I’ve been putting off writing this post for a long time. It should be a slam dunk for me, since I use all three citation resources in this Thing, but there’s more involved here than academics, and I have some instinctive horror of mixing academia and politics, so I kept worrying at this post. Best to just type it up, put it out there, get on with my life, and nip that incipient ulcer in the bud.
The site that’s keeping me from sleep is the citation resource site I would like to use most, Mendeley. And the reason is purely politics.
Let’s start at the beginning of my quest for citation management. At first I stored references in Diigo, but once I decided I wanted to see what other people were citing, I knew it wasn’t enough, so I moved over to CiteULike. And that was fine for the social bookmarking aspects, but I had to add a heavy reliance on Dropbox and Son of Citation Machine to share articles and organize citations for papers.
Then I found Zotero, which at least solved the problem of organizing citations. I like their Word addon, didn’t like that it was browser dependent (which is less of an issue since they published their standalone application). At school we only have Internet Explorer, so I kept looking, and stumbled across Mendeley.
It wasn’t love at first sight, but I did find the site more useful than the alternatives, so I put the references for my end-of-term paper on literacy in a Mendeley library. Then I got an e-mail from Mendeley, inviting me to become a Mendeley Advisor — a sort of goodwill ambassador for the site. I’m not sure why they sent someone who’d just signed up such an invitation (because there are few Israelis who use it?), but I did like what I’d seen of it so far and they offered me a T-shirt (which I still haven’t received) so I joined the Advisor group.
And that’s where the trouble started. I started to fill out my profile and was happy to see that books and articles I’d worked on over the past 20 years were all there. Then I went to put in the school were I study — no such city is listed in Israel. I shot off an email to Mendeley support and they quickly added the school’s city. Now what about the town where I live?
Ah, that’s more complicated, they said. You see, I live in a Jewish town on the West Bank, and adding any towns on the West Bank is politically sensitive. At first I was inclined to accept that, but then I did some digging, and found that there were several West Bank Arab towns listed — but no Jewish/Israeli towns. I wrote support again, pointing out that fair’s fair — if they’re worried about being politically sensitive, they should either list several Israeli West Bank towns as they do several Arab ones, or no Arab West Bank towns as they do no Israeli ones.
A nice tech support person named Charlotte, who’d been helping me all along, said she’d have to take it up with her manager. Two weeks later I reminded her I was waiting and she said the manager said it had to be kicked up to the board of directors. Two weeks later I sent another e-mail, asking what had happened, and two weeks after that another — neither of which was answered.
I’m inclined to write this off to the known British academic bias in favor of Arab claims to the area and against the Israeli, but they could have been honest enough to say so from the start. I’m in the process of writing a small blurb for Scholars for Peace in the Middle East, in the hopes that some of their 40,000 members will also write Mendeley for explanations. They might ignore one user, but there’s power in numbers. I don’t want to change the site’s policy — I’d just like them to admit to it in writing.
In the meanwhile, I’ve cancelled the program I had scheduled at school to extoll the virtues of Mendeley; a silent bias does not strike me as a worthwhile academic stand to support.