11 January 2022

The AAS Journals: Absolutely Amazing

Kevin Marvel

Kevin Marvel American Astronomical Society (AAS)

From the Executive Office

I recently had the pleasure of attending a virtual meeting of the AAS Publications Committee, co-chaired by Lisa Prato at Lowell Observatory and former Astrophysical Journals Letters (ApJL) editor Chris Sneden, now emeritus faculty at the University of Texas, Austin. This ~10-person committee provides independent oversight of the AAS research journals, including the selection of the editors who oversee and run the peer review process. They gather regularly throughout the year to review reports on the status of our publications, discuss longer-term strategy, review and suggest publication policies, and grapple with challenging editorial matters. Their work plays an important role in making the AAS journals successful and useful to our community. As I shared with the Publications Committee, scholarly journals are very much like plumbing. People don’t notice it until it isn’t available or not working properly. Thankfully, we have the Publications Committee, editorial team, and management team in place to worry about our journals regularly while the rest of the community can go about their work knowing the Society has things covered.

As this meeting took place shortly after the end of 2021, they reviewed a report that we receive monthly from our publishing partner, the Institute of Physics Publishing. The report presents a variety of statistics that help us gauge how the journals are operating and their impact. Let me share a few amazing statistics gleaned from this most recent operational report from year-end 2021.

First off, in the month of December 2021 alone, almost nine million (9,000,000) downloads of articles were made. That is just more than three downloads a second, day in and day out! Although the report doesn’t specify whether these were unique download requests, it is an impressive volume of astronomical research getting downloaded. December is not unusual in this regard, which means that more than 100 million downloads of AAS journal articles take place each year, truly amazing given that some estimates place the number of working researchers in our broadly defined discipline at roughly 50,000 worldwide. That would imply 2,000 downloads per researcher, an unlikely number, which means our journals must have a much wider audience than just researchers — a fact that helps reinforce the Board of Trustee’s decision to make our journals Open Access this year.

AAS Journals Will Switch to Open Access on 1 January 2022
Journals of the American Astronomical Society.

For all our journals, we received 6,687 submissions during 2021 and accepted 5,123 articles for publication. Due to some delays in the editorial process, these numbers can’t be used to calculate our acceptance rate as we have a small backlog that is still being processed for 2021. Typically, our acceptance rate is 85% or a bit higher without a backlog; and something like 5% of articles is deemed inappropriate submissions or outside of the scope of our journals but are included in the submission total given above. This high volume of submitted manuscripts works out to about 18 submissions per day. We do notice some ebb and flow with submissions with small bursts of submissions taking place, but there is no real consistency year-to-year except for a downturn of submissions and acceptances in the final week of each calendar year and the first week or so of the next.

the Astronomical Journal (AJ) stats in 2021
The Astronomical Journal (AJ) data.


The report also highlighted the ongoing growth of the Astronomical Journal (AJ) after the Board approved a realignment of content within our journal structure. This year we targeted 7,800 published pages in the AJ and published 9,122, an ongoing growth trend for the AJ. This represents 592 articles total or roughly 50 published each month, almost two per day. Interestingly, the most downloaded article in December 2021 for the AJ was an article from 2016 entitled Evidence for a Distant Giant Planet in the Solar System, which received 19,983 download requests in December alone. Showing the longevity of impact of published articles, an article published in 2018 was the most cited article of the year with 126 citations: The Astropy Project: Building an Open-science Project and Status of 2018 126 the v2.0 Core Package. Overall, the AJ received 4,705 citations for the calendar year.

Turning to the Astrophysical Journal (ApJ) gives one a sense of the scale of our flagship title. There were 3,027 articles published in 2021, with 43,810 pages in total appearing in the journal. Both were lower than target (7% and 10%, respectively) due to the production backlog. Thankfully, we now appear to be on target to eliminate the backlog entirely by the end of February, so we expect to meet or exceed our 2022 targets. The most downloaded article during December was Testing the Strong Equivalence Principle: Detection of the External Field Effect in Rotationally Supported Galaxies with just over 32,500 downloads during the month. The most cited article in 2021 was Measuring Reddening with Sloan Digital Sky Survey Stellar Spectra and Recalibrating SFD, published in 2011, which received 89 citations. Overall, the ApJ received just under 26,000 citations in total for 2021.

The ApJ Letters saw some substantial growth during 2021, with more than 5,500 pages published, representing 659 articles in total. These are 54% and 12% more than planned, respectively. Importantly, the median number of days from acceptance to online publication for the ApJL was 23 days, while the median receipt to acceptance time was 54 days. The most downloaded article in December was First M87 Event Horizon Telescope Results. VIII. Magnetic Field Structure Near the Event Horizon, with 35,586 downloads; followed closely by First M87 Event Horizon Telescope Results. VII. Polarization of the Ring, with 34,445 downloads. The most cited article in 2021 was from 2017: Multi-messenger Observations of a Binary Neutron Star Merger, with 52 citations, tied by a paper entitled GW190814: Gravitational Waves from the Coalescence of a 23 Solar Mass Black Hole with a 2.6 Solar Mass Compact Object published in 2020.

The ApJ Supplement Series plays an important role in our suite of journals and demonstrates its relevance with 721,561 article requests in December 2021 and 3,400 citations overall in 2021. The most downloaded article was The ULYSSES Supplement to the BATSE 3B Catalog of Cosmic Gamma-Ray Bursts, published in 1999 with 19,282 downloads. The most cited article for the year was from 2011, Modules for Experiments in Stellar Astrophysics (MESA), published in 2011 with 55 citations, which shows the enduring impact work of this type can have.

One of the most exciting facts is the ongoing success of the Planetary Science Journal (PSJ). While we eagerly await an impact factor for our newest journal later this year, we are thrilled with its current popularity within the community. In 2021, we planned for 1,800 published pages and ended up with 3,464. We planned to publish just 150 articles and ended up publishing 244. There were 239,408 total downloads in December, with the most popular being Refining the Transit-timing and Photometric Analysis of TRAPPIST-1: Masses, Radii, Densities, Dynamics, and Ephemerides. Production times of PSJ are now approaching the speed of ApJL, with December boasting 28 days from acceptance to online publication. We anticipate this journal getting a formal impact factor this year, which should only bolster its ongoing success.

Finally, Research Notes of the AAS published 284 articles, slightly higher than our target of 250. Receipt to acceptance remained quick at five days and acceptance to publication was three days or faster during 2021. The most downloaded Research Note in December was Eight Blue E+A Galaxy Candidates Located inside a Large-scale filament in the Coma Cluster, which was downloaded an impressive 34,411 times. Research Notes plays an important role in our publishing portfolio and was originally conceived by members of the Publications Committee.

These statistics tell me we have a robust publishing program. And they leave me in awe at the volume of peer-reviewed content our community publishes each year and the impressive impact that content has demonstrated by the large numbers of downloads and citations. We have engaged authors who submit their important work to our editorial team for peer review. We have hard-working editors and editorial staff who help ensure the peer review process is constructive, as quick as possible, and ultimately improves the published manuscripts. We have an active publishing partner and publishing staff who oversee the pre- and post- acceptance work that must be done to make the final published manuscript complete with data tables, links, graphics, videos, software, and all manner of other supplementary materials. And, most importantly perhaps, we have an extremely wide audience of people downloading our content (hopefully not all bots for dark archives!) and using it to enhance and inform their research, leading to more knowledge and more publications as we work together as a community of researchers to enhance and share our scientific understanding of our universe.

I want to thank everyone who plays a part in our publishing efforts, including our authors, editors, publishing staff, peer reviewers, volunteer publications committee members, and our readers for engaging in this shared activity of scholarly publishing. The AAS journals represent more than published pages, they represent the ongoing evolution and expansion of human knowledge, and that’s absolutely amazing.

— Kevin B. Marvel
Executive Officer
American Astronomical Society

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