17 November 2015

Hitting a nerve with popular posts

Posted by Callan Bentley

I blog here a few times a week, when I can manage it. Mostly I focus on new things I discover on field trips, advances in geologic imagery, and structural geology.  I get about 500 readers per day. But occasionally I write about other things, like creationism or current events disasters like earthquakes, and those posts garner a lot more attention. They get shared and reshared and spread out. My most popular posts to date have been about the big Japanese and Virginia earthquakes, a post about climate change vocabulary, “Words matter,” and that testy exchange with Discovery Institute staffer who got upset with me when I wouldn’t let his boss use my photograph in his book.

Speaking of climate change, a post last week on crossing the 400 ppm CO2 threshold for good got a lot of attention. People care about climate change.

The Twitter reaction surprised me: ~1600 people tweeted a link to the post. About 7500 people per day visited the post, and if I’m to believe the Facebook statistics, 14,000 people “liked” the post. This means “The last days of sub-400 ppm CO2” is solidly in the ranks of my all-time top five most popular posts:


It seems that there are three potential topics for a post on Mountain Beltway to go viral: (a) there’s a natural disaster, (b) the post is about creationism, or (c) the post is about climate change. None of my structural geology posts get anywhere near the amount of attention these other topics do – go figure! Human interest in disasters like the Tohoku earthquake is readily comprehensible: it’s a current event, and people are dead because of it. We all want someone knowledgeable to help us understand events like that. Creationism and climate change denial are the two most prominent forms of pseudoscience/antiscience in modern American discourse, and so discussing them is of interest to a lot of people. Most of the attention I got for those posts was positive, but going viral elicits negative commentary too. People have strong opinions on climate change and evolution. You get the good, and you get the bad. Compare and contrast:


I guess some people are always going to be negative, or aggressive in their demeanor (one called me a “climate cultist”), and others won’t say anything at all unless it’s positive. By far, the feedback has been mostly good, and that makes me feel good. I feel as if I’ve managed to write something useful about something important. I articulated the situation clearly enough to convey the urgency and concern I feel, and the factual and logical basis for that concern. That apparently resonated well with thousands of readers. Awesome! I feel like I’ve contributed, and that’s a good feeling. I wonder whether it means I should do more climate science blogging, or counter-creationism blogging, or current events blogging. It’s something to ponder… Friday folds are never going to go viral like these other topics…