Emacs for Scholars

At Emacsconf 2015, Erik Hetzner gave a very interesting talk on Making Emacs a Better Tool for Scholars. Hetzner works for the Public Library of Science, which publishes about 30,000 papers every year. He notes that about 90% of those papers are submitted in Microsoft Word. Word is OK, he says, but not really a very good tools for scholars. In his quest to provide better tools he is looking at ways that Emacs can better meet scholars' needs.

Hetzner makes an observation I hadn't thought about before: the needs of scholars and programmers are remarkably similar. Where programmers talk about refactoring their code, scholars talk about revising/editing their papers but they are both concerned with adding, deleting, moving, and changing text.

There are more similarities. For example, scholars need to version control their papers. The publication cycle can be years long and perhaps changes specific to one or more journals will need to be made. Version control makes this easy as well as helping with collaboration.

An even less obvious similarity is the need to compile the results of the editing. In the case of scholars this may involve integrating citations; generating and adding graphs, figures, and charts; handling cross references; and dealing with one or more output format for the paper (HTML, PDF, ePub, etc.).

As Hetzner says, Org mode is Emacs' secret weapon. Along with Babel, it gives researchers everything they need to do their calculations, graphs, and other processing right in the paper's source file. Or, of course, to make reproducible research easy and natural. When it comes time to generate output, Org can generate a PDF, HTML, or, for those poor souls whose publishers require it, DOC.

The talk is a little over 30 and a half minutes so plan accordingly. You can see the slides from the talk on Hetzner's Web site.

UPDATE: Fixed link to slides.

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