Chris Rowan has blogged his navel … his introspective thoughts regarding both his own blogging and his place in scienceblogs.com and scienceblogs.com’s place in the world, and so on.
One thing Chris did is to list out his most read posts, in an effort to try to understand where (in thinkspace) he and his readers interrelate. Funny he should do that, because I’ve been doing something fairly similar, but with a slightly different twist.
The reason to even look at this is to address questions about the relationship between what a blogger should be (in his or her own opinion) blogging, and what people want read, or at least, gravitate to.
Before we go even a tiny step forward, there are a couple of things that should be made clear. First, my blog is not a billboard that you must see while driving down a highway, or a building that is erected in the middle of a city, or even a chip planted in your head providing thoughts you might otherwise not have. It is a location on the internet that you are welcome to visit or to ignore. Given the nature of this relationship between me and my readers/non-readers, there is a very simple answer to a problem some may have. The problem is that you don’t like what I write about, or how I do it. The solution: You go away, I stay. There are a zillion sites on the internet, surely you can find one you like.
(There is also the distinct possibility that you need to suffer. You need to be annoyed by me and even to whine about it sometimes. That is a condition you need to have checked out, but before you are cured, I’ll be happy to accommodate to the best of my ability. I’m the kind of guy who holds the door open for others and is always happy to give a jump in the parking lot. If you wish to be annoyed, no problem, I can do that.)
Second, I think there is something being forgotten or at least under emphasized in this discussion. Critiques of Sb have whined about the fact that we Sb-ers receive remuneration. I’ve responded by noting that this is roughly like receiving an honorarium, which is something academics and the like do, and furthermore, that the remuneration or renumeration for me, anyway, is far far less than what I receive per unit work effort for a speaking honorarium. Fine, but there is a more important retort to this belly-aching.
We do get paid by traffic. The more people that read my site, the more I am paid. The cynical reaction to this could be that I would tend to write that which increases my pay rather than that which is relevant, or good, or scientific, or otherwise meets some third party (typically sanctimonious and to me irrelevant) standard. But that is NOT the correct way to interpret this IMHO.
Page views are used to determine my honorarium, but what they measure is something else entirely. They measure how many people wanted to read a particular post. This value is determined by two or three factors. One, is how much, if at all, this post is linked to or otherwise promoted. Having a post linked to means the post is in more bookstores/libraries/waiting rooms (that is an analogy). At that point, more people are given the option of reading the post, but they still need to make a choice. So, even though ‘number of page views’ measures the same thing in different contexts, and is thus hard to compare, there is a strong element of reader choice.
The accusation is made that we science bloggers who write that which is read more are writing what we should not write, because it is not science, by someone’s definition. Bull. I take note of what people read, and I respond and write more of that. At the same time, I also write what I want to write. I wanted to write about Darwin and the Voyage throughout February, and I did. Did you read any of those posts? No, nobody else did either. This was my least successful blogging effort in terms of page views, and the fact that no one was reading these posts was apparent to me from the very beginning. This did not stop me from writing 11 posts on the same topic? Apparently not.
Something has been going on with me lately that is utterly unrelated (causally) to this discussion started by the absurd critiques by BlaBlaBlaBlog. I’ve always spent some time thinking about what my blog should be about, and I’ve always had certain goals, but I think more about … and act on … those goals some times more than others.
At this point, I’m able to define my blogging as having a fixed number of components. Naive critics will tell me that I should adjust the output among these different efforts to meet their personal expectations of what I should be blogging (see above: go away). In truth, I want to make such adjustments, but I can’t. I simply do not have total control over what I can blog about, or at least less control than one might think. There are a number of different things that determine what is possible, other than my own desires.
So, Greg Laden’s Blog is not one blog but several. In an earlier incarnation of my older site, in design but not in reality, I envisioned having different tabs at the top of the site to swap between these different tropes. But that never happened, and all the different entities are mixed up as they stream out of my Blogging Basement. I blog:
1) Science and nature news, whereby I am a filter consolidating and providing very little commentary on that which crosses my desktop;
2) More in depth consideration of specific topics that relate to research or writing projects that I am either currently engaged in or would like to be engaged in. This involves but is not at all limited to peer reviewed research. In fact, some of this is based on my own research, peer reviewed or not.
3) Political activism related to: creationism, race and racism, gender discrimination, a few other topics.
(There is a topical parallelism between these three domains. But there are differences in content as well as page views. The items in category 3 are most read by my readers. The items in category 1 are next most read, and the items in category 2 are least read. However, my own efforts to promote this material tend to focus on category 2. That is mostly what I send to blog carnivals, etc.)
4) Science Education. I put this as a separate category because I want to emphasize it, though it transcends all three categories.
I mentioned earlier that I had been thinking about what my most read posts were. Yesterday, I looked at the posts from my Sb site and checked what was most read. I ended up with two lists.
One list is mainly science, the other mainly not-science, but including creationism. This list does not include widely read temporal material (announcements about upcoming talks, etc.) but it does include at least one blogospheric oddity, the TED video by Bill Stone, which must have gotten DUGG or something, because a lot of people viewed it.
A note on blogging topics: Is “creationism” science? No, no, not a science. Is it a topic for a science blog, or more exactly, if a science blogger blogs on creationism do those blogs get counted as science, or not? The short answer is YES. And here is why:
I am reminded of a debate I’ve had with other bloggers, in various contexts, in which the other bloggers were wrong and I was right. (They don’t think they were wrong, but they’re obviously wrong about that as well.) The question is: Is a post about creationism a member of the category “life science” or “biology” or is it something else, like politics. I feel that it is both, but being both does not diminish the importance of a post about creationism to a life scientist.
Think of it this way: Is a post about a new funding source, just established and waiting for applicants, in physics, a post about physics or about something else? I think a physicist who failed to learn about this funding source because all bloggers and news agencies decided to put this news in some category (and thus stream through outlets) other than physics would be quite annoyed. Well, considering that your livelihood, as well as teaching methods, and all sorts of other tings are determined by whether or not your profession is even legal, let alone funded, is relevant to that profession.
(If you think this is an exaggeration, go ask Chis Rowan about South Africa, where research on Evolution was illegal except under certain circumstances for many years. To this day there are millions of older South Africans walking around believing the dumbest shit because good science was kept out of the schools by a government pandering to the Dutch Reformed Church.)