Tag Archives: Blogging

What are my most read blog posts of 2018? A short review of the year

2018-12-06 16.17.24

On this last day of 2018 I thought I’d review twelve months of blogging by highlighting the 10 posts that I published this year which have received the most reads, and the perennial favourites from previous years.

The most viewed post of 2018 was Should we stop using the term “PhD students”? with 1,743 views.  That’s perhaps not surprising as there is a huge appetite for information related to early career researchers.

More surprising, but very satisfying, with 1,081 views The evolution of pollination systems in one of the largest plant families: a new study just published – download it for free was the second most viewed post published this year.  The fact that the paper it relates to has gestated, in concept and in execution, for over 20 years, has 75 authors from almost 20 countries, with a roughly 50:50 gender split, made this my personal favourite of the year.

The guest post by Karin Blak, my wife, on How can academics help students with anxiety issues?  generated a lot of comments on Twitter and Facebook, and comes in third with 729 views.  If you’ve not read any of Karin’s posts on her own blog, which relate to all types of relationships, intimacy, and so forth, they are highly recommended.

Fourth most viewed was Is there really a “battle for the soul of biodiversity” going on at IPBES? (456 views) which I updated just this week to reflect the latest correspondence in Nature.

Number five is XI International Symposium on Pollination, Berlin, April 16th -20th, 2018 (424 views).  I’m pleased that this helped to generate a lot of interest in the conference as I was asked by the organisers to present the keynote lecture, initially agreed, but then had to pull out as the timing in relation to our undergraduate Tenerife Field Course was problematical.  I heard from those who attended that the symposium was great and I’m sure that David Inouye did a much better job than I could have done at delivering the keynote!

The impact of building a new university campus on urban bird diversity and abundance: a seven-year study is sixth with 407 views.  Expect an update on this in 2019 as we complete the final round of winter and spring surveys.

Being ill is good for blogging as demonstrated by the 406 views of the seventh-ranked The good and the bad in biodiversity.  It was also a useful example to use in my first year biodiversity class.

The weird weather of March last year clearly interested people:  Can pollinators survive sudden changes in the weather? (362 views) was the eighth most viewed.

And of course pollinators are always popular: There ain’t no b(ee) in Starbucks (356 views) came ninth, whilst Hunting the Chequered Skipper: an encounter with England’s latest species reintroduction project (296 views) was tenth.

Those are the statistics for posts that I published in 2018.  But all of these are exceeded by a post first published in 2016: How to deal with bumblebees in your roof received 6,395 views this year, six times as many as it has had in the previous two years.  Not sure what has gone on here: are bumblebees nesting in roofs becoming more frequent?  Perhaps so – the main roof nester is the Tree Bumblebee (Bombus hypnorum) which has become ever-more common since its arrival in the British Isles in 2001.

The second most viewed post overall was also published a while ago, in 2015: How does a scientist’s h-index change over time? was viewed 4,081 times.  This no doubt reflects an increasing focus on such easily measurable (but rather flawed) metrics for evaluation (self- and external-) of an individual’s progress as a scientist.

Interestingly these are also the two most viewed posts of all time on my blog, though the order is different: How does a scientist’s h-index change over time? has had 12,355 views and How to deal with bumblebees in your roof has had 7,549.  I suspect that posing a question in the title of a blog post has some influence on viewing figures – most of my all-time viewed posts are phrased as questions and people searching for information often google a question.  I just pitched that idea to Karin and she half agreed but suggested that it’s also because people want answers.  So they come looking for an answer to the question that is posed in the title, whereas having a bald statement in the title does not inspire them to look any further.  Would be interesting to devise a test to differentiate between these two effects.

So that’s my blogging year in summary.  What were your favourite posts of 2018, either from my blog or from other’s?

Happy New Year everyone, I hope that 2019 brings you things that make you happy!


One of the effects of joining Twitter is that I post on my blog less often

Back in November 2016, following a lot of soul searching and weighing of pros and cons, I joined Twitter.  I was worried about spending too much time on social media, getting into conflicts with trolls, etc.  In any event I thought I’d give it a go and have enjoyed it much more than I expected to.  As much as anything else it’s opened up opportunities for new contacts, and highlighted research and ideas that I’d probably not have otherwise known about, plus Twitter is very amusing on occasion.  So I’ve stuck with it for about one year and don’t imagine that I’ll give it up soon.  However there has been one negative aspect to my use of Twitter: the rate of posting on my blog has gone down substantially, as you can see on this graph:

Blog posts

Although the number of posts per month on my blog has always been a bit erratic, until about a year ago it was trending upwards.  After I joined Twitter, however (marked by a red dashed line on the graph above) my rate of blogging has fallen a lot.

The reason for this is, I think, that it’s now easier and faster for me to tweet about a topic than it is to write about it in a post.  I can think of a number of cases where what would normally have been developed into a post has been dealt with in far fewer words.  One recent example is a tweet I put out about the difference between pollinator “effectiveness” and “efficiency”, which some pollination ecologists are still using as interchangeable terms years after the field decided that they were two different things – see Ne’eman et al. (2010) Biological Reviews.

That tweet came out of frustration with a manuscript that I was reviewing and normally I would have written four or five hundred words on the topic.  This time, however, a short tweet, linked to that paper, was enough to get my message out.

The problem is, of course, that I can’t develop my ideas and arguments in sufficient detail on Twitter and I think that’s a drawback, for me at least.  Plus my blog is becoming a storage area for writing and ideas that I’m recycling in various places, including review articles, and it concerns me that I might be storing up less and less material.

I’m not sure what I can do about this other than try to post more often, but it’s ironic that my blogging seems to be tailing off over the same period where I and some colleagues wrote a paper on the importance of blogging.  Hopefully writing this will give me a kick in the ass to post more and tweet less: time will tell.


Building a blog readership takes time revisited; and seven good reasons for academic blogging

Almost 12 months ago I wrote a post entitled “Building a blog readership takes time” and summarised how the audience for my own blog had increased slowly at first and then seemed to rapidly take off after about 18 months.  The post received a lot of interest and more comments/pingbacks than usual, including a comparison with the first year of posting by the Ülo Niinemets’ Lab blog.  So I thought I’d update the figure to look at what has happened in the intervening 11 months; here it is:

Blog stats - January 2016

As you can see the upward course of monthly views has continued, increasing from 1000-2000 on average in autumn/winter 2014 to 3000-4000 on average at the moment.  However the variance has also increased and over this time scale has become less predictable; for example, views for December 2015 were actually lower than for the same month in the previous year.  The >7000 views for August 2015 is clearly an outlier, an anomaly caused by a deliberately provocative post entitled “Who is feeding the honey bee bullshit machine?”  It will be interesting to see if this variability continues and I’ll report back in another year (!)

Meanwhile over at the Times Higher Prof. Pat Thomson from the School of Education at the University of Nottingham, has written a piece on “Seven reasons why blogging can make you a better academic writer“.  The seven reasons are:

Blogging can help you to establish writing as a routine*

Blogging allows you to experiment with your writing “voice”

Blogging helps you to get to the point

Blogging points you to your reader*

Blogging requires you to be concise*

Blogging allows you to experiment with forms of writing

Blogging helps you to become a more confident writer

Those I’ve marked with an asterisk* are the ones that chime most with my experience, but this is clearly very personal and it’s worth reading the whole piece for yourself.  Happy Blogging in 2016!


Something for the weekend #3

The latest in a regular series of posts to biodiversity-related* items that have caught my attention during the week:


  • A new report by WWF documents over 1000 new species discovered in Papua New Guinea between 1998 and 2008, and the risks to their survival from logging and other human activities.


  • How does history inform ecological restoration?  Ian Lunt has a great post on this topic.



  • In the latest in a series of high-profile rewilding initiatives, the conservation charity Lynx UK Trust has launched a survey to elicit public views on their proposal to reintroduce these large cats – make your views known here.



  • The University of Northampton’s annual Images of Research exhibition is available to view online and you can vote for your favourite three images.  Now I’m not saying that you should vote for “An ecosystem in a cup”.  But you could.  If you wanted to.


  • Staying with the University of Northampton, the Press Office has made me the first Staff Blogger of the Month.  Which is nice.  Not sure exactly how many other staff blog, but my impression is that it’s not many so it may be only a matter of time before I’m honoured again.  I thought I’d share what I wrote when asked about why I blog:

“Why do I blog? The main aim is to communicate the science relating to the importance of biodiversity and ecosystem services (and therefore why we need to conserve species and habitats) to as wide an audience as possible, including the general public, students, non-governmental organisations, businesses, and policy makers, as well as other academics.  Some of that communication relates to examples from our own research, and I also draw on the work of others in the field.  A secondary aim is to give my students a flavour of what it is that I actually do in the rest of my job: teaching is only part of the story!”


  • All of which links nicely to the recent post by Jeremy Fox, and subsequent discussion, over at Dynamic Ecology about whether science blogging (and specifically “ecology” blogs, whatever they might be) is on the decline.  For what it’s worth, I don’t think it is and I also think that the definition of what “ecology” blogging actually covers is much wider than the discussion suggests.


Feel free to recommend links that have caught your eye.

*Disclaimer: may sometimes contain non-biodiversity-related links.

Building a blog readership takes time

Blog stats figure

This morning I had a very constructive meeting with some colleagues to discuss setting up a new blog/podcast series for the university.  It reminded me that I wanted to post something about how long it takes to build up a blog readership , specifically in the sciences.  The figure above shows the monthly number of views of my blog from its inception in March 2012 up to January 2015.  The line is a second-order polynomial, just to aid interpretation rather than to make any kind of statistical inference.

For the first year and a half of the blog’s life, monthly views were typically in the range 200-400, occasionally getting as high as 600.  Only after that was there a trend of increasing numbers month-on-month, but even that was not consistent, with some periods of low readership.  In part this relates to how frequently one blogs: more frequent = more monthly views, and I have been posting more often of late.  But that’s only part of the story and the figure also demonstrates that it takes time to build a readership for a blog.  For example, 4 posts in March 2012 attracted 402 views; the same number of posts in April 2014 received 1,469 views, and 2,120 in December 2014.

A lot of scientists (particularly early career) are starting to blog, sometimes because they think it’s the right thing to do: they see others doing it, and it’s encouraged by funding agencies, etc.  Sometimes these blogs are very successful; other times they falter after a few posts, perhaps because the writer loses interest.  I’m not in a position to offer much advice about blogging as I’ve only my own experience on which to draw, but I would say that it requires persistence: don’t assume that you’re going to get a big audience from the start, it takes time to build a readership.