaining its position at the top of the list of journals in the cryospheric sciences.
Like other “retired” glaciologists, I have lots of experience of editing from the receiving end, as author and reviewer, but from the transmitting end it is a curious occupation. I have some earlier experience of it as a scientific editor for various issues of the Annals of Glaciology, and some recent experience as the chief editor of issue 71 of the Annals, the theme of which was Glaciology in High Mountain Asia. Seen from the outside, the editor is an all-powerful patriarch (of either sex) who sends you occasional advice and frequent decisions, not all of them what you wanted to hear. From the inside, the first thing that strikes you, or at least me, is that in the long run the advice is more important than the decisions. Even the unwelcome decisions (which are no fun for the editor either) can help authors to sharpen their scientific focus and clarify their thinking (and their syntax).
The second striking thing is that a guiding principle emerges from the first striking thing: The journal is there for the benefit of its readers, not its authors. The journal would be nowhere without its authors, but it cannot flourish unless people read it, preferably avidly. In my career as a teacher, I invariably found muddled writing to be a reliable pointer to underlying muddled thinking. Exposing and eliminating ambiguity and obscurity is the main service that editors and reviewers can offer to aspiring authors. This guiding principle may help to explain to puzzled authors why the editor or reviewer is asking them to insert or remove commas and hyphens, to make sure that all citations are referenced and all references are cited (one of the most tedious jobs I know of), and even occasionally to remove adverbs that are splitting infinitives but doing no work.
What about my own work? I used to be a field worker, but for the past three or four decades I have been a desk glaciologist (with spells as a hydrologist, climatologist and geomorphologist). I spend long hours in front of a computer and know quite a lot about computing (old-timers may be impressed by the fact that I once spent six weeks disassembling ANSI.SYS) and a bit about mathematics (long ago I published a paper about a map projection that turned out to be a Riemann surface of three sheets), but I remain convinced of the fundamental importance of raw measurements. In fact, most of my research time is spent reading papers written by colleagues about measured mass and area changes of glaciers, and imposing a uniform format on the data.
At the same time I have always been drawn strongly to theories and in general to ideas, without having produced many of either. In my view the most exhilarating recent event in (or near) glaciology was the appearance in Nature (2016, 534, 79-81 and 82-85) of two papers each arguing convincingly that the molecular-nitrogen ice on the surface of Pluto is convecting. The authors were planetologists, but we – by which I really mean T.J. Hughes (1976, Journal of Glaciology, 16(74), 41-71) and L.A. Lliboutry (1987, Very Slow Flows of Solids, Springer) – were 40 or more years ahead of them.
One of the things I sometimes wonder about is the balance of subjects in the Journal of Glaciology. Hilda Richardson, the first secretary of the Society, and her contemporaries always insisted that glaciology is the study of ice, not just of glaciers. So why does the Journal never publish papers about extraterrestrial ice? In a wider perspective, although as a reader I quite like the current balance of subjects, I have an open mind about the mix that we should tolerate or encourage in future.
I may seem patriarchal, but I am not the boss, and I hope that those who write for the Journal of Glaciology and those who read it will be generous with their support of me and the other new Associate Chief Editors as we try to broaden and deepen our common understanding of ice – and glaciers.
Graham Cogley, June 2016