Friday 19 June 2015

Half a Million or simply 500,000?


The “metric shift” illusion is a common ploy, particularly when someone has an axe to grind. “If everyone were to switch off just one light bulb, we could close a power station”. (Marvellous, but how many power stations are there? A small reduction in power consumption will lead to a small reduction in power generation, and not a kilowatt more than that). “Just one penny of tax will raise X million of money for good causes”. (Bless, but removing an additional penny from each pound of income will take a large amount of earnings from every citizen, and they probably regard their own choices as better than bureaucrats’ choices). “An enormous number of citizens are diagnosed every year with Horrible Disorder X”. (My sincere commiserations, but either give me the total numbers for all other disorders, or just give me the rate per 100,000 so I can put all disorders in all nations onto a common metric. Also, “diagnosed” is not equivalent to “about to die from”).

So, seeking to impress readers and recruit more of them, should my boast be that Psychological Comments has achieved 500,000 readers or that it now stands at Half a Million readers? I assume that the word “million” has a dramatic impact, but “half” does not have quite the same ring to it. It clearly indicates incompleteness, with much left to be achieved. True. Sticking to the bare numbers gives the appearance of due modesty and, as everyone across the world knows, the English have much to be modest about. I will restrict myself to simply 500,000.

Even conceding that we are talking about the common metric of page views, not the more important and elusive metric of actual readers, there seems to be some quickening of pace

0                23 November 2012             -

100,000     12 January 2014           415 days

200,000     4 July 2014                   174 days

300,000      6 November 2014        126 days

400,000     17 March 2015              131 days

500,000     20 June 2015                  96 days





The notable performer in this last period was “Gone with the Wind” a meta-analysis of twin research, which took second place in blog history in a matter of a week or two, displacing some of my well-established popular posts. The other big performer was the post on income, brain and race, which was boosted by a mention from Steven Pinker. Poorer children have smaller brains, but very probably not because they are poorer.

A word about blogging’s noisy younger brother: Twitter. To my shame, when I had an early adopter’s first fling with blogging and tweeting in 2009, I abandoned both within two weeks. There seemed to be no audience, and I certainly did not see any reason to tweet about my blog, because all the academics I knew were on email, not on Twitter.

Now Twitter has become a familiar gateway to my blog and also a terse conversation in its own right. This is not because of the number of followers, which even by a psychologist’s standard is a lowly 1,100 but because of their loyalty and impact. They re-tweet quickly, comment, and direct me to new work. The standard Twitter Analytics records that in the last 28 days my 289 tweets have been seen 210,000 times, garnering 452 re-tweets and triggering 6,121 visits to have a look at my profile. My 3 tweets per day get 16 re-tweets and 23 favourites.

Twtrland rates my daily 3.1 tweets as just “average”, my getting 99 re-tweets per 100 tweets as “popular”, and my responsiveness as “chatty”.

Of more interest is tweets ranked by re-tweets. In pole position is a graph of effect sizes for early childhood interventions: 58 RTs. The last three (truncated at the bottom of this screen grab) are 21, 21 and 18 RTs respectively.


My blog readers are 77% of them below 35, which is gratifying.

According to more restrained observers, page views are an inflated measure, counting both robots and visitors who leave after 10 seconds, never to return. On the contrary, perhaps page views is a much better measure of what has been read than “number of readers” and certainly better than number of books on a shelf. Glancing even at my diminished store of books there are several I have not read, and others I have read only partially. Interesting if every book recorded and displayed exactly how many of its pages had been read. So many bookcases could be cleared of their surplus content, the virginal tomes discarded like spinsters, remaindered in ignominy.

I digress. The milestone is history, already surpassed after having been recorded. I really ought to go back to three papers which are half-read and awaiting comment. But the sun is shining, so I will consider the dilemma while having a coffee in the garden.


  1. 500,000: them's a lotta zeroes, doc. Carry on.

  2. But the sun is shining, so I will consider the dilemma while having a coffee in the garden.

    The English may have a lot to be humble about, but they practice humility in an enviable fashion.

  3. Further, these numbers say nothing about the quality of the readers. I, for example, will never be an academic and find your more statistical posts impenetrable. Yet I am a faithful reader because your overall perspective is something different and I enjoy your witty and ascerbic comments.

    1. Thank you for your kind words, and I will work on making the statistical posts more penetrable

  4. your blog is the only reason i read twitter - your twitter has led me to many other fine twitterers - a grateful thank you for keeping me up on the research - my clientele owe you thanks as well - congrats on 0.05% of a billion!

    1. Thank you for your kind words, and for setting my sights on the next 0.95 of a billion.

  5. Congratulations!

    Hopefully this is just the beginning!

  6. As I said in London, I think scientific blogging like this is very valuable. It serves as another link between research and the public that doesn't go thru incompetent or biased journalists. Hopefully, we can convince more academics to start writing blogs.

    Because of James' post here, I took a look at my own stats. The reader can find them here.