This is my 500th post on Scientist Sees Squirrel*, and my goodness, that’s quite the logorrheic accomplishment.
When I started this blog, back in January of 2015, I really didn’t know where it was going. (Like many of my major life decisions, starting a blog wasn’t thoroughly thought out.) It’s astonishing to me that I’m still at it, nearly 7 years later; and that I’ve written 500 posts and thus, roughly, 550,000 words. That’s just a little bit less verbiage than War and Peace, and a little more than Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (the doorstopperiest of the series) and Moby Dick (which, by the way, carries an important lesson for scientific writers) combined.
Like Dynamic Ecology, I know I’ll eventually stop spelling ‘banana’; but not yet. Blogs are dying, and readership here has plateaued (there’s even some evidence it’s dropping off, although it’s a little hard to tell). So maybe I’m swimming upstream, but I still seem to have some things to say, and at least some folks still enjoy hearing them. There are more squirrels to come; but right now I think I’ve earned just a little bit of navel gazing. So, amongst those 500 posts, here are a few that stand out to me for various reasons.
- My most popular post, and I have no idea why, is Friends Don’t Let Friends Use “c.f.”. Five years later, this post still gets read about 40 times a day – and it’s trivial. Well, mostly trivial. It’s a list of common Latin abbreviations, with the observation that “c.f.” is frequently misused and how that’s an example of semantic drift in our language. And this has been read 30,000 times? The best part of the post, by the way, is the You Can Call Me et. Al parody lyrics, but I can’t even claim credit, as they’re from Alex Bond.
- Dueling for second place are two posts that I think are actually useful. For The Love Of All That Is Holy, Stop Writing “Utilize” takes a potshot at one of our most egregious writing bad habits – and it’s one that generalizes well. In scientific writing, we sure do like using long fancy words when short plain ones mean the same thing. And Why Do We Make Statistics So Hard For Our Students tackles what I think is a huge bit of pedagogical malpractice: we (university academics, both in biology departments and math/stats ones) tend to teach statistics in ways that make it really awful for students. The post suggests an alternative that I think can help a lot. I use it myself, in our graduate biostats course.
- Once or twice, a post has gone semi-viral. This seems to involve a post getting picked up by some kind of news aggregator or appearing on a browser’s suggestions screen. I have no idea how or why this happens, and especially no idea why it happened to Court: “Spiders are insects.” Biologists: “Say what?”. My one and only foray into the law (and Alabama law, at that). As you might expect, though, if you understand the particular dimensions of my nerdiness, it involves insects, the history of science, and the evolution of language. At any rate: it was read 16,000 times in a week, and then promptly and thoroughly forgotten.
- A lot of the time I blog because I feel like getting something off my chest, or because I’m not actually sure what I think about something and want to find out by writing about it. And often, I’ve just gone down some very nerdy rabbit hole and want to share it. But sometimes I really do think that what I have to say could help people. It’s very satisfying when I hear from someone that a post actually did help them – especially, when that someone is one of our early career colleagues. So I’m particularly proud of An Introvert Goes Conferencing and of Don’t Fear Falling At The Edge Of Knowledge.
- I’m sure you’ve noticed my nerdy fascination with Latin names. There are dozens of posts about them – and I know not everyone shares my fascination, because as a rule, they aren’t terribly popular. (Yes, I took my least popular blogging topic, and wrote a whole book about it. Remember what I said about major life decisions?) The one that got the most attention was the most trivial: my coverage of the newly named myxobacterium Myxococcus llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogochensis, which currently holds the record for the longest Latin name. But I’m determined to keep spreading the word that scientific naming is often not trivial: it involve creativity, and history, and social justice, and the culture and practice of science. History, Conservation, and Privilege: All In A Falcon’s Name finds all these in the name of Eleanora’s Falcon, and I wish this story was more widely known than it is.
- Finally: I once wrote a post that was so weird (even for me) that I don’t think anyone has ever read it all the way through: Vultures for England: A Modest Proposal. It takes a Jonathan Swiftian approach to the biology of species invasions, with detours through the representation of birds in the plays of William Shakespeare and in the western novels of Zane Grey. (I did mention it was weird, even for me).
A lot of folks have been reading Scientist Sees Squirrel for a long time. If you’ve gotten this far through this post, you’re probably one of them. Is there a post that (for better or for worse) stuck with you? Tell me, please, in the Replies. You can help me navel-gaze.
© Stephen Heard December 7, 2021
Image: 500 © Tom Magliery via flickr.com CC BY-SA-NC 2.0 (Marker for a tree’s 500th growth ring, Lighthouse Park, West Vancouver).
*^To be honest, I’m not exactly sure of the number. WordPress tells me I’ve published somewhat more than 500, but a few have been guest posts and one or two I’ve posted twice (with revisions). As nit-pickingly pedantic as I can be at times, I can’t bring myself to do a careful count.
I think I only recently began reading “Scientist Sees Squirrel” but your prose makes me want to read all of your previous posts! I have also found that my most read blog posts are some of my most random, and certainly not my favorites, but they help people nonetheless. My views have also started to decline this year, and I honestly took it as a personal failure, but now I think I will reconsider that people are just moving towards new forms of media.
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The decline of blog readership is definitely general, and has been going on for a while. So don’t take it as a personal failure, for sure!
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I was just going to use “c.f.”! But now I won’t 😀
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Blogs have been completely and utterly dead for at least a decade or two! Well, at least according to the most insightful news portals. But for me, blog (esp. if it is like this one) is just a bunch of texts. And texts, despite the invention of radio and television etc., are still going strong. And even in the world where 90% of people are illiterate (e.g. Dark Medieval times on Earth), text still play a significant role shaping the lives of the masses. So, I, personally do not see any reason to stop blogging (and I mostly blog in Estonian, which is spoken by just a tiny tribe in a little strip of boreal forest up north…). Keep on going!
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Congrats on the milestone(ish)! And I’m pleased that you’re sticking with it.
Over the past several months the blogging muse has rarely asked me out for coffee, but that’s only a reflection of me handling everything else not so well. So when I get my act together, I will probably pick up the habit once again. Because I’ve noticed there’s a positive association with blogging and writing elsewhere, and I’ve got to get back to writing more in general.
Congratulations! And now for a self-serving suggestion, since I like reading the blog and hope you too don’t go into a Dynamic Estivation too soon: Re-post more reruns! Reuse, recycle, and reduce work on yourself. So you & we can stretch it out. Plus, who’s read them all? Besides you, that is. I forget when I found your blog – you were getting the final chapters on The Scientists Guide to Writing out the door. So there have to be lots that were topical when you wrote them and are again, with a couple of sentences and links to current stuff to reintroduce it. Exploit your previous labors to the max! And yes, you can self-plagiarize all you want on your very own blog.
PS. And Please, where did “Scientist see Squirrel come from? I always assumed it was from the movie “Up”? Inquiring minds must know.
Thanks, Chris, I’m glad you’ve found stuff to enjoy. And speaking of older stuff, here’s the very first post, with the explanation of “Scientist Sees Squirrel” – which is rooted in my very short attention span! https://scientistseessquirrel.wordpress.com/2015/01/03/attention-span/