As proof of my willingness to respect blogging convention, here are my reflections on the first anniversary of “Psychological Comments” started on 23 November 2012.
I begin with a confession. I had made a false start with 4 posts in November 2009 and several tweets which led to my getting 16 followers. Few people read the blog, and my tweets were not about the postings, but about concerts I had attended. The whole thing seemed absurd (particularly getting 16 followers for no reason) so I gave it all up.
The fresh start 3 years later was triggered by having paid to fly to the International Society for Intelligence Research conference in San Antonio in December 2012. I must have felt that I needed to justify the expenditure by blogging about the conference. I had great difficulty finding my old blog again, and in remembering the password, but I eventually began again with a criticism of a report on child sexual abuse (80), a review of a production of Euripides’ Trojan Women (128), a note on timepiece displays and astronomical time (79), social class and university entrance (130), intelligence and the credit crunch (107), fear of flying (68) and finally, conference news (20). That’s right, the final post, the supposed reason for re-starting my blog, got only 20 views. It was 4 sentences long. I was too involved with the papers and asking questions to be able to blog anything.
By January of this year I eventually commented on some of the conference papers, and got into the habit of producing copy. Not many people read the blog, but it didn’t seem to bother me too much. Since starting up again this January have done 189 posts, which is one every two days. I do not know why it became easy when it had seemed pointless previously. 395 people looked at “What makes a good IQ story?” which was pleasing, because my internal metric was a factoid that claimed that the modal published psychology paper readership was 6 people, and that included collaborators and family members.
One day, noticing a colleagues’ publication in the press, I sent him a preview of my comments, asking him to correct any errors. He replied that the story was great and that “I have re-tweeted it”. I went to UCL to have coffee with another friend, and earnestly asked him what re-tweeting was. So, my thanks to Prof Graham Scambler for the Twitter tutorial and to Prof Sir Simon Wessely for my first re-tweet.
Since then I have followed the procedure (virtually always) of sending the story to the principal author, asking for the correction of errors, requesting that they update me with their more recent publications, and encouraging them and their colleagues to reply to any of my criticisms. Any author who does so gets their reply posted without comment or quibble from me.
In early April I read that Prof David Colquhoun, FRS, had won a prize for his blog, so I wrote to him for advice. He told me his big break came when the Provost of UCL threw him off the UCL server, which made the news and drew in a lot of sympathetic traffic. Since I was already on an independent server, this martyrdom strategy was not open to me. He guided me to Prof Dorothy Bishop’s introduction to Twitter for academics, and gave me other sound advice, for which many thanks. He gets 1200 views every weekday “with a surge after I've posted something new.” You have to respect these established bloggers.
By late April I knew my place in the blogosphere. A popular post like “Flynn Effect raises all boats, but some are leaky” would get an astounding 452 views, admittedly over several days and weeks, but highly gratifying nonetheless. Others would get more modest readerships of 79.
In May, while on a holiday in France, I was electronically accosted by a young reader in America, letting me know that someone had lost his job because of saying in public what any academic already knew about Hispanic intelligence and scholastic achievement. So, sitting by the pool, I did my duty and pointed out that the research findings were on the side this person, and if anyone could prove him and me wrong, I would send them a bottle of fine French wine. “Jason Richwine and a bottle of Rich Wine” got 1539 views over a day and a half. So, I am sorry that Dr Richwine was treated in this ignorant and bullying fashion, and am grateful for the prompt to action from the outraged Elijah Armstrong.
At this stage things become hazier. Lots of colleagues gave me a helping hand, mostly without my knowing it. Steve Sailer, whom I had read for many years, gave me a mention or two in iSteve, thus enormously boosting my visibility. HBD chick always posted links to my work, as did JayMan and others. Many thanks to all of you. Unknown sites re-directed traffic, including newspaper discussion boards. I began to tweet selected phrases from each post, so as to encourage readers to investigate the story. Dr Michael Woodley and colleagues wrote a paper “Were the Victorians cleverer than us?” which got 428 views and lots of press coverage, the latter provoked by my one press release so far. Dr Stuart Ritchie let me know of relevant publications. Prof Ian Deary supplied publications and explanations. Prof Robert Plomin let me publish a paper he had sent to PLOS ONE which got 827 views. Charles Murray directed readers to my summary of Ian Deary’s primer on intelligence, which got 2,573 views.
On 2 November a 15 year old Californian who claims to type with his feet let me comment on his first published paper, written with Michael Woodley, quickly obtaining 3,393 views. Thanks again Elijah, and Michael.
Reflections: There is only a weak correlation between what people find interesting and what I imagined they would find interesting; it is fascinating and encouraging that just after I have posted something, someone somewhere almost immediately reads it, thus providing an intrinsic reward not usual in academic publishing where there may be a year’s delay between writing a paper and seeing it published; countries rise and fall in readership for no discernable reason, though the US now clearly provides most of my readers; my commentators are polite, well-informed and evidence based, and provide encouragement while identifying anomalies, contradictions and relevant additional publications. In conclusion, I predict optimistically that bloggers and commentators will break the stranglehold of academic publishers and we will soon all become what we once were: a community of scholars.
Finally, I can claim that in one year 71,701 readers have given my words a look, as opposed to the modal 6 if I had published a paper. I even have a select 199 Twitter followers. I hope to continue blogging about intelligence and other matters, without fear or favour. A very big thank you to all of you for reading my little blog. Thank you so much. It beats talking to one’s self.
On that note, my investment in free journalism has not gone un-noticed by my wife who now calls herself “The Blog Widow”. I would like to buy her some flowers for Christmas and also add features to my blog, such as more new figures showing data, and establishing a database of national IQ results. It would make my life easier if I was able to tell her that I was a working journalist. Can you please send me a donation? The cost of an academic paper behind a Publisher’s paywall is $35, and that is just one unreadable paper, not 189 readable commentaries. There’s a Donate button just below, on the right.