Why BRI needs a professional editor

Mark Levine comments on Richard Lorch’s “End of an Era” editorial

Re. the editorial “The End of an Era” by Richard Lorch published in BRI volume 4 2018: I wholeheartedly agree with and endorse the basic points that Mr. Lorch brings out about the publishing enterprise writ large. I am personally distressed that he will be leaving BRI at the end of this year. He personifies the advantages of having a professional editor who can devote up to full-time to editorial activities as distinct from an academic who can spend much less time.

There is an important nuance involved in the decision of whether to use a professional or academic editor. For a journal that is dedicated to research in a discipline (e.g., physics) or sub-discipline (e.g., nuclear physics), an academic editor is preferable. An academic can be counted to know the field and its academic practitioners, as well the most interesting research topics. The editorship requires specialized knowledge but only a part-time commitment by the editor.

On the other hand, a journal that is intrinsically interdisciplinary, such as BRI, needs a full-time professional editor who is not committed to one field of research but is willing and able to become knowledgeable about many fields. In the case of BRI the editor needs to be able to converse with researchers working in areas as diverse building energy analysis, real estate, urban studies, ethnographic studies of building occupants or owners, occupants’ behavior, building design, international comparisons of buildings design and performance, and the list goes on. The professional editor must, over time, gain an understanding of the key issues for analysis in these many areas and the individuals who are carrying out the most significant research. This is a full-time job and one for which few academics are either qualified or interested in doing.

Frankly, although I do not know the motivations of Taylor and Francis in terminating Mr. Lorch, I suspect it had to do with cost savings.  A full-time professional editor is expensive. Academic editors are either low cost or free.

T&F has three choices after Lorch’s departure: another professional editor, academic editor or editors, or shuttering BRI. The first choice seems unlikely, as it will be virtually impossible to find a professional editor who would be nearly as knowledgeable of the field, conversant with the research community, or as dedicated as Richard. The third choice seems unlikely as, if this were T&F’s intention they could have saved themselves a lot of trouble by just doing that. The second option – academic editor – seems very likely. Not only is this a risky way to go, it probably doesn’t even make good business sense. The most likely outcome is that the journal will decline in quality and readership under such an arrangement, to the disadvantage of all: the dwindling reader, the research community, T&F, and of course the terminated editor, Mr. Lorch.

As an example, I’m on the editorial board of another journal that experienced disastrous results after changing from a full-time professional to part-time academic editors. I can’t go into any details here, but the transition to academic editors completely failed. This is what I had expected to happen. As I’ve suggested, this is what I fear will happen to BRI.


levine-md-400-600-300a[1]Dr. Mark Levine led the energy division of LBNL with >400 people for over a decade.  He led the analysis effort of building energy performance standards for the U.S. Department of Energy, and an 8-year project that introduced building energy standards, supported their analysis and policy development in five countries in Southeast Asia.  He created the China Energy Group at LBNL in 1988. He was the co-founding Director of the U.S. China Clean Energy Research Center, a major governmental initiative between the two countries. Dr. Levine was a member of four editorial boards of journals and boards of nine leading non-profits. He served as a co-ordinating lead author of the Nobel prize-winning IPCC report. 

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