There has been a somewhat heated debate in Roderic Page’s blog about Mendeley’s hype in the current reference management scenario. Also, I was forwarded to this blog post, which praises the right horse in the ref-management race, Zotero. The comments in that post are pure gold, showing how PR in science is pernicious to science itself. I will give two examples.
For those who don’t know, I’m one of the poster-boys of the anti-Mendeley movement. Not because I want to be a poster-boy, but because I’m not afraid to confront their PR machine, even more after the censorship attempt. One of the worst aspects of this efficient PR machine is to use scientists to inflate the hype on the so-called social media websites, and answer everyone that might be criticizing the program in blogs and any other site. I have in high regard both (AFAIK, they are two) scientists that are paid by Mendeley. In so high regard, that one of them, Ricardo, is joining our research group.
I can’t say that what they are doing is wrong, far from it, it’s a honest money, and they do the work very well. They are highly connected on the different social websites, and very influential. And it doesn’t seem that what they do is only for money, they seem to enjoy the software and are very attentive to comments about it on Twitter and Friendfeed (the two sites I used to follow). But I also can’t say that is not morally wrong to do this. Maybe moral is too strong, but it’s in the neighbourhood. For the non-trained eye, what they are doing might seem like a personal crusade to support Mendeley, there’s no disclaimer, no warning that they are paid to do so. If you don’t google it, you won’t now that they are Mendeley employees. And that’s where they are wrong: every post, comment they do, they should include a disclaimer, because they have conflicting interests. That’s the least they can do.
One of the arguments used by the Mendeley’s employee when he tried to censor me, was that if I continue to criticize the software, it will disappear and science as a whole would lose the possibility of using such a marvelous creation. What science doesn’t need is an obnoxious PR machine, that every time you say that Mendeley sucks (true) you will get lots of comments saying that they are working to remove the suckage from it. As I said, for the untrained eye, just two guys that really like Mendeley, the truth, employees.
The other example is a little bit obscure to Northern Hemisphere (and some Southern too) citizens, and comes from a country where the moral and good habits have fled Science a long time ago. I remember in the late 90’s going to a Brazilian Genetics Society Meeting and seeing a very dubious advertisement on the conference’s guide: Monsanto. It was the start of the genetically modified plants craze, and Monsanto was starting to invest heavily on soy and corn plantations in Brazil. I have nothing against genetically modified plants, nothing against the betterment of science and food crops. But I have a lot against the Genetics Society accepting an advertisement from such a company, with so many conflicting interests, as some members of the society influence the decisions of the government body that decides on the use or not of genetically modified seeds.
For a common Brazilian, used to some much corruption in every sphre of the government, that might not seem bad at all. But for the scientific society to accept that without saying anything, that’s pretty bad. And this is not a small meeting, around 3000 people attend every year. And Monsanto is still a large advertiser, even today. No wonder, almost no discussion was generated when the genetically modified seeds were approved to be used on crops. What is the moral of a scientific society to criticize Monsanto now? Are they willing to lose the support? The company is doing the PR, the scientists are just being amoral.
So, these are just small examples of how bad scientific PR is for science. I know, I know, I’m an old skool guy, with some principles that I don’t try to sell, and we’re a living in a new time and age. I just don’t know if this is the right time and age for me, where everything, even a irrelevant software company becomes a nuisance in your daily life. Maybe if Mendeley wasn’t around we will be saying good things about the good ref-management programs available, instead of being constantly bombarded with hype and PR gibberish. But that just me.
I will cut every comment praising Mendeley, from Mendeley staff, from Ricardo and Mr Gunn that doesn’t contain a full disclaimer of their activities. They have enough platforms to praise it.