Tech tip – Zotero FREE referencing software

I use Endnote as my referencing software because UNE provides it free to postgrads and the wonderful library staff run an excellent training course on using it as well as providing very useful notes on their website and being willing to answer questions when you get stuck. I can even take my laptop up to the library and one of the librarians will show me what I am doing wrong.  :-) I will therefore continue to use it – that and I have about 600 records in my Endnote library.

However, not everyone is in such a fortunate position and Tim Bulkeley over at Sansblogue has two posts on Zotero, a free bibliographic software program available on the web.  The first gives an overview of how it works on the web and the second has two animated film-thingies (aka instructional videos) that show you how to use it and how to integrate it into your word processor.  This sounds like an excellent resource for researchers on a tight budget and/or attached to an institution with different priorities for their spending.

Belated anniversary post

This blog turned one on 14 January, which was two days ago here in Australia, but perhaps only one day ago in other parts of the world. I meant to post something on the day, but was otherwise occupied (producing a powerpoint on Australian culture for new international students which I had promised to have ready for a meeting on the morning of 15th, actually).

It has proved far more popular that my work blog which mainly seems to be found by spammers. It has also been more interesting to write, despite it’s rather unimaginative title. Perhaps that’s the thing that makes it more appealing to visitors – it has contained my opinions and work, whereas the chaplaincy blog has mainly been a collection of articles of interest written by others, and notices of forthcoming events.

I have found my first year in the blogosphere an interesting and enlightening one, as well as being entertaining. I remain constantly grateful to Monash University Gippsland for giving me my first computer and telling me that if I could make it do something, it was probably all right to do it and to Matthew Spinks, the computer science doctoral student at Monash who assured me that what every chaplain really needed was a website and he’d teach me how to hand code it. The internet has made a potentially quite isolated year of doctoral studies significantly more collegial.

So, my task for the next little while is to contemplate whether I want to celebrate by coming up with a new title or whether I should just leave well enough alone.

Tech Tip – Megaupload toolbar

I just did something very stupid and not at all like me – I installed a piece of free software without checking it out, despite my reservations. I got an e-newsletter from Brian McLaren which said that someone had loaded one of his early records onto the net and I was fascinated, because I didn’t realise that he had made records, so I followed the link. It said I needed to install this software and I did.

It is spyware. It also highjacks your browser and tries to route it through their site, which means that you can no longer access any of the subscription journals through your library’s catalogue. And I couldn’t work out how to get the download to work.

I quickly decided to uninstall it. It seemed to uninstall quite well from Internet Explorer, but not from Firefox. Although I also needed to uninstall the Yahoo toolbar that it also installed, and the Yahoo installation software. I googled a solution and found a very complex techie one that involved installing Hijack This and looking at log files. I didn’t have any of the files, but I did have a directory called Megaupload Toolbar, which I deleted. I wasn’t able to do several of the other techie things because I couldn’t get Hijack this to work in Safe Mode.

I then found another site that told me that I needed to uninstall it from Firefox directly. This worked like a charm – I think. So, it seems that what you need to do is uninstall it and the two Yahoo files using the Control Panel, then uninstall the plugin directly from Firefox by clicking on tools Tools and then Addons, and then remove the folder in Program Files that is called Megaupload. You may or may not need to clear your cache in any browsers you have installed – I did this early on. You do need to run your anti-spyware software and remove anything that shouldn’t be on your computer, however.

It appears that contrary to techie advice, you do not need to turn off your system restore before you reboot after this.

Of course, a more sensible route is not to install the rotten software in the first place!!! :-(

Milman Parry and Oral Transmission of the Gospels

This afternoon I went to the library to borrow a copy of the collection of Milman Parry’s work that appears in The Making of Homeric Verse and the librarian who checked it out for me commented that it was a fairly hefty book on a topic about which arguably little could be known. He also wanted to know if I thought it had anything to do with the material I’m working on (which he knows to be the Gospel of Thomas).

When I said that it was one of the classics on oral transmission and that the gospels are thought to have been transmitted orally for years before they were written down, he said “Well, yes, but Homeric verse is poetry and surely there are significant differences between the kinds of things you’d use to flesh out the story line in poetry and prose?” This is something that had also occurred to me and is part of the reason for my failure to read Parry before this, despite my interest in oral transmission.

That and the fact that Parry is on reserve in our library which means that during term time you have to compete against undergrads for access and can only take it out of the library overnight. During the holidays, however, you can liberate it from the library after 4 pm on Friday and not have to have it back until 9 am on Monday because the library is closed on the weekend. There are occasional advantages to the reduction in library services when the undergrads are away!

So, this weekend I plan to read Parry, or at least some of it, and try to decide for myself how much of his work on oral transmission of Homeric poetry has any direct application to the oral transmission of the gospels. Of course, seeing I’m also leading worship on Sunday morning and don’t have it fully prepared yet, I may need to borrow Parry again next weekend. Fortunately, normal library hours don’t resume until 18 February. I don’t imagine I’ll come up with any earth-shattering insights, but I will have read it, which, as noted in my last post and James’ response, is the important thing. :-)

A cautionary tale for researchers

Ever been tempted just to cite something that someone else has cited without checking the reference? You know, to say “Wheelbarrow cites Schnittwinkel to show that X is true” without bothering to read Schnittwinkel yourself? Especially if the Schnittwinkel article is in German (or some other language that you don’t read all that well) and you know that it will take you quite some time to make sure that you’ve understood it correctly? Well, I will be tempted no more! Not after yesterday’s research.

There is a very famous paper by Allport and Postman (1945) often cited in the psychological literature about eyewitness testimony that shows how racial stereotyping can influence eyewitness testimony. Allport and Postman showed their participants a picture of an African American man in a suit talking to an Anglo man in overalls, holding a cutthroat razor by his side. They are standing on a subway station. When questioned about it (a week or so later), over half of the participants remembered the razor in the hand of the African American and some of them had him threatening the Anglo with it. Lots of people have cited it, very much as I have.

Except that this is not actually what Allport and Postman did. They actually gave some people a picture showing the event I’ve described above and asked them to describe it while looking at the picture themselves to someone else who couldn’t see it . The second person (still without seeing the picture) then described it to another person, who described it to another, and so on. There were about six people in each “rumour chain” and in over half the rumour chains the razor switched from person to person at some stage in the retellings.

It’s not about eyewitness testimony at all. It’s about the way rumours spread. It was even published first in a paper called The basic psychology of rumor and then in a book called The Psychology of Rumor!

In 1989 (so a mere 44 years after the original) Molly Treadway and Michael McCloskey from Johns Hopkins published a really interesting paper in Applied Cognitive Psychology pointing out that quite a number of people over the intervening four and a bit decades had clearly not read Allport and Postman’s paper very carefully, if at all, because they’d all described the eyewitness version rather than the rumour version. The previous year Julian Boon and Graham Davies from the University of Aberdeen published a paper in the Canadian Journal of Behavioural Science which pointed out the problem without listing those who had mis-cited the original research.

Oh, ooops!! I’m not all that impressed with some of Treadway and McCloskey’s analysis of their attempts to replicate the research that people said Allport and Postman carried out, but I bet there were some red faces when it first hit the streets (or whatever psych journals actually hit).

Fortunately, my regular visits to Mark’s Theological German/Theologisches Deutsch are improving my German reading skills and I can sometimes even skim read German text with understanding, which is also helping to reduce the temptation to report citings unseen, even in German. -)

And for those who are not good at recognising humour in written form and who haven’t seen my collection of painstakingly gathered journal articles and photocopied book sections, no, I do not make a habit of citing material that I haven’t read. There are just days when I wish I could!

Expository Preaching

There is an interesting discussion on Tim Bulkely’s Sansblogue about preaching. In it, one of the people who has posted comments talks about the need for expository preaching – preaching based on the text – rather than simply using the text selectively to back up personal opinions.

While I agree that it is good to base one’s sermons on a biblical text, I think there are a range of ways of doing this, and some of them are more valid than others. I am reminded of some sermons and talks at Christian conventions that I’ve attended, where the preacher/speaker takes the text serious in minute detail. He (it is always he) takes a few words from the text and expands on them, telling us how important a particular adjective or adverb is to how the text applies to the lives of the audience. When I was in my late teens and early twenties, I used to find this fascinating and be quite awestruck by the depth of the speaker’s biblical understanding.

Looking back, though, this kind of speaker was rarely looking at the Greek/Hebrew text for his source, so he was basing his exposition on English synonyms and grammatical structure, which is quite often problematic. In addition, the more I look at oral transmission and the psychological literature on eyewitness testimony, the more convinced I become of the invalidity of this kind of text work. What people remember about an event they’ve witness can be so skewed by a range of factors that attributing some divine importance to one or two particular words is simply not on, unless you subscribe to the “divine secretary” theory of inspiration of Scripture (ie that the writers of the biblical texts simply took dictation from God).

I believe that we need to look at the big picture – the themes that are consistent throughout scripture – not the fine detail, for our understanding about authentic Christian lifestyles. Fine detail analysis of text is essential to ensure that we have the big picture right, but the fine detail analysis needs to be of the texts in their original languages as far as possible, and in the context in which they were written.

However, a day or three ago, Chris Tilling’s Quote for the Day over on Chrisendom was from Andrew Perriman and it reminded me of another problem with expository preaching. Perriman talks about the fact that the Bible is not a modern text and was not written to address modern circumstances and therefore should be strange and irrelevant, not immediately accessible to the modern reader/hearer. I’m not sure that I agree with the “should” but it often is and I think that one of the problems of the person who has grown up with or has extensive experience of Christianity from within the church is that they simply don’t realise just how inaccessible the Bible is to the modern reader without a church background. In your average church service, there simply isn’t the time to spend providing the background to help the congregation understand why you are saying that the big picture is what it is – at least in the churches I attend where people start fidgetting after about 15 minutes and cannot be guaranteed to come week after week so they will get all the parts of a series.

A preacher who is trying to work from the text is therefore left with no option but the “trust me – I’m ordained/have studied theology” line, and generally most members of most congregations do trust the preacher not to be making stuff up from thin air, which is quite a sobering thought, really. I mean, how many “biblical facts” have you believed for years on the basis that some preacher years ago said they were true only to find that they actually are not? Preaching is actually quite scarey if you stop to think about it for too long!

Update: Thanks to Pat McCullough of kata ta biblia for explaining how to get a direct link to the Sansblogue post. :-)