Refly speaking

If I have seen further, it is by using a good reference manager…

Well, Newton certainly did not have a great reference manager, nor did he

Early Greek illustration of a quote made famous by Newton; of seeing further standing on the shoulder of giants

perhaps need one. Those were days (at least in the Western world) when the best way to “catch up” on emerging research was to attend one of the society meetings, where papers would be read out.
For example, most of the present-day understanding of Mendelian Genetics comes from the work on pea plants by  the Gregor Johann Mendel, a German-speaking Silesian (in present day Poland) Priest. He read it at the Natural History Society of Brünn in Moravia (in present day Czech Republic) in 1865. For a paper, it apparently was better off than many others of the day, because there were a few newspaper articles of the work, at least. And although it is easy to imagine that in today’s age, it would have been published  in a high-impact journal after quick peer review, press conferences and social media attention to follow along with the usual chatter on the science blogs, in those days, Randy Moore notes in Bioscene:

“Contrary to popular belief, Mendel’s famous paper about plant breeding announced no major findings; it was known and acknowledged as “typical” science for its day. When it was “rediscovered” in 1900, Mendel’s paper became famous primarily as a result of a priority dispute between de Vries and Correns. This dispute prompted researchers to reinterpret and read importance into Mendel’s paper”

And can you imagine, what could have happened if Mendel’s contemporary Darwin had read Mendel – not to worry. Here is the unravelling of that detective story; it also informs us that Mendel clearly read Darwins Origin of Species, even making notes in the margin of the German translation of that book. But for those who are not so keen on the reading habits of 19th century friars or bearded  biologists, here is an interesting extract from that article:

Even if Darwin had received Mendel’s reprint did he read it? He was not sympathetic to a mathematical presentation of data and Mendel’s paper was full of algebraic reasoning. If he did read it there is no evidence that Mendel’s analysis influenced Darwin’s firmly held views on blending inheritance. This might have held up the progress of genetics for Darwin’s colleagues in England (G. Romanes, T.H. Huxley, F. Galton, etc.) for at least two decades.

Well, not that Darwin would have made use of Mendel’s principles and gone further ahead in his work on evolution anyway; there are suggestions that Mendel’s writing style was too archaic for practitioners of his day to read and adopt it! (So, it is not merely lack of good reference management that led to the bible of evolution to miss genetics!)

Which brings us to the question on managing information and knowledge. If you are like me, stumbling on a zillion articles a day and not wanting to put them in places where they are never to be found again, in need of a solution to manage your reference library, search through pdfs in your library and cite while you write and several other features evolving much faster than Darwin’s finches, just Go Mendeley.

The competition is good though. Mendeley was in the market with RefMan – I am amazed that it is still in business. But the emerging ones are compared nicely in this page of the UPenn library. Of course, if you are already used to Zotero, you might be doing well already, especially if you are not a PhD student or something like that. But, for us people who require to cite and generate bibliographies within Word, Mendeley scores. As one of the early guys to sign up as an Advisor for Mendeley, I got some perks and got to introduce several happy users to it; here is one such. A customised Mendeley presentation based on their free one that I use for quick overviews is below:

Mendeley overview-presentation june1 from NS Prashanth


4 responses to “Refly speaking”

  1. I wish I had seen this post a month ago!

  2. “But, for us people who require to cite and generate bibliographies within Word, Mendeley scores”-how? I see no difference in Zotero and Mendeley in this regard.

    1. True. There is no difference between the two (Zotero and Mendeley) in that regard. I was a Zotero user long back, in the days when there was no function citing function. Actually, I liked Zotero, but for the fact that it was Firefox-based (then), I might not have moved. But, I just read that it has moved quite far in its development! The recent comparison charts show that there is not much difference in the features between Mendeley and Zotero, but for the size of the interface.

      Thanks for pointing out the error!

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