Impact, quality and editing – where next for academic publishing?

 

The sudden and unexpected loss of the editor for this leading academic journal was a body blow. Literally. I felt physically sick. Should I have been surprised? Probably not, given the endless marketization of academia, which now leaves little time for reflection, given the need to ‘consume’ more and more published research.

Building Research and Information has been unique as an interdisciplinary international journal for the built environment that reached out to policy makers, practitioners and academics alike. Over the decades it has established an enviable reputation for attracting top authors and publishing cutting edge Special Issues which have often set the agenda in critical areas of research and knowledge exchange.

The editor in question belonged to the old school – taking precious time to craft a paper with the authors and the reviewers, delicately pondering on wider issues during the process, and surfacing deeper insights through careful questioning. He was in pursuit of research excellence, rather than turning around as many papers as possible in as short a time as possible. He was certainly not anonymous – he was a friend at hand, when things went wrong, and celebrated success when things worked. He also nurtured and developed a world class Editorial Board.  It takes years to develop relationships like these. It was ‘slow’, and more than ever, under capitalism’s increasingly rapid consumption of irreplaceable resources and values, we need to resist with ‘slowness’.

The cold new wind blowing through academic publishing is stripping away these priceless values in the relentless pursuit of profit, which induces a rapid turnover and a flurry of new editorships. This is in order to ‘spread’ the expertise quickly, and generally speed up and expand research journals for the sake of creating quick ‘impact’ ratings to justify their  existence. I am not against rotating editorships in principle, but this should not be done lightly, particularly when a journal is flourishing, and it should certainly be done with due care.

So, where next?

I am excited by new ideas of publishing which challenge the growing hegemony of academic publishing corporations. There are excellent examples of collaborative and open publishing in academia which by-pass these commercial publishers, including the annual ‘Field’ journal within my own School of Architecture in Sheffield. Within academic, research and professional institutions, we can take a lead on this and encourage the development of ‘slow’ journals and other media which focus on quality academic and practice-based research publications. The dividends from this type of work are enormous. It takes time and money. When this resource demand is shared between many as a collaborative concern, with a shared vision and shared research values, then perhaps a new process can be born. One which celebrates ‘slow’ editing – and the resulting quality of publication.

Fionn-BW-124-160

 

Fionn Stevenson, Professor of Sustainable Design at the University of Sheffield

“Publisher’s fiat”: Letter published in Times Higher Education

The following is a letter first published in Times Higher Education (THE) (19 April 2018, p. 33). This was drafted by the editor in chief and the departing editorial board of BRI, in follow up to THE’s report on the termination of Richard Lorch’s contract. The letter criticises Taylor & Francis for poor governance: disregard of both BRI’s editorial board as custodians of journal integrity and the voices of BRI’s wider community. This has been reproduced with permission, and the original publication is available here

 

The neTHE logo[1]ws article “Journal board resigns in protest at editor’s dismissal” (2 March) highlighted the mass resignations at Building Research & Information because of the publisher’s arbitrary dismissal of its editor-in-chief, Richard Lorch.

Alongside the shock this has caused within the community that BRI serves, it also highlights important wider issues about the governance of relations between publishers, journal editors and editorial boards; how best to create diversity within the support systems that a journal relies on for survival; and what happens when a publisher alienates the community that constitutes the life blood (and social capital) of a journal. Taylor and Francis have a previous history here, having dismissed the editor of the International Journal of Occupational and Environmental Health (“Publisher’s intervention on journal sparks ‘grave concerns”, News, 18 May 2017).

As the BRI editorial team, we are very exercised about what we see as Taylor & Francis’ cavalier behaviour, not just because of the dismissal of BRI’s editor-in-chief but subsequently through its disregard of the journal’s editorial board as the custodians of the integrity and reputation of BRI. One governance issue of particular concern is the lack of transparency and accountability. In dismissing BRI’s editor, the publisher has failed to consult with the communities this journal serves, especially with its editorial board and associate editors.  The publisher continues to fail to listen to the representations that were made to them since. We think these actions represent poor governance within Taylor and Francis and also violate its own corporate principles. We do not argue that diversity is not an important issue, but we reject the cavalier manner of the process and the publisher’s treatment of the editor, the journal’s gender balanced editorial team and its diverse editorial board when making new changes.

What evidence supports the publisher’s assertion that the “rotation” of editors leads to improved outcomes?  And is the imposition of fixed timeframes for editors the most appropriate method to achieve new voices and new networks as it claims? An ethical practice would be one that evaluates who benefits and who is damaged by a particular decision. But there has been no process to evaluate the publisher’s unilaterally imposed new policy or how it proposes to achieve this diversity.

An online petition “Save BRI’s Editor” has 873 signatories objecting to Taylor & Francis’ decision. Taylor and Francis was presented with the petition but has ignored the community that it purports to serve.

Richard Lorch, editor in chief

Raymond J. Cole, associate editor

Niklaus Kohler, associate editor

Faye Wade, associate editor

Sofie Pelsmakers, social media editor

(The last four signatories have resigned in protest)

 

An open letter from the BRI Editor to Informa / Taylor and Francis and BRI’s readers and authors

Dear Stephen Carter, Leon Heward-Mills and Richard Delahunty,

The decision by Taylor and Francis (T&F) to terminate my contract as Editor in Chief of Building Research & Information (BRI) is based solely on one criterion: the length of time in post.  As T&F’s global publishing head of journals, Mr Heward-Mills stated this is based on a desire to bring in “new voices” – but he has failed to define what this means or how this is beneficial.  It is overly simplistic to suggest this can only be done by the removal of the Editor.  Evidence has been provided to show how we actively already achieve this for BRI in terms of gender, geography, career stage and areas of expertise.  We achieve this by an active programme of adding new people – their voices and their insights.  These new voices contribute to our diversity and vitality at many levels: particularly the associate editors and editorial board members who have a fundamental role in the decision processes, but also our guest editors, reviewers and authors.

It is bizarre that you emphasize new voices but you ignore the existing voices of our community. Many authors, readers and reviewers have raised their voices to protest Informa’s decision. First this occurred in many private letters from individuals as well as the organisations that endorse the journal. Following a lack of meaningful response from T&F, the Editorial Team and Board detailed their queries and concerns in two open letters. The first responded to T&F’s decision to terminate my contract, whilst the second responded to their request for a meeting and continued oversight of the Board’s concerns. Indeed, 48 people (associate editors and editorial board members) have resigned en masse. In their second letter, they stated:

 ” … we find the tone and content of your [Leon Heward-Mills’] response disingenuous and dismissive of our primary concerns.”

Taylor and Francis and its parent company Informa plc have failed to answer questions raised by the journal’s editorial board.

More broadly, objections have been raised via social media, and over 870 people (at the time of writing) from our community have signed a petition objecting to T&F’s decision and ask that it is rescinded. Their reasons (based on the comments they provided) fall broadly into several categories:

  • it is not in the journal’s and the community’s interest
  • the decision-making process was flawed – there was no consultation, no transparency, no underpinning evidence, no consideration of other factors and it violates the parent company’s stated principles
  • the high quality of leadership and service that I provide is unique and highly valued in our field.
  • it is an ‘unjust’ way to treat a successful editor
  • it represents poor management of succession planning
  • it will damage the reputation of Informa / Taylor and Francis

Informa / T&F has completely disregarded the voices of the community it purports to serve. It is clear that widespread discontent exists over the Informa / T&F decision to terminate my contract.

At a more fundamental level, there are serious misgivings about the poor governance and management processes involving how this decision was made:

  • Violations of Informa’s stated values and principles:
    • Striving for “excellence in all we do.” (Informa plc, Code of Conduct, p. 4)
    • “We will work in a fair and ethical way within the markets in which we operate and will seek to maintain a position of respect, reliability and integrity.” (Informa plc, Code of Conduct, p. 8)
    • “We incentivise, reward and recognise people solely on their ability to perform and excel at their role.”  (Informa plc, Code of Conduct, p. 4)
    • “Handling relationships ethically, lawfully and with integrity doesn’t stop at our colleagues: we expect this of anyone who works with or on behalf of Informa” (Informa plc, Code of Conduct, p. 3)
    • “Our colleagues are how we will be successful and we can support them through training, wellbeing and the provision of opportunity. This will help with the retention, recruitment and support the delivery of our growth ambitions.”        (Informa plc, Sustainability Report, 2016, p 7)
    • “We making hiring and role progression decisions based solely on relevant qualifications and merit…” (Informa plc, Code of Conduct, p. 5)

 

  • There is no evidence underpinning this practice. Should T&F work to industry “norms” or strive for excellence? NB: only one publisher espouses a maximum 15-year tenure for editors – but this publisher makes exceptions for its excellent editors (one is in post for 23+ years). Another rival publisher has an excellent editor in post for 33 years.
  • No evaluation of this practice – how does it foster excellence?
  • No ethical evaluation of how this practice affects the particular journal and its stakeholders
  • Inconsistent application by T&F management:
    • Lack of communication about this practice to editors and within T&F
    • Practice arbitrarily applied within T&F (some editors are in post for 25 years, others 21 years, etc)
  • No clear, stated process to account for specific context. How does T&F differentiate between a poetry and physics journal?
  • Single criterion decision process – other important criteria marginalised
  • No prior consultation with Editorial Board and other key stakeholders (the many professional and research organisations that endorse BRI)
  • No meaningful engagement with the feedback provided by the Editorial Board – they have provided evidence to show “new voices” are actively involved in the journal

These grave concerns raise doubts in the community of authors and readers about the publisher’s stewardship of this journal. Success in academic publishing depends upon the creation of trust and integrity, which have now been eroded hugely by Informa / Taylor and Francis. The arrogant disregard of the representations from our research community constitutes a significant breach in your stewardship.

Sincerely,

Richard Lorch, RIBA

Editor in Chief, Building Research & Information

Response: Second open letter from BRI EDITORIAL TEAM & BOARD MEMBERS to Taylor & Francis

The discussion continues between the Editorial Team and Board Members of Building Research & Information (BRI) and the publishers Taylor & Francis (T&F). In response to T&F’s decision to terminate the contract of the Editor-in-Chief, Richard Lorch, the Editorial Team and Board Members wrote an open letter detailing their grave concerns and reasons for their resignation. T&F have responded to this, and the Board have subsequently written an open reply. Both of these documents are copied in full below. 

Open letter from BRI Editorial Team and Board Members to Taylor & Francis. Sent Thursday 1st March 2018

Dear Mr Heward-Mills

Thank you for your email of February 22nd 2018. We agree that there is scope for all parties to resume working together, but only if our primary concern that Richard Lorch remains as editor of Building Research and Information is addressed. 

We have previously articulated numerous benefits that Taylor & Francis gains by having Richard in this role as well as the potential damage to the journal should it not be the case.   With support through the petition for retaining Richard Lorch by the larger international academic and research community already nearly 800 signatures, the serious concerns for his dismissal clearly extend well beyond the Editorial Team and Board members.

We appreciate that you continue to “fully recognise Richard’s contribution as an editor-in-chief of more than twenty years, his on-going standing in the field, and the networks he has built.”  However, we find the tone and content of your response disingenuous and dismissive of our primary concerns. In your opening statement you state that you “have read and listened to all of them”, yet the evidence does not support this claim. The earlier form letter you sent in response to editorial board members’ individual letters of concern merely confirmed the fait accompli and the letter to you from the BRI Editorial team on January 15th went unanswered.

 There has been no evidence provided about why “rotation” is needed, why a particular fixed length of time is necessary and why Taylor & Francis only works to “the norm”. The evidence and assessments we presented to you – from many individuals and the collective Editorial Board – has been ignored. The decision-making process has not been transparent or justified and certainly not indicative of your willingness or interest in listening to our concerns or advice. 

We would consider having representatives from the board meet with you to discuss this concern, and to help find an independent moderator for this meeting. However, before this meeting we need to be clear that the option of Richard remaining as Editor-in-Chief beyond the end of 2018 is on the table. Since we have strenuously defended this position, we are not able to meet to discuss a decision that has already been made unilaterally by the publisher or participate in a selection process for a new editor-in-chief.

We would be willing to meet if constructive progress is made during a meeting between Richard and the publishers to reconsider the termination of his contract. As a positive outcome for all parties, we again put forward a compromise solution of a transition period to at least the end of 2020 with Richard remaining as editor under the same conditions as before.   

Yours sincerely,    

Dr Wim Bakens, CIB, Netherlands

Professor Gail Brager, University of California, Berkeley, USA

Dr. Sarah Burch , University of Waterloo, Canada

Professor Edwin Chan, Hong Kong Polytechnic University, China

Professor Raymond J Cole, University of British Columbia, Canada

Professor Ian Cooper, Eclipse Research Consults, UK

Dr Robert Crawford, University of Melbourne, Australia

Dr Sarah Darby, University of Oxford, UK

Professor Richard de Dear, University of Sydney, Australia

Dr Michael Donn, Victoria University Wellington, New Zealand

Dr Chrisna du Plessis, University of Pretoria, South Africa

Professor Kirsten Gram-Hanssen, Danish Building Research Institute, Aalborg University, Denmark

Dr Jessica Granderson, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratories, USA

Professor Guillaume Habert, ETH Zurich, Switzerland

Dr Kathryn Janda, University College London, UK

Professor Charles Kibert, University of Florida, USA

Professor Niklaus Kohler, Karlsruhe Institute of Technology, Germany

Mr Adrian Leaman, Usable Buildings Trust, UK

Dr Mark D Levine, Lawrence Berkeley National Lab, USA

Professor Kevin Lomas, Loughborough University, UK

Professor Robert Lowe, University College London, UK

Professor Thomas Lützkendorf, Karlsruhe Institute of Technology, Germany

Dr Tove Malmqvist, KTH Royal Institute of Technology, Sweden

Professor Daniel Mueller, NTNU, Norway

Professor Shuzo Murakami, Institute for Building Environment and Energy Conservation, Japan

Mr Robin Nicholson CBE, Cullinan Studio, UK

Dr Sarah Outcault, University of California, Davis, USA

Dr Wei Pan, University of Hong Kong, China

Dr Sofie Pelsmakers, Aarhus School of Architecture, Denmark

Professor Bruno Peuportier, Mines ParisTech, France

Professor Gary Pivo, University of Arizona, USA

Mr Rajan Rawal, CEPT University, India

Professor Christoph Reinhart, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, USA

Professor John Robinson, University of Toronto, Canada

Dr Serge Salat, Urban Morphology Institute, France

Professor Kaixun Sha, Shandong Jianzhu University, China

Professor Geoffrey Qiping Shen, Hong Kong Polytechnic University, China

Professor Alan Short, University of Cambridge, UK

Professor  Elizabeth Shove, University of Lancaster, UK

Professor  Stefan Siedentop, Research Institute for Regional and Urban Development (ILS), Germany 

Professor Philip Steadman, University College London, UK

Professor Fionn Stevenson, University of Sheffield, UK

Dr Yolande Strengers, RMIT University, Australia

Professor Henk Visscher, Technical University Delft, The Netherlands

Dr Faye Wade, University of Edinburgh, Scotland, UK

Professor Jennifer Whyte, Imperial College London, UK

Professor Harold Wilhite, University of Oslo, Norway

Professor Yi Jiang, Tsinghua University, China

 

Letter from Taylor & Francis to BRI Editorial Team and Board Members. Sent Thursday 22nd February 2018

Dear Building Research and Information editorial team and board,

Thank you for your open letter and your on-going messages of support and advocacy for Richard, which we have read and listened to since first raising transitioning the Building Research and Information leadership role to a fixed-term, rotating editor-in-chief position.

We would like to start by saying we very much endorse everything you have said regarding Richard’s work. As we have said in various correspondence and in our face-to-face meetings, we fully recognise Richard’s contribution as an editor-in-chief of more than twenty years, his on-going standing in the field, and the networks he has built.

As discussed with Richard, the practice of fixed-term, rotating journal leadership roles is a growing norm for scholarly journals. Having a time limit on these roles (i.e. journal editor and editor-in-chief) opens up opportunities for a wider variety of people to apply, who may not be able to commit to an open-ended position. However, we also recognise and acknowledge the upset this is causing the Building Research and Information editorial team and board.

We have been in contact with you via email to invite you to a meeting with the Taylor & Francis team, where we can fully discuss this decision, answer all your questions, and Richard’s on-going involvement on Building Research and Information (including the key Emeritus Editor role offered to him).

We look forward to hearing from you in the next two weeks and to picking up this discussion in person.

Best wishes,

Taylor & Francis

Petition: Save BRI’s Editor

A petition to keep Richard Lorch in post is available here. The recent decision by Taylor and Francis (T&F) to terminate Richard Lorch’s role as editor-in-chief of this leading research journal is a mistake. Building Research & Information is thriving under Lorch’s vision, direction and efforts. The high quality of content and mentoring under this editor must continue.

Twitter:  #saveBRIeditor

An open letter from Building Research & Information EDITORIAL TEAM & BOARD MEMBERS to Taylor & Francis

The publisher of Building Research & Information, Taylor & Francis, has recently decided to terminate Richard Lorch’s contract as Editor-in-Chief at the end of 2018. This action has sparked grave concern amongst the members of BRI’s editorial board. What follows is an open letter written by the board to the publisher. It details the concerns of the editorial board, the action that they took to try to dissuade Taylor & Francis, and the subsequent response from the publisher. All of the signatories of this letter have tendered their resignation from post.

Dear Mr Heward-Mills & Mr Delahunty,

We are aware that you have decided to terminate Richard Lorch’s contract as Editor-in-Chief of Building Research and Information on 31st December 2018. This is deeply shocking and we strenuously disagree with this decision. It is not in the best interests of the journal or the community served by the journal.

The only apparent criterion given for this decision was that an editor should have a limited period of office. This was claimed by yourselves to be an industry standard. This is not the case; we have presented you with clear evidence of long-serving editors in other excellent academic journals. Some of BRI’s esteemed and flourishing “rival” journals have had editors in post for upwards of 30 years. Indeed, Taylor & Francis’ own Construction Management & Economics editor held his post for 25 years.

As highlighted by one board member:

“The notion that a rotating editorship is ‘ …necessary to ensure the journal continues to evolve, to enable new voices and allow new networks to build on current ones‘ (quoted from correspondence received from Richard Delahunty) is spurious. There are in fact many “new voices” in BRI – a new associate editor and 12 new editorial board members, not to mention the numerous new authors who are added to the journal with each addition, all generating new networks.” (Fionn Stevenson)

We are surprised that you have not taken into account the widespread support that exists for Richard Lorch to continue and his exemplary role. You have failed to consult or involve editorial board members, associate editors, authors, readers or reviewers. Many people are aggrieved by your position:

“An inability to reconsider [your decision] reveals contempt for the associated research community: those that write the articles, review them, read them, pay for subscriptions through their libraries, and in many cases pay directly to have articles published.” (Jennifer Whyte)

Over 40 individual letters of protest from the editorial board members were sent to you. These demonstrated the broad and varied contributions that Richard Lorch makes to the Journal, and the community’s overwhelmingly positive experience of working with him. All of these communications arrived at the same conclusion that Richard must not be dismissed. Your process for arriving at a decision is one-sided and thus betrays our community’s interest and views. You have ignored us.

We have provided numerous valid reasons for retaining Richard Lorch as Editor-in-Chief. In particular, we have highlighted how he captures the diversity of research taking place in this field and keeps the journal current and vital. We noted Richard’s ability to draw a variety of disciplines together; his activity in increasing the readership of BRI, including engaging in new social media outlets and developing BRI’s influence in China; and his commitment to maintaining a diverse range of editorial board members, associate editors, reviewers, authors, and readers. Taylor & Francis have ignored or swept aside all of the evidence that was offered to them.

This dismissal of an excellent editor:

“betrays a failure at Taylor & Francis to understand how successful academic journals work: how they are built up by their editors by patient work over many years, by the editors having rich and widely spread networks of contacts, by their being in touch with all the latest developments in the field, and being able to spot future trends. Above all good editors can harness the good will and hard work – all without financial gain – of all the contributors on whom journals depend. Good editors of this kind are rare and not easily replaced.” (Philip Steadman)

Although you have lauded Richard Lorch and acknowledged his sustained accomplishments in making BRI an outstanding journal, you have been unable to offer substantive evidence-based reasons for your decision to dismiss him. The use of time as a determinant is arbitrary. A decision must be evidence-based and must take into account the performance of an editor and the journal.  Clearly, the performance of the journal and its editor are excellent.

We consider an ethical practice as one that would evaluate who benefits and who is damaged by a particular decision. There has been no process to evaluate this and we believe that your decision process was not ethical. You have dismissed the damage done to our community.

We are extremely disappointed that Taylor & Francis were unwilling to consider the reasonable compromise solution offered by BRI’s associate editors and that we all endorsed. We suggested maintaining Richard’s contract to at least 2020 to support the delivery of papers and special issues for which he has already commenced planning. We are now unable to provide guarantees of support to the authors and guest editors who had committed to these.

As a result of Taylor & Francis’ ill-considered decision and the manner in which they have conducted themselves, we are now resigning as members of the Editorial team and Board effective immediately.   If Taylor & Francis’ notion of determining the continuation of a successful editor depends upon a single and indicator that is poorly and inconsistently applied, then we find ourselves unable and unwilling to support Taylor & Francis.  Our view of the Taylor & Francis management and its suite of journals is negatively affected.

It is unfortunate that the journal will suffer as a result of your decision, as will the reputation of Taylor & Francis by the way that it arrived at it.

Yours sincerely,

Dr Wim Bakens, CIB, Netherlands

Professor Gail Brager, University of California, Berkeley, USA

Dr. Sarah Burch , University of Waterloo, Canada

Professor Edwin Chan, Hong Kong Polytechnic University, China

Professor Raymond J Cole, University of British Columbia, Canada

Professor Ian Cooper, Eclipse Research Consults, UK

Dr Robert Crawford, University of Melbourne, Australia

Dr Sarah Darby, University of Oxford, UK

Professor Richard de Dear, University of Sydney, Australia

Dr Michael Donn, Victoria University Wellington, New Zealand

Dr Chrisna du Plessis, University of Pretoria, South Africa

Professor Kirsten Gram-Hanssen, Danish Building Research Institute, Aalborg University, Denmark

Dr Jessica Granderson, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratories, USA

Professor Guillaume Habert, ETH Zurich, Switzerland

Dr Kathryn Janda, University College London, UK

Professor Charles Kibert, University of Florida, USA

Professor Niklaus Kohler, Karlsruhe Institute of Technology, Germany

Mr Adrian Leaman, Usable Buildings Trust, UK

Dr Mark D Levine, Lawrence Berkeley National Lab, USA

Professor Kevin Lomas, Loughborough University, UK

Professor Robert Lowe, University College London, UK

Professor Thomas Lützkendorf, Karlsruhe Institute of Technology, Germany

Dr Tove Malmqvist, KTH Royal Institute of Technology, Sweden

Professor Daniel Mueller, NTNU, Norway

Professor Shuzo Murakami, Institute for Building Environment and Energy Conservation, Japan

Mr Robin Nicholson CBE, Cullinan Studio, UK

Dr Sarah Outcault, University of California, Davis, USA

Dr Wei Pan, University of Hong Kong, China

Dr Sofie Pelsmakers, Aarhus School of Architecture, Denmark

Professor Bruno Peuportier, Mines ParisTech, France

Professor Gary Pivo, University of Arizona, USA

Mr Rajan Rawal, CEPT University, India

Professor Christoph Reinhart, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, USA

Professor John Robinson, University of Toronto, Canada

Dr Serge Salat, Urban Morphology Institute, France

Professor Kaixun Sha, Shandong Jianzhu University, China

Professor Geoffrey Qiping Shen, Hong Kong Polytechnic University, China

Professor Alan Short, University of Cambridge, UK

Professor  Elizabeth Shove, University of Lancaster, UK

Professor  Stefan Siedentop, Research Institute for Regional and Urban Development (ILS), Germany

Professor Philip Steadman, University College London, UK

Professor Fionn Stevenson, University of Sheffield, UK

Dr Yolande Strengers, RMIT University, Australia

Professor Henk Visscher, Technical University Delft, The Netherlands

Dr Faye Wade, University of Edinburgh, Scotland, UK

Professor Jennifer Whyte, Imperial College London, UK

Professor Harold Wilhite, University of Oslo, Norway

Professor Yi Jiang, Tsinghua University, China