In which we look back at a particularly eventful year for the blog.
The ScienceBlogs archives aren’t really set up very well for reading straight through, so as we reach this part of our historical recap, I’ve changed methodology. Since I have better analytics for the ScienceBlogs years than the Steelypips ones, I’ve got a list of the most-read posts in the history of the blog on ScienceBlogs, which I’m using as a starting point for the recap. This is a highly imperfect method, I realize, and the recent “upgrade” of Google Analytics made it inordinately difficult to get this information, but it’s just too damn slow to go through the archives manually.
So, at this point, we’ve reached the first full year of Uncertain Principles on ScienceBlogs, which covers the second half of 2006 and the first half of 2007. This turns out to be a rather eventful stretch for me, personally, because I passed my tenure review, and also wrote the first two physics conversations with Emmy, Bunnies Made of Cheese and Many Worlds, Many Treats. The latter was picked up by Boing Boing, among others, and led directly to How to Teach Physics to Your Dog. So, yeah, kind of a turning point for me…
But there was more to the year than just becoming nerd famous– so, here are the most notable osts of the year, by category:
A lot of the physics content in this stretch came via a couple of series of posts. One of these was a bit of a tongue-in-cheek response to Bora Zivkovic (who joined ScienceBlogs with a host of others sometime around June of 2006), who did a sixteen-part, 800,000-word “Clock Tutorial” (now lost to the stupid archive purge, unless Bora has reposted it elsewhere) relating to his research on biological clocks. In response, I did a three-part Real Clock Tutorial, talking about clocks in physics, and how atomic clocks work. Later on, without a really direct connection to the original clock tutorial, I wrote an explanation of why cesium is the standard for atomic clocks, which I had totally forgotten doing, so that was a nice surprise.
There was also a brief stretch in which John Wilkins suggested that all the bloggers at ScienceBlogs should do posts laying out the essentials of some of the fundamental ideas of our respective fields. For a while, John had a list of all of these, but it, too, has been dumped. My contributions can be seen via the Basic Concepts category, and include ideas like Forces, Fields, Energy, and some others. They were a good deal of work, but I’m pretty happy with them.
With the establishment of ScienceBlogs, I started getting sent review copies of books, which was nice. The String Theory Backlash was in full swing at the time (and eventually produced an April Fools joke (there was an effort to get everybody at ScienceBlogs to do one, so I went along)), so I posted reviews of Peter Woit‘s and Lee Smolin‘s contributions to that episode. I also wrote up a book by Paul Davies that I eventually wound up with two copies of (a problem that continues to happen occasionally), which led to one of my best gimmick posts, giving a book to the person who picked the best number. I should do that again with some of the unlikely-to-be-read books gathering dust on the shelves in the library, except I’ll need to think of another best number, because I’m sure some people remember the answer from the first time.
I hadn’t realized that I started doing Dorky Polls that far back, but look, there they are. The second is about cool words from physics, which amusingly includes a bunch of people suggesting things I used as bad examples in my rant about names in physics. Other general bordering-on-ranty physics posts include a post about terrible graphs, a rant about the pernicious influence of theory worship, and a tribute to the Standard Model, “the only theory I can think of that everybody knows is wrong, but nobody can prove is wrong.” I did have one post briefly mentioning a really cool AMO experiment, but I didn’t start blogging research papers in detail for a while yet.
As with previous years in the series, there was a good deal of life-inacademia blogging, including a post about liminal rituals, a response to a rant about academic science that resurfaces every few years, some advice on how to get a job like mine, and some advice about how to maintain your sanity through tenure, because apparently I got cocky in a hurry. In other recurring topics, there was another how to use PowerPoint post, some advice about science writing, and a post about gender statistics in physics. The response to that pretty much convinced me that the whole issue was more trouble than it was worth to write about, which is why I only rarely bring it up to this day.
And that’s the year in physics blogging, with one exception that will show up in the next section…
I wrote a good deal about politics during this stretch, much of which was badly received. Starting with this Chuck Klosterman line about extreme views, which I still like (if anything more so than back in 2006), but which did not go over well.
The big kerfuffle of the year was over the publication of Dawkins’s The God Delusion, which included a lot of overheated writing about how it was unfairly reviewed. I tried to explain why the reviews were entirely predictable without much success, so I tried again with an extended physics analogy, which didn’t change many minds, but did trick a good number of people into reading about quantum mechanics. In a similar vein, I got a bunch of traffic from an analogy between a creationist seeking a Ph.D. and an infamous Illinois Nazi.
Other strongly political writing included a review of Chris Mooney’s first book, and an explanation of why Charles Murray ruins everything when it comes to cognitive science. This last was interesting to rediscover, because I had completely forgotten writing it, but was thinking along similar lines recently when I needed to look up some research on intelligence for the work-in-progress. I continue to be really leery of anything making a big deal out of IQ, because Murray was so creeptastic.
The one wholly successful thing to come out of a political topic started with a quick post about the new SAT (in response to an op-ed, which is why I throw this under Politics), and turned into the Blogger SAT Challenge, an experiment with Dave Munger that was my first brush with being Nerd Famous– we got mentioned on Slashdot, which led to a few colleague discovering my blog. Sadly, the Challenge site has also been lost in the great archive debacle, which makes me really sad. That was a really cool thing, if I do say so myself, and it deserves better.
This is the content area that probably best illustrates the problem of the traffic-based screening of posts– most of what I write about pop culture doesn’t get a huge amount of traffic, so it tends to be underrepresented. Out of the hundred-odd links from this year on the most-read list, only two pop culture pieces stuck, one talking about the “Princeton offense” in basketball, and another on how clever Emmy is, which provides a nice excuse to run a photo of her as the featured image for this post…
And that was 2006-2007 in blogging. I probably won’t get all the way up through the present before the actual 10th anniversary of the blog, but this was a fun year to relive, as it were.