Hello Again, 2006: The Economics of Reference Management Software

The tiny and insular world where academia, technology, and business converge buzzed all day yesterday (and continues to do so today) about publishing giant Elsevier’s rumored bid to purchase Mendeley for $100M. TechCrunch’s dependably credulous reporter duly transcribed the leaker’s claims that publishing is “the world that Mendeley is disrupting.” But this story has really nothing to do with a “disruption” in academic publishing, and if anything what we’re seeing is a reversion to 2006 or so. When Zotero launched then, the major players were Endnote (Thomson Reuters) and RefWorks (ProQuest), each owned by a major content provider. And now in 2013 we can add to that stable of publisher-owned reference managers Papers (Springer) and, apparently, Mendeley (Elsevier).

As someone who has led a successful and sustainable project in this space for over six years, I’d like to put this rumor in perspective, because it speaks volumes about the space of academic research software, even if the Elsevier purchase never materializes.
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A Digital Humanities Tenure Case, Part 1: “The Talk”

Is there anything that promotes introspective hand-wringing like the heady mix of tenure, promotion, and the digital humanities? The Journal of Digital Humanities recently explored this issue, and especially interesting contributions by Mark Sample and Katherine D. Harris offer retrospective looks at the role played by the digital humanities in their happily-ending tenure cases.

I’d like to go a bit further in raising the curtain on what’s unnecessarily viewed as a secretive and mysterious process, particularly when it involves digital humanities. Some of this mystery stems from the fact that there just aren’t that many people seeking tenure yet on digital grounds. But much of it is self-inflicted, because candidates are reluctant to disclose what’s happening, except perhaps after the fact like Mark. I’m going to raise the stakes by describing my case while it’s still very much unfolding. Since it would be unrelentingly dull to narrate the entire affair in real time (see timetable below), I decided to wait until now, around the halfway point, to begin posting.
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Only a Historian

“The world needs ditch diggers too.” –Judge Smails, Caddyshack (1980)

At last week’s Digital Humanities Luxembourg (DHLU) symposium, a common refrain could be heard in nearly every presentation: “I’m only a historian.” Uttered apologetically at the beginning of a number of presentations, after two days it became the object of parody and ultimately comprised part of organizer Frédéric Clavert’s excellent concluding remarks. But despite the snickering each time it was heard, there was little investigation of what was behind this phrase. I think it actually reveals something important about the state of DH, perhaps especially in Europe but hardly exclusively so.1
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  1. DH=digital history in this piece, though the concerns obviously have broader applicability in the digital humanities. []

PressForward Joins Forces with OpenEdition

I’m pleased to announce a new partnership between PressForward and OpenEdition. PressForward is the Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media’s project to study and produce alternative means scholarly communication. OpenEdition, led by the Centre for Open Electronic Publishing in Marseille, shares many of the same goals but on a much larger scale: it seeks to develop a sustainable digital platform for publishing scholarly content and will be supported over eight years by a 7 million euro grant funded by the French Higher Education and Research Ministry. Our role at RRCHNM will be to develop and support PressForward’s multilingual integration into OpenEditions’s overall platform.
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Survivorship Bias, Survivor Guilt, and Opportunity Cost

N.B. For best results, try to get Destiny’s Child’s “Survivor” going in your head before proceeding.

Two recent blog posts by Larry Cebula and Holger Syme highlight the deep divide that separates the pessimists from the optimists in academia. Cebula explains why he steers his students away from pursuing a career as a professor, essentially arguing that the odds are simply too stacked against them even under the best of conditions. Syme, in contrast, suggests that Cebula’s dream-crushing advice is short-sighted and ultimately dangerous to the long-term viability of the profession. While Cebula’s reasoning will be familiar to many — he’s working the same rich vein as has William Pannapacker under his nom de doom Thomas H. Benton in the Chronicle of Higher Education — I suspect he’s also still greatly outnumbered among the greater population of academics, thanks in no small part to survivorship bias and an unwillingness to grapple with the unforgiving calculus of opportunity cost.
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