Thousands of academics are at risk of having lost work because of a technical error in Elsevier’s reference management tool, Mendeley.
The glitch occurred when users were asked to download the updates to the latest version of the tool, prompted by notifications at the end of May.
Tadek Markiewicz, a PhD candidate in international conflict analysis and assistant lecturer at the University of Kent, told Times Higher Education he had lost “at least thousands of hours” of work in the form of literature reviews, notes and archival research undertaken in preparation for his PhD project.
“I am a yet-to-be academic in the most precarious stage of my career,” he said. “I have spent years working on a project I decided to give my life to. I was working on my PhD, academic articles, book project – all the while organising two academic panels at leading international relations conferences. My work and my career are endangered by a corporate mistake.”
Releasing a statement, Mendeley said “a small number of users, less than 2 per cent” had experienced issues as a result of the problem. But with the cloud-based service boasting more than six million researchers worldwide, up to 120,000 users could be affected.
The software is largely used by researchers to make in-text notes and annotations to PDFs and other files. Mr Markiewicz said that, while it was possible to use other programmes to do this, most relied on Mendeley as “a perfect tool” to help “aggregate information, summarise hours of our work and condense long texts into short, crisp ‘data servings’”.
“Without [these notes] our work in social sciences is in peril. An academic without its library annotations is like a tourist without a map,” he added.
Mendeley support teams responded to customer complaints by putting into place a temporary “workaround” fix, but a number of users said they still faced problems.
One PhD student at the University of Vermont posted on Twitter: “My PDFs are still missing even after trying the workarounds.”
Another user asked the support service: “All of my PDFs are missing from the cloud and my local machine and the workarounds are not working. Are these PDFs still backed up on your server somewhere? If not, this has devastated my work and I will absolutely be cancelling my subscription.”
“All of my PDFs are missing from the cloud and my local machine,” a third added. “Please help me...This is a catastrophe.”
A Mendeley spokesman said the company were unable to confirm whether or not individuals’ work would be completely recovered or not.
He said: “A small number of users, less than 2 per cent , are experiencing issues with missing PDFs and slow CPU speeds on Mendeley Desktop and Mendeley Web Library as a result of a recent update.
“We apologise for this and are working hard to resolve these issues. Whilst we work on a permanent fix there is a workaround solution that can be found on the Mendeley blog. If users continue to have problems they should contact Mendeley customer support.”