Squirrels, serendipity, and the reach of a blog

Photo: Whitehead’s pygmy squirrel (Exilisciurus whiteheadi), © Chi’en C. Lee via www.chienclee.com, used by permission.

Inspired by similar exercises from Small Pond Science and The Lab and Field, I present a few more weird and wonderful search terms by which Scientist Sees Squirrel has been found.  These are all real, I swear – and they’re only the tip of the iceberg.

But while the searches are amusing, at the end I do want to draw a couple of serious conclusions – feel free to scroll right down there if you’re not in the mood for frivolity.

Search terms in bold italic:


squirrel simulations

It’s true that simulated squirrels are cheaper than real ones, and they don’t bite as much. But I think you’re really after Andrew Hendry’s provocative post on doing field science even when it’s hard.  (Finds my post on teaching population dynamics with simulations)


squirrel acknowledgements

Yes, it might be fun to acknowledge some squirrels – maybe I’ll try to sneak that by in my next paper.  But I really don’t understand what you thought you’d learn by Googling it.  (Finds my post on the Best Acknowledgments Section Ever)


what is the right scale plot for onion

If you’re plotting your onions, you’re doing it wrong. They’re delicious.  Although come to think of it, I guess I have been known to plot my food before eating it(Finds my post using potato chip flavours to illustrate the interpretation of ternary plots.)


latin names that arent too latin

This does sound silly – I mean, how about a great novel that isn’t too great, or a blue sky that isn’t too blue?  But in fact Latin names are often only a little bit Latin, and have roots in many other languages.  So while it probably isn’t what the searcher expected, it isn’t unreasonable that this finds my post on “Latin” Names That Aren’t Latin.


write in short about how gou spend yourt time

OK. My friend Gou spent an hour playing Parcheesi in a yurt. You’re welcome.  (Finds my post asking How Much Time Do You Spend Writing?)


never be a department chair

Look, having been one, I can certainly understand the sentiment.  But if we all avoid the things we don’t feel like doing, we might not like the world we end up with.  So I hope that by leading to my post So You’re “Not Interested” In Being Department Chair, this search subverted an opinion.


romance novels with scientists

Bizarrely, this one isn’t actually a weird search accident – it turns out to be perfectly reasonable that someone interested in romance novels with scientists would be directed to my blog.  I’m adding this to my list of sentences I could never have imagined myself typing.  (Finds my post on Why So Few Novels About Scientists?)


how to write like barbara cartland

Even more bizarrely, this isn’t a weird search accident either.  I’ve also posted about the romance novelist Barbara Cartland, and what lessons she holds for scientific writers; so this search finds my post on whether Barbara Cartland was a genius, and whether you are.  But wow, #ThingsISeemToBeAnAccidentalExpertOn.


am a reject piece

 Please don’t think that about yourself.  Also, please don’t make me think about why Google might steer this search to me.  (Eventually finds my post Should You Appeal When A Journal Rejects Your Paper, but way, way down a rather disturbing list of hits)


scientific name of wonderful

Yes, I wrote my entire series on Wonderful Latin Names just so this Google search would find my blog and make me very, very happy.

OK, I promised a few more serious thoughts.  Early in the writing of Scientist Sees Squirrel, nearly all the searches that found it were weird.  But that’s changing; increasingly, people asking real, sensible questions get directed to the blog*, and the weird searches are now a small minority.  Mostly, I feel good about this.  People say “write for yourself”, and I do – but at the same time, there isn’t much point posting unless you also want to reach readers.  So I’m pleased to see Scientist Sees Squirrel become a resource, even though my introverted side occasionally struggles with the notion that having readers means that, well, people read what I say.  And I’m proud of a few posts that people seem to find quite useful**.

I think there are two useful messages here.  First, if you think you have something to say, it’s worth saying it; despite reports of the death of blogging, there’s clearly still value in producing blog content.  Second, and a little more prescriptively: things you write may have influence (modest in my case, but still).  So it’s worth making sure they’ll have influence in a good direction – that they’re decently argued; that they move the culture and practice of science forward, not backward; that they don’t punch down; and so on (that sounds a bit grandiose, I know).  I don’t mean potential bloggers should be paralyzed in fear of saying something wrong.  Sooner or later I will; we all do.  Rather, I’m suggesting that it’s worth writing things you believe in and writing them with some reasonable care.  After all, you never know when a search for squirrel simulations will cast someone up on the rocky shoals of your blog.  I hope those washed up on the shoals of mine haven’t regretted it too much.

© Stephen Heard (sheard@unb.ca) February 27, 2017

If you like this sort of thing, here are the first and second instalments, heavier on the frivolity and without the tedious moral message.

*^The two most common such questions are variants on “how do plants prepare for winter” and “why is statistics so hard”

**^For example, my posts on conferencing as an introvert, on how to teach the conceptual basis of statistics, or on what to do when you get what seems to be an idiotic review.


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