Changes to the website?

August 5, 2022 • 9:00 am

I’m working my way through the comments on yesterday’s post asking readers what they’d like to see more of on WEIT.  There seemed to be two classes of answers:

1.) Don’t change anything

2.) Add more science posts

(One reader violated protocol by saying he skipped the cat posts because they murder wild animals, but I will let that bit of rudeness pass.)

I haven’t yet finished reading the 140+ comments, and will do so today. I thank readers for responding. What I want people to realize is that the science posts are the very hardest posts to write, and involve several hours of work. I read each paper at least twice, and then summarizing stuff in a way people can understand—an art I haven’t yet mastered—is time-consuming. I like doing them, but have often wondered whether the paucity of views and comments made them less pressing than other stuff.

I will rethink this, but I wanted to say that when this website becomes more of a chore than a joy, I will stop writing it. I’m sure that will happen one day, perhaps only when I die, but writing science posts that summarize new literature is sometimes a big investment of time and energy.

However, to reward those who like them, I have a post about Darwin and his antecedents coming up in 15 minutes.  Thanks again for the responses.

29 thoughts on “Changes to the website?

  1. A late comment: I love your Hili dialogue. Thanks for reading recommendations, especially Klara and The Sun. Your trips to Antarctica, fascinating. I look forward to WEIT everyday. GROG

  2. I understand that science posts are hard to write. I am reminded of when I was an active academic how much time went into reviewing article submissions and grant proposals fairly. It was a huge amount of work and big responsibility to do the job right.

    If focusing on the science is too much—or would reduce the frequency of your posts—I would be happy to read posts on pretty much any topic of import. For me, the opportunity to participate is as important as the content itself.

    Thank you for keeping the fires of the Enlightenment burning bright.

    1. Replying to myself…

      I just realized that the theme that runs through the entire web site is the theme of the Enlightenment. It’s about the value of reason to today’s world and how anything less leads society astray. So, your writings emphasizing the role of reason in the world is what I most value.

  3. Dear Professor Coyne!

    Don’t change much, I enjoy your compulsion to write on different subjects. It is a personal blog after all…
    I like your polemics with “neobigots” in academic life of various orientations and enthusiastic reviews on new developments in biology of evolution and genetics.

    Thank you.

    It is a big relieve to know that there are people who care and that they pay attention to what happens around.

    Best regards.

  4. I think the paucity of comments to scientific postings is that for me, often the only thing I would or could say is “Thanks”. When I do comment, it is usually on some point where I feel expert enough to disagree (e.g., there is more to group selection than a lot of people think!). That seems to occur rarely.

  5. I enjoy and appreciate the science articles. But, as a lay person, I wouldn’t dream of commenting.

  6. I too am a huge cat lover and cat owner (i.e. staff) and I love to distraction all the cat stuff on WEIT. (Most recent HUGE favorite, which I keep going back to time and again: the “rare Venus Fly Cat” from Aug. 2!)
    Nevertheless I find it impossible to deny what the reader you mentioned noted, i.e. that there is a serious problem with domestic (and/or feral) cats killing wildlife, especially smaller birds. In many regions they seem to be the primary cause for the precipitous decline or even extinction of some species.
    This is, it seems to me, also not necessarily a matter of dissing the moggies (as per da Roolz), it is simply a valid observation. (If one learns anything on WEIT it is not to close one’s eyes to the evidence because of one’s personal inclinations!) Neither does it diss cats: they do what they evolved to do, and they do it wonderfully well. And this, in turn, does not conflict with the fact that their prowess is extremely detrimental to songbird populations.

  7. Well, this is not an idea for a regular feature, or some *kind* of posts, but just some particulars that were puzzling when I started following the site a couple years back, and I have roughly figured out from context but don’t think I have seen addressed in simple flatfooted “Okay here’s an explanation” mode. An d these are just matters maybe in your personal history but more specifically the history or background of the website.

    I know you covered just the other day the overall point that the site was originally in support of the book WEIT. But I mean smaller matters. Like: How did “Hili Dialogues” come to be the cover term / title for that daily main catch-all posts? And for the Hili Dialogue specifically, do you have a personal connection with the family taking care of these cats? Or did they separately start their website with the cats and book thoughts, and you picked up on it, and then later got permission to reprint entries and formed a more personal connection?

    I confess I haven’t read all of the internal pages listed/linked in the left sidebar, but in a way maybe my suggestion amounts to looking for a traditional “About” page or tab, more than some posts or periodic reminder posts.

    Thanks for all the informative, and often fun, postings here!

    1. I wouldn’t presume to step on our host’s toes in responding to you, but I do want to point out to you that Hili and her staffers Andrzej and Małgorzata are the dedicatees of his book Faith vs. Fact.

  8. I’ve only recently discovered this website, but I have come to really appreciate your insights as well as your humor. I thought your most recent review of Darwin and his antecedents was superb.

    I am not a biologist; my doctorate is in experimental cognitive psychology. However, one of the most popular (and effective) collegiate courses I’ve taught was An Introduction to the Behavioral Sciences.

    Comment truncated because commenter comes here not to comment but to air his story–Jerry

    1. It sounds as if you want to tell your own story here rather than add to the comments. This has nothing to do with the comments, and so I’ve truncated this. I sympathize with your plight, but here is not the place to tout it. Please don’t do this again–your story has many links

  9. I, too, value the science posts. They are the primary reason I came to this website years ago, and have stayed with it since. I’m a non-scientist with a decent liberal arts education and a lifelong interest in many things scientific. Of course, some of the science posts interest me more than others, and some exceed my abilities as a civilian to understand them (at least without more effort than I may want to make). Still, many of them are hugely informative and interesting to me, and I think I understand enough of them to make them worth my time to read and, I hope, your time to write, notwithstanding that I seldom feel comfortable commenting about them. I’d be sad to lose this access to what’s happening in science.

    1. Apart from coming here via a mention of WEIT in Butterflies and Wheels, ditto all of this, exactly as it’s written, plus the Enlightenment values commended in the comments @#3.

      For perhaps 12 years, WEIT has been my first internet port of call of the day, initially as Kiwi Dave, then under my own name. Long may it continue.

  10. I love your science posts, but I never comment on them because I feel I have nothing interesting to say except “thank you”. I understand they take a lot of time and energy to write, so maybe you want to make them a little less elaborate? Just a little…

  11. Reasons I come here, more or less in order:
    1) the free will stuff. I originally came here after reading Freedom Involves I agreed with everything in the book except the conclusion. Searched the web for reviews and came across yours and have followed this site since.
    2) the social justice side of things. I tend to agree with your classic liberal (philosophical) stance on things.
    3) Sciencey things: Generally don’t comment on them as evolutionary biology is not my area … but if anyone need commentary on extractive metallurgy or water treatment I am more than happy to contribute.

    What I would like to see is a looser leash on discussion in the comments.

  12. This is your website, so do as you wish. I have no science degree, just a natural curiosity. Some of your science articles are above my understanding, but I read a least a few paragraphs to see if I can grasp any new info. I came to your website as WEIT book was recommended by a friend.

  13. I don’t know how you can manage to do all the work that it must require to come up with all the posts every day. I am a night owl, so I sleep late. It is always around noon Mountain time before I get to the computer, but the first thing I start with every day is the Hili dialogue, and I love it. I love cats, but I am allergic, so I get my cat fix from all the posts about these lovely creatures. My undergraduate and graduate studies were in geology/paleontology/paleo-ecology, so I love the science posts, although it has been so long since I left school that I don’t always have the intellectual chops to follow them and comment. I share your political and “religious” ideas. But, with all that said PCC(E), if you cut back on the posts, I will understand. Thanks for having a great intellectual stimulating website.

  14. I love the science posts, and can imagine they are indeed hard to write. I don’t know if I’ve ever commented on one, but that’s just because I’d have nothing to add. However, I do save them in an open tab, sometimes for days or even weeks before reading them, because sometimes my brain is not up to digesting them, but I don’t want to miss any of them.

    Your observations and commentary on wokeness and the culture wars are invaluable, particularly because you come from a solidly liberal point of view and haven’t abused the idea of a “classic liberal” the way someone like Dave Rubin has. One suggestion: perhaps you could expand those posts to focus on people who are doing something positive on that battlefront. One example would be Irshad Manji’s Moral Courage project that offers a more humanistic type of diversity training than the CRT infused DEI programs so many institutions are using. (I think there’s also a Christian program with a similar name–not the same!) Helen Pluckrose started a program called Counterweight that also looks promising. The Heterodox Academy and F.I.R.E. might also provide fodder for some hope infused posts.

    On the aesthetic front, perhaps more posts on different styles of photography, including nature photography such as neural scans, macro and cosmic photographs. There’s a long history of that stuff, so it wouldn’t all have to be new. The whole idea of exploring where art and science meet seems exciting and inspirational. The first suggestion that comes to mind is Greg Dunn and his mind blowing neural art.

    WEIT is already an embarrassment of riches, and I don’t think anyone would blame you for getting weary. I’d rather see you cut back than stop the site, but the important thing is that it remains a labor of love. If it ain’t fun, don’t do it, but I hope you’ll continue to get enough out of it to make it worth your while. If it makes any difference, this is my favorite spot on the web and I’d like to offer a heart felt THANK YOU for keeping it going as long as you have.

    1. > I’d rather see you cut back than stop the site, but the important thing is that it remains a labor of love. If it ain’t fun, don’t do it, but I hope you’ll continue to get enough out of it to make it worth your while. If it makes any difference, this is my favorite spot on the web and I’d like to offer a heart felt THANK YOU for keeping it going as long as you have.

      Completely agree with all of this!

      I don’t know anyone who puts out this much material each day. If Saturday is the Cat’s Day, maybe one other day couldbe (Occasional) Science Sunday. Or Readers Wildlife/Locations/People, a once a week feature. Because even if you’re just commenting, everything requires effort and it all adds up to an tremendous amount of work.

  15. I came tho think about why I liked WEIT so much, apart from the popular science posts – the reason I came to this site. Popular in the sense that even a layman can understand, not the quality of the information.

    I guess it is because it is what one could call, unflatteringly, an echo chamber, or, more flatteringly, a generally more elaborate formulating of what I already think, but with more angles.
    Yes, I sometimes skip the ducks (my guilt of occasionally eating duck?) or the depressing articles about cancel culture and ‘wokeness’ overtaking academia, but not often.

    I agree with SU Gould above WEIT really developed into a kind of Magnum Opus over the years. Would that not be a first, a Magnum Opus in the form of a “blog”?

  16. I read each paper at least twice, and then summarizing stuff in a way people can understand—an art I haven’t yet mastered

    I try doing this myself – digesting recent astronomy papers for discussion site Slashdot – and I agree : it is really hard work.
    And I’m nowhere near as good at it as you are.

  17. I am late to the party, but FWIW, here goes.

    One of the best characteristics of the WEIT website is the wide range of topics covered.

    Your fluid and lucid writing (about all things) are outstanding features of WEIT: thoughtful, considered opinions and critique, backed up with data where relevant.

    The science posts are such a useful source of mostly new (for me) information that I try hard to really absorb their central ideas. The recent post about Lactose Persistence was a case in point. As a non-biologist, I have sometimes glanced at the original science material and knew that I will be unable to get anything useful from it. Yet, you make it accessible to laypeople like myself – and yes! – you have mastered that art!

    And of course, even if they were fewer, the science posts would still be great – I understand that it takes a lot of effort to do. As long as you derive satisfaction from doing it, we will have the benefit of those efforts!

    I wholeheartedly agree with Rik G: “WEIT is already an embarrassment of riches”. A great THANK YOU for the stellar effort!

  18. I came for the science, and stayed for the cats (and ducks). I enjoy all of your different types of posts, and the ability to click to them from Facebook. I find reading the comments interesting as well. I wouldn’t recommend changing anything. Thank you for the time and effort you’ve put into the website.

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