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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