Scientist Sees Squirrel is five years old today. That’s not very old for a human, a whale, or an oak tree, but it feels like something of an accomplishment for a blog. So, no new post this week; instead, a few reflections on the squirrels along the way.
Metaphorical squirrels, that is. I christened the blog Scientist Sees Squirrel because I’m pretty easily distracted, scientifically, and I was pretty sure I couldn’t predict what I’d be blogging about. Well, I nailed that one! I’ve been all over the map, and for those of you who have been following for a while, I hope you haven’t been too frustrated by that.
In five years, I’ve written about 365 posts for Scientist Sees Squirrel (not counting guest posts). At around 1,000 words each on average, by word count that’s just about eight Fahrenheit 451s, three The Hobbits, two Great Expectationses, one Anna Karenina, two-thirds of aWar and Peace, or one quarter of an À la recherche du temps perdu. (All right, I’ll stop now.) Today, just a few highlights and curiosities.
- My most-read post is “Why Do We Make Statistics So Hard For Our Students?” – having been read almost 20,000 times. That’s a bit surprising, given that it’s a slightly technical exposition of how inferential statistics work and how I think we should best teach the subject. But it’s a highly-ranked search result for the Google query Why is statistics so hard? – which, it turns out, is a question Google gets asked a lot.
- My least-read post is “The Garden of Insects”. Really, it deserves that ignominy (a mere 144 people have made its acquaintance; most probably regretted it). It’s one of a series of science-outreach pieces I write for the newsletter of our local Botanic Garden, and so doesn’t exactly fit with the bulk of my content; and even amongst those, I think it’s my least interesting piece. So, here’s a tip: at least this time, don’t click on the link.
- How about a post with inexplicable rise from the dead? I wrote “Why On Earth Are Flowers Beautiful?” in September of 2018, and it made about as much splash as a pollen grain settling onto a wave-chopped pond – just 225 reads in its first month. Weirdly, though, in the summer of 2019 it came to life and started attracting clicks – by fall it was being read 40 times a day (6,000 times over the second half of 2019). I have no idea why it was ignored when I first posted it, and I have no idea why it suddenly became popular. I never thought it was a terrible post, but I never considered it one of my most important ones either. Unlike “Why Do We Make Statistics So Hard For Our Students?” it isn’t the answer to any obvious Google curiosity; and I can’t find any evidence of a share on a popular subreddit or a retweet by Taylor Swift. I’d love to know what happened – but I probably never will. (By the way, what goes up must come down; “Why On Earth Are Flowers Beautiful” has fallen off to about 5 reads/day.)
- I’d be the first to admit that a lot of what I write isn’t terribly important. A lot of posts are about things that just happen to interest me, and some are just plain silly (“Grand Unified Theory of Potato Chips”, anyone?). But I’m gratified that people have found some of my posts useful; “An Introvert Goes Conferencing” is perhaps the example I’m happiest about.
- Finally, like anyone who writes a blog, I have a collection of little favourite orphans – posts that nobody (much) read, but that for various reasons I really like. Here are three: the recent “Scientific Wisdom of Chief Inspector Armand Gamache”; a meditation on geology, landscape, and climate change called “Where the Earth Shows Its Bones”; and a piece about one of Robert Boyle’s early and very strange papers, “Robert Boyle’s Monstrous Head”, which I think makes some useful points about what science is and how we decide. If you have a few spare moments, why not click through to one of these, and make me happy?
Five years in. I wonder what I’ll write about in year six?
© Stephen Heard January 3, 2019
Image: Nine different specimen of squirrels. Coloured etching by J. Bower after J. Stewart. Wellcome Collection, claimed as CC BY 4.0