The results of the science blog survey of my blog conducted by researcher Paige Brown Jarreau are in. My blog had 289 responses, which is an incredible number in my opinion. Thanks so much to all of you who donated your time by participating!
I want to share some of the more interesting results. But before I do, I feel it’s important to note that this survey is not a random sample. The people who participated in it were self selected, and that can skew results. For instance, according to my college psychology textbook, author Shere Hite conducted a survey for her 1987 book “Women and Love” of an unrepresentative sample of 100,000 women. 4.5% selected themselves to respond. From this she concluded that 70% of women married five or more years were having affairs. Randomly sampled married women report that only 1 in 7 (about 14%) are having an affair, a number consistent across American, British, French, and Danish surveys. So, take this self-selected, non-random survey with a big grain of salt!
Of the 289, 151, or 52% were first time readers or had only read two posts. The rest were repeat readers.
Question 2 asked about how people first came to discover my blog. I was surprised to learn that several people discovered the blog after either being assigned to read it in a class or being recommended to do so by a teacher. Thank you teachers!
Another unexpectedly large source of new readers was Ed Yong, staff writer at the Atlantic and author of the blog “Not Exactly Rocket Science”. Thank you Ed!
Facebook was also listed as a major source of readers, and not just the Scientific American’s Facebook page, but also Facebook posts made by mycologist Paul Stamets and others. So thank you to all of you who have posted my work on Facebook!
The survey also underlined a point I’d already learned but tend to forget – that good titles can really draw people in to a piece. Many people mentioned that the title of a post (“The World’s Largest Mining Operation Is Run By Fungi” was one mentioned several times by name) or of my blog was instrumental in drawing them to read it.
In answer to the question I most wanted to know, of what keeps you coming back to read more, several responses warmed my little heart:
“Articles are interestingly written and fun to read.”
“Accurate data. Lucid language. Pertinent illustrations.”
“Awesome, original, referenced content.”
If I made a movie poster or book jacket for this blog, these are the quotes I’d use to hype it. : )
These answers also gave me warm fuzzies:
“I appreciate the wonder and humor Ms. Frazer puts into her blog”
“reporting on obscure but fascinating science/research in life sciences”
“This is actually the only blog that I consistently read. I do think I originally found it through someones Facebook repost; once I discovered it I went back and read many back issues of the blog. I think Jennifer Frazer has a unique style that is informal and welcoming to scientists and non-scientists alike.”
This was my favorite response, because it cuts to the heart of why I do this work:
“simply love life on planet Earth; I believe this author does as well.”
A few other people had interesting answers. One person said my blog was great for procrastination. I can’t argue with that, being (unfortunately) a great practitioner of that art myself.
As for more general reasons why you read my blog, the top three answers were exactly what I was hoping for:
“...because it stimulates my curiosity” Mean score of 4.54 on a scale of 1 to 5
“...as an educational tool, to increase my scientific knowledge” 4.38
“...for information I don’t find in traditional news media” 4.37
That last one is a huge, huge reason I started this blog. I wanted to write about organisms that no one else was talking about, but who were massively important and abundant in the world.
The next two most common answers also made me quite happy.
“… Because of the good writing” 4.16
“ … For entertainment” 4.13
I work very hard at this blog to craft the English, play with words, and to make it entertaining. When I don’t post for more than a week, it is usually because I writing a long piece and I am (be)laboring over the text. Either that or I’m out of the country.
The next set of questions were more about you than about me. You guys are unsurprisingly a pretty science-seeking bunch. 91% of you said you “very often/always” or “often” seek out science information online. 8% said they did occasionally/sometimes. That leaves only 2 people – less than 1% -- who do so rarely or never. So to a certain extent, I am preaching to the choir. On the other hand, just because a person is curious about science doesn’t mean they have an extensive background in or previous knowledge of it.
Indeed, 39% of respondents (74) did NOT have a science-related degree, and an almost identical proportion – one-third --did not have a career in science and were not interested in one. It is wonderful to hear that at least one-third of the readers in the survey are definitely not The Choir.
Further, most respondents did NOT have PhDs. The most common completed level of education was a Bachelor’s (23%) or Master’s(24%) degree. 7 of you were high school or college students and 13 are grad students. 19% had less than a college degree, which is great! I am happy people of all formal educational levels are here. Reaching people across the educational spectrum is a big goal of mine.
In general, you all did very well on the short science knowledge quiz that went along with the survey. However, the two questions that tripped the most people up were surprising. 27 out of 214 of you thought that the mother’s sex cells determine whether a baby is a boy or a girl (for humans, it’s the guys, but in many other animals, notably birds and insects, the situation is quite different! And we won’t even get into the byzantine sex lives of fungi).
And 59 of you thought that water boils at a higher temperature at high altitude. As a person who lives at around 5,600 feet, let me assure you water boils at a lower temperature here. Because the atmospheric pressure is less, it makes it easier for water to escape liquid and enter the atmosphere. The other consequence of that is that food takes longer to cook and un-altitude adjusted cakes and cookies over-inflate in the thinner air and then collapse in the oven. Hard cookie puddles = sad baker.
The majority of people who responded to the survey were male, by a ratio of 2-1. That may well say more about the people who are willing to respond to surveys (see note at top of post), or the demographics of people who read science news in general, but I found it interesting nonetheless.
The vast majority of respondants (67%) were also over 40 years old. And the most common age category – with 65 responses (28%) – was age 60 or older. Only 13% of respondants were younger than 30. I was personally stunned by this – I would have expected consumers of blogs and online news to skew younger. Again, it may be more of a commentary on who self-selected for this online survey (retired people may have more time to take surveys), but still. If truly reflective of my readers, the dearth of youth is a bit disheartening because one of my main goals in natural history blogging is to reach young people who may not have had the kind of nature-saturated upbringings that I and older generations were so fortunate to have.
As for the actual professions of reader-respondents, there were the expected bunch of teachers and professors of various subjects, as well as people in research and tech. I also had someone in business consulting; a factory worker; a Chief Technology Officer; someone who works in “Game Shop inventory”; one fiction writer; several artists of various sorts, including a potter; a massage therapist; several gardeners, horticulturalists or arborists; a bartender; four farmers; a cleaner; several people in finance, business, or banking; a roofer, a wall repairer, and at least six other people in construction; one person in “shipping” (The Artful Amoeba is perfect reading for all those long days and nights at sea!); and someone who listed their line of works as “crappy admin temp jobs…”. Crappy admin temps job person, wherever you are, I hope you find meaningful, permanent, and lucrative employment soon. In the meantime, please keep enjoying my blog.