Every few years, we like to take a quick snapshot of our readership. What do they do, where are they based, how long have they been reading Dynamic Ecology, and what do they think of it. Obviously, there’s only so much we can learn by polling our current readers, since we’re not polling people who’ve stopped reading us, or who’ve never read us. But we’d like to learn what we can. So whether you’re a longtime reader or only just started reading us, please help us out by taking this quick anonymous poll. Thanks!
I think lumping all non-academics into one bin is part of the problem with this blog…
– a postdoc in a gov’t organization
Fair comment; you’re absolutely right that I tend not to differentiate much among non-academics either when I’m writing posts, or when I’m designing our polls. And I think the same is true for Brian and Meghan as well when they’re writing posts. So without at all wanting to deny that you’ve identified a real blind spot of ours–I agree you have–I hope it’s ok if I take this opportunity to talk from our perspective about why that blind spot exists. As a way of starting a conversation about what might be done about it.
Our most common imagined audience when we write is indeed academic ecologists and ecology graduate students, usually in the US and Canada. Not that even that imagined audience is homogeneous, of course! For instance, we often focus primarily on the US and Canada, even though something like 40% of our readership is based elsewhere. But there’s no such thing as a completely homogeneous audience, and we have to imagine some target audience or other in order to write effectively. “Academic ecologists” is usually the best we can do in terms of imagining a target audience. (sometimes we try to write for academics more broadly.) Which means you’re absolutely right, it’s only in rare cases that we write for imagined non-academic audiences.
For me, academic ecologists are my imagined audience most of the time because I feel like that’s the only audience to whom I have anything to say that might be worth reading. Frankly, I’m a classic stereotypical ivory tower academic, for good and ill (and it’s definitely a mix of both). And at a broad-brush level, we do seem to mostly attract the audience we imagine and target. Past reader surveys of ours find that something like 90% of respondents are academics.
Trying to write for the audience we mostly have has its uses. For instance, it allows Brian, Meghan, and I to guess with reasonable confidence what level of background familiarity with the topic we can assume on the part of most of our audience. That hopefully helps us minimize the frequency with which we either bore or confuse readers. It also helps us anticipate and address questions and objections that members of that audience are likely to have. Obviously, perfection on this is impossible to achieve, because again, the audience for any post will always be heterogeneous on various dimensions. But you’re right, the fact that we’re writing for an imagined audience comprised mostly of academic ecologists surely also creates some self-reinforcing blind spots on our part, and so has the side effect of making our writing worse for at least some non-academics than it otherwise would be.
I confess I’m unsure how best to address the issue you raise, either in the narrow context of polls like this one, or in the broader context of how Meghan, Brian, and I blog. I’d welcome suggestions on this.
In the narrow context of polls, one way to address the issue you identify would be to offer poll respondents a long list of options as to career stage/profession. From our perspective, the problem with offering respondents long lists of options, with or without an open-ended “other” option, is that many options will be chosen by few or no respondents and so end up getting lumped together anyway in any useful summary of the poll results. From our perspective, the other problem with offering longs lists of options is that, if you do it for too many questions, it makes the poll lengthy which might reduce the number of respondents and make the respondents less representative of our readership as a whole. Probably only our keenest readers would complete a really long poll. In this poll, I decided to offer a long list of options, plus an open-ended “other” option, for the final question, for two reasons. I was both very curious about what the answers would be, and very unsure what answers to expect. But for the sake of keeping the poll short, I left out some other questions we’ve included in past reader surveys, and kept the number of options on the remaining questions short.
In the broader context of how we write, and what we write about, I’m open to suggestions as to how to make this blog better for a greater diversity of non-academic readers. Hopefully while also maintaining or improving its quality for our imagined primary target audience.
As a government researcher in the U.S., I find you blog useful because I am not in an academic environment. No lab meetings. No grad students bringing in fresh perspectives. No weekly seminars. No large body of colleagues immediately at hand to talk with, find out what they are working on and mull it over. Few technical discussions related to best practices (stats, analyses, and study designs). My colleagues are stuck in the past and are marking time until retirement, jaded after years of dealing with a ridiculous system. TBH, the environment I am in is rather stagnant. DE (and other blogs) is my widow into what is going on in the academic world and a source of different perspectives, new ideas. DE makes me think.
The posts related to strictly academic stuff I do not focus on as much. But everything else is great, including the recent posts on social mores, gender, and equality. From my perspective more posts discussing recent developments in the literature would be most valuable. Critical reviews of the way- and why- we are doing science today is needed. I look forward to future posts.
I’m still a regular and regularly enjoy the content!
I do feel like I’ve missed a lot of gem posts from when I was less active several years ago. I wonder if its possible to do assemble a glossary of the previous posts. Maybe something text mining / auto-generated, plus a few highlighted posts / comment threads from Jeremy, Meg, and Brian. Would be a great resource as most of the ideas are relevant far longer than the longevity of any specific platform.
I am curious about the results though. I’m puzzled over why Twitter has taken over blogs and forums in online academic discourse generally. I’d guess just a reflection of broader societal trends (towards shorter attention spans? :p ), but I really struggled to find thoughtful content on Twitter (because of format; its certainly there). So I think I’m back to checking DE more often than Twitter. 🙂