Happy New Year! Now seems as good a time as any for some reflections on our blogging year, and a look forward to the next one.
Attention conservation notice: long, navel-gazing post ahead, with comments from Meg, Brian, and I.
Dynamic Ecology’s audience continues to grow, though our growth rate is slowing. We got about 740,000 pageviews this year from about 349,100 unique visitors, both up on last year. Thanks very much to all of you for reading. We don’t ever set out to chase traffic, so when we get it it means a lot.
Early last year I asked why we rarely have good arguments in the comments any more. Now we have the answer: our commentariat is shrinking. We got about 3,417 comments this year, way down from last year and only a bit more than 2-3 years ago when our readership was substantially smaller. This seems to have been the year when we finally started to fall prey to a widely-noted, internet-wide trend: blog comment sections are dying. Our comment section is still great–but not quite as great as it used to be. So an extra big thank-you to everyone who commented this year. We hope to hear even more from you in 2017. Even though realistically we probably can’t expect to.
In reflecting on my own blogging this year, I’m most proud of my post documenting the ~50:50 gender balance of recent ecology faculty hiring, and showing via poll data that this balance is surprising to most ecologists, who expected substantial male bias. It took me almost three days of work to compile the data–and it was time well spent. I think those data are very good news, they represent real progress. I hope they’ll be widely shared and that they’ll help inform future conversations about equity issues in hiring.
My post telling everyone to chill out about Jingmai O’Connor’s criticisms of bloggers was memorable for me because it was something I almost never attempt: a timely intervention into a developing social media firestorm. I like to think it had some modest positive effect. But of course, it’s of even less lasting value than the average blog post. Can’t see myself ever making a habit of that sort of post. I had a lot of fun with the mock syllabus for “ECO 607: Ecology is f*cked“. 🙂 I liked doing my series of instructional posts on mathematical constraints in ecology (starts here), and they seemed to go over well with readers. I’m sorry it kind of petered out when my teaching load picked up. I want to try and get back to it in 2017. Finally, I’m glad I wrote what I did about how junior ecologists shouldn’t be afraid to disagree with senior ones, even though I’d say it’s only an average post and even though I knew it wouldn’t go over well with everyone (which is fair enough). Over time, as our audience has grown and I’ve become better at anticipating reader reactions to posts, I’ve found myself hesitating to say things that I’m sure some readers won’t like, out of fear of getting viral blowback on social media. Disagreement in the comments I’m fine with, because I can engage with it. It feels manageable, and also like a learning opportunity. Viral social media blowback would not feel that way to me, and Twitter in particular is a lousy medium for productive disagreement. So I had to work up a bit of nerve to write that post. Same for the one on gender balance of recent hires–I made Meg and Brian read the draft before I had the guts to post that one. You can argue amongst yourselves whether it’s reasonable for me to have worried about viral social media blowback on either of those posts; I could see arguing it various ways. All I can tell you is that it’s a worry I had. In 2017 I’m resolving to try to work up the nerve a bit more often. Not setting out to upset some people, of course; I never do that. Just trying not to self-censor something that I think is worth saying and that I’ve tried to say thoughtfully. I’m really glad to be blogging with Meg and Brian; chatting with them behind the scenes really helps me think through things and improves my own judgement about what to post.
My personal favorite posts from others include Meg’s amazing, brave, and helpful post on her life as a scientist with an anxiety disorder, and Brian’s post on why ecology is hard (to which I really enjoyed replying; I learn so much from my disagreements with Brian). My friend Greg Crowther’s very personal guest post on the teaching position that slipped through his fingers was my favorite guest post of the year. Andrew Kleinhesselink and Peter Adler’s guest post on whether basic ecological research ever leads to headline-generating discoveries really made me think and got a great comment thread going. And I have a soft spot for Greg Dwyer’s provocative argument that trying to understand ecological data without mechanistic models is “a waste of time”. Reminded me of 2012 me, back when I was still good at deliberate provocation. 🙂 (the key is to have a provocative point that’s also a good point)
Of course, our personal favorites aren’t always the most popular posts. The most-read posts we published this year were:
- The 5 pivotal paragraphs in a paper (by Brian; I now refer back to this routinely when writing my own papers.)
- Life as an anxious scientist (Meg; linked to above)
- Ten commandments for good data management (Brian of course, who is amazing at listicle-form advice)
- Fun ways of deciding authorship order (Meg; I think this may be our most popular “just for fun” post ever)
- The big mistake almost every scientific poster makes (me; it never ceases to amaze me when advice I consider boringly familiar goes viral…)
- Formatting a CV for a faculty job application (Meg)
- How to write a good introduction section, and tell if yours is bad (me)
- Serial bullies: an academic failing and the need for crowd-sourced truth-telling (Brian)
- Good enough (Meg)
- Last and corresponding authorship practices in ecology, part 1 (Meg)
The clear message of this list is that in 2017 readers want to see many more posts from Brian and Meg! 🙂
In terms of “blogging resolutions” for the coming year, my main one is to continue to use the blog to help me write my book. I’m still thinking about how best to do that.
A few additional thoughts from Brian:
This has been my least active blogging year since we started. But that is just a sign of too many other things going on. I remain very much a believer in blogging as an important way of connecting specialized subsets of individuals dispersed across the globe
As I’ve said before the main reason I blog is the conversations and dialogue. If our comments section were ever to die, I would stop blogging. There is little doubt that for many people Twitter has become an alternative place to comment. I find this unfortunate. Twitter seems a good place to meet people and get pointers to interesting material (or as the EiC of Global Ecology and Biogeography to advertise our content: follow @GEB_macro if you want great macroecology/biogeography papers!). But as some of DE’s posts have had major twitter commentary, I remain unimpressed with the ability to have thoughtful, balanced, nuanced and informative conversation on Twitter. It has a hit and run feel to me. I’m smart enough to know that opposed though I may be, that I cannot reverse this trend. Thus the decline in comments is slightly worrisome, but I still find the conversations in the comment sections to be among the most elevated and worthwhile of almost anywhere on the internet. In many ways I think Twitter has absorbed the briefer comments and the deeper comments have remained. So that day of quitting is not coming soon!
I wish Jeremy good luck with trying to blog to help write a book. I had the same goal three years ago, and have failed to leverage blogging (and my writing is proceeding slowly, although I have now arranged a good chunk of time to write). Jeremy is visionary about blogging though so I’m hoping he will succeed so I can copy him. I have increasingly found blogging a good place to think out loud though (and again that benefit largely derives from the comment sections). I know Meg has commented on this before. I haven’t taught new courses this year, so I didn’t have my near annual fall musing on how to teach my upcoming class (community ecology and field natural history) but I certainly find it a good way to think about teaching. Other examples of thinking out loud posts range from fundamental ecological concepts like biodiversity (and pizza) to the problems academia has with serial bullies. I also think out loud about my journal editor role – the piece on handling correspondences (which was prompted by a piece at EEB & Flow) led directly to an overhaul of policy at GEB. And although neither post was written consciously to help with my book, I can see connections post hoc to this piece on what defines science (counting) and mechanisms in macroecology (inspired by a conference). I still have a few soapbox posts where I expound on my long held opinions with a hope to influence the ecological conversation at least a tiny bit (i.e. the opposite of thinking out loud) such as my posts on multicausality and impact factors. A first for me this year was to assign some of my blog posts as required reading assignments from time to time (in place of primary literature in graduate classes). My series on data wrangling was even written in advance because I knew I wanted to cover that material in a class and didn’t know of a good resource to assign. I haven’t gotten back my fall student course evaluations yet, so we’ll see how it was received but my sense is that they went well.
So as you can see, blogging definitely has the potential to be synergistic with the other responsibilities of an academic job from teaching, to thinking and writing, to journal editing. I’m hoping to be a little more active this year than last. And as always, I have great gratitude for our readers and especially our commentors as that is what makes the experience rewarding.
And a few more from Meg:
I haven’t run the numbers, but it wouldn’t surprise me if this was also my least active year since we started blogging. (Thanks for keeping things rolling, Jeremy!) That was to be expected for me, though, given that I had a baby last January. My goal for this year is to once again write, on average, one post a week. I have lots of posts in mind, many of which are ones on topics where I’m looking for feedback. So, I’ll echo Jeremy and Brian’s comments that I hope we continue to have active, thoughtful discussions in the comment sections!
More generally, I find blogging incredibly valuable both because it allows me to speak about issues that I think are important, and because it helps me think through things (related to research, teaching, and all sorts of other things). In the new year, I have plans for both types of posts, and I’m hoping to be able to carve out time to work on them soon! I also have plans to work on a manuscript that originally started out as a blog post, which will be a first for me. I’m looking forward to it!
I’d say more, but the baby just woke up from his nap, so I’ll end there. Happy New Year to all our readers! We’re so glad you’re here.