If you’re an 21st century academic like me, you collect a lot of references, bibliography and electronic versions of articles and books. My hard drive has a hierarchy of folders for PDFs, and so forth, but it is hard to manage them. I’m multiplying folders according to subject, and that just doesn’t work very well.
There are two solutions to this problem that I have discovered so far: Zotero and SciPlore.
Zotero is a browser plugin to FireFox. This is a great advantage for browsing: find something while surfing the web and a couple of clicks later it is bookmarked. You can add bibliographic information and annotations to the document entry.
To summarize the — to me — important features:
- bibliography and citation management
- able to annotate entries
- able to search entries
- able to handle web documents
- able to attach links to PDFs
- handles BibTeX format
There are many other features, of course. See the Zotero website for further details.
Sciplore is built on top of FreeMind, a mindmapping program. It adds bibliographic and citation management to FreeMind’s graphical representation of ideas. One could describe it as a “graphical Zotero.”
I have not (yet) done a complete feature comparison, but at first glance, the only thing Zotero can do that SciPlore cannot is to capture web documents and even capture references from some kinds of web documents. Both handle BibTeX and PDF links. SciPlore permits one to arrange the information in a visual way; Zotero uses lists.
I have only just discovered SciPlore (check out the introductory video on the website) whereas I’ve been using Zotero for more than a year now as a URL link manager. I have not — until now — felt the need to use Zotero’s bibliography management features. I am very happy with BibDesk on the Mac and JabRef everywhere else. The common element among all three is BibTeX. If I hadn’t discovered SciPlore to play with, I was planning on using Zotero more extensively to handle my every expanding list of PDFs. I’m a firm believer in “the right tool for the right job.” Every software package has its strengths and weaknesses. I try to use a program for its strengths and abandon it for a better tool when it is weak. The key to making this practice work is to insist that my software store and manipulate data in standard formats. In the case of bibliography managers, that format is BibTeX.
We’ll see how these programs will adjust to my workflow.
As someone who focuses on interpreting the Hebrew Bible, I face the problem of “insufficient data.” So much of the history, culture and literature of the Ancient Near East has been lost, making the problem of interpreting the ancient text very problematic. The temptation is to fill in the blanks to a greater degree than is supported by hard, empirical data. Bible scholars for some reason hate to admit that they simply don’t know and that we can’t know the answers to some questions until and unless new evidence comes to light. So there is a lot of speculation and outright fiction being written about the Hebrew Bible.
It is, then, a pleasure to run across examples of honest grappling with the data as it actually exists. The most recent exemplar are two related blog posts, here and the earlier Part 1 here, on the vexed question of the identity of “Daniel” in Ezekiel 14:14 & 20. Does it refer to Ezekiel’s contemporary whom we know from his eponymous book, Daniel? Does it refer to the Canaanite legendary hero, dn’il, as narrated in the Ugaritic texts? Or perhaps to someone whose existence and biography has since been lost to us?
I’ll leave it to you, dear reader, to peruse the details of the debate. What is exemplary is that:
- the extent and limits of the real-world evidence is described
- the writer grapples with how far that evidence can be pushed
- he refuses to go beyond what can be justified
The reader comes away with a clear understanding of the issues, the evidence, and the possible conclusions that may be drawn. Most of all, it’s honest. This is the way biblical scholarship (or any scholarship, really) should be done.
I’ve added this blog to the blog list at the bottom of the page (see Further Information).
A recent article (“Wikipedia Age Challenges Scholars’ Sacred Peer Review”) in the New York Times investigates how scholars are starting to adjust to the Digital Age by adjusting the notion of peer review. In a time when anyone can “publish” anything on the Internet, the concept of peer review for academic publishing has come under severe pressure. Some critics, citing abuse, argue for abandoning the idea. Others, mentioned in this article, are experimenting with “cloud peer review.”
This makes sense to me as an academic. Peer review can provide valuable feedback, both in terms of validating content and in helping to improve the readability of the text. On the other hand, reviewers often have the mentality of “keeping bad ideas out of print.” They ride their own ideological hobby horses. The Internet allows ideas to stand or fall into obscurity in the marketplace of ideas. Slashdot pioneered (so far as I know) the idea of “moderation”: readers would rate comments on an article up or down. One could set filters and read only the most highly rated comments out of the great flood. Granted, in specialized disciplines (like mine) not everyone’s opinion is of equal value. So a peer review could have — as some journals mentioned in the article — a “core” of qualified specialists. But this core could be very large, e.g., everyone who is a member of an academic society of that discipline. Based upon some reasonable criteria, some opinions would “weigh” more than others. Having an earned PhD in the field might add to one’s “weight,” and having published on the same topic as what one is reviewing might be another criterion.
As for me, I have never liked the elitist atmosphere traditional peer review has engendered, nor have the benefits of the “anonymous reviewer” outweighed the disadvantages of having “gatekeepers” guarding the entry of ideas into academic conversations with little or no accountability. I would rather deal with the disadvantages of broader publishing and try to figure out ways to let the “cream rise to the top.”
The fun part of all this is that there is nothing that the Academe can do about it. The Internet allows self-publishing and end runs around traditional peer review. How will the Academe respond? Let the follies commence!