Saturday, May 22, 2021

Why Researchers Who Care About Equity Should Use Zotero (and Not Mendeley)

If you are a researcher, chances are that you write papers. And if you write papers there is a good reason for you to use a reference manager (also called citation manager?). If you use a reference manager and you care about equity, there is a good reason why you should use Zotero.

Why use reference managers?

Because the publication systems used by most of your journals are (intentionally) ancient. The internet allows usage of hyperlinks on any word in your article. But the academic society is still worried about putting references in an order at the end of the article. And every journal has their own citation "style" (as if the font style of the journal name matters in the quality of the reference). While all of this is part of a system that wants to continue making creation of knowledge the exclusive privilege of an elite circle, sometimes you might have to be a part of that system. And you're better off handing to a software the tedious (and useless) effort of keeping track of your references and arranging them in an order and in the right "style".

Also because when you're doing literature review you might want to keep track of a *lot* of references and you might want to tag them, group them, share with others, etc.

So, use a reference manager and never copy paste references manually.

Why not Mendeley?

You might look at the options and you might see this software called "Mendeley". And you might think, "Ah, this looks like a good fit for my use case."

But did you know Mendeley is owned by Elsevier? Do you know how in the age of the internet Elsevier and many other publishers continue to charge people for publishing and for reading? Do you think that these are reasonable charges levied in return of some great effort from their part? If you think so, you have literally no idea how the internet works. 

See you are reading this blog. It took me zero money to publish this post. And that cost would not have changed a bit if I had a 100 references at the end of this post. This gets published under a creative commons license and that didn't change the cost from zero either. Once I publish it, I will share the link to it in social media and other places. And people can add comment under it. Remember that most journals don't pay peer reviewers anything for reviewing posts either.

So that should really make you wonder what the process of publication in journals are about. My philosophy about journals are simple. Journals give you credentials and privilege. So you publish on them. And the academic society considers publication in journals as the yardstick to measure your merit. And that vicious cycle perpetuates.

But I understand your plight. Just because the system is horrible you can't avoid the system. And you're condemned to the life of a 20th century academician. Fine. Publish. But don't support Elsevier, Wiley, American Chemical Society, etc. 

And don't use Mendeley which is proprietary and owned by Elsevier.

Use Zotero.

Zotero is free and open source software. I use free to mean "freedom" as in "free speech". Zotero is released in a GNU Affero General Public License. Which means that all the source code of Zotero is available to anyone who wants to modify it, add new features, etc. 

Newton said "If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of Giants". If knowledge was like proprietary software, Newton would have said "I couldn't have seen further because the Giants had a license agreement that said that I should close my eyes if I were to stand on their shoulders" and we wouldn't have heard about Newton either.

Open knowledge lets everyone stand on the shoulders of each other and see farther. Free and Open Source Software (FOSS) lets new programmers write better software by standing on older software. Zotero is that.

If you care for equity, you should start from where you are.  If you use and encourage Mendeley, nVivo, and so on, you are ceding control to a proprietary ecosystem where the rules are laid down by the software "owners". If you use FOSS like Zotero, Taguette, R, PSPP, etc you are strengthening software that is collectively owned by human kind. And you are making life better for everyone.

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Wednesday, May 19, 2021

How To Stay Sane Online in 7 Simple Steps

The sheer vastness of information online can disorient some people. Fake news and hate makes it even harder for them. These techniques are what I personally use to keep my mind "blissful" despite what is going around me. And yet I get to enjoy all the goodness of internet too.

#1: Be ruthless in cutting down

You simply cannot let everything in. The internet is almost a billion people creating content every single day. And you are but one tiny human. It is impossible to follow everyone, it is impossible to subscribe to every channel. Cut down ruthlessly. Curate your life to exactly what you need and nothing more. Make your garden your own.

#2: Use mute and block liberally

Muting and blocking are tools designed to protect you. Use them! Block people who push unwanted things on to your face. Block them if they amplify hate. Block them if they give attention to attention seekers. Block them if they don't understand how fake news spreads and are complicit. Block them if they are lying. Block them if they're pushing their own image. Block them if their politics is that of selling fear. Block them if they sensationalize. If blocking is impossible (due to reasons), use mute. Prune weed from your garden.

#3: Unfollow, unsubscribe

There are so many platforms and so many content creators. You probably started following someone years ago when you were a different person. Don't let your past hold you back. If you are subscribed to someone whom you wouldn't subscribe to today, unsubscribe! You have grown, but the people you're listening to haven't? Stop listening to them and start listening to new people. Don't stay connected with someone just because you went to school with them. Break connections. Create new connections.

#4: Deactivate

Some platforms simply are not for you. There are a thousand reasons not to have a Facebook account. TikTok exists only because most human beings are interested in sex. Deactivate and delete what doesn't help you.

#5: Avoid news

There is a superb essay by Rolf Dobelli about news. Read it. News is like sugar. Unhealthy, toxic, and unnecessary. If you are using platforms to keep abreast with news, you're doing it wrong in two ways - platforms aren't the best way to listen to news, and listening to news isn't the best way to spend your time.

#6: Read books

Books are serious. Books take time and effort. Books take research. Read books.

#7: Use tools that give you control

There are technologies like web feeds that put you in control. Use them. Take control.

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