A decade of The Molecular Ecologist

Conveniently, I made a montage-header for The Molecular Ecologist back when we took a stab at crowdfunding in 2016.

I recently took a look through the “Archives by month” drop-down in our right-hand sidebar and discovered that it goes all the way back to July 2010. Which means The Molecular Ecologist had its tenth anniversary this very month — specifically back on July 11, an even decade since Brant Faircloth kicked off the blog with a rundown of essential (Python-centric) bioinformatic tools.

Given that it snuck up on us, and in the middle of the summer, and in the middle of this summer, we don’t have any kind of big event planned. But I didn’t want to let the month close out without marking the occasion. So here’s a rundown of some major events in the history of this fine blog:

From the beginning, we’ve been as focused on the circumstances around the science we do as we are on actual scientific results: after Brant’s first post about software, the next few posts include Dilara Ally on emerging “next-generation” sequencing, Tim Vines on the alleged brokenness of peer review (laying out some questions he’d eventually address with actual data), and Nicholas Crawford on how to keep up with the scientific literature (recommending, alas, the dearly departed Google Reader), and Brant again on code sharing.

A March 2011 post running contrasting different differentiation statistics is a classic, and one that generated an impressively, uh, enthusiastic comments thread.

Travis Glenn put up the first iteration of his next generation sequencing field guide in June 2011, as an online supplement to a 2011 paper in Molecular Ecology Resources. Travis kept the guide updated, with opinionated commentary on the state of DNA sequencing technology, through 2016, though it’s fallen off as the field has (to some degree) matured and his workload has grown.

The first clear mention of R on the blog is in a post from February 2012, in an introduction to the entire R ecosystem by Mark Christie, leading in to a series of posts on using R for population genetics. That includes a post on FST calculations I know I’ve come back to many times.

The first mention of a scientific conference is, I think, the June 2012 joint meeting of US, Canadian, and European evolutionary biology societies in Ottawa. It was at Ottawa — during a poster session, I think — that Tim asked me to join as the blog editor. I didn’t actually start until September. TME has had some sort of presence at, by my count, five Evolution meetings after Ottawa: 2013, 2014, 2016, 2017, and 2019. We’ve covered a lot of other conferences, but none so consistently.

Kim Gilbert’s post on making maps in R, published in September 2012 — so long ago that we didn’t have code-formatting figured out at the time, though we went back and added it — is still one of our most-read items. I tried to recapture the magic with an April 2013 followup on species-distribution models and then another one updating the topic for the then-newish ggplot package in July 2016.

An example map from Making Maps With R, by Kim Gilbert

We (I) don’t appear to have written a post to mark the site redesign spurred by Katie Everson’s development of our “heliboot” logo, but it occurred in February 2016. The heliboot — a boot print with a DNA helix, a genius synthesis of molecular lab work and field ecology — isn’t going anywhere.

Tim’s last major contribution to the site, the Fourth Reviewer, launched in March 2016, continuing a long-running theme of his posting in the form of an advice column. They all still hold up pretty well, and I am personally indebted to Tim for shaping a lot of how I think about navigating the review process. (Tim, if you ever want to revive these … you have my e-mail address!)

Katie’s ten simple rules for designing a scientific poster posted in June 2016, was another perennial blockbuster. The next month, Rob Denton started the run of his “How Molecular Ecologists Work” interviews — that series ran through two “seasons” and 18 interviews about work, life, and hacks to manage both. Here’s a gallery with a sample of the molecular ecologists who told Rob how they work:

The blog has always had a substantial focus on the context of scientific work, from the politics of funding to work-life balance; most recently see Katie Grogan’s series on the costs and challenges of the faculty job hunt, and Laetitia Wilkins’s reflection on what happens when the search never seems to end. In January 2017, as protests broke out nationwide and worldwide around the inauguration of the current U.S. president, we launched what might have been our most direct volley on that score, the Friday action items. These were weekly suggestions of ways to support science, democracy, and anti-racism under what were, frankly, frightening new circumstances. At the time, it was sometimes hard to know whether this was alarmist or helpful; in retrospect, we might not have been alarmist enough!

Stacy Krueger-Hadfield started using blog posts as class assignments in 2017, with (I think) the first of her students’ posts — about the molecular biology of crab molting — published to the site in March 2017. Stacy’s #StudentScicomm continues to broaden the horizons of the site beyond the interests of our small stable of regular contributors.

Molecular Ecology Spotlight launched in May 2019 as the hub for social media promotion of new papers in Molecular Ecology and Molecular Ecology Resources. And most recently, we’ve been trying out an entirely new medium with the Molecular Ecologist Podcast, now up to five episodes since our first went online in March 2020. The podcasting schedule is as irregular as posting on the site itself, but we’ve had fun with it so far, and I think we might even be getting the hang of it.

Ten years later, I’d say the site is holding up pretty well. We’ve got a good and enthusiastic panel of regular contributors, and we continue to see pretty solid readership — when I submitted traffic numbers for the Molecular Ecology editorial report earlier this month, we’d had about 14,000 unique visitors a month in the year from June 1, 2019-May 31, 2020, up 7% over the previous period. Those are, honestly, slightly intimidating numbers, both in terms of the potential audience of any new post here and the durability of some of the things we’ve published on this blog. I think I speak for all the current contributors when I say that we’re humbled to have your attention, and we hope to keep earning it.

Thanks for reading — especially to everyone who’s contributed, and stuck around, for this entire crazy decade.

About Jeremy Yoder

Jeremy B. Yoder is an Associate Professor of Biology at California State University Northridge, studying the evolution and coevolution of interacting species, especially mutualists. He is a collaborator with the Joshua Tree Genome Project and the Queer in STEM study of LGBTQ experiences in scientific careers. He has written for the website of Scientific American, the LA Review of Books, the Chronicle of Higher Education, The Awl, and Slate.
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