Ideally I should be writing a post on Saturday to celebrate this but for two reasons I've decided this year not to. The first is that this weekend I have some friends, one of whom is James, coincidentally enough, visiting me in Helsinki and so I probably won't have time to write anything. The second reason, is that I'm being sneaky/lazy. According to the schedule James and I have set each other I was meant to write a post last week and so far I haven't. The post I'd intended to write, on a paper I wrote recently with a PhD student here in Helsinki, is going to be a post where the line between "too technical" vs "not actually telling the truth" is incredibly fine (if not just completely non-existent).
So, partially to get something written for my scheduled post and partially because I really want to know, I'm going to canvass our audience's opinion (again).
Our initial aim, when we set up this blog, was to write about fundamental research, as it is happening, to an audience of the general public. This is obviously a very difficult task. The general public has no obligation to be interested in fundamental research, so in order to get you interested, we need to tell you the interesting stuff. The problem is that "the most interesting stuff" is not always the simplest stuff. We can really, really simplify things so that it all sounds understandable but if we do that, it is highly likely we will actually be telling you untruths (because it really isn't that simple) and also leaving out some of the coolest stuff (because the coolest stuff can be complicated at times). Alternatively, we can really get down in the trenches and fill in all the details, but then you need to also invest time trying to process what we write.
So, here are some questions for you, the reader:
- Who are you?
That is, what's your background? Sometimes I fear that all our readers are just cosmologists, reading my posts, and biochemists reading James' posts. Most of my feedback definitely comes from other cosmologists, and while it's nice to hear from them that they read the blog and find it interesting, and I hope they continue to read it, it's also kind of annoying, because they aren't meant to be the target audience. I can't help but think that if I was writing posts that appealed to the target audience, cosmologists would tell me that my posts were a little boring. I love reading James' posts, they make me want to quit research and start a career writing allegorical novels about the human immune system, but I do have to sit down and read them carefully in order to get something out of them.
- How did you discover the blog?
We can see from the stats what the various major sources of traffic to the blog are (google, facebook, reddit, other blogs, etc); however what we can't see is what types of readers these sources are bringing. Is google only bringing other cosmologists who will search for "mukhanov inflation planck" and biochemists who will type "central dogma of molecular biology" or do some of the people who type "cheats for jigsaw puzzles" actually end up sticking around?
- Are we achieving our goal?
Are our posts too technical? Is a blog the right medium to use in order to achieve the goal of making fundamental research more understandable to the general public, or are YouTube channels such as Veritasium, Periodic Videos, etc, a much more effective method? We've been toying with the idea of starting a podcast, because it would allow one (or two) of us to sort of interview the other(s) and would really help with the interdisciplinary ambitions of Trenches. It wouldn't replace the blog, but it might free the blog up to be a little bit more technical without fear of alienating the target audience.
Is there a different niche, that I would imagine we're actually filling quite well, which is a niche for people who were already really interested in the stuff we write about and who probably even have science degrees, but might not be involved in research any more and don't have the time to sift through the primary literature and who really like having us digest this stuff in advance? You guys are also somewhat the target audience. If you exist and are reading the blog and liking it, let us know. If we changed to be less technical, would you be disappointed? If you came for the cosmology, do you read and enjoy the biochemistry? If you came for the biochemistry, do you read and enjoy the cosmology?
I would be interested in any opinions that any readers might have.
Finally, we've also been pretty keen right from the start to add a social science-ish-type-person to the blog to (sort of) allow it to cover the entire spectrum (physical science, life science, social science and arts). If you are such a person, or know of one, please get in touch with us. Those who are new to the blog might not be aware of the mysterious third blogger, Michelle, who is currently on sabbatical as she finishes thesis (at least, we hope it is only a sabbatical), who is also a critic, creator and now curator of art.
That's all from me. No competition to guess the most viewed post this year. It's the same one as last year.